Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Communications and Stupidity (Continued)

Stone me, it happened again last night ( 18th Jan). Some rubbish about radios not working causing delays. Big gaps on the Piccadilly and the shuttle between Acton Town and Rayners Lane. If the equipment is not working then I understand that the trains may not run. But once it is working? The trains are all there. Why on earth should we still have delays? Why don't the trains just start running again at the normal intervals?

I suspect the truth is that the moment there is a problem all the drivers take the rest of their shifts off, then when the trains are ready to restart, they have to wait for the next batch of drivers. Sod the travelling public, of course. We've had to pay in advance. Why on earth should anyone in LU give a toss?

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

Communications and Stupidity

It's last Friday and yours truly was on his way home. Arriving at Baron's Court I was greeted by a whiteboard with the following message.

*** There is no service between Acton Town and Rayners Lane.
*** There is a shuttle service between Acton Town and Rayners Lane

Since I travel to and beyond Rayners Lane this was of no little importance. I read the board carefully once more in case my brain had softened on the walk to the station. But no. The two contradicting statements were still there, proclaiming to all (and indeed sundry) that the staff at the station had no idea whatsoever if a key part of their transport system was working or not.

I swallowed hard and dared to ask the ticket collector. He looked puzzled. He inspected the board. He opined that the shuttle was running. He did not seem concerned to amend the board and I left him at the barrier (just as well really, I didn't want him following me home) and descended to the platform.

The Piccadilly was in a mess all right. Trains to Heathrow were running but very slowly, and three were backed up to Hammersmith, the next station along. The one at Barons Court was so full it was hard to get on so instead I took a District train that came in conveniently at that moment, got out at Hammersmith and found a far less crowded Heathrow waiting.

Now here again I raise the issue of London Underground's appalling communications. They could have said that the best thing was to take another line. They did not, merely advising us to take the Heathrow to Acton Town and change. So because there seemed to be some room on the train, I boarded. The doors shut very soon afterwards and then, and only then, did the driver announce that it was going to be very slow going. Too late to disembark. We crawled out of the station and juddered and ground a very hesitant route to Acton Town, arriving about 35 minutes later (normal journey time: 7 minutes). The driver, bless 'im, did take the trouble to apologise to us a couple of times during the long minutes of inertia. Nobody else did.

Fortunately the shuttle was running, one came in a few minutes later and apart from a longer than usual wait at Rayners Lane for a Met line to Ruislip, the worst was over.

So, the New Year is only three weeks old and I've done yet another "customer charter" claim for a refund, making, what? three or four already. Is this the start of a downward spiral? Last year's clear improvement in operating standards seems a long way away right now.

Friday, January 14, 2005

A suspect bag

Got on the train this morning at Ruislip, hardly anyone else in the carriage, but two seats away from me was a bulging duffle bag with no obvious owner.

Several thoughts flash through my mind. It's bound to belong to a kid so hand it in. Whoops, how do I know this is not a bomb or something equally unpleasant? And if I summon a station attendant, suppose they halt the train, get everyone off and delay us for an hour or so? Yes, I'll be doing the public-spirited right thing, but given that out of the thousands of bags lost every year none at all turn out to be bombs, the odds are massively in favour of this being a huge waste of time.

I was in the front carriage and normally there is an attendant at the front of the platform at Rayners Lane. So as the doors opened, I heaved it out to him, shouted "This was left behind" and got back in the train before the doors closed. I don't know what rules apply to LT staff looking at suspicious bags, but to his credit he had a quick look inside, saw (I think) that it was clothing, and put it down.

Makes you think though. Is one supposed to press the panic button, stop all the trains and hang about waiting for the police? Or make a reasonable guess about the bag's contents?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

"Good service" - what does it mean?

Every station on the London Tube now displays a board that lists each tube line and a note that says "Good service" or "Delays". I've previously commented about how stupid it is to merely say "delays" and not to explain what the passenger is supposed to do. Today let us turn our beady eyes on the abuse of the phrase "good service".

It's not just the boards. They even have the gall to announce it. A typical announcement goes something like "There are delays on the Piccadilly and Central Lines and a good service on all other lines". Great. So what? Let us take last night as a standard example of LU doublespeak. Apparently a good service was operating on all lines. I waited a long time for a westbound Piccadilly to Ruislip. The first train was for Heathrow and was packed to the bilges. Another wait. Another Heathrow, also packed. At last a Ruislip, full enough that there were no seats (but I got one at Hammersmith).

According to LT's own timetable (not mine, I don't make these things up, honest), there should be a train at least once every three minutes. But last night there wasn't, and naturally the trains were ludicrously overcrowded.

Good service?

I disagree, with contumely. It's a poor service. Making people wait, without actually bothering to tell them when the next train is actually due, then making them travel jammed tight - this is not a good service and it defies belief that anyone can claim that it is.

I fear this is one topic to which I am certain to return.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

New fares, old problems

Happy new year to you.

I've had an unexpected windfall. For the first time in living memory, tube fares have gone down. Well, most went up but there has been some sort of consolidation of fares from the outer zones into central London; and this, coupled with the reductions available on Oyster prepay means that by scrapping my annual season and paying as I go, I will save over £100 this year.
I don't think this is what Ken and co intended but I'm not going to tell them.

Meanwhile back in the real world, my normal station, Ruislip Manor, is being rebuilt. The eastbound platform is closed. I'm lucky that Ruislip is quite close but it still adds nearly 10 minutes to the morning journey. And on Wednesday, just two days into the new (travelling) year, I arrive at Ruislip to find long queues for the buses and a sign saying no trains were running due to a problem at Rayners Lane. At that very moment they announced that trains had begun to run again and the sign was rubbed out, but there was still a fair wait for the first train. This was a Piccadilly (cheers), stopping at Acton Town (boo) so another change required and a further delay. The announcements now claimed that the problems were down to signal failures in Ruislip.

I don't believe anything they say about signal failures. Points failures, yes, if a point sticks then the trains are stopped. But a dodgy signal? Given that there are many signals between each station, radios in the cabs and real live signalmen controlling the sectors, why the hell does a signal failure halt the trains? Why can't they just proceed slowly through the trouble spots?

I think that "signal failure" is the automatic excuse for the real problems (probably lack of staff or human error in the scheduling of rolling stock).

Let's see how it pans out in 2005. Got to admit that the trains ran better in 2004 than previous years. We shall see.