Tag Archives: tube

On The Tube, Again

There was a fight on my Tube train the other day. At 8.30 in the morning. “Stop f-ing pushing me!” “Don’t swear at me!” No actual fisticuffs, though, because the train was too crowded for anyone to raise their hands.

Someone had got on and perforce invaded someone else’s personal space. Happens all the time, except generally without the swearing. Generally. There was a time when Londoners endured the daily commute with a degree of stoicism, even good humour.

My impression is that the mood is getting darker. Hence those unwilling to relinquish their seats to someone less able to stand, as I have written before. People’s patience is running out, because it is getting just too bad to be humorous about.

There was a crush at Stratford station the other week, and some commuters reportedly trampled. In such cases it is hard for the authorities to know what to do – keep the station open and let people leave and enter, or close it and trap them if there are no trains to board.

Stations are increasingly having to be closed because of dangerous overcrowding anyway. At mine, passengers’ entry through the barriers is rigorously rationed to prevent them piling up on the platform.

My fear, and it is a genuine one, is that there will one day soon be some awful Heysel Stadium-type disaster, which will leave the authorities with some difficult decisions.

In the early Noughties, there were a series of overground rail crashes, the latest at Potters Bar, after which it was apparent much of the network was not safe. There was weeks of disruption, but at least the problems could be fixed. Not true on the Tube, because we have been adding passenger numbers by about 3 per cent a year without increasing capacity. Like London’s insane property market, this cannot go on forever.

The only solution is more rigorous control of station entry, which means your journey, in the words of those regular warning announcements, “may take a little longer than usual”. As you queue outside in your hundreds.

All this is down to the belief, on the part of Boris Johnson and others, that every person persuaded to come to London to work is a testament to the capital’s economic vibrancy and growth. To which I would point out that some of the most vibrant, fast-growing cities on earth are known for a dismal quality of life and transport problems beyond even our imagining. Think of the polluted, traffic choked megalopolises of China and India.

I suspect there are plenty of Londoners who would swap a small degree of that vibrancy for a bit more space on the Tube and slightly less insane house prices. I suspect there are plenty of parts of the country that would settle for the same bargain in reverse.

I just don’t see how this can happen.


On Tube Announcements

There is a special corner of Hell reserved for whoever it was first decided to automate those passenger information messages on the Tube and on trains. This meant that at the push of a button we could be reminded not to leave luggage unattended, to report any suspicious objects, CCTV is in use on this train, etc, etc.

This means they can be played over and over with no effort on the part of the staff. And they are. Every one and a half minutes, on average. On a scale of irritation levels, about up with “Your call is important to us…”

Now they have started up again with advice to carry a bottle of water in the hot weather. And not to run for the Tube train. And be careful because the floors may be uneven. “Please stand well back from the platform edge, especially when using your mobile phones.” Doubtless as winter draws in we will be advised to wrap up warm and wear our wellies. This is infantilising the customers, treating them like children who have to be nagged and nannied, who are incapable of looking after themselves.

Travelling on the Tube is bad enough already.

On The Tube, And Public Safety

The other week a young commuter suffered horrific head injuries at Stockwell tube station, which I pass through twice a day.

A couple of weeks before a woman was badly injured a few stations down the Northern Line, at Clapham South,  when her coat was caught in the doors of a Tube train.

In both cases the authorities, Transport for London, rushed to reassure passengers that the platform was “busy but not overcrowded”, so the sheer number of people there was not the cause of the accidents.

Must have been a cold day in Hell, then, because as I say I pass through both twice a day and they are always overcrowded. As is the rest of the Northern Line. And the rest of the transport system. We have to believe the authorities, because they would never play down the danger to commuters from the absurd and chaotic overcrowding on most parts of the network. Would they?

It is pretty obvious to those of us using the capital’s transport network that overcrowding, especially when something goes wrong, the usual “signal failure” or “broken down train”, has got to a stage when those commuters are sometimes in actual physical danger. We have all been there, the sheer number of people trying to get onto and off the platform, and the realisation that if there is a serious problem, a fire, mass panic, then most of these people are not going to get out alive.

Overcrowding on public transport is one of those long-term crises that does not fit in with our five-year electoral cycle and so is quietly kicked into the future for some other administration to deal with. Likewise, the public finances and mounting debt, both on the part of individuals and the state. Likewise the looming lack of available electricity generation as old facilities are retired. Likewise the cost and shortage of housing.

One day there is going to be a serious accident on the Tube with a number of fatalities, and then those authorities will be faced with a real dilemma. Shut the whole network for an unaffordable upgrade, invest the money we should have invested decades ago? Or keep it running, and risk another disaster?

I would point out that this has already happened elsewhere. The rail crashes at Potters Bar and Ladbroke Grove at the turn of the century were followed by weeks of travel chaos, as it become obvious short cuts had been taken on safety. They were fixable – the overcrowding on the Tube is not.

Transport, power, housing, debt – all problems that can safely be kicked down the road rather than addressed now. And keep those reassuring messages coming.

Our Awful Transport System, Again

The authorities responsible for the London Tube have quietly closed two stretches of it “for routine maintenance”. One must assume the decision was made by Transport for London, though our transport system has become so Balkanised that it is hard to be sure.

This, I think, is a first. It is a normal working week in August, but those stretches of the Tube will remain closed until next week because it is convenient to keep them so. It is worth recapping how we got where we are today.

Some years back those same hard to identify “authorities” decided to close a small part of the network at weekends. There were no objections, so this gradually became the norm. Now as much as a quarter of the Tube, and large chunks of the rail system, are routinely closed. You are expected to log on to the relevant website to see which parts it is convenient to keep open. They stopped apologising for those closures years ago.

A few years later they decided to close parts of the network for that same “routine maintenance” over Easter. This had not been required before, but all of a sudden it was. People tend to travel at Easter, to visit families over the extended break, but sod them, they’re only passengers with tickets they’ve paid for. What can they do?

The precedent had been established. So last Christmas it became convenient to shut down parts of the Tube between Boxing Day and the New Year. No matter that people wanted to get into London for the sales.

Now the further precedent has been established that it is acceptable to shut down bits of the Tube during normal working hours. Because it’s summer. That precedent will duly be extended to the rest of the year. A few years down the line, you will be expected to log on every morning to see which bits of the network are open that day, and whether you can use them to get into work.

Because the precedent is there. This is how it works. Give them an inch, and they’ll want another one. And another. Because no one ever complains. There’s no point, you see. There’s no one to complain to. That’s how they want it.