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Wood Lane to White City

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The Central Line at White City

One of the most interesting sites on London Underground is on the Central Line between Shepherds Bush and East Acton in west London.   The lines through White City station are the wrong way round for a British railway - being right hand running instead of left hand running.   There is a story behind this anomaly which concerns the stabling yard there called White City Depot and the two running tunnels of the Central Line which weave their way round this area.  This page looks at this area and tells of the unusual routes and the reasons for them.


Right Hand Running - The Central London Railway - Wood Lane Depot - Multiple Unit Operation - Wood Lane Station - The Moveable Platform - White City Station

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Right Hand Running

The normal layout for operation for British railways is left hand running, the same as left hand driving on British roads.  At White City station on the Central Line however, the tracks are arranged for right hand running.    This occurs because the tracks cross in the tunnels between Shepherds Bush station and White City and then cross again between White City and East Acton to regain the normal left hand running.  The layout is shown in small scale in the following diagram.

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Fig. 1:  A sketch of the present layout of the Central Line tracks between Shepherds Bush and East Acton.  If you are travelling westbound from Shepherds Bush, the line goes west for about 100 metres (300 feet) and then turns north via a sharp curve.  This is called the Caxton Curve since it runs below Caxton Street and it has a 200 foot radius.  It is the sharpest running line curve on the LU system.  The curve takes the Westbound tunnel over the Eastbound tunnel.  After a straight section of 300 metres on a rising gradient of 1 in 44, the line appears in the open for a few metres and then passes into another tunnel with a long but tight S curve.    At the end of this curve it reappears in the open and enters White City station.  Beyond the station, the line proceeds north for a short distance and then curves west.  As it passes Wormwoord Scrubs, this westbound line passes over the eastbound track so that normal, British left hand running is regained.  As can be seen in the diagram, the Eastbound line follows a  different route between White City and Shepherds Bush, proceeding directly south from White City Station past the BBC TV Centre but in tunnel.  It then turns east, passing under the Westbound tunnel and then into Shepherds Bush station.   As it enters Shepherds Bush station, there is a severe reverse curve where the old crossover was located.

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The Central London Railway

The Central Line began life as the Central London Railway.    It was opened between Bank and Shepherds Bush on 30th July 1900.  The depot was built on the site of the present White City depot but it was larger in those days because it had to house the whole of the original fleet of 28 locomotives and 168 cars. 

CLR_Electric_Loco__train_small.jpg (1599 bytes) Trains were hauled by electric locomotives which had to be changed at each terminus. 

Click to enlarge and view description.

At Shepherds Bush the original station layout appeared as shown in the next diagram below.  The provision of crossovers at both ends of the station gave the flexibility needed to change locomotives or run them round the train.   A reversing siding was also provided.  The crossovers were removed in 1938 when the platforms were extended to accommodate 8-car trains (from the previous maximum of 7-cars). 

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The tunnels at each end of the present Shepherds Bush station still show the location of the crossovers.  At the west end, there is a severe curve in the Eastbound track where the tunnel is diverted to bring it closer to the Westbound for the crossover (now removed) and then it diverts away to enter the platform tunnel.  At the east end of the platform, the 1938 platform extension was built very close to the crossover tunnel.  This can still be seen from the platform.

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Wood Lane Depot

The Central London Railway Depot was built alongside Wood Lane, Shepherds Bush (London W12) on the site of a large house called Woodhouse Park.  

Wcdt004.gif (19454 bytes)The original layout is shown in the diagram in Fig 4 (left), but it includes the extra stabling shed added in 1903.  It shows the depot with east at the top and north to the left.  Click to enlarge.

Trains entered the depot via the depot access road on a 1 in 44 gradient up to the tunnel portal, where the line curved sharply west and ended in a siding with the buffer stops adjacent to Wood Lane.  Trains had to be shunted back into the sheds from this siding.  Documents from the period suggest that this was usually done by fly shunting the train.  When it arrived in the siding, the locomotive was uncoupled and then pushed the train back until it had sufficient speed to coast into the shed, where it was stopped by the guards using handbrakes.  This was done because there were no current rails in the yard apart from on the tracks leading into the loco shop.

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Multiple Unit Operation

CLR_03_TS_gate_small.jpg (1182 bytes)In 1903, only three years after the opening of the line, the passenger car fleet was converted to multiple unit operation and the locomotives were replaced by new motor cars, photo left. 

Click to enlarge.

The vibration caused by the locomotives caused so many problems to properties along the route that this radical action was considered the only solution.  To accommodate the extra cars, a new shed, called the "Wood Lane Sheds" in official literature, was built west of the existing sheds and, as suggested in the title, next to Wood Lane (see Fig. 4 above).  The new shed was reached via the loop road which ran round the outside of the main sheds.   All sheds were 360 feet long and were designed to take 7-car trains.  However, 6-car sets were the norm for the line.  By this time, current rails had been laid in the yard and trains could move around under their own power. 

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Wood Lane Station

The next development to the site at Wood Lane was the result of the building of a large exhibition in 1908.  On land to the west of Wood Lane, on the other side from the depot, a huge exhibition site and gardens were built to house the Franco-British Exhibition.  The buildings were finished in white stucco, which is how the name White City arose.  Examples of the buildings are shown below.  Copies of prints from contemporary postcards kindly supplied by Wilf Grove.

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Click to enlarge

The site covered 140 acres and included the White City stadium, which opened in 1908 for the Olympic games, which were staged in London that year.  Some 12,000 people were employed during the construction of the site and it is recorded that the Franco-British Exhibition attracted 8 million visitors.  As the exhibition was opened for 7 months between April and October, this amounts to an average of 40,000 per day.  The Central London Railway extended the line from Shepherds Bush to a new station called Wood Lane, especially to serve the exhibition.

Over the next few years, a number of public exhibitions were held on the site and, after the first world war, trade only shows were regular events up to 1937.  After 1945, the area was turned over for public housing and some rather utilitarian blocks of flats were built.  The BBC took over part of the site for the BBC TV centre in the late 1950s.  The White City Stadium was closed in 1988 and replaced by new BBC offices which opened in 1990.

Wcdt003.gif (24363 bytes)When the Central London Railway Opened the new station at Wood Lane for the first exhibition in 1908, it was built on the site of the reversing siding in the depot (see diagram left).  Click to enlarge.

The original depot access road became the westbound line into Wood Lane Station.  Shepherds Bush was no longer the terminus.  Although Wood Lane was the last station on the line, it was designed on a loop.  Trains left the station via a new line which ran beside Wood Lane (the road) below ground level and in tunnel and then curved round the meet the end of the siding at Shepherds Bush, .  A new access fan was provided at the north end of the Wood Lane Sheds so that trains could access the depot without wasting time reversing in the station.   The new fan also gave access to the depot loop road.

The new Wood Lane station was built on a sharp curve and had one track with a platform on either side.  It was intended that all trains would unload onto one platform and load via the other.  Huge crowds appeared for the exhibitions and, after the end of the First World War in 1918, for greyhound and cycle racing.  

Wcdt001.gif (29976 bytes)However, the layout was changed again in 1920.  This was required for the opening of the extension of the Central London line to Ealing Broadway, as shown in the next diagram left (Click to enlarge), which shows the layout of the depot and station at Wood Lane after the opening of the Ealing extension in 1920.  Two more platforms were added so that the station now had a triangular form.  Train services were divided into two groups.  One group operated the Ealing service, using the two new platforms, while the other operated a Wood Lane to Liverpool Street "Tunnel" service.  Both the new platforms were built below ground level. 

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The Moveable Platform

Wood La moving plat labels.jpg (35344 bytes)Wood Lane had another unusual feature - a moveable platform (photo left).   Well, it was a section of platform - 35 feet of it, made of wood and installed at the east end of the loop platform just outside the signal cabin.  It was installed in 1927 as a result of the conversion of the rolling stock from gate entrances to air operated doors.  Air door trains needed a longer platform face to allow all entrances to be used and to assist with crowd handling at Wood Lane, it was essential to keep the inner platform operational after trains were converted to air doors.  The extension was operated by a miniature lever in the signal cabin and was electro-pneumatically powered.  It could also be operated by hand if necessary

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White City Station

Wood Lane station was closed in 1947 when White City station was opened on a new site to the north.  A new westbound track was built to by-pass the old Ealing line westbound platform, which became one of the depot entrance roads.   The depot was largely demolished, apart from a section of the car running shed now used for stabling and the old lifting and loco shops.  The loop platforms have gone but the Ealing platforms remain, the eastbound being visible from passing trains to those who know where to look.

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