Friday, October 28, 2005

Having a laugh

There were no warnings of problems on the LU website but when I arrived at Barons Court yesterday evening there was a warning about a fire alert at Hyde Park posted just ten minutes earlier. Great. I’d left specially early, still getting over a cold, and the last thing I needed was to hang about on a cold platform.

A District Line, to Ealing, came in. I took it to Hammersmith since there is no point in expecting any usable information at Barons Court. And lo, after I had descended from said train and after it shut the doors, they announced that all travellers for Rayners Lane and Ruislip should take the District Line to Acton.  Well not worry, at least there was a Piccadilly (bound for Heathrow, of course) waiting in the sidings at Hammersmith. Quite unusual that, I can hardly recall another incident when they used that siding. It came in a few moments later and the driver reassured us that there were trains for Ruislip waiting at Acton Town.

So we all get out at Acton Town and after a few minutes they announce the arrival of a Ruislip bound train. Except that when it arrives the lights are off and the destination sign is blank. I know this to be the sign of a train that is out of service. But not the station announcer. We all wait for another five minutes before he tells us that the train is defective. At exactly that time another Piccadilly pulls in on the adjacent westbound platform with “not in service” as its destination. Yes, folks, there is a problem on the line and the reaction of the line controller is to pull trains out of service. Not, as you might dare to imagine, at least to try to run one train to take delayed passengers on their journey.

Anyway the drivers and staff who hang about at the foot of the steps at Acton Town were having a great time. They stood in the doorway of the cabs and on the platform and laughed and joked with the announcer and the man with the clipboard who assigns drivers (this station being one of the main centres for drivers starting and finishing shifts). And those of us waiting around laughed and joked as well. Actually that’s not true. We stood and shrugged our shoulders and looked despairingly at the sky. But, you know, so long as the staff have a good time then really it’s all worth it. Isn’t it?

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Splutter

Cough, sniff, oogh my aching head…your correspondent has a cold and is not feeling too great about it.  The only upside is that I took a day off work and thereby deprived myself of two train journeys.
This morning I went back to work but left half an hour later. What a difference. There were only four people in the front compartment of my carriage, which seats 14, even when we left Hammersmith. This meant I wasn’t sneezing over anyone, which was the object of the exercise. There’s a much more relaxed atmosphere when you travel with what Bristow would undoubtedly describe as the “late-late crowd”. One might almost use the word “insouciant”, if only one was sure what it meant. A sort of clublike, we don’t need to scramble for seats, let’s take our time and enjoy the journey feeling.
Ah well, I’m feeling better today, especially with the unseasonable sunshine, so it will be back to normal tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Danger: Leaf-fall

I’ve previously written about how my homeward journey requires a stop at Ruislip and the crossing of the platform bridge in order to catch a train back to Ruislip Manor, that station’s westbound platform being under repair. In the wet of the gathering autumn a fresh hazard looms menacingly. The steps of the bridge are prone to gather leaves and wet leaves are about the most slippery objects I know.  The danger of somone debarking from a westbound train and racing for an eastbound train (you race because you simply have no idea when the next one might be), slipping on the steps and falling amidst a heap of flailing bodies of one’s fellow commuters (OK, yes, I admit that I’m the “someone” I have in mind), where was I, yes, this seems like a real and present threat.

So should I simply walk more slowly up and over the bridge? Easy to say. Hard to do, when just as one is ascending, an eastbound train appears and you know that you need to move a little bit faster to be sure of boarding. These train drivers don’t hang about, you know. They can see that a westbound train has just disgorged its load of homecoming commuters and they know that some of these will wish to hurry over the bridge and take the train back east. Occasionally the odd sympathetic driver holds the doors open for a few seconds longer. Normally they pull out as quickly as regulations allow, leaving irritated passengers still scrambling down the stairs of the bridge.

This nightmare of moral and physical ambiguity (a little exaggeration here surely: Ed) should come to an end around January when down t’manor is completed and my commuting reverts to normal. Let us hope so. Lives may depend on it.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Gloom in the Damp

Maybe it’s the wet weather. Services on the Piccadilly have deteriorated noticeably in the last few weeks. Cancellations in the morning and real problems on several, separated, days in the evenings. Last night a security alert caused the usual knee-jerk cancellation of through services to Rayners Lane, replaced by the dreaded shuttle between RL and Acton Town. No particular interruption to Heathrow trains, of course.
Communications are as bad as ever. Passengers entering Hammersmith last night confronted a message board showing “minor delays” for the Piccadilly. True enough for those going on the Heathrow branch. A 20 minute wait for those of us heading Rayners Lane way. At least the station announcer was on track, telling people on the platform to take the first train and change. And at Acton Town no announcements at all as a large crowd built up, until at last our shuttle pulled in at a snail’s pace from the siding and ground along arthritically most of the way. Perhaps the driver was being considerate and trying not to make the train sway too much, bearing in mind the numbers standing. Or maybe they just run them slowly as part of the whole mindset that goes “there’s a problem, lets screw up the Rayners Lane branch as much as humanly possible”.
I am making far more Customer Charter refund claims than earlier in the year. And they are getting paid too. Yesterday I received one for a claim made for September 26th. Now if only the actual trains were run with the same efficiency as the claims office…

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Guessing games

There was some sort of delay on the Piccadilly this morning, just as there was yesterday when at least two trains at Rayners Lane were cancelled. And as usual, when there is a problem, there was no station attendant. We did get a crackly announcement but – you guessed it – this was delivered precisely as a Metropolitan train was leaving the station and so of course we could barely distinguish a word. So whether today’s bit of fun was caused by
  • Rampaging hippos on the line at Arnos Grove

  • Faulty ticket inspectors masquerading as bishops at Leicester Square

  • Insert your own silly excuse here, its just as likely to be true as the usual tat about signal failures
Well, who can say?

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Catalonian considerations

Mrs. Commuter and I visited Barcelona last week. A thoroughly enjoyable holiday and once again, a Metro system that puts London Underground to shame. A single ticket costs €1.10, and a book of ten tickets costs only €6. A ticket takes you anywhere on a system of several major lines. Indicator boards on every platform show you to the second when the next train is due. Indicators within the trains show you where you are and where the next station stop is. We only made three journeys so not a particularly hard test but nonetheless waited no more than 3 minutes.

Viva Espana, as we say in Ruislip