Friday, October 13, 2006

Creaking at the seams

After the bomb attacks on the Tube in July last year, I had to use the Central Line for several weeks, and to alight at Shepherds Bush station in order to get to work. The down escalator failed almost exactly at that time and for weeks a forlorn notice in front it said that it was temporarily out of action and work to fix it would soon begin. In fact it was not fixed until November.

Now I am using the Shell Centre exit at Waterloo station and exactly the same thing has happened. The down escalator is roped off, we are told that it will be fixed real soon but there is no sign of anything happening.

I suppose you could call this continuity. Bits of the tube system break and they patch them up and then other bits break. No matter where you are on the network, you are never more than a couple of stops from a defective lift, a jammed escalator or a signal failure. People comment on the calm and uncomplaining nature of the English. But complaining in these cases is a waste of time. Station staff are sympathetic but powerless. The people who control the budgets and the repair crews are somewhere else; they do not inhabit the same plane as us commuting mortals, our voices may ascend to their lofty heights wherein they dwell but all we get back is the sound of laughter, very faint and far away (I think this enchanting image originates with the fantasy writer Lord Dunsany or one of his ilk).

At least the Bakerloo line, which I have now settled on as the best way to get from Baker Street to Waterloo, seems pretty reliable, running trains every two to three minutes. Although it is often overcrowded and amazingly hot (I’m not looking forward to the next heatwave), the journeys in the central area are short enough to be tolerable. The Met has no live in-car information at all, the Piccadilly displays only the destination of the train but at each station on the Bakerloo there is an announcement about where you are and where the train is going. Very civilised. As long as one is not deaf.

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