Saturday, October 09, 2010

Signal failures – the old old story

The Metropolitan Line has had a rough week. Let me give but two examples:
1) I was travelling home late on Thursday night. On arrival at Baker Street I noticed that there was no Uxbridge flagged on the departure boards but saw no reason to worry. And as a fast Amersham was about to leave I ran for it, in the hope that we would overtake an Uxbridge that might have left within the past couple of minutes. No such luck. We reached Harrow having overtaken nothing. The station announcer told us, with a certain grim pride, that the next Uxbridge was due in nineteen minutes. 

Trains to Watford came and went. Another Amersham came and went. A couple of trains arrived only to be taken out to service and turned round. And we sat on until at last our train came in, not in the usual way from the south but running as a shuttle from Uxbridge, and coming into platform 6, normally reserved for fast southbound trains. The driver was good enough to tell us that the delays were due to signal problems at Baker Street (yawn) and, get this one readers, trespassers near Pinner. Now we all know that Pinner is on the Watford branch. So how come that a problem on this part of the line screwed up the Uxbridge branch? 

2) Yesterday evening there was no problem reported around 5pm. But at 5:30, as I had a another quick check up on the web, once more we had severe delays and suspensions on the Met caused by – wait for it – signal failure at Baker Street. I had this strange feeling of déjà vu. Anyway, acting on a hunch I went home my normal way (rather than divert on the Piccadilly or Central, my emergency but much slower options), found the platforms at Baker Street thick with passengers but the first train in was for Uxbridge and it left within 5 minutes of my arrival. Wembley Park also had very large crowds waiting so the system had clearly been in turmoil for some time. But I was firmly ensconced in a corner seat and could view my struggling commuters with a distant but kindly disdain.

It always surprises me how civilised we are in these situations. If you have a seat, nobody ever under any circumstances will ask you to give it up for them. People on the platforms move in an orderly manner to board, albeit that a certain amount of shoving takes place with those trying to get out being obstructed by those standing near the doors who are trying their damndest to remain in place. But voices are not raised nor are fists brandished. People on crutches or visibly blind are given space. Having been a crutch-user myself a few years ago I can verify this from first-hand experience. All this is somehow typical of Britain but of course every nationality and culture on Earth may be found travelling into London on the tube. Must be something in the air that makes them conform.

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