Leaky problems: Baker Street

Leaky problems: Baker Street

For well over a week there has been a substantial water ingress at Baker Street on the original 1863 westbound platform. As of the last few days its got worse and TfL are now having to use staff in full time attendance to try and keep the worst affected parts of the platform clear of water – because it could be a hazard for passengers stepping off the trains.

Staff being employed to keep the station’s platforms clear of water.

There have been numerous problems with water before and that is probably in part why many of the information boards on the construction and opening of the Metropolitan Railway in 1863 that were seen on the historic platforms have now been removed – because they got damaged by water ingress.

The issue could be a water mains that has a fracture in it. Actually no-one knows and until Thames Water does dig up the road above to investigate, there’s no telling what will be found. Practically the same exact situation happened in December 2015, yet on that occasion the response was swift because the situation was more critical.

General view of the westbound platform at the spot where the source of the ingress is.

I am not sure what is happening this time as its evident the problem has been around more than a week. It has worsened in the last couple of days with practically the entire length of the platform being affected.

Its a difficult question to answer however judging from some sources its clear that TfL has expectations of water leaks and the organisation generally assumes there is water coming into the tunnels and stations at most of its underground stations and that this ingress is in fact almost constant. In fact London Bridge underground station is said to be particularly affected and TfL has almost half a million each year set aside for that one particular station. Its not possible to build a totally waterproof underground system and so there has to be a fair amount of expectation that water will enter the network in many places – and its effects have to be managed.

Consequently its not possible to close every single station due to every single instance of water ingress. That would mean chaos for the network. If TfL were to close every single bit of line that had water coming into the tunnels, stations, tracks and so on, there wouldn’t be a single bit of the underground system open in fact! This at Baker Street is one of the few occasions where the public really get to see the problems at first hand.

Plenty of evidence of previous water ingress at the historic tube station.

Since this has happened at Baker Street quite a few times before, its something that is sort of expected, its a risk that arises from time to time and were TfL to close the station at every sign this had occurred it would be a major inconvenience. In fact Baker Street, like a lot of other tube stations, too suffers from leakage via natural ground water and an allowance has to be made for this. Its a good reason why the platforms have drains running down their length and in fact every tube station that’s below ground have drains for a very good reason!

Thank goodness the tube has drains in its stations and tunnels – otherwise the water wouldn’t have anywhere to go!

TfL clearly are undertaking contingency measures to minimise the disruption to its network and passengers whilst trying to keep the station open and this includes employing contractors to monitor and clear water away from the platforms.

Some might say, why don’t they close the station? Good question. Its a major interchange and any closures would inconvenience thousands upon thousands of commuters. A balance has to be struck and the train services kept running, and this has to be continued until someone can come and dig up the roadway above the station in order to find the source of the problem.

Many of the walls at the station are inundated with water.

One will no doubt say what about the electrics? The fact water and electricity is not a good combination and the risks of electric shocks. It can be said the leaks are not entering critical parts of the system such as signals and power to the tracks. The lights are a different matter, and its clearly down to TfL’s risk assessors whether those stay on or not. Looking at it from an outsider’s perspective, I have often been in supermarkets hit by torrential rain and whilst they have partitioned the flooded areas off they at least still have their lights and equipment working.

Water can affect the lights too!

Going a bit further afield the case of Luton Airport on the 9th of August when Britain suffered some really bad torrential rainfalls is interesting too. What happened here is the airport terminal was affected by excess rainfall but their equipment and lights continued to work – and whilst staff were cleaning up the different airport lounge areas and drying the floor to make them once again available for public use the lights stayed on. This picture shows the lights fully on in the airport lounges during the clean up operation.

There’s the Stockholm Metro, which suffered huge flooding following torrential downpours in July 2018…

Sweden’s Uppsala station after heavy rain and flooding. The locals are having fun. And the lights – they’re still on! Source: Twitter

As the above picture shows this is the metro station at Uppsala. I am sure the power to the tracks and the escalators at Uppsala have been turned off because these would constitute a major risk. Though the street outside is under water too and water is coming through the ceilings its no doubt its down to engineers and specialists to assess the situation and determine what sort of risks there are, if any, to the public, especially when hordes of people decided to (pardon the pun) make light of the situation. Clearly the people themselves didn’t realise the risks that could have resulted from their fun. Clearly the picture shows despite the electrics being on and a large body of water present with people wading in it, no-one got hurt.

When there’s water ingress the operating authorities have to determine the risks and the safety factor as well as the implications of shutting down a railway service, and there’s TfL’s ‘LUCRFR’ and their Rule book number 2 – Managing incidents, which give advice and guidelines on what to do and what to expect from situations involving flooding of stations or railway lines.

Baker Street is one of the three sub-surface stations on the original section of the Metropolitan Railway and invariably each of the three suffers from major water ingress. The constant pounding of the main roads above must do damage to the mains services which lay below the road surface and immediately above the railway tunnels.

King’s Cross sub surface station is a newer construction dating from the 1940s and the utility services go around the outside of the station’s environs rather than straight over the top of it. The reason for that would be when they built the new station they had to dig a hole in the middle of the road to afford the large station concourse – and all the utility services had to be moved to the sides.

The 1940s built station and concourse at King’s Cross entailed the complete relocation of the utility services beneath the roadway above.

Many sections of the sub surface lines’ tunnels also have issues with water ingress, not necessarily burst mains though these do arise from time to time. The deep level tubes can have problems too, many of the tunnels in fact have particular locations where there’s a substantial amount of water ingress and there has to be a managed assessment of the situation and whether there’s going to be any effect of any sort on the train services. There’s an ongoing problem with the southbound Victoria Line platform at Oxford Circus which has persisted for a number of years. Oxford Circus is of course not the only deep level tube station that has continuing problems with water ingress.

In terms of research there’s very little on the matter of flooding on the tube and according to some it has been largely ignored by academics. A whole book could be in fact written on this subject because its one few have considered in any scope. After the Central Line flooding near Bow in 2012, TfL and the Mayor of London decided upon a comprehensive review and report which came to be known as the London Underground Comprehensive Review of Flood Risk (LUCRFR.)

The report has never been published because there’s severe security implications if the information gets in the wrong hands. Instead there are brief summaries of the report which can be found in the news and its clear LUCRFR does acknowledge the risk of flooding from rain, burst rivers, and burst water mains as being quite considerable.

The 1863 platforms are regularly affected by water ingress.

London Reconnections’ article about flooding tells us rain is considered the worst enemy of the tube. Not rivers, not burst mains, but rain. Indeed. Rain can be totally unexpected and turn up in places where it would have not been thought possible that flooding could occur. Usually when heavy rain does make inroads then it is time to implement emergency measures – including going so far as to close the lines and even the stations.

What is happening at Baker Street isn’t coming from any rain of any sort. Its not an emergency of gigantic proportions. Its a slow, if quite substantial, leak from a water mains somewhere which can be managed to an extent – which is what TfL are currently doing, despite the sheer inconvenience these leaks are causing.

Ironically the King’s Scholar Pond sewer which crosses the tunnel just west of the station platforms, underwent a major programme of strengthening and repair, with a new inner lining in the cast iron tube, to make it leak proof and prevent it from flooding the station. The work was completed in July of this year. Its most definitely not that which is causing the problem as its too far away from the platforms to be the source.

The middle of the road here is about where the leak’s apparent source is. (I measured the distances above and below ground.)

If its a water mains its clearly one in the middle of the westbound carriageway at Baker Street. I had a look at the road and it does seem there is a depression where there could be a problem. There’s a lot of patchwork in the roadway – some work was done here recently in May 2019 and this involved half the carriageway being closed and that happened again in June 2019, and there’s been other instances over the past few years.

Indeed its only nine months since a substantial road closure was needed in December 2018 to stop a major water leak into Baker Street tube station. And the same again occurred in December 2015…

Some people might say it can’t be a mains in the middle of the road as the sides of the 1863 station dovetailed with the edges of the road itself. That is true however in the sixties the roadway was widened considerably thus the south side of the headwalls along Baker Street ‘s 1863 platforms now lie directly beneath the middle of the westbound carriageway.

Part of the roadway at the location in question showing the patchwork quilt of surfaces, with sections of it clearly having been pushed below the general level of the roadway.