(Full disclosure – due to Super Fun Shielding Times, I haven’t been able to walk this line yet. So this is more of a trip down memory lane. Fitting, really.)
It finally happened. Class 315 has been taken out of service.
Well, not entirely. @BeingJarley on twitter kindly informed me that there are still a handful of them running on TFL Rail, between Liverpool Street and Shenfield, but as far as the Overground goes, they are no more.
Their death knell was supposed to ring back in July, as the city was starting to ease out of a national lockdown that had sucked the joy out of London life. The full rollout of the 710’s was delayed, much to the dismay of most, but I was thrilled that there would, eventually, be more journeys to enjoy on the old stock I’ve romanticised so much.
Now, as of October, they have gone. Replaced with (admittedly very good) shiny new trains with USB charging points, air conditioning, and more space for passengers.
Whilst I know that the better reliability and accessiblity of these new trains will be a long-awaited blessing for our communities (particularly during a time when social distancing is integral to avoiding signing our own death warrants on the way to work), on a personal level I am very sad to see them go.
Before I started visiting London on a regular basis, I had been on a train a total of three times in my entire life. Three times. It might even have been less than that, come to think of it. I grew up in a very rural area, without a working station. We had a wonderful heritage railway, led by a diesel shunter nicknamed “Bluebell Mel”, but it didn’t go anywhere. When you’re a teenager, you want to go somewhere. Of course now, with the sad news that the DRSA has gone into administration, I wish I had made more time to enjoy Bluebell Mel and her gentle exploration of the Dartmoor Railway.
To Young Me, trains were enigmatic, exciting, and made absolutely no sense. I didn’t understand how timetabling worked. I had no idea how passengers understood where to go, how they would know what platform was the right one, and how they would know when to get off. I grew up using shonky bus services on which you’d have to ask the driver to give you a shout when you got to your stop, because there was no way on God’s green earth you’d know otherwise – and that’s if the bus even turned up. The idea that there were reliable, mechanical beasts that would take you from A to B at specific times, opening the world up to you, felt like actual, real-life magic.
As you can imagine, coming to London was a culture shock. I remember asking a friend on my first trip here how I could find the timetable for the Circle Line, as I was worried I would miss it and be late for my train home. He laughed in my face, understandably. Over time, I learned how to navigate trains and how to read the Underground map, and wondered how I’d ever lived without these things.
When I was in London, I always stayed with my best friend in Clapton. At the time I was deeply unhappy, sleepwalking through a life I felt I had somehow been tricked into. When I came to London, I felt like I was waking up. It felt like falling in love. The threads running through this, pulling it all together, were the class 315’s that ran on the line between Liverpool Street and Chingford.
My friend worked full time, so when I stayed with her during the week, I would happily entertain myself in her little shared house and with trips into the City, gleefully embodying a life I desperately wanted. I didn’t know London at all at this point, but I knew how to get to Spitalfields and Brick Lane. I felt comfortable with these journeys. I looked like I knew my way around.
These solitary days, wandering round vintage clothes shops and record stores in basements, allowed me to inhabit a bright future that felt completely unattainable. I felt powerless, except for in these moments where I was a new person, a person who knew her way around Brick Lane, a person who bought Blondie records and drank expensive flat whites and who nobody noticed. At the end of the day, I would dash through the barriers at Liverpool Street and hop onto the 315 with my shopping and a huge tub of rice and chicken from Wasabi, and I fitted in. I watched graffiti roll by as I headed to Clapton from Liverpool Street, reading signs at stations I’d never used, vowing that next time I would get off and explore. I would watch the little blue dot on Google Maps move along the line and think, this is me, I’m moving along this line. I’m here.
It’s funny to me now that I had the whole of London at my disposal and yet I most often stayed in this one relatively small area, but who could blame me? I was in love.
I was particularly in love with Clapton Station. On sunny days when I was setting off for the City to walk until my feet hurt, I would look at the little flats above the platform and imagine myself stepping out of one of the front doors, leaning on the railings and having my morning cigarette and coffee. On rainy days, when I was heading back home, I ached at the thought. I would sit on the platform waiting for the train that would take me back to the life I felt like a stranger in, and I’d imagine what it would feel like to live in one of these little flats. I would imagine waking every day to the sound of planes whining; I’d never heard that sound before, and it is so inextricably tied to freedom, to the world being at my feet and to all the possiblities that might exist. The sounds of London – the planes, the trains, the sirens, the constants – are what anchor me the most, both to the past and the present.
I’m currently working on a very modest tribute to my beloved class 315’s, and part of that has been trying to get a sound recording of a journey. I have snippets of this already, pulled from video clips, but the recordings aren’t long enough, and now it’s too late to get another one on this line. But I’ll find a way around it. I’ll have to go somewhere.
Our lives don’t follow clear trajectories; they aren’t as perfect as becoming a whole new person when you step onto Brick Lane, or as being able to record the sound of your favourite train on the line it should be on. They are cobbled together, one thing from here and another from there.