This weekend marks the end of an era, as part of the London Overground gets a new train from Monday.
The “Romford Push and Pull” is a rather odd bit of the London Overground, running between Romford and Upminster and calling at just one intermediate station, Emerson Park.
It’s a short shuttle service of the sort that doesn’t quite make sense in a modern city. You feel it should be bigger and better or not needed at all, but this little single-track railway has managed to cling on despite attempts to close it down. Never quite busy enough to need upgrading, but just useful enough to prevent being closed down.
Even though it’s firmly inside London, it is in Network Rail categorisation, classified as a rural line.
The railway opened in 1893 as a single track between Romford and Upminster. The only other station on the line, Emerson Park Halt opened a few years later in 1909 – and the naming is curious as the village it’s next to shows up on maps at the time as Butts Green, but maybe that was a bit too smutty even then. It also for a while known as Emerson Park & Great Nelmes, but eventually as plain Emerson Park.
London Overground took over the line in May 2015, and as part of their plans for the wider London Overground, they’ve been phasing out the old trains they inherited with shiny modern models.
This weekend is the last time the old Class 315 train will ply the route, for on Monday, a single new Class 710 train will take over the shuttle service.
Taking a final trip, the old train pulled into Upminster station, where a handful of local families were waiting to get on, and about the same number got off.
The line diagrams inside the trains talk of services to Liverpool Street, Enfield Town, Chingford and Cheshunt – for this train once plied longer more popular routes. Leaving Upminster just a few minutes later once the driver had time to walk along the platform to get in the other end, the train rubbles along a narrow track that slices between the rows of houses.
Calling a few minutes later at Emerson Park, a most rural of London stations, with a single platform, and old barrel curved shelter. Winter has arrived with the partially flooded track under the bridge and leaves falling aplenty giving the station a picturesque appeal – for those of us who don’t use it on a daily basis. More regular users would doubtless swap most of it for a heated waiting room.
Hopping off at Emerson Park, partly to visit the station, but also because there is just about enough time between train services to walk around the local area to the nearby level crossing. A few minutes of waiting, and to get a last chance to see the train rumbling along the old tracks from the trackside position — safely of course.
The presence of several level crossings on the line being what triggered an awareness that this weekend had a significance, as Network Rail issued a warning to pedestrians that a very different beast would run along this track from Monday.
Heading back to the station, and a few minutes later, the very same train I was on 30 minutes earlier again pulled into the platform, and rubbled it’s way towards Romford. A short journey of barely 5 minutes and the announcement that the trip is over.
A bundle of maskless kids pushed on as the handful of passengers tried to get off, but also here was something not seen at Upminster. More than the usual number of people wearing London transport themed facemasks, the moquette standing out amongst the plain covers worn by most.
More train fans arrived, big cameras in hand to take one last ride, experience the increasingly rare joy of riding a rumbly old train through the London suburbs. To stop off (maybe) at a tiny old station and walk over a level crossing.
The replacement train is currently sitting at Romford station waiting for Monday morning. Commuters will be delighted, but if you want one last chance to ride the shakey old train along this particular track – then Sunday should be it.
There is a group seeking to preserve a Class 315 train.