Queenstown Road Battersea is a strange old place, a relic from another era. Its frontage still bears the name ‘Queen’s Road’ in a font that is reminiscent of steam trains and railway barons. No FCC-style over-branding here. When the train stops there and you’re not getting off it looks more like a half-abandoned siding than a station, balanced precariously over south London. When you do get off on the windswept platform, there’s almost nothing there. Just some steps down to a cavernous entrance hall where a SWT ticket machine skulks in a dark abandoned corner. It’s un-manned most of the time and often deserted and its only facilities are a temporary coffee cart for the morning ‘rush’, the ticket machine and a display board offering leaflets about other, more exciting destinations.
So when it was briefly manned the other day for one of SWT’s new era ticket checks, I took the opportunity to suggest to one of the orange-jacketed ones that they put some bike racks inside the ticket hall, instead of having them outside half under the railway bridge where you have a choice between wiping rain or pigeon poo off your saddle in the evening.
‘It’s a good idea,’ he said, looking round. ‘But the station’s privately owned, so SouthWest Trains can’t do anything to it. It’s a bit of a mystery.’
Privately owned? How could a station be privately owned? I had visions of some reclusive Miss Havisham figure, last surviving member of an ancient railway family, locked up in her attic cackling, while the suits of SWT banged on her door and pleaded with her to sell up so they could open a branch of Costa Coffee and a WHSmith in the last remnants of her demesne.
In depth internet research a quick google search revealed no further details and couldn’t confirm or deny any of this. Even Wikipedia – which I have found to be a rich store of railway minutiae too boring even for me – was silent on the subject. A mystery indeed.
Or maybe not. A colleague, more cynical than me about train companies and their little ways, had an alternative suggestion.
‘Maybe,’ she said, ‘they’re just trained to answer any request with an excuse so surreal you can’t fail to believe them so you shut up and go away.’ She may well be right. It certainly worked on me.