Friday, October 19, 2018

How to publicise railway works

Once upon a time "Operation London Bridge" referred to, well, London Bridge station.

In the 1970s a major project was undertaken to rearrange the railway tracks not just at London Bridge itself but right across south east London to avoid conflict on the different routes to Charing Cross and Canon Street and at the same time to rebuild the railway station to better serve customers.

What's interesting from the modern perspective is the way in which passengers were taken with the project. There was a concerted publicity effort not only to make sure passengers were aware that there was going to be disruption, but also to explain the aim of the improvements and get them on board.

A collection of leaflets and posters can be seen at Southern Railway Publicity, specifically at Station Improvements. Some of the design and level of information may seem odd from a modern perspective but the key message is clear throughout - this was a project to untangle a major blockage in the system and improve reliability.

There was even a special film made by British Transport Films:


Note how often signs would include the words "Operation London Bridge", again making it clear to passengers that this was all part of the major project. This was especially useful at stations some way out from London Bridge itself.

All in all the publicity side can be considered a great success. Today's railway managers could do well to look back at this and remember that just stating "engineering works" does nothing for customer satisfaction.

(What of the changes themselves? Well they made the station more efficient for Charing Cross and Canon Street but note there have so far been no references to Blackfriars and beyond. This is because at the time there was no regular service to there from London Bridge. It wasn't until the late 1980s that the old Snow Hill tunnel was re-opened to passenger services, thus creating Thameslink and massively transforming the needs of London Bridge, with the added problem that the route to Blackfriars brought its own complications. Hence the more recent Thameslink Programme upgrade.

Operation London Bridge may have improved operations around London Bridge itself, but one consequence was a segregation of tracks right out across south east London which could affect the available services as network-wide efficiency took precedence over local through connections. One notable long term casualty has been the Bromley North branch, as explained in detail at London Reconnections: The Past and Future of the Bromley North Branch.)

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