IMG 6316 - Liverpool Street station loses a platform

Over the first two weekends in April 2021, work was done to reduce the station’s platform count from 18 to 17, required for the use of nine car Crossrail trains. Previously, the platforms at 16, 17, and 18 could only accommodate seven or eight car trains. The other platforms in the station have been lengthened somewhat, but the issue with platforms 16, 17, and 18 was that they were added during the station’s expansion in the 1890s, and that build required a rather tight platform layout compared to the rest of the station. As a result, these platforms were significantly shorter than the rest of the station, but they were ideal for suburban services. – and its why those to Ilford/Romford/Shenfield have always left from this part of the station.

The Great Eastern operated the most intensive suburban steam train services in the world, managing huge numbers of passengers who used the lines out of Liverpool Street in both the Shenfield and Enfield directions, which was one of the original reasons for electrification from Liverpool Street to Shenfield. Clearly, electrification would benefit both the operating authorities and the passengers. When I was a kid, it was a cutting-edge system compared to the steam locomotives that still ran on the GE main lines. It had reached Colchester/Clacton and Bishops Stortford at its peak. It was a clean and efficient system and the trains were very well used and no doubt for a young kid like me it was all very exciting! Anything beyond Colchester or Bishops Stortford positively seemed old fashioned! Ironically people might think the Class 306s that were used on the Shenfield line might seem quite ancient, but at the time they were the latest and most modern trains (along with the others, the 305s, the 307s, the 309s, etc) and London’s other rail services just seemed so drab!

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Liverpool Street in the 1970s showing the 1895 extension – with platforms 12 to 18 visible. A pair of Class 306s can clearly been seen on 17 and 18. Source: Bygonely

No surprise that the Liverpool Street-Shenfield route, Britain’s most successful OHLE line to date, prompted the Eastern Region to be among the first to abandon steam traction. Diesels were widely used by the late 1950s, and as I’ve previously stated, I don’t recall seeing steam trains on the Southminster branch or the Southend Victoria route – they were all diesel and electric by the mid 1950s! When compared to the rest of the BR system (for example, Waterloo steam until 1967 and the north west until August 1969), the year 1962 (if I recall correctly) was when we travelled on the Eastern Region’s final steam services – thereafter it was essentially all diesel and electric railway.

The Shenfield/Southend/Colchester/Clacton system, on the other hand, was the crown jewel of the Eastern Region, and a high-quality intensive service was the order of the day. For those like me, our train almost always left from those two platforms on the station’s east side, namely platforms 17 and 18. They were almost entirely limited to the Class 306s. Indeed, there was a strong affinity with the Shenfield electrification. Unfortunately, due to recent changes at Liverpool Street, that affinity no longer exists.

Having previously written about the electrification of the Liverpool Street to Shenfield line, it seemed appropriate to write about the changes to the platforms there. It’s a stage of transition, similar to the removal of the Chadwell Heath car sidings, the Romford electrification works, and engineers sidings, where for many years some quite old carriages specially converted for OHLE maintenance could be seen. The power signal boxes, the signalling system, the old train indicators, and those massive signs with big arrows that said ‘Ilford Car Sheds’ were all unique to the Shenfield line, and they’re all gone now. Now we’ve lost both platforms 17 and 18 at Liverpool Street!

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The old order and the old platform! Class 315828 at the end of platform 17. Platform 18 at left is the new 17!

Many of the platforms at Liverpool Street were gradually extended over time, especially after the engine shunts were removed, making room for track slewing and other modifications. These three platforms, numbered 16-18 and located on the station’s eastern side, posed a problem. Critics chastised the 1895 extension because it essentially consisted of a separate station. In 1975, British Rail planned to demolish the entire structure and replace it with a new station that was better suited to the purpose. Campaigners such as John Betjeman intervened thus the main (and original) part of Liverpool Street station with its huge roof was retained, whilst the east side was totally modernised as far as it could be given the site’s constraints.

Platforms 17 and 18 were, of course, in the same position they had held since 1895. As a result, a quirk was incorporated into the 1949 Shenfield scheme. The Ilford flyover is shown here. It wasn’t a must-have feature, but rather a practical application that would allow suburban trains to use their sections of line without interfering with express services. One of those practical applications was the ability to switch trains to the side required to reach those platforms at Liverpool Street.

Although nine car trains (three Class 306 sets) could use these, the carriages on the Class 306 were shorter, so their nine cars weren’t as long as a nine car Class 345. Thus, the Shenfield electrification had strong affinity again that these platforms were almost Class 306 specific. When the Class 315s arrived, they were also fine because eight carriages could fit onto those very platforms at Liverpool Street. The issue arose when Crossrail was introduced, which is why we’ve only seen seven Class 345s to date, because that’s the maximum that can fit into these platforms. Despite the work done to modify the platforms, there’ll probably be no nine car 345s on the Great Eastern Lines until the May timetable change.

Having used the line since the late 1950s, arriving at Liverpool Street and seeing the new arrangement is strange. It’s been a long time coming, and it’s about three years late, just like the rest of the Crossrail project! There has been discussion about whether the platforms should be extended because the majority of the Elizabeth Line traffic will be directed to the platforms at Whitechapel and Liverpool Street (Elizabeth Line). TfL intends to keep some peak-hour services into Liverpool Street main line station, and because all Class 345s will be nine car trains, the platforms will need to be extended. The fact one platform is ‘lost’ isn’t quite so terrible for when the Elizabeth Line is finally up and running, most trains will be going down the tunnels towards Paddington, thus the seventeen main line platforms at Liverpool Street station will have capacity to spare.

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Work was undertaken over the Easter break to remove the rails (these were put in the four foot on the adjacent line and are still there at the time of writing this article. Source: Twitter

The work to alter the layout at Liverpool Street is depicted here, with a couple of social media pictures from Twitter plus several I took shortly after the new platform had opened for public service. Preparatory work began with the Christmas blockade at Liverpool Street where the track into platforms 15 and 16 was re-laid and other work undertaken in readiness for the next stage of the project. The main body of the work began during the Easter 2021 break and the work was largely finalised the following weekend (10/11 April 2021.)

In order to lengthen the platforms the former platform 17 and its track have been taken out and the new platform 17 has been built upon the space left by the track removal. The junction to the three tracks (platform 15, 16 and 17) was remodelled in order to lessen the severity of the track geometry. It means the new platform 17 (as well as 16) is now of somewhat similar length to the others although its still not as long because its maximum capacity is nine Class 345 carriages – only just – whereas at the other platforms up to twelve carriages can be accommodated.

The big surprise however is the new platform 17 is where platform 18 was! It takes a little getting used to! Had they kept it where it was the track curvature at the country end of the platform would have made it impossible to fit nine car trains in. Both platforms 17 and 18 have always been much shorter platforms even towards the barriers where they ended further back than the other platforms in the station. The only alternative to the work done would have been to demolish some of the station’s concourse and ticket barrier area in order to lengthen the platforms sufficiently.

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In this view one can see how the new platform extension (or widening rather by taking over the space previously occupied by the platform 17 track) is being done. Source: Twitter

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The new platform 17 – with the rails from the original platform 17 in the four foot. No doubt these will be removed at a later date. One other thing to note is the new lights that have been hung from the concrete beams along the centre of the new platform 17.

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Class 345 at the new platform 17. As can be seen clearly the old platform 18 cannot be used for rail services. I took this photograph just a day after the new platform arrangement was brought into use.

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The ends of platform 16/17 as they were (with 18 visible at far right.) This was long enough for a seven car Class 345 or a eight car Class 315. Note how the tracks were arranged – the platform 15 road was also used by trains departing from platform 17.

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Similar view of the ends of the platforms after completion of the work. As can be seen they’re now longer but not by a lot in fact. The old platform 18 at right can still be seen as can the clock on the wall! Note how the signals are repeated along platform 15 on the left. This was for the old track layout thus I assume it will be sorted out in due course.

In the above picture it can be seen that they have altered the profile of platform 16 (at left) so it follows the tracks more closely than tapering off slightly as it did in the old arrangement. It has a new signal too (L49) However its also sort of given it a deeper curve in order to enable the trains’ overhang to pass without obstruction. One can tell this by the position of the single lamp at the end of the white architrave. This lamp is now almost over the tracks. The new arrangement does apparently give the new platform 17 two additional carriage lengths – although I think in practice it’ll actually be one and half carriages with the doors nearest the country end locked out – because where I am standing, thats about where the seven car class 345s reach – and I’m quite certain its impossible to fit two carriages into that extra space with all their doors unlocked! The fact signal L51 (for platform 17) is actually off the end of the platform itself adds credence to my theory.

Of interest is the fact signal L45 (part way along platform 15) now has signal L46 (which was actually for trains coming off platform 16 and the old platform 17) as a repeater (albeit a temporary one if I am right.) Its only been a couple of days since the layout was finished and finalised, thus I assume signal engineers will be back to sort out these double signals as clearly one is sufficient now the track into platform 15 is plain lined instead of consisting a junction from platforms 16 and 17 as previously. It is said Liverpool Street had signalling problems through the morning of the first day the system was back at work! Who knows, it might have been this one extra signal causing all the problems!!

Other work that was done was to install new platforms lights and these are over the new platform area. No doubt it was necessary to ensure an even spread of light across the area. Both 16 and 17 have been largely resurfaced to give a consistent look throughout.

There are some inconsistencies with the new arrangements however and I am sure these will be corrected in due course, but they were quite obvious as my next set of photographs show.

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Trains are still advertised as leaving from platforms 15 to 18 when that’s no longer the case!

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Platform 18 doesn’t exist anymore and most references to it have been covered up – except the aforementioned reference to trains departing from 15 to 18.

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No prizes for guessing which platform this was!

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The train indicators on the former platform 18 no longer have any services to advertise!

I wrote about the Shenfield Electrification on its anniversary in 2019. The post is here.

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Robert Butlin

1970s photo. It’s 306s not 309s in platforms 17 and 18.

Robert Butlin

Quite understand. I can see other people’s mistakes instantly, whereas my own often escape me.