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Monday, January 16, 2012

Noise, confusion & epileptic fits - The FT meets The Tube

Late last week
FT columnist Matthew Engel took a look at the London Underground as one of his irregular series of British Institution features. He wasn't too delighted with what he experienced:

Central Line 235/365 by Blue Square Thing
Central Line 235/365 by Blue Square Thing

Firstly the "terrifying" noise at the Bank / Monument interchange "There are three sets of conflicting instructions: from the blokes on the platform herding the cattle-passengers; from the live station announcer over the loudspeakers; and from the computerised message-system blurting out its eternal stream of drivel.......

Central line by Martin Deutsch
Central line by Martin Deutsch

Had I stayed any longer, I doubtless would have been told that unattended luggage may be destroyed, that skateboarding is prohibited and possibly, that God is Love and The End is Nigh. Hasn’t London Underground ever heard of the wisdom of crowds? Don’t they know that humans are remarkably adept at sorting out difficult situations if officials just stop yelling instructions?"

Secondly, the "mess" at Paddington on the the Hammersmith & City Line. "The Hammersmith & City station still has direct trains, but it is a diabolical place. There is only one proper ticket machine, which had a long queue when I arrived: my Oyster card, naturally, had chosen this moment to run out. I asked a station man where the ticket office was. “Downstairs,” he said. This was not quite what Shakespeare called “the lie direct” but it was what he called “the lie circumstantial”. The office is indeed downstairs but also several hundred yards away, at the other station.

“You know this station is a disgrace,” I said to one of his colleagues as I finally stomped down the steps to the platform.

“Don’t tell me, mate. You tell the bosses.”

“Well, funnily enough,” I said. “I might just do that...... Because the very next morning I had an appointment with Howard Collins, chief operating officer of London Underground."

Anti-clockwise only owing to staff shortage by dannybirchall
Anti-clockwise only owing to staff shortage by dannybirchall

Introducing Collins he said "I still don’t think the Underground is ever entitled to say “there is a good service operating on all lines” when the Circle is never any good. But Collins is a beguiling, soothing interviewee, and a great enthusiast. He is an Underground lifer who joined as a trainee 35 years ago and has done just about every job on the system, including toilet cleaning.”

We've all encountered those "passenger incidents" and "an ambulance is in attendance at whatever station" announcements.  Collins revealed an interesting statistic "A single passenger feeling ill can threaten the city as surely as King Kong. As Collins explains: “Four or five people will have epileptic fits on the Tube every day.” Not because they are on the Tube – it’s just a statistical average. “We have to react very quickly to ensure that the good intentions of other passengers and the ambulance crew – lie still, stay on the train – do not overwhelm us. We have to say ‘No, get them off as safely as possible’. And we do all we can to get them on the platform. Otherwise, the capital seizes up.”

Photo by pav.
Photo by pav.

There's much other interesting stuff in the article with Engel's views on Tube fares & Boris & Ken "both are intent on using their high profile to ensure the Underground is never neglected again";  his meeting with  a train driver (sorry), operator on the automated Jubilee line "mostly he sits there, arms folded on his lap, looking sagacious. “These are much better trains,” he insisted (a press officer was listening). “Having said that, I do like it when we have to drive them manually.” and visits Roding Valley the quietest station on the London Underground used by 200,000 passengers a year – as many as use Victoria each day.

The FT article's not all doom and gloom, just about 90% of it, much like the Tube itself really.

Related posts
Should the Circle Line be renamed?
Building the Victoria Line in the 1960's
Slow Tube Ticket Machine Upgrades & why we Love Queuing
No interchange at Bank and Monument stations
New Year's Fare Increases - UK Commuters pay almost 10 times more for trains than other Europeans  

; Posted by Annie Mole Monday, January 16, 2012 Permalink COMMENT HERE Add to Stumble Upon