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Transport / Mass transit

Here's why TfL wants to rebuild London's Camden Town tube station

Station buildings are a bit, well, dull really aren’t they? I mean, sure, they’re quite useful to get you from the street to the station platform, and some of the older ones are quite pretty if you like that sort of thing.

It’s just that they’re just not that much fun to read about. Or write about, to be frank. They don’t even come with a map.

But needs must, and even though it’s only a building, the rebuilding of Camden Town tube station is a pretty an important project. More to the point, it probably will change the tube map, probably to something like this:

(Yes I know that’s a bit scrappy. It’s Friday afternoon, what do you want from me.)

Rebuilding Camden Town, on the Northern line, has been on the Transport for London (TfL) to do list for some time. It’s an old station, first opened in 1907, and although the branch to Bank didn’t arrive until 1924, the station complex has remained largely unchanged for 90 years.


Thing is, though, the area around it has changed rather a lot. Camden has become a bit of a tourist attraction, with its bars and its markets and its suspiciously pervasive smell of weed. On Sunday afternoons these days, the station gets so overcrowded that it becomes exit only: if you want to get on to a train, rather than off, you have to wander down to Mornington Crescent or up to Chalk Farm.

This problem is getting progressively worse, so they’re thinking of doing the same on Saturdays too; and at random intervals TfL close the station entrances entirely to prevent a crush.

Which is great.

And so TfL has long been planning a rebuild. The first attempt, which would have involved demolishing the Electric Ballroom and one of the local markets, was canned back in 2005, on the grounds that people quite liked those places and didn’t want them demolished. Since then, though, the number of people using the station has continued to rise – it’s up 60 per cent in just 10 years – so TfL is trying again.

Take 2

The new version of the scheme will create a second exit from the station, on Buck Street, and add in more escalators, to prevent overcrowding. More importantly, it’ll also provide more space at platform level, so that more people can switch trains.

This last point may not sound very exciting, but it is actually the key to the whole project. That’s because another idea TfL has been toying with for a long time is to split the Northern line in two: one route will run from Edgware through the West End, and ultimately terminate at the new Battersea station; the other will run from High Barnet through the City and on to Morden. (One of these, if London’s transport authorities have any sense of humour at all, should be known as the “Southern Line”.)

At first glance this split looks like it’d be a pain in the backside for anyone trying to get from, say, Hampstead to Moorgate. But segregating the two lines should actually improve things for everyone, by allowing a more reliable and more frequent service. Once trains no longer need to wait for each other to move out of Camden Town, TfL will be able to increase the frequency from 24 to 30 per hour trains per hour across the entire line.

How trains move through Camden, now (left) and after the possible split in the Northern Line (right). Image: edited map from Wikipedia.

Doing this at the moment, though, would be impossible – because it would require a lot more people to change trains at Camden Town, where there just isn’t room for them.

For the same reason, the semi-official interchange between Camden Town and the Overground station 500m away at Camden Road isn’t shown on the tube map, even though your ticket will allow it: TfL is simply terrified about giving people any more reason to squeeze into a station that just can’t hold them.

Rebuilding the station should remove these barriers, and enable London’s tube map to finally admit to the world that it’s served not by one line but by three. See. I told you this was important.

TfL is consulting on its plans until December. You can tell them your views here.
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