There has been much debate on the Twitter and Blogespheres over when the Night Tube is actually the Night Tube. The consensus seems to be: Any services that fall after the last and before the first “normal” Monday-Thursday advertised trains belong to the Night Tube.
The Night Tube therefore doesn’t have a set start and finish time across the board and is fluid depending on where you are looking on the network. Take Marble Arch for example. On a normal weekday here are the last and first trains:
You can therefore say that for Marble Arch the Night Tube is defined as any service after 00:37 and before 05:44. Roughly a gap of 5 hours.
At South Woodford the definition is slightly different:
Here the Night Tube is defined as any service that falls in the (now shorter 4 and half hour) gap between 01:00 and 05:26.
*I suppose it’s worth noting, for extra pedantic points, that the 00:33 service only goes as far as Leytonstone and isn’t really of much use. The last train to Central London actually leaves at 00:02. Most stations have a 5 hour overnight break between trains going to and from Central London.
So what am I getting at here? And what does this have to do with Epping?
Heading To Epping
One thing we can be sure of is that the Night Tube on the Central Line only runs as far as Loughton and Hainault in the East (and no service to West Ruislip in the West). That much is set in stone. Or is it?
On Mondays-Fridays the first train to Epping from Marble Arch is that 05:45 service I listed above. So by our definition of the Night Tube above, on Saturday morning you’d expect every train to be terminating at Loughton up until 05:45. And that’s where you’d be wrong.
Lifted from the official timetables available on the TfL website, we can see that there is a service leaving Marble Arch bound for Epping at 04:07. That’s over an hour and a half before the normal Monday-Friday service! (Note that this service gets to Loughton at 04:46 – this will become important in a second). In fact there are a further 5 services to Epping that fall before the usual 05:45 first “normal” through service.
But what about out in the sticks… Does this service just form one of the trains that would have come out of the sidings at Loughton had it been a normal weekday?
Above is a grab of the normal Monday-Thursday timetable and even by the time that 04:07 has reached Loughton at 04:46, the service is still 10 minutes earlier than the first train would have been at 04:56.
What Does This Mean
So does Epping have a Night Tube service or not? Well… yes and no.
Yes it has if we follow our definition above – even if by the time it gets to Loughton it’s only 10 minutes earlier than normal. It also means that you can get a through service from White City to Epping much much earlier than you would have otherwise been able to – great news for those enthusiastic about staying out partying. You could also argue that Debden, Theydon Bois and Epping are having to open up earlier than they would have to accommodate this earlier service.
However TfL doesn’t really want to have to explain all this to you. They’d rather you didn’t realise that some limited services run through to Epping in the wee small hours because otherwise they would have to illustrate that on maps, wayfinders and on their website. All this really isn’t worth it for what is in reality a 10 minute difference at Loughton. It’s also worth noting that the first Westbound service from Epping leaves at 05:10 regardless of whether it is a Night Tube day or not.
So if you want to get to Epping from the City – great you’ve got extra options… But if you want to get to the City from Epping well then it’s business as usual I’m afraid.
As an extra little caveat, this anomaly only applies on Saturday mornings. These cheeky bonus through services to Epping don’t exist in the early hours of Sunday morning, where everything is a bit more easily defined.
You might wonder what is the point of running that train through to Epping slightly earlier than normal anyway. For the same reason a service leaves Loughton towards Epping at 04:56 on a normal weekday – stock movement. The 04:56 is pretty pointless in terms of passenger usage. Sure there might be a few key workers moving about between the outlying commuter towns but otherwise it’s just to get the train from the depot to the end of the line in time for open of service. It just so happens that on a Night Tube morning that train has been out working rather than being sat in Loughton sidings.
As far as I can tell this “extra service anomaly” doesn’t occur on the West Ruislip branch which operates as it did before Night Tube existed. (i.e. not overnight). It certainly doesn’t happen on the Hainault – Woodford loop, nor does it happen on the Victoria or soon to be added Jubilee lines as these are running full services anyway.
There’s a strong possibility that, even when the Northern and Piccadilly Lines are added later this year, this anomaly still won’t occur elsewhere. No line will be operating with a truncated branch quite like the Central Line is. On the other routes TfL have opted to either open or close whole branches instead.
This unusual quirk of the Night Tube timetable is likely to be confined to Debden, Theydon Bois and Epping for months if not years to come…