Thursday, October 28, 2010

Metropolitan madness

Stupid incident at Harrow last night. There was some signal trouble on the Uxbridge branch. About 100 passengers were waiting with me on the usual platform (3) for a train up from Baker Street. Unannounced and unnoticed a train crept in to platform 1, the fast southbound platform. Then there was a single announcement, on that platform (so not obviously aimed at us) that mentioned Uxbridge but before anyone could move the train left, reversing back across the southbound tracks to go to Uxbridge. It was empty because nobody knew about it and all the passengers waiting on that particular platform were going south. Great. We all stand there like lemons and an empty train is run.
I and another passenger bothered to climb the steps to the main entrance, there to remonstrate with a bloke by the gates with a radio. He expressed surprise at our story but seemed disinclined to be concerned, other than to promise to find out when the next Uxbridge was due. And to give him his due there was an announcement a few minutes later to reassure us that our train was imminent.
Moral? None. The platform signals at Harrow are a disgrace to the line. But even with modern ones, we would not have realised that our train was standing at the wrong platform because you are only told about trains coming in for the platform you are standing on, unless you wait in the ticket hall where there are no seats.
However the idea of a ghost-like train that leaves from a deserted platform bearing a few lost souls onto the line that leads to damnation (or shall we say Hillingdon) has a powerful resonance and I may work it into a popular short story. Editors and Radio 4 play producers, place your bids now.
[and I get 10%: Ed]

Thursday, October 21, 2010

That's enough for one week

Tonight's headline in the Evening Standard - "Commuter Misery in Tube Meltdown" (or something similar, I didn't bring a copy home) sums it up. Trains stuck in tunnels. Power failures. Signal failures. The Jubbly in particular has had major problems, causing instant overcrowding on other lines. The Met continues to have shortages of trains as they fix the newly discovered cracks in the shoe beam, whatever they are.

I'm calling it a day. I don't work on Fridays anymore (unless I really have to) and tomorrow I don't have to. So they can have their fill of passenger incidents, severe delays and persons ill on a train (yes, we had one of those today as well, bringing the Piccadilly to a halt 'twixt Acton and Rayners, ah such sweet memories of my commuting days between 1998 and 2006) and frankly my dear, I don't mind a bit.

Maybe all will be sorted out when I brave the system once more, on Monday.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Another typical Monday morning

I arrived in time to catch my normal train to Waterloo at 8:30. It failed to appear and the first arrival was at 8:42. We were held outside Wembley Park with what the driver first described as a faulty signal and then as a problem with the signals computer not recognising the train ahead of us (the first time this particular excuse has ever been heard on Ramblings). It did not help that there was a severe power failure on the Jubbly and they were actually detraining people in the tunnels between Finchley Road and Green Park, so of course our train was as packed as it could be when we finally left Wembley Park.

Arriving at Baker Street more than 20 minutes later than normal my mood was, shall we say, strangely heightened to discover that the down escalator to the Bakerloo was out of action.

The perfect start to the commuting week? Time will tell.


The evening journey could also have been poor but I lucked in. The Met had delays all day due withdrawal of trains for maintenance, according to a rather strange* printed announcement from the Head of Operations, and some of the intervals were daunting - if you have to wait 15 minutes for a train coming up from the City it will be full when it reaches Baker Street. But the first train out was for Uxbridge and started from Baker Street. Nevertheless by the time it left it was full and stayed full with people standing right up to Eastcote. I was fortunate that I boarded when there were still plenty of seats available.

*Why strange? One assumes that maintenance is normally planned and should not result in a shortage of trains. So this was unplanned, or the planning went wrong. But the notice just said the trains were withdrawn, leaving us to speculate whether anyone actually knows what they are doing or whether someone took the decision to pull half the fleet out of service on a whim, perhaps to try to spread a little joy this Monday.

[later still - I don't normally add addenda to posts but you're worth it]

My friends at District Dave's forums have the answer.

It is more than a minor problem - some sort of cracking that needs investigation and a work to rule in the depot that is slowing down normal working, hence trains out of service. It's going to be a fun-filled Autumn.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

The future arrives

I was travelling north from Harrow on Friday around 4:15pm and imagine my surprise when one of the new S stock trains drew in. This was my first journey on the train that will replace the venerable A stock set, first introduced in 1959. I remember when they began replacing the brown, slam-door, T stock and from 1962 – 1968 I travelled regularly from Preston Road to school in Northwood Hills on the glamorous new "silver" trains.
The first impressions bear out what others have been saying. The trains feel wider and are noticeably smoother. You can walk from one end to the other. And although there is now room under some of the seats for luggage (a big improvement), the familiar overhead racks have gone (shame). And of course there are fewer seats. For most of this week my regular train has arrived almost full (because the earlier one has been cancelled). On the new stock this could mean no seats for people making a journey of 35 minutes to Baker Street and 50 minutes to the City.
The feature that makes me angry is the provision of wheelchair spaces. Nothing wrong with that in itself of course, but only a handful of stations have step-free access. Wheelchair users cannot use the Tube to make almost every common journey the rest of us take for granted. They cannot use Baker Street, the busiest station on the Met. Or Harrow. Or Euston Square. Or Rayners Lane. So either there should be a programme to put in lifts in all the stations, or the designer who removed seats for wheelchairs that will never ever use the trains should be named, shamed and vilified for grossly wasting our money on a stupid propaganda stunt.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The signals of doom

I wrote about signal failures at Baker Street only a couple of days ago. Tonight we had another one. I left work with the tube website mentioning "minor delays". I reached Baker Street about 15 minutes later and as I detrained they announced that all Mets were suspended so it's everyone pile onto the Jubbly, or in my case, to the second one that fortunately was hard on the heels of the first. At Finchley Road they announced that we should stay on board and change at Wembley Park but we were overtaken by a northbound Met before we arrived. Not to worry, there was another one waiting for us. Just for once the Uxbridge services were ok and it was the Watfordians (Watfordites? Watforders?) who had a bit of wait in store.

Now I'm not the brightest chap in the world but even I can deduce that there may be something fundamentally wrong with the signals at Baker Street. Not to mention the way that information is dispensed but then I've been moaning about that for a long time.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Marr speaks

Speaking at the Cheltenham Literary Festival, BBC journalist and broadcaster Andrew Marr, has dismissed bloggers as "inadequate, pimpled and single", and citizen journalism as the "spewings and rantings of very drunk people late at night".

Yes, I admit, all my pieces are spewed up late at night after I down half a bottle of whisky, scratch my pimples and consider my ghastly inadequate life. But I am not single. So there.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The useless boards

More than four years ago my home station, Ruislip Manor, was extensively rebuilt. New electronic displays appeared on the platform. I expressed the hope that at last we might be shown the times of the next few arriving trains, just like on so many other Tube stations (and even on some bus stops)
My hopes were in vain. In a post on this blog in April 2006 I lamented that the boards display nothing except the wholly incorrect geographic description of "northbound" or "southbound" trains. As the trains go east and west this is so stupid as to be bordering on the moronic.

And here we are, four and a half years later, and still that is all they display (and the odd "no smoking" warning to ensure that those on standing on the open, concrete, platforms are protected against incineration). There is a nice display in the platform foyer showing the LU website page with the system status. To show the departures from the station would be more useful but it is better than nothing). But on the station platforms? Chuck a few tea leaves in the air and read them – they'll be more useful than the expensive display system that you and I, my friend, have paid for out of ludicrously expensive fares.

I gather that there are some so called technical reasons why the boards won't work until we get the all-new, Metropolitan/Piccadilly integrated signalling system , scheduled for the twenty-fourth century, just after tea-time. Balderdash. The website shows arrivals and departures for every station. Why on earth cannot they hook the display boards up to their own internet servers?

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.