Crossrail – the Old Oak scene

Crossrail – the Old Oak scene

I bet you never realised Crossrail had major working sites at both of West London’s ‘Oaks!’ That is, Royal Oak and Old Oak. The former is the location where the tunnels begin their journey to either East or South East London, and the latter is where the company built and stored its thousands and thousands of tunnel linings ready to transport to the central core tunnel portals for onward transportation to their allocated spot in the newly dug bores. After the tunnels were finished Old Oak then became the location where the brand new Crossrail depot was built. I thought this would be a good opportunity to view some of the images over the years that have emerged of these sites and see how they have developed.

With the advent of HS2 the direction of construction at Old Oak has of course changed because there is now to be a new major station, which will serve HS2 (largely sited below ground) as well as provide connections between both GWR and Elizabeth Line services (above ground.) A totally different phase altogether to the earlier one. Not only that there will be new developments, parkland and new roads, to complement the new interchange. Thus within the space of ten years or so the Old Oak site will have seen enormous changes even though the entire site wont be finished until perhaps the early 2030s.

Old Oak was quite synonymous with Swindon. It was one of the old GWR’s (as well as British Railways’ Western Region) major centres, apart from the fact the former built locomotives and the latter didn’t. Until very recently a substantial part of the former GWR depot could be seen. At the time of writing there’s practically nothing left of the old site.

This is how the site originally looked as the famous GWR locomotive depot in 1943. The Grand Union Canal is marked. That has essentially dictated the site’s development. Source: Twitter.

The Old Oak turntable in 2010. Source: GLIAS

Just ten years or so earlier this is how it looked! Some lovely Western Hydraulics on show at Old Oak Open Day 2000! Source: Twitter.

Old Oak segment factory in December 2012. This photo was released to commemorate the 5000th ring made for the new Crossrail tunnels. Source: Twitter. (Note: Crossrail deleted its Twitter account in the early afternoon of 28th December 2022. Thus an archived image is used here.)

One can see the Grand Union Canal running alongside the factory. A strong case was made for the tunnel rings to be transported by canal instead of road from here to Royal Oak, the reason being the canal is practically adjacent to the tunnel portals at Royal Oak. Crossrail desisted and said they didn’t think it was viable, much to the disappointment of those including local councillors who had advocated the plan. The issue here would have been the location of the Westbourne Park bus garage which is stood on the site. Although Crossrail was able to utilise part of the site for their works, the canal itself is at a higher level (or the railway is at a much lower level rather) as well as being in a site of tight constraint. Thus Crossrail deemed the proposal impractical.

Another view of the temporary Old Oak segment factory February 2013. Source: Metro

After the Crossrail tunnels had been completed the segment factory was demolished and the site cleared for the new Crossrail train depot.

Demolition of the GWR Pullman shed. The Crossrail pop up factory has gone. January 2015. Source: Internet Archive.

Parliamentarians at the new site in March 2015. Source: Twitter

Foundation work for the new Crossrail depot. March 2015. Source: Twitter

Another view of the new Crossrail site. These views look south towards the GWR main line. March 2015. Source: Twitter

The final concrete segments stored on site waiting for transport to the new Crossrail tunnels. The new depot structure can be see for the first time in the background. Sept 2015. Source: Twitter

The order of progress undertaken here was construction of the new Crossrail depot was initiated first and the depot tracks to the north were built later once all the tunnel segments had been used and the site no longer required by the Crossrail construction teams.

Preparing the site in 2015. What remained of the old GWR depot was mostly towards the right in the south west corner of the site adjacent to the Heathrow Express depot. (out of picture) Source: Twitter

Beginnings of the new Crossrail depot in 2015. Source: Twitter

Network Rail operations to upgrade some of the approach tracks in readiness for the new Crossrail depot. December 2015. Source: Twitter

Network Rail upgrading the overhead and laying new crossovers in readiness for the new depot. The site is just west of the road and railway bridges at Scrubs Lane. December 2015. Source: Twitter

The above work sees to have been quite futile because of other developments that arose. What it mean is some of this new has now been removed! That is because the site is required for the development of the new HS2 site. These tracks also doubled as an additional connection to the Heathrow Express depot.

This is where the GWR locomotive depot turntable once stood! This was near the western extremity of the site. March 2016. Source: Twitter

Monitoring equipment on the approach tracks to the new depot. The famous ‘Eat Da Rich’ sign can be seen. There’s a better view of that later! September 2016. Source: Twitter

Outside the new depot in September 2017. Source: Twitter

The depot building going up. Sept 2017. Source: Twitter

In September 2017 Old Oak held its final ever classic rail depot open day. Here’s a few shots from that occasion. Sadly I missed this one, unlike the earlier ones I attended.

Queues forming for the final Old Oak open day. Sept 2017. Source: Twitter

The final Old Oak Common depot day in September 2017 with a lovely shot of a Hymek. Source: Twitter

Great view of the Old Oak Common day with all types of motive power on display! All these have been used on the Great Western at one time or another. Source: Twitter

From left to right: The Didcot Railway’s steam railmotor no.93; 6023 King Edward II; 7903 Foremarke Hall; D821 Greyhound; D1015 Western Champion; 50035 Ark Royal; 43002 Sir Kenneth Grange; 180102 Queen Elizabeth II; 800003 Queen Victoria.

The HST’s are now only employed on local services in the west of the country, and are known as ‘Castles.’ These are shortened rakes of HST’s adapted for these services from Bristol westwards to Penzance. A handful are also in use with Scottish Region on services such as Glasgow/Edinburgh to Aberdeen. The Adelantes (eg 180102) had a fairly troubled reign on the Western before finally transferring to the Eastern Region as part of the Hull Trains and Grand Central fleets where they proved their worth. Some are now with East Midlands.

A couple of views of the 2017 Old Oak Open Day can be seen on Google Streets 1 and Google Streets 2.

I think this photograph is taken in the period after the final Old Oak open day. The track is in the process of being taken up and the remaining Old Oak train sheds will soon be no more. Source: Construction News.

More sidings under construction Nov 2017. Source: Twitter

The one notable aspect of this picture is the Grand Union Canal runs alongside the Old Oak complex for its full length. In fact its the canal that has always formed the northern boundary alongside much of the great Western between Paddington and Old Oak Common. The building in the distance with ‘Powerday’ visible on it is a fairly new depot built alongside the canal itself. Its also rail connected. This was originally an attempt to try and exploit the potential of the canal by using it for heavy traffic into the centre of London (as well as bringing out rubble, scrap metal, spoil, etc from the various building sites.

Once this barge traffic had reached the Powerday depot it would then be transferred to either rail or road based modes. Sadly the canal side of the operation hasn’t seen as much use as some would have liked, and whilst there is currently one weekly large barge working from Central London to the Powerday depot, the level of traffic is not how some would have liked it to be used. The depot’s rail and road connections are of course well used.

More sidings under construction Nov 2017. View looks to the north east. Source: Twitter

The new depot in May 2018 with brand new Class 345s destined for TfL Rail (later to be Elizabeth Line) services. Source: Twitter

It must be said the new depot has a mix of both TfL Rail and Elizabeth Line trains. These are denoted by the roundels they sported. The former being used on the Heathrow/Reading services whilst the latter were only used on testing and trail running/trail operations through the central core tunnels of the Elizabeth Line. Its not to say none of the Elizabeth Line trains were seen on the tracks into Paddington. They were, but only on test runs and never in passenger service.

Once the Elizabeth Line does open, all the existing TfL Rail trains will be rebranded as Elizabeth Line stock.

The new depot in May 2018. Source: Twitter

ROG’s 37601 delivering new 345057 to Old Oak. June 2019. The ‘Eat Da Rich’ sign has been there a long time! Its definitely a permanent feature of the landscape – I don’t think anyone would dare touch it! The wall it is painted on is actually the boundary wall of the Grand Union Canal. Source: Twitter

The final bit of the Old Oak GWR depot being demolished in 2019. Source: Rail Magazine.

Aerial view of the depot in May 2020. Source: Twitter.

New 345s being delivered by road. May 2020. Source: Twitter. (Note: Crossrail deleted its Twitter account in the early afternoon of 28th December 2022. Thus an archived image is used here.)

Its said these extra vehicles (used to lengthen the seven car trains) had to be delivered by road because they didn’t have the right couplings for being hauled by rail. What it means is the 345s only have standard rail couplings on the end cars – and further this tells us if any of the individual carriages on all the similar Bombardier derivatives (Classes 701, 710 and 720 etc) will need to be moved/transferred elsewhere they’ll have to be moved by road too!

The depot in 2020 with the Grand Union Canal just visible at right. Source: Twitter

In terms of the next aerial view, eventually the new station will extend from the southern part of the Crossrail depot to the northern perimeter of the GWR/Hitachi rail depot on the left. The HS2 tunnels will extend almost straight across the middle of the picture before turning to run beneath the New North Main Line (or what’s left of it) towards West Ruislip.

This excellent shot from Nrairops (Network Rail Air Operations – picture is actually by @helisean however) shows the entire Old Oak site in May 2020. Work has just begun on the new station box. Source: Twitter

One aspect of this particular image is, yes you guessed – its the canal once again! This has defined the past and future layouts of the Old Oak site – in fact its why all the railways that cross from north to south need to take a number of bridges – first to cross the GWR railway, secondly to cross the canal. Indeed in the earliest days there was a short-lived tunnel was built under what was known then as the Grand Junction Canal – this gave the Old Oak site its one and only direct access to the north.

The location at right where rail tracks diverge is Mitre Bridge Junction and the line that heads off towards the west is the London Overground route from Clapham Junction. This line soon turns northwards to cross the West Coast Main Line and thus into Willesden Junction High Level station. See the following map for a rough illustration of how the various tracks and junctions once looked.

Railway Clearing House map showing the considerable arrangement of railways that exist to the north of the Old Oak site. The canal is clearly marked at right. Source: Wikipedia.

In terms of Southern trains’s cross London services from East Croydon to Milton Keynes, these instead head straight on at Mitre Bridge Junction and join the West Coast Main Line at West London Junction. On the other side of the map is Acton Wells Junction, which is also used by London Overground trains between Richmond and Willesden Junction High Level.

The Powerday depot is located in the space adjacent to what is known as the N&SW (Old Oak) Junction. In fact one can see the depot from a London Overground train as well as from the canal towpath. However the tracks that serve this depot are accessed via the freight only lines (in blue) from N&SW (Old Oak) Junction to North & South Western Junction.

This plan does show the complexities of fitting a new large railway interchange into such a constrained site! This is from earlier HS2 documentation for the site. as one can see the canal again constraints the site especially at its eastern end. All the north/south railway routes are shown – none of which go near enough to the new interchange to provide a convenient interchange point. Source: HS2

The layout does mean that although east/west connections (Elizabeth Line to Shenfield/Reading as well as those via HS2 to the West Midlands) will be excellent, those to the north and to the south will remain virtually non-existent because as has just been indicated these are at the extremities of the Old Oak site and its been argued whether one, or even two, stations should be built on those connecting lines (and neither of which will really be a convenient interchange station) should be built or not, since these will involve the construction of quite lengthy pedestrian links.

There’s also been an argument whether a new station should be built on the Central Line since it does pass through the Old Oak site at its south western extremity. Indeed there seems to be the space for this as the Central Line is actually on an alignment that was once for four tracks instead of the present two.) The downside is, much like the two London Overground stations that have been mooted, its not really convenient as any sort of interchange and the existing North Acton station is probably just as good.

The nature of whether these other stations should be provided or not is really the subject of a separate post! This Wikipedia article does however illustrate some of the issues at hand.

Photo I took in June 2020 looking over the wall that forms the side of the canal towpath. At this time HS2 had just cleared the area required for the new station and HS2 surveyors were seen marking out the site for excavation of the station box. The Hitachi depot is on the far side and the tracks in the foreground are those that lead to the Crossrail/Elizabeth Line depot. Author’s collection.

As my picture shows the canal towpath is a great viewpoint from which to look across the Old Oak/HS2 station site. In many ways its better than what one can see from a passing GWR or TfL Rail train. There’s a very good view looking across the Elizabeth Line depot from the canal near Old Oak Lane. One of those pictures I took of the depot is used as the main image on this post.

One can easily access the canal towpath from Scrubs Lane. Unfortunately there’s no convenient tube or rail station here however there ‘s the 220 bus from either Willesden Junction or White City stations. Alternatively one can undertake a short walk along Old Oak Lane from Willesden Junction station to reach the canal towpath where there’s just under a mile of walking along the towpath with good views and a number of locations across the Crossrail/HS2 site eastward to Scrubs Lane where one could if they wish, catch the 220 bus back to Willesden Junction.

Since 2020 the site has of course undergone enormous changes. All traces of the GWR depot had vanished gone and the Heathrow Express depot too was closed. Work began to prepare the site for the new HS2 station box. During 2021 all remaining tracks (not those to the Crossrail depot) were taken up and the Heathrow Express depot demolished. The HS2 station box began to take shape. No doubt in a few short years time the entire site will be totally unrecognisable with a station serving both the new HS2 and the Great Western route.