Wednesday, July 26, 2006

A motoring interlude

Regular readers will know that I commute by train, and that despite all my moans about London Underground, it is a transport system that I greatly prefer to the alternative, driving along crowded roads. But all this changes in the summer. The roads become less busy and, in the heat, the trains become far more unpleasant. So I selfishly do my little bit to enhance global warming and deplete finite petroleum reserves.

I have to say though, that I don’t feel guilty about that right now. Just working through a “normal” day in sweltering heat and sweat-inducing humidity is bad enough. At the end of the day I can’t face sitting first in a hot stinking bus and then an even hotter and probably overcrowded – so no seat – tube train. The air-conditioning in my car is not that good but at least it does cool the air, I do get a seat and the journey time is 10 minutes less than on a good day on public transport.

There isn’t much to write about though. Traffic jams on the A40 don’t have the same, how can I put it, glamour as “signal failure at Cockfosters”, or “delays due to late running”. There are no moronic announcements, such as the endless plugging of Oyster cards when all regular travellers already have one! The quirks and foibles of one’s fellow passengers are not there. One has no rapport with the drivers alongside, even in the worst of jams.

But fear not. When it cools down, I shall be back on the trains and my pen will be once more in my hand, loaded with vitriol and ready to lash.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Unfavourable climatic conditions

The heatwave continues into a second week and it’s not pleasant at all. People make jokes about why it is that we are never prepared for such weather. Crap. This is, by all historical standards, unusual weather and there is no reason why we should be prepared. In the past a few hot days were invariably followed by thunderstorms and a break. This year not only have we had the hottest July ever in England, but the heatwave and the cloying humidity go on even after the thunderstorms. People wonder why buildings are not air-conditioned. It is only in recent years that air-conditioning could be justified. My home, like the vast majority of English houses is designed for warmth. The loft is insulated, the cavity walls filled with foam, there are carpets in most rooms. It is comfortable in winter. It is a heat sink when the temperature is averaging over 22c at night.

Worse still are the underground trains. Though I don’t actually travel on any underground parts, when the Piccadilly trains emerge from the tunnels at Barons Court, they are stifling with heat and sweat, and at 6:30 pm the sun is still strong enough to scorch them further as they meander along like arthritic snails towards Acton Town. Last Thursday every tube line was shown as having “severe delays” due to “faulty communications equipment” – yes, I’ve been on about this before. It has almost replaced “signal failure” as the knee-jerk response to any problem. And of course, when I got onto a Rayners Lane at Hammersmith and into a blissful seat, naturally the train was diverted to Northfields when we reached Acton and by the time a replacement arrived it was not possible to find a seat. I was dripping with sweat when I got into the train and fairly unwell when I got home.

I feel sorry for the next generation. Global warming is not going to bring much benefit to us and living conditions will steadily deteriorate. If we can break the deadly 9-5, 5 day week working habits, move jobs outside city centres and put in some intelligent transport systems then it may be bearable. That’s a big “if”. Too big to be achieved by this generation of blinkered, gosh when is the next election, how can we look good by then, politicians. I am really glad that I will either be retired or dead when commuting to work all summer in a permanent heatwave is the norm.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

A touch of damp

As regular readers will know, my home station Ruislip Manor was extensively rebuilt during 2005. Each platform was out of use for 6 months. Even today some work is still being carried out on the land around the station.

So you would think, would you not, that a little rain would present no difficulties of any sort to our newly rebuilt station? That’s a loaded question, you are now thinking, when he presents a statement like that he is always setting up a straw man to be shot down. And you are right, as always. For we had some thunderstorms yesterday, not enough to flood my pond or leave pools of water in the lawn (so not torrential by any means) yet on arrival back at Ruislip Manor last night, I found the eastbound platform closed and a large puddle of water at the foot of the stairs that lead up to it.

In the excellent book Good as Gold by Joseph Heller, the narrator unwittingly coins a slogan that is instantly taken up by the US Administration. “Nothing succeeds as planned”. I commend it to London Underground and their ilk.

Saturday, July 01, 2006

Faulty Communications

Just before setting off for home on Friday night, I checked the BBC London website for the Tube news. Awesome. My normal line, the Piccadilly branch to Uxbridge was suspended due to faulty communications equipment. Oh well I could use the Met – nope, suspended between Aldgate and Wembley Park. It seems the communications equipment was faulty. And for good measure the Hammersmith and City, Circle and District lines were also down, Yup, that danged faulty communications problem yet again.

I called London Transport’s enquiries number and asked if the withdrawal of 5 key tube lines for the same excuse meant a major terrorist attack. They refused to tell me but suggested I could go home by taking a train into town, getting the Jubilee to Wembley Park and then changing to a Met down to Ruislip. Yes, there’s nothing so much fun as making a 75 minute tube journey on a blistering hot afternoon. Much better advice would have been my normal fallback – Central line from Shepherd’s Bush to South Ruislip.

Opting for the latter I took a bus down to Hammersmith (I’d normally walk to Shepherd’s Bush but came back from holiday last week with an infected foot  - altogether now – “Ahhh”.) This was like being in a sauna. The traffic on Hammersmith Road has been congested all week, due as usual to roadworks, and it took more than 20 minutes to drive about a mile. You can’t leave the bus on the street opposite the road leading to Shepherd’s Bush because there is no stop there and of course these days the buses have automatic doors. So you have to ride into the bus station atop Hammersmith station. Actually on this occasion I was glad. Passing the entrance to the station I asked if trains were actually running to South Harrow and was told they were. So I went down to the platform and the first train in was actually headed “Ruislip”. Which was nice. It got turned round at Rayners Lane, naturally but another came in soon after and I got home at a reasonable time after all without having to slog abound on my still slightly dodgy foot.

Now how on earth can 5 tube lines go down at once due to problems with the radios? Either they share the same network, which is bloody stupid, or they all simultaneously suffered from the same problem, which is bleedin’ incredible. So which is it? In these days of heightened terrorist awareness, and given the criticisms of communications systems following the attacks on 7 July last year, you might think that the comms would be diversified and employ redundancy, so that a fault in one line would not hit others and that backups would come on stream quickly.  Well you might think that but let’s face it, this is the semi-privatised London Underground we are talking about here. Such intelligent systems might reduce the operator’s profits. No, much better to let hundreds of thousands suffer with yet another bad evening’s travel.

I used to support the Labour party, you know. Now I don’t. The forgoing is one of the reasons.