Wednesday, September 28, 2005

8 in a row

Yes, on Monday night there were 8 Heathrow trains in the space of about 25 minutes departing from Hammersmith. And nothing going up to Rayners Lane. Which made me and several hundred fellow passengers late, half an hour in most cases.
Reason? None given
Apologies? Grudging and vague
Information? None. The station attendant at Hammersmith repeatedly told us that a Ruislip was on its way, it appeared on the indicator but it never came. He phoned Barons Court, was told that one was there and on its way but it never came. He then gave up and advised everyone to go to Acton Town in case a shuttle was running. It wasn’t. When my train finally arrived, it was of course packed to the bilges and I had to stand until South Harrow, having already stood around a lot on the platforms. Not much fun for someone with a damaged foot (don’t ask; let’s just say that standing is not advised by my doctor).

A fairly normal night’s work then for the gallant lads and lasses who like to think of us as “customers”.

Monday, September 26, 2005

Severe delays (again)

Sometimes you just have to document something. It may be trivial in itself but looked back at later, it forms part of a rich tapestry of experience, illuminating patterns and forms of daily life and providing historians with the essential details so vital to (get on with it: Ed)

Where was I? Oh yes, I arrive at my normal station, Ruislip Manor, to find a sign telling me there are “severe delays” on the Piccadilly line. There is no other information forthcoming. The first train is a Metropolitan and as usual I take it to Rayners Lane. We pass a Picc in the siding so I know that at least some trains are running. The London bound platform is more thickly crowded than usual. The station announcer at Rayners Lane tells us that there are signal failures in the Kings Cross region and we should take the Met if we wish. Had no alternative been available, I would have stayed on the Met and automatically added half an hour to my journey. But I trust my eyes more than I trust announcements, so alighted and sure enough the Picc came in a few minutes later. The journey to Barons Court was without incident or delay, albeit that the train was very full.

So the moral of the story? Once again London Underground information systems prove useless at assisting passengers in making the right decision. It seems very sad that nineteenth century systems continue to be used on a twenty-first century transport system. It is even sadder that LU continue to place the emphasis on telling us about delays rather than telling us which trains are actually running and where they are. A bit like the way the NHS is criticised for treating illness but not on keeping us well through preventative medicine in the first place. I have remarked on this before and I anticipate doing so again. Sigh.

Friday, September 16, 2005

Blogger for Word

I’ve been using the Word add-on recently to write entries for the Blog. This makes it amazingly easy to compose a piece and then upload it without having to log onto the website, and to edit existing pieces merely by selecting them from a dropdown list. A great piece of programming, notable in that it does only what it seeks to do and does not clutter itself with unnecessary functionality.  Best of all – no stupid icons that you have to puzzle over. Simple plain text buttons that tell you what they do. I’ve gone right off icons. Especially when using Windows Explorer when, while scrolling down a long folder, there is a delay because the system is reading each and every file to see whether there is an icon in its header that it can display. I don’t want this feature but it is built into Windows and cannot be turned off. Yuck. The people to blame are the designers of the original WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointing) interface, and those who popularised it (Jobs, Gates and co, you know who you are). They never gave us, the people who pay for it, a choice. So thank you Blogger team for resisting the impulse and keeping it simple and effective.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Hail the Autumn

The summer is over, the Ashes are won, it’s raining and the seats are filling up on the Underground. Actually it’s not too busy yet and I can still easily find a seat on the homeward journey. Yet the holidays are certainly over. People have opined that the July bombings reduced travel on the Underground and I wonder if this is the reason. There seemed to be fewer tourists on the trains as well.

I’d love to give up the daily hassle of train commuting and cycle in to work but I live just too far away. The idea of weaving through the traffic for about an hour each way, come rain or shine, is not appealing. If only the current petrol crisis (yes, dear reader, we are supposedly once again living through threatened refinery blockades and panic buying as motorists top up at every opportunity and queues for filling stations block the roads – I say supposedly because although there was real panic in North West London on Monday and several roads were almost impassible, there is no interruption to supplies unlike in 2000), as I say, if only the current petrol crisis would stimulate the production of light, cheap and safe electric cars then much would be better.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

The returning from holiday syndrome

This is becoming monotonous. I go on holiday and when I return there are problems on the trains. Today there are no Piccadilly trains between Acton Town and Uxbridge because the fire brigade are investigating at Alperton. Great. I walk to Ruislip Gardens to pick up my “emergency” route, the Central. Lots of people waiting and the next train not due for another seven minutes. So that was nice and crowded by the time we reached Shepherds Bush. Where the down escalator is still not working (I was complaining about this in late July) and there is a new printed notice explaining that it is now out of action until November.

Actually I’m much calmer about this sort of thing than I used to be. I just think about New Orleans.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

At last the ETA service

I'm rather amazed. One of my long standing gripes about being a hapless commuter on the London Underground is the lack of information about train services. Delays, yes, they always announce with some pleasure that there are delays, but try finding out details of the trains that are actually running so you can plan your journey and you will sink into a morass of despair.

Well that's beginning to change at last. Quite by chance I was browsing round the TFL web site when Lo! I found a page called ETA and it lets you select a station and it tells you the next three trains due to arrive. In real time. Precisely what I have been hoping to see. Or it would be if the Piccadilly was included, which it is not (probably because its communication systems are essentially nineteenth century in design). In fact, only five lines are covered but they say they hope to add some more over the next few months.

The other problem is that some of the detail is missing. For example, all services running out of Baker Street are merely described as "Met". Well given the complexity of services on that line - Fast Watfords, and semi-fast Uxbridges and the like - this is a bit like British Airways announcing that its next departure from Heathrow will be "An aircraft going to an airport somewhere". But let us not carp and gripe (I'll save that for later). At least LU are moving in the right direction.

One final thing bothers me. Their website says they will not make any more lines available until the systems are safe and secure. Uh, this is just an information display system, guys. If the existing system is safe and secure then adding further bits to it should make no difference. And safe??? Are international hackers going to nobble the display and hold LU to ransom? Am I in some sort of peril if I use this service? Might I be enviegled (You have to wait for the right moment to use this word, you know) into boarding a fake train that is cunningly announced to run just at the time I am accessing the ETA page? Probably not.