Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tube English 3 - Ill on a train

The excuse "Somebody ill on a train" is becoming more popular on the Underground. This morning they halted London-bound Met line trains at Harrow due to "late running" caused by the mystery affliction smiting a passenger at Baker Street. Then they cancelled one and routed the other to Wembley Park, so we all had to get out there and cram on to the Jubilee line. And 'twas whilst dallying at this benighted spot that the station announcer told us he could not explain when the next Met was due because of "technical difficulties".

Laugh? I nearly bit through the cables on my headphones. They have radios. They have telephones. Possibly our man even has a mobile. But no, it was not possible, at one of the key stations on the Met, for the staff to ascertain when the next train to London might be running because of "technical difficulties". But my contempt for this inability to function was nothing compared to the disdain for the original excuse.

Look, if someone is ill on a train whilst it is running it proceeds to the next station. So the train in question must have been at Baker Street, not stuck in the tunnel. And then they get off. Or the staff help them off. Now maybe someone vomited so they had to get a cleaner. Or maybe "ill" is a euphonism and they mean they spontaneously combusted, or were abducted by aliens, or perhaps the police had to be called so that the train had to be held there. But the point is, there are three, yes three, available platforms at Baker Street (four in a real emergency). You can run trains into any of them and turn them round quick as you like. There is no excuse whatsoever, however poorly my fellow commuter may have been, to simply stop running trains and then blather on about late running and technical problems.

So what did they really mean?

Friday, January 18, 2008

Things go horribly wrong

And this month's Acton* award for poor commuting service goes to...

The Metropolitan Line. (Short pause for catcalls, throwing of non-EU standard vegetables and a general air of opproprium)

Yesterday morning I was detrained at Harrow. Yesterday evening the train I attempted to board at Harrow was defective and taken out of service. This morning, thanks again to late running engineering work, I was detrained at Harrow and delayed, and tonight I arrived at Baker Street to find one train at platform 1 with doors closed and the lights out, and another at platform 2 jammed full but clearly going nowhere. Tonight's excuse was signal trouble at Finchley Road. And LU excelled themselves. They announced that everyone wishing to proceed to Finchley Road and beyond should take the Jubilee. because none of the Met trains were going anywhere. Many poured out of the train and began fighting their way down the steps to the deeper platforms. And then the driver of the train announced, rather quietly, that he was about to leave. I jumped in, as did quite a few others and stood in a crowded compartment until Harrow. Whereupon, to my amazement, we were not detrained, but never mind, we crawled down the track thereafter because of the number of trains ahead of us.

I had stopped moaning about the Underground in this blog since ceasing to use the Piccadilly regularly and I do hope I don't have to start again. Actually, upon reading the foregoing, it seems that I may have begun so to do.

Footnote: The Acton awards are named in honour of Acton Town, where I have spent many hours waiting and cursing because trains were cancelled or diverted to the Heathrow branch. As a symbol of rotten management, it stands alongside Northern Rock, the Iraqi war and the 2012 Olympics.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

On the Beach

I should have known it was too good to be true. As I arrived at my station a few minutes before my normal train was due, a Metropolitan train came in and I was pleased to catch it, having had to run up the steps. So would I get in early to work? Nope. The train was very full as we pulled into Harrow and, predictably, we were all ejected due to "problems with a train at Finchley Road". Fortunately another came in soon afterwards but I had to stand, and therefore skimmed through my newspaper rather than sit and read the book as intended.

And it was whilst browsing said journal that I noticed the following gem in the IT section. In an article on a potential network to link car drivers together, Mario Gerla, one of the project leaders, from UCLA Network Research Lab is quoting explaining why this is so much better than existing technology"Imagine you're driving to a beach resort and want to find out what the best beaches are. You could stop at a gas station and download several video clips from an internet access point, but that's not very convenient."

I allowed my mind to boggle gently for some time considering this insight into the mind of a top software architect. The problem, as Mr. Gerla sees it? The desperate search for the best beach. Yup, millions of Americans are right now frantically driving in all directions, on their way to a "beach resort" but chewed up with anxiety that they might not get to the best beach at the resort. Probably the wife is complaining "Milton, you schmuck, why can't we go to the best beach? Don't I deserve the best? And the kids? Find it, Milton, or start counting out the alimony". (I think this scene works well if you envisage Bette Midler and Woody Allen as husband and wife).

And what does our sand-seeking hedonist do next? He (I assume it is a "he" because I like using stereotypes) has not bothered to check out the best beaches before he left home. He does not have a directory of beach resorts in the car. Presumably he has sufficient intelligence to point the car in the right direction, and not just reverse straight out his driveway across the street and smash into his neighbour's Buick but I wouldn't count on it. He has, however, got his trusty laptop computer. But he doesn't have internet access via his mobile (sorry, cellphone). So he stops at a gas station and logs on there. And what does he log on for? To download video clips. Not to access "" to read reviews about beaches and check out facilities, like someone with a brain might do. No, slackjawed and chewing gum (actually can you do those two things at once? I rather doubt it) he gets on to YouTube or similar and watches grainy footage of people eating foot long hot dogs or whatever it is they do at the best beaches at the best beach resorts.

Look, Mr.Gerla, the reason we drive is to get to work or do the shopping or visit people. We know where we are going. We don't get in the car and then go "Duh, where are the best shops?" What we want to know is the state of the roads. Are there are any jams or emergency traffic lights? Is there adequate parking available? The technology you are constructing seems useful but please design it for real life, not California.