London trains: The train platform gap so big that some trains are banned from stopping there

The next time you’re at Clapham Junction station, look up at the departure boards. You’ll notice that trains depart from platforms 1 to 17… almost.

There are no departures from platform 8.

That platform is used by fast South Western Railway (SWR) services travelling towards Waterloo but because the gap between trains and the platform edge is so significant, trains are banned from stopping there, according to Network Rail documentation.

Clapham Junction station has some of the largest train-platform gaps on London’s rail network as most of the platforms curve around a bend, with platforms 7 to 17 served by SWR, Southern and occasional London Overground trains requiring both a long step down from the train to the platform as well as a wide gap.

The Network Rail Sectional Appendix, which is a large document detailing operational practices on the railway across the country, outlines: “Due to a gap that is considered too wide for normal use by stopping passenger trains. The Up Main Fast platform 8 at Clapham Junction must only be used for stopping passenger trains in an emergency.

“In other than an emergency situation, for example the Up Loop, platform 7 is unavailable for any reason, no trains are permitted to stop on platform 8 and will run fast to London Waterloo and not call at Clapham Junction.”

The rule has been in place since 2016, although services have generally not stopped at the platform for decades. The gap appears to be around three foot wide depending on the type of train at the widest part of the gap.

It would be near impossible to assist a passenger with mobility issues on or off the train in the middle of a carriage at the tightest part of the curve.

Trains run fast from Surbiton to Waterloo through platform 8© Lucy Williamson Trains run fast from Surbiton to Waterloo through platform 8

The opposite platform, numbered 7, can be used by any train travelling along the same line as platform 8’s instead meaning the rule only kicks in when platform 7 is blocked.

Safety is the number one priority of Network Rail and London’s rail operators so banning trains from calling at platform 8 reduces the risk of serious incidents happening. In 2020, a man was crushed to death after falling between the train-platform gap on a curved platform at Waterloo on the London Underground Bakerloo line, highlighting the risks posed by the train-platform interface when there are tight bends.

Unlike other platforms where trains pass without stopping, platform 8 is not gated off and is equipped with information screens and additional signage should a train ever need to stop there in an emergency.

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