Friday, May 05, 2006

A Partial Suspension, and its consequences

I left work early tonight to pick up my car from the garage where it was having an annual service. There was no indication of any problems on the Piccadilly line when I checked the Tube website shortly before I left. Nor was there any sign of problems when I arrived at the station (Barons Court). As usual I needed the Uxbridge branch, but any train to Ruislip or Rayners Lane would do. But the first train that was indicated to go to Ruislip had Northfields as its header and I knew something was wrong. As the staff at Barons Court are singularly useless at anything resembling passenger assistance, I took the first train down the line to Hammersmith. Where the next train indicated to Uxbridge also arrived showing Northfields as its destination. And the platform assistant, true to form, neither knew in advance that there was anything wrong, nor, until one or two people asked her what was going on, took the trouble to find out. “Find out” is a little strong. She radioed to someone who knew as little as she did. She was unable to explain why train were diverted. She appeared unfamiliar with the timetable of the Piccadilly Line, which at this time of day does not have any trains routed to Northfields.

So another train came in at last and this one had Ruislip as its destination. But when we reached Acton Town the driver announced that it too was going to Northfields and an entire train load disembarked to join another train load already waiting.

Eventually the station staff told us that the line was, and get this, you’ll love it, “partially suspended” between Rayners Lane and Uxbridge. A passenger asked what that meant – for example, were any trains actually running? He was told that services were partially suspended and therefore there were no trains going beyond Rayners.  He said that if nothing was running this sounded like total suspension to him. They told him that they were using the official description of the problem and why didn’t he get a bus from Rayners Lane to Uxbridge. This was roughly like saying why didn’t he get there on a pogo stick. He would need to take two or three buses, and wait at least an hour for them (if he was lucky). What they did not tell him was whether Metropolitan Line trains were running on the same route. And why should they? It’s a different tube line after all and why should they advertise the services of a rival?

Finally a train arrived actually going to Rayners Lane and we all crowded on (it was a hot afternoon to boot, though thankfully not as sweltering as yesterday) and I reached my destination about half an hour later than planned.

What have we learned, my friends?
  • Their managers treat the people manning the stations like shit. They are simply unable to do the job for which they are paid. Many of them are nice and friendly but they don’t have a clue about what is going on, and have to wait until a train arrives so they can see where it is going.

  • The attitude of managers who decide to suspend (alright, partially suspend) services but not to announce it, or inform station staff, or inform the drivers who can then pass it using the trains’ PA systems both to people inside and on the platforms – well it is hard for me to describe it without foaming at the mouth and gibbering. I would sack them, without compensation and render them liable to prosecution. Or personally responsible for refunding people who make refund claims. I wonder how many mysterious delays due to signal failures and the wrong kind of heat we would get then?

  • There was no reason to divert any trains. They can turn round at Rayners. They can turn round at South Harrow. Diverting them is an act of abject incompetence and failure of imagination. Down to the managers again.

I think the Piccadilly has improved over the last 8 years during which I have regularly taken it into work but it could be so much better if there was a management culture of responsibility. On a related political note, Charles Clarke was sacked as Home Secretary today. His department screwed up in keeping tabs on foreign convicts after release. He should have resigned honourably a week ago. But ministers rarely resign these days. It is never their fault. Nothing is. In the same way that problems on the Tube are never ever anyone’s fault or responsibility, and therefore nothing is really wrong so nothing needs to be done.

I’m glad it’s the weekend. And I have Monday off, when I shall be at the British Newspaper Library continuing my research into Frank Dickens’ immortal cartoon character Bristow. I think I’ve stopped foaming and gibbering now and it must be time for another beer.

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