48

Many transit apps and websites provide information on the optimal Tube train section

or carriage

to enter as part of journey planning.

But in order to make use of this information (unless one wants to risk running along a busy platform through gathering crowds as the train arrives), one needs to know from what direction a Tube train will pass the station platform.

Is there a general way, while standing on a platform, to determine — perhaps from subtle signage clues, or track arrangements, or even something about the infrastructure of the platform — from which direction a Tube train, especially a deep tube train, will pass the station platform? Is there a way to anticipate (other than an announcement) the sequel while riding on a train: on what side the doors will open?

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    Most trains have a fixed side of the track they are using, if it is a double track line. Now you only have to work out whether it is a middle platform or one of two outside platforms. – Willeke Apr 14 '17 at 18:41
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    You are quite fastidious concerning answers.... – Thorsten S. Apr 14 '17 at 18:41
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    Would the following work? Use a map to determine which direction the line runs through the station, e.g. northwest to southeast. A standard Tube map won't show this well, but the transit overlay in Apple or Google maps seems to usually be pretty accurate. Then use a compass, or the electronic compass on your smartphone, to determine which direction is which. – Nate Eldredge Apr 14 '17 at 21:37
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    Bad user interface is bad. "Front" or "back" of the train means nothing to the user, they should have written "go left/right when you are at the platform" instead. – Federico Poloni Apr 15 '17 at 12:02
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    @FedericoPoloni there are a few stations with odd/multiple arrangements of stairs/escalators/lifts. This field would need to be populated by hand per platform. – Chris H Apr 18 '17 at 9:38
38

For the most part, tube trains travel on the left. So, if you have a reference to the other platform, you can deduce in which direction the train will be travelling.

On a few of the older cut-and-cover lines, we have two tracks running down the middle with platforms on either side (i.e., you can look across the tracks and see the other platform). For example, this is true at Monument, Sloane Square, Fulham Broadway, Cannon Street and many other stations on the Circle/District lines. Here the trains travel on the left.

At smaller, newer stations where there is only one line, the platforms are usually in the middle of the two tracks. Sometimes there is a single "island" platform (e.g., South Kensington) but on the deeper lines the platforms are separated, in their own tunnels: either way, the principle still holds. Again the trains travel on the left, so you can use this to infer the front of the train.

At big stations where many lines intersect, it is harder to follow the principle; sometimes the trains switch sides or the platforms are optimized for connections between different lines. A close look at the actual track and platform arrangements illustrates these patterns as well as some of the notable exceptions:

enter image description here

General rules:

  • Trains run on the left
  • Deep tube platforms are situated between tracks
  • Sub-surface tube platforms are situated outside tracks

As a result, deep tube trains generally run to your right as you stand on the platform facing the tracks, while sub-surface trains run to your left.

Exceptions:

  • Platforms are sometimes rearranged (e.g. Platform 2 at St. Paul's is outside the tracks rather than between as is generally the case for deep tube; Platform 1 at Mansion House is between rather than outside as is generally the case for sub surface lines; At Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Circus, and Embankment, both Bakerloo platforms are outside rather than between the tracks)
  • Rarely, trains run on the right (e.g., the Northern line at Bank and at London Bridge).

As a result, deep tube trains sometimes run to your left (Bakerloo at Piccadilly Circus, Oxford Circus, and Embankment; eastbound Central trains at St. Paul's) and sub-surface trains sometimes run to your right (westbound Circle and District lines at Mansion House; Northern line at Bank and London Bridge).

At the platform you may be able to spot the the clear ("go") signal lights (white for deep lines, green for all other lines) located at the driver's end of the platform. This is probably only going to be illuminated when the train is already there, of course, but you may be able to see the light regardless.

In the end, once you do a journey quite often you will automatically find yourself going to the most optimal part of the train and it becomes second nature. If you are only doing it once, it probably is not so important.

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    @raxacoricofallapatorius (1) For most deep lines you are in the middle. You'll notice that from the design as you come into the platform. (2) Look for the signal light. – Calchas Apr 14 '17 at 21:08
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    @raxacoricofallapatorius Afraid not. The electrified rails can switch sides, so that the outer electrified rail is always furthest away from a platform edge. – Calchas Apr 14 '17 at 21:46
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    The northern line has some tricks when it comes to the side, because in addition to being on the right at bank, there is also oval where the northbound trains travel above the southbound trains, stockwell where northbound northern line trains are on the left of the station but right of the platform group, (the victoria line southbound has the same issue), and kennington where there are 4 tracks. – user1937198 Apr 14 '17 at 22:27
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    Calchas, raxacoricofallapatorius has proposed an edit. Because it is quite massive (otherwise fine), me and another user are quite uncertain to accept it. Would you look at the edit? It can be seen under the edited link in the middle under the answer. – Thorsten S. Apr 15 '17 at 18:41
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    I've approved the edit since it seemed good. But please feel free to roll-back if it's not welcome. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Apr 15 '17 at 19:43
34

Look for the end of the platform with TV screens. These are at the front of the train in the direction of travel because the driver uses these screens to view when it is safe to close the doors.

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    This is in theory a good method, but those screens are situated on the edge of the platform and point towards the track, so they are hard to discern as a passenger standing on the platform. – ArtOfCode Apr 16 '17 at 13:30
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    The problem is that platform-mounted CCTV monitors and mirrors are on their way out, being replaced by in-cab CCTV equipment. The Central, Jubilee, Northern, Victoria and Waterloo & City lines all have no platform monitors and they are due to go very soon on the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines just as soon as all of the old trains have gone, in fact, already the monitors on many Metropolitan platforms have been decommissioned if they've not been taken away already – Au101 Apr 17 '17 at 0:59
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    Look at the scuff marks on the "mind the gap" paint too - you can often tell where the high foot-traffic doors are for a particular station by how worn the paint is. This is also an "insider" secret us Londoners use to know where the doors will open and enable us to stand in just the right spot... :-) – mccdyl001 Apr 18 '17 at 7:21
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    You can also look for the red/green light signal just inside the tunnel, which is obviously at the driver's end/ front of the train. – nigel222 Apr 18 '17 at 7:58
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    Once you have done the same journey for more than a month, you "just know" where you should wait for your train! – nigel222 Apr 18 '17 at 8:00
23

Ask a station attendant (if there are any) or one or more people waiting.

  • Happy to upvote a legitimate answer. – Johns-305 Apr 14 '17 at 21:32
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    Certainly the universal solvent for any sort of issue like this: ask someone. – Harper - Reinstate Monica Apr 16 '17 at 2:28
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    The only correct answer. – Fattie Apr 16 '17 at 12:43
23

Here's a some things an observant rider will see:

  • Which direction are the local riders watching for the train.
  • Which end of the platform has White (Victoria and Central) or Green (all other lines) signal lights.
  • Which way are other trains going (you'll also have to note the type of platform Transfer and Local vs Express). This is often useful on the Circle, District or Hammersmith & City Lines.
  • From which direction is the breeze coming.

To know which side the doors will open will require either local knowledge/experience, or station maps. MTA / New York City Subway has the station maps on their website. I would expect (don't know though) London Transport to has the same.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – JonathanReez Supports Monica Apr 16 '17 at 13:34
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    +1 for mentioning the breeze ... I've been out of London long enough now I forgot that one! – nigel222 Apr 18 '17 at 8:01
9
  1. Look at a map to determine the cardinal direction of the track for your line in the direction of your destination.

    For instance, let's say you are at Aldgate waiting for the Circle Line anticlockwise toward Euston and Kings Cross. The standard tube map, which should be posted in the station, shows the line running north; but this map is only schematic and may not always be geographically accurate. Standard online map apps, such as Apple Maps or Google Maps, have a transit layer which shows transit lines overlaid on a street map, which show, with reasonable accuracy, where the lines actually run. (If you don't expect to have mobile internet access underground, the Google Maps phone app at least will let you pre-download map tiles with the "Offline Areas" feature.) This shows the line actually runs to the northeast.

  2. If your smartphone is equipped with an electronic compass (for instance, recent iPhones have a Compass app), you can orient yourself in the appropriate direction. Or you can carry a magnetic compass with you (though you might look a bit silly checking it). Or, you can note your orientation (with respect to the streets) as you enter the station, and try to keep track as you turn corners within the station.

  • I was going to recommend Google Maps. Finding the closest angle towards the next station is usually enough to guess which direction a train is facing. – Sumurai8 Apr 15 '17 at 11:06
  • @Sumurai8: Google Maps is somewhat terrible for this, though. The base map does show the tunnels reasonably accurately as thin dashed grey lines -- but if you click on a transit icon you'll get a colored line overlay whose relation to reality (e.g. for Jubilee at Baker Street or Northern at Euston) can be tenuous. – Henning Makholm Apr 15 '17 at 12:48
  • It's a fantastic point, Nate, that - of course! - you can know this by actually thinking of the direction involved!!. Brilliant. (It's true that it's hard to get device location/compass working underground, but still it's a great point.) – Fattie Apr 16 '17 at 12:45
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    @Fattie: Device location is hard to get working underground because it is usually based on GPS and needs to receive radio signals from space. But the compass just detects the earth's magnetic field, like any other compass, and that should work fine underground. See outdoors.stackexchange.com/questions/11557/… – Nate Eldredge Apr 16 '17 at 14:46
  • hey Nate - that's an outstanding point!!! I had never thought about whether ordinary magnetic compasses work underground - sure enough they do. The compass in a phone is a Hall Effect device; I would imagine (but I don't know) they'd work underground or underwater as well as an old-days compass. – Fattie Apr 16 '17 at 16:45
8

While thinking about this question, I found a web site with diagrams of London Underground stations, 3D maps of every Underground station. Using this does require Internet access, not just on-the-platform observation.

For example, at Tottenham Court Road the front of the Eastbound Central Line trains is at the ticket hall end of platform 2. The platform is on the right side of the train, facing forwards.

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    But: "while standing on a platform". – orome Apr 14 '17 at 18:36
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    @raxacoricofallapatorius Whether the you will be able to access the Internet while standing on the platform depends on the your phone carrier, or the you can pay separately. See Station WiFi. Alternatively, you could look up the platform information for your journey at the same time as getting the carriage recommendation. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 14 '17 at 18:45
  • Have you tried that? (Not really what I had in mind as a practical "on the platform" solution.) – orome Apr 14 '17 at 18:48
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    @raxacoricofallapatorius Tried which? I only became aware of the 3D maps web site while considering this question, and I am currently several thousand miles from the nearest tube station, so I cannot test that. If I remember correctly, I have used WiFi on station platforms, but that is highly dependent on cell phone carrier and plan. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 14 '17 at 18:59
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    @WGroleau Do you have Transport for London specific information that supersedes or corrects the Station WiFi link I posted above? If that page is correct, station WiFi is being provided by cell phone companies for their customers, and those who pay for a pass. – Patricia Shanahan Apr 15 '17 at 17:08
8

The enthusiast map at http://carto.metro.free.fr/cartes/metro-tram-london/ shows, among other things, where the platforms are located relative to the tracks at each station.

Knowing that the trains usually run on the left (the exceptions are noted on the map too, notably Central Line at White City, Northern Line at London Bridge and Bank, and Victoria Line between Warren Street and St Pancras), this should enable you to predict which direction the train will go when you stand on the platform facing the train.

  • Yes, these are a great resource and I carry the latest as a PDF on my phone at all times (and an essential part of any transit nerds kit). I was hoping for something that works "on the platform" (i.e. from cues on the platform, without a reference) but it seems from what others have said that that's not possible. So having a resource like this is worth including among the answers. – orome Apr 15 '17 at 12:05
  • I've suggested to the Citymapper folks (about a year ago) that they study this and use it to indicate the direction of trains as seen from the platform (it's just a few hours work at most). But they have other higher priority thing to do (adding cities to the app!) so: nothing yet. (If you join me in the suggestion, maybe they'll start to prioritize it.) – orome Apr 15 '17 at 12:08
  • To suggest using this reference to add the missing info to the apps mentioned on the OP: Citymapper, Tube Map. Send a link the track map and suggest that they use it to determine direction. – orome Apr 15 '17 at 12:29
4

One thing that surprisingly hasn't been mentioned; there's usually a digital (or possibly sometimes analogue?) clock right at the end of the platform at which the front of the train stops.

enter image description here

In this photo the digital clock is above the blue box on the right.

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    @user568458 it's not my photo and I don't know what licence it's under, hence linking rather than uploading myself. – Muzer Apr 18 '17 at 10:34
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    This is a very nice observation, and a great answer. But you've been really really unfortunate with the image because it demonstrates one of the problems. That's a picture of Piccadilly Circus where trains can terminate and head back in the other direction using the points you can see in the picture. By poor fortune your picture shows the back of the platform. Almost all trains will arrive from the direction we're looking and depart in the other direction. Only very rarely will trains terminate and then head back in the direction we're looking – Au101 Apr 19 '17 at 18:40
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    @Au101 Very good point - but then most of the other suggestions (besides the rules of thumb about train running side) have the same issue! Thanks for pointing out the picture's problem, though, I should really have noticed by the other train in the background that it was on the right! – Muzer Apr 20 '17 at 8:32
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    @raxacoricofallapatorius 2 – Au101 Apr 20 '17 at 22:55
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    @raxacoricofallapatorius None are scheduled to the last time I looked. Possibly there's one i've overlooked that does the move in order to keep the equipment in order, keep drivers' route knowledge up etc. but otherwise none scheduled. As an emergency reversing point for when everything's all going horribly wrong, again, it's not common in my experience, but maybe I just don't look at the TfL website at the right moments :P Although, from 11/1996 - 06/1997 I hear the Bakerloo was suspended south of Piccadilly Circus for work on the tunnels under the Thames – Au101 Apr 20 '17 at 23:02

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