Oxford Circus tube station upgrade?

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The last time Oxford Circus tube station was upgraded was more than fifty years ago, when the Victoria Line was built! The statement this week concerning new tube entrances at Oxford Circus station seems to hint that some form of improvement is in the works. These are part of plans to make Oxford Street more pedestrian-friendly by adding two new tube station entrances on either side of the traffic intersection! Is this, on the surface, a tube station upgrade? That’s because the word ‘major enhancements’ is used, that appears to be what is being intended. It’s purely ornamental and makes Oxford Circus tube station appear bigger and better, but that’s all – and what’s more, there’s no real increase in capacity.

There’s been a large number of reports on this many thinking its a good idea even if its not as complete as one would like. The addition of new tube entrances is perhaps the biggest surprise and that alone gives the whole concept a massive wow factor! But hold on a minute. Is this an upgrade to Oxford Circus tube station or not? Time Out certainly seems to think so as it says ‘There will also be new entrances to Oxford Circus Tube station, to ease the bottleneck of passengers entering and leaving under the current design.’

When it comes to the east side, the image (shown below) has a wow factor, so you’d think they’re really putting in something new at this part of the station! Anyone could be forgiven for thinking it was a brand-new subway they were building beneath Oxford Circus to connect with the tube.. However, this is not the case! It is, instead, a little-used subway built as part of the Victoria Line upgrade. It was built in part with cut and cover, along the top of which Oxford Street runs, and it connects to the top of the Central Line escalators, which were built in the late 1920s to replace the lifts. This subway, on the other hand, has seen very little use in recent years. This interconnecting subway was dug by hand at the same time the Oxford Circus umbrella was in place and at the time it was thought it would give the station extra capacity and a better means of passenger flows throughout the station. In fact it was touted as an alternative route to the Central Line but I’ve never known it used for this.

What’s more, despite the essence the picture is conveying (apart from the inaccurate depiction of a tube train) there isn’t going to be any new connections to the tube, there’s already one – it was built in the late 1920s! That is what the picture shows when it illustrates escalators leading down to the tube. These are in fact those leading to/from the Central Line.

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The new entrances and subway arrangements. The position of the tube train isn’t accurate! The lengthy subway shown under Oxford Street has been there since about 1966 but is hardly used. Source: Kent News/Bristol Post

The subway connection shown at the top of that 1920s built escalator shaft has remained surplus to requirements. It’s never been used well in my experience. It was once offered as an alternative route between the Central Line escalators and the main ticket hall, but it was discovered over time the arrangement hampered rather than improved passenger flows around the station, thus this subway has been effectively closed for many years with only the very rare exception of being used. The other issue is its somewhat inconvenient because in its current form it does not provide any kind of useful route.

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3D view of Oxford Circus upper levels. Source: Twitter

Sometimes would be passengers enter the station via the Oxford Street/Argyle Street entrances thinking its the way to the tube platforms. It isn’t but sometimes staff will direct these unsuspecting passengers through the unused subway towards the main ticket hall itself and the correct routes to the three tube lines.

This tunnel lies very roughly along the centre of Oxford Street and it is deeper at its western end where it meets the main ticket hall. The first part of it is level however and it seems its here the new entrance would be sited. The connecting subway in question can be seen on the above 3D map as a ‘bridge’ between the secondary and main ticket halls.

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Quick diagram I did to show the situation. Its not meant to be an accurate representation rather its for simplicity. I’ve excluded the escalators up from the Bakerloo/Victoria lines. The blue areas show the ticket hall levels of the station. The numbers correspond to the pictures I took & shown below.

In terms of the above diagram, the blue section running down the centre of Oxford Street towards the main ticket hall (and the down Bakerloo/Victoria escalators) is the ‘mystery subway’ built for the station’s upgrade in the sixties. As explained in the text this interconnecting subway is not used much these days however the proposed new eastern entrance/exit to the station would utilise this little used section of the station. The red squares outline the approximate locations of the new entrance buildings that will be seen at street level. The smaller square at the left side (west side of Oxford Circus tube station area) will in theory connect to a section of the station that has not seen use for many years. This was formerly a section lined with telephone booths and a waiting area – its now used for staff and storage. It will require a rather short section of new tunnel to connect with the proposed western entrance/exit to the station.

The following pictures are depicted as numbers 1 to 4 as shown on the diagram above – and these pictures illustrate the locations in relation to the tube station ticket hall and exit levels.

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As one alights the escalators from the Central Line the ‘mystery’ subway can be seen to the right. Its not a mystery (at least to those like me) but it certainly looks mysterious! This picture is numbered one on the diagram.

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If one goes up to the gateline seen in the previous picture, the ‘mystery’ subway can be seen in full. At the far end is the main ticket hall giving entry to all three tube lines (Bakerloo, Central and Victoria.) Its about here there’ll be a new tube entrance directly from Oxford Street above (if plans go as intended and are approved etc.) This picture is numbered two on the diagram.

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The ‘mystery’ subway seen yet again, this time from the main ticket hall area. The ticket barriers seen in the previous picture can be seen at the far end. The new entrance/exit would be about where these barriers are. By the way Oxford Street itself is directly above! This picture is numbered three on the diagram.

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This picture is taken directly above the subways in question. The Central Line escalator shaft is behind my picture and a bit over to the left side (and below ground of course!) The old Bakerloo Line building is seen on the left and this now forms one of the exits from Oxford Circus tube station. The ‘mystery’ subway more or less runs directly under the centre of Oxford Street (well at a slight angle actually) towards Oxford Circus and the main circular ticket hall. The foreground of the picture would be about where a new tube entrance could be built, leading down to that ‘mystery’ subway and the rest of the tube station. This picture is numbered four on the diagram.

The plans announced yesterday clearly show the new entrances to the tube station are envisaged to be built in the roadway immediately above this subway and then a flight of steps down into the subway itself. On the whole it does look like extra capacity and everyone’s apparently excited abut this. But wait! Its not any sort of major enhancement. Where’s the new capacity that will be gained from these? There wont be any in fact. Oh yes they can have larger numbers of people waiting down there when there’s problems on the tube, but its NOT any sort of extra capacity because the ticket hall gateline wont be changed. In fact it can’t be changed easily because of its layout.

In a nutshell its like Piccadilly Circus tube station – another tube station which has many extra entrances (there were two more entrances/exits in fact but these were closed many years ago) but again its the gateline area and the layout of the ticket hall that prevents any real gain in increased capacity. Oxford Circus station will of course be able to hold a few more people behind the gatelines but it wont have an increase in flows unless the entire ticket hall is remodelled. And even if that was done the other problem then is the poor passenger routes at the bottom of the escalators. Another problem is those for the Central Line sometimes need to cut across the flows for the Victoria and Bakerloo Lines.

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The part pedestrianised road intersection (buses will still be allowed north to south across here) with one of the new tube entrances on the west side of the circus. Source: Twitter

Undoubtedly it will be nice to have new tube entrances that look nice and inviting, rather than the four contrived sixties built stairwell entrances on either corner of Oxford Circus. But I’d think in due course it would be found better to close one or two of those sixties entrances because again if each and every one of these entrances (that’ll be six then) are in use there’s going to be a number of conflicts in passenger flows.

On the other hand, it might be a good idea to at least provide an alternative (or new fixed) route to the Central Line, as was previously planned. But, in my opinion, a complete re-evaluation of the various escalators, subways, and entrances, as well as whether any of these could be reversed, would be preferable. The former Bakerloo/Central Line buildings, for example, become the dedicated access to and from the Central Line, and one of the two new entrances (plus a pair of stairwell entrances) becomes the dedicated entrance to the Bakerloo and Victoria Lines (and the other set – one new entrance and two stairwell exits) becomes the dedicated route out of the Bakerloo/Victoria Line platforms to street level.

But whatever they do, it wont be an upgrade at all. Not unless they demolish large parts of the station and start all over again!

Oxford Circus to be turned into pedestrian piazzas this year (Guardian.)

Unveiling our plans for ‘iconic’ Oxford Circus (City of Westminster.)

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