The Epic Night-time Journey from Kings Cross to Ealing.

Published on 18 May 2003 in , , , , , ,

I have spent most of the day being extremely tired. This probably has something to do with the fact that it was at 4am when I finally got to bed. I’ve never been a particular fan of late nights but 4am is really past my tolerance level.

There’s no good reason for not getting to bed until 4am. I wasn’t out ‘larging’ it or anything. Indeed we set off for home around 1:15am and were going on a journey that would take little more than an hour during the day.

The plan.

We were near Kings Cross – not far from the Thameslink station. We’d left a party and turned up at a nearby bus stop.

The plan was simple. Buses run through the night from Trafalger Sqaure to Ealing. There are two routes, meaning a 15 minute frequency. However it’s rather a long, tedious journey, usually involving lots of rowdy drunk people.

A far better way of getting back is to go to Paddington station and get one of the trains that run hourly through the night. Paddington to Ealing takes 10 minutes, and the trains run at something like 10 or 20 minutes past the hour. I can’t remember which, but it’s not important.

We left at 1:15am with the aim of getting to Paddington from Kings Cross for about 2am. Not a major problem. Or so we thought.

The beginning.

So we left the party (red wine spills and all) and turned up at the bus stop nearby. Kings Cross isn’t my favourite place during the day yet alone at night. A quick look at the bus stop revealed that whilst there was a comprehensive bus service to Paddington during the day, there was nothing past around five to 1 in the morning. Annoying but never mind.

There was however a bus to Euston so the plan was adapted. We’d take it to Euston and change for a Paddington bound bus. There had to be one.

The whatever-it-was bus had a 15 minute frequency. Ours was slightly late, turning up around 1:37am but never mind. We got on and got off at Euston. We got off and quickly found there were actually no buses from Euston mainline station to Paddington either. We would have to walk down to Warren Street. Not a major trauma. It’s about five minutes.

From Warren Street…

So we got to Warren Street and found the N27 bus stop. And yes the N27 does go to Paddington. Unfortunalty we’d missed it by five minutes.

By this point it was probably around 1:45. For people wanting to get to Paddington for 2am, we were pushing it. There were no other night buses on that part of the route, and the N27 ran every half an hour. We decided to walk further down the road.

On foot then!

After walking for what seemed like ages, we arrived near Regents Park. Studying a bus stop map, it looked like we’d travelled a pathetic distance. It was late and we were knackered. Walking to Paddington was probably out.

We reavaulated. This bus stop had buses going to Marleybone, the N18 going via Paddington Green, and the illustrious N27 that we were still no where near getting.

To Paddington Green, and beyond!

The N18 turned up first. We boarded. Not knowing where abouts we should get off, Catherine had the bright idea of asking the driver to let us know when we were close to Paddington.

Let’s ponder this first. Despite going behind Paddington Station, and despite the fact that a detour to Paddington Station would add a matter of minutes to the journey time, the N18 does not go to Paddington. Instead it goes down a very empty looking roads with very few bus stops and fewer passengers. Logic? Don’t ask me.

The driver, very nicely, dropped us off at some traffic lights, and gave us directions to Paddington. What a nice bloke! Wish more bus drivers were like him.

It wasn’t far but we’d have got lost had we not known the way. Anyway, we did eventually turn up at Paddington around 2:10am or something.

Now then, which train shall we get?

So a quick look at the departures board. Paddington has a very nice "Next train to…" board. We look for Ealing Broadway. The time of the next train… Ah the ever helpful "–:–".

In fact a look at the board revealled a whopping zero trains running until 5am when the Heathrow Express re-commenced. This looked wrong. I knew there were overnight trains to Ealing Broadway. They run every hour. Had we missed one?

Beneath the electronic signs, a stack large printed posters with the train times on – the ones which list a station and list all the trains going there. I flick through to find Ealing Broadway.

Last train 1am.

Next train 6am.


Yep, cunningly Thames Trains run their overnight trains to Oxford and Reading via Ealing Broadway every night of the week.

Except Sunday.

It is of course now Sunday.

Two hours ago, it was Saturday. One of the busiest nights of the week. The one where thousands of people go out, and spend late nights in places like London. And then want to go home.

Which is why not a single Thames Train leaves Paddington between 1am and 6am on a Sunday morning. It’s the only logical thing to do, surely?

And now, plan B.

Had we known this from the outset, we’d have taken another route home – gone via Trafalger Square instead. But we didn’t.

Thankfully one of the two night buses to Ealing goes via Paddington – the N23. We leave the station and ajorn to the nearest bus stop.

We’d missed the bus by about 10 minutes. In an amazingly familar way, the bus runs at a frequency of every 30 minutes.

Didn’t they do well?

It’s 2:20am. It’s damp, cold and I’m thirsty. We wander down from the side exit of Paddington, looking for a shop to buy a drink. There’s a Budgens outside the main station entrance and I buy an overpriced bottle of Cherry Coke. We go to the nearby bus stop and wait.

2:36am. Bus due.

2:45am. Starts raining. No N23 in sight.

2:50am (ish). N27 appears. It goes to Notting Hill Gate. We wonder if we could get it and get the N207 from there to Ealing. We don’t know, so rather than being stranded in Notting Hill Gate, we stay put.

It’s cold.

A few more buses arrive. Some terminate. Others are N27s. We wait and wait and wait. The N23 doesn’t come.

Hurray! A Bus!

It’s 3:10am. A N23 arrives. Presumably the other had broken down or something, and this one is naturally packed to the rafters. The by now sizable throng of people pile on. There’s barely room to stand. People are stood on the stairs and everything. Not surprisingly, no one wants to wait another half an hour.

We slowly wind our way round the streets of London. Surprisingly the bus is rather subdued. Late night buses on a Saturday usually involve several drunk idiots shouting at each other but they were missing. Everyone is just damp and fed up.

At one stop, the people waiting can’t even get on through the front door – it’s that full – and, apologising as the do – cram into a few available nooks near the middle doors. If I was in their shoes, I’d have probably done the same.

Winding away down some unknown street…

We slowly wind our way through Kensington and Acton. The timetable on the bus stop says it’s supposed to take 30 minutes to get between Paddington and Ealing, but with a bus full of people struggling to get on or off, it seems to take forever.

We finally arrive near Ealing Common around 3:45 – Ealing Broadway is still a few minutes away, but this is our nearest stop. It didn’t take that much longer than it should, but man did it feel it.

We wander down the street to our flat. It’s still wet and in an amazing fit of occassion, half the street lights down The Common – one of the roads running alongside Ealing Common – are not on. Street lighting round here is pretty bad at the best of times, but this took the biscuit.

We arrive home and as we stumble into bed, the 4am news is on on Five Live. All in all, it’s been a pretty horrible journey.

What went wrong?

So… The missing bus – well it probably broke down, and at that time of the night, the depots are all shut up. Getting a replacement bus on the road probably wouldn’t have been easy. It was crap, but it happens.

Now the train. Let’s be honest – part of it was my fault. I should have checked the trains ran all the way through the night every day, not 6 out of 7. In fact I’m sure I’ve been caught out like this before. But logically the one night you don’t run the trains wouldn’t be one of the potentially busiest nights of the week. Logically to anyone who doesn’t run trains anyway.

And then there is getting between Kings Cross and Paddington. During the day there is a comprehensive bus route and three tube lines. So why during the night is there nothing directly connecting these two tube stations?

Given that there will be trains running through the night from many stations in London, would it not make sense to run a circular service connecting the main stations? Liverpool Street, Kings Cross, Euston, passing near Marleynone, onto Paddington, then Victoria, Waterloo and back to the start? Plus one going the other way?

Even if it would have been a half hour service, run on a single decker, it would no doubt be useful to people trying to get home who have arrived back on a train. Indeed, the network of night buses connect main line stations with the centre quite well, but not with each other. Perhaps someone should tell Transport for London of this pretty obvious ommision.

There’s one thing that has to be said. There is no way that that journey should have taken 3 hours. Even without the missing trains, if the circular service had been in place, it should only have taken 90 minutes. The journey between Kings Cross and Paddington is not a huge one. Yet it took us nearly an hour in itself.

It’s still better than the rest of the country…

One thing really has to be said at this point. At least London does have a good network of night buses. They’re not perfect – far from it – but they normally turn up on time and there are a lot of routes.

Back in Manchester, night buses tended to stop about 2:30am, and most only run at weekend. In many parts of the UK, train travel after 10pm is non-existant. I can complain about London, but it’s much better than the rest of the UK.

With so many people in London (it’s a huge city) and with such a large nightlife, it needs a comprehensive set of buses. The 24 hour city would be a complete mess if the only way to get home after 1am was by taxi. But it could be a lot better.

And Thames Trains… Please… If you run trains through the night on a Monday night/Tuesday morning, why oh why oh why can’t you do them on a Saturday night/Sunday morning? I mean…

Now if you don’t mind, I’m tired. I didn’t get much sleep last night, so I think I’ll go to bed.

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