London Underground: Why are Circle line trains showing up at Whitechapel?

The scene of the crime. Image: Sunil060902/Wikimedia.

So early one morning, a colleague was trying to catch the tube at Whitechapel in London’s East End, when, well, this happened:


What was going on?


Stephanie wasn't taking any chances:


We thought no more of it – sometimes trains get lost, y'know? But then, last week, it happened again:


Whitechapel, as all good CityMetric readers know, is on the District and Hammersmith & City lines. It's on the branch of the Overground that used to be the East London line. It'll even be on Crossrail.

But one line it is very definitely not on is the Circle line. Look:

We decided to put this question to TfL. (Yes, we actually used the word "witchcraft"; no, they did not find it funny.)

At first a spokesperson suggested that it had been a mistake – maybe the driver had simply placed the electronic sign to the wrong setting? But this wouldn't explain the platform announcements – I mean, the person making those will almost certainly know what lines a station is served by, right?  

And so, our spokesperson made some enquiries. Here’s what they learned:

You’re right, those are indeed Circle line trains that have been spotted at Whitechapel. Circle line trains come out of the Barking sidings in the mornings – they come down the line via Aldgate East and join onto the Circle line from there. They can be spotted late in the evenings too when they go back to the sidings at night.

So, there you go. Very occasionally – early in the morning, and late at night – the Circle line runs far out into east London. It's less disruptive than the Northern line extension – and it’s vastly cheaper, too.

Got an urban mystery you’d like solved? Go on, drop us a line.


Podcast: Flying high

There! Up in the sky! Image: Getty.

Two interviews this week, which are both about the future of our cities but are otherwise unrelated except for allowing me to come up with a sort of pun on the word “high”.

First up: drones, the remote-operated buzzy flying things that recently managed to shut down several of London’s airports. The innovation charity NESTA has produced a report looking at what drones will do for our society, how we need to regulate them, and what role local government is likely to play in that. I spoke to the report’s author Kathy Notstine about all those things and asked: is it worth it?

In the back half, I talk to Skylines regular Paul Swinney of the Centre for Cities about the future of the high street – that, for non British listeners, is what towns generally call their central retail area (the name is roughly analogous to “Main Street”). Paul tells me how cities can regenerate their high streets in the age of Amazon.

Next Tuesday, incidentally, I’ll be recording the second live edition of Skylines at the New Local Government Network’s annual conference in London. If you’re a local government professional, why not pop along?

The episode itself is below. You can subscribe to the podcast on AcastiTunes, or RSS. Enjoy.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

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