Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

On the road to…Manchester City

Posted in Great Britain, On the road..., Other general stuff about railways by Chairman Pip on 1 May 2013

Eventually, we all have to make that journey; the journey that all teams that win promotion to the top flight have to make at least once a season, and that is the one to the home of the reigning league champions. And, most years, that will involve a trip to what is arguably England’s second city…although the people that live there can fight out that claim with the other one that is arguably England’s second city. However, just for once, it isn’t to the home of the ones that bear the name of one city but reside in another that this accolade belongs, but instead to their “noisy neighbours”, Manchester City

Date: 27th April 2013
Stadium: City of Manchester Stadium
Capacity: 47,805
Attendance: 47,189
Away Section: South Stand
Score: Manchester City 2-1 West Ham United
Nearest station: Etihad Campus
Local rozzers: Greater Manchester Police
Total Travel Cost: £32.20p (1 x Off-Peak Day Return; 1 x Tram Only Dayrider; 1 x Matchday Return)

Rail journeys:
Line 1Nottingham Trent University to Nottingham Station Street (AT6/5 Incentro)
09:45 – Nottingham to Manchester Piccadilly (East Midlands Trains Class 158 Express Sprinter)
East Manchester LinePiccadilly to Etihad Campus (M5000 Flexity Swift)
East Manchester Line – Etihad Campus to Piccadilly (M5000 Flexity Swift)
15:43 – Manchester Piccadilly to Nottingham (East Midlands Trains Class 158 Express Sprinter)
Line 1 – Nottingham Station Street to Nottingham Trent University (AT6/5 Incentro)

Station to Stadium: Initially, on construction of the City of Manchester Stadium, Ashburys was the closest railway station. The construction of the new Metrolink line to Droylsden has since seen a new transport link adjacent to the stadium, with a station serving it directly. The station is located at the north end of the ground, which is also where the club have built a “plaza” for pre-match entertainments; to reach the away end entails simply walking around the exterior of the ground. However, this can prove inconvenient as the police helpfully cordon off the away section at the end of the game – as a consequence, it may be more convenient for away fans to use Velopark, one stop further on, which is also closer to the away end, just five minutes down the Ashton New Road.

Anything else?: Etihad Campus was the third name assigned to the station before it opened, having initially been known as Sportcity-Stadium and then Eastlands City Stadium, before gaining its present name with the advent of the Etihad Campus development.

Etihad Campus station

Etihad Campus Metrolink station


Enough time has passed now

Posted in Great Britain, High Speed, Infrastructure, Media, Politics by Chairman Pip on 9 March 2013

While I may come down hard on the Daily Express for the often total bollocks it has a tendency to print sometimes, particularly from some of its columnists, I will say that, on some matters, Frederick Forsyth does write things that strike a chord with me, especially when he comments either on foreign affairs, intelligence matters or the armed forces, all of which in his two careers as a journalist and a thriller writer he has had experience of and researched extensively. However, when he writes about things he seems to know little of, it is fair that he tends to fall into the same trap of all the other columnists that try commenting on important national matters with their opinion and little else to fall back on. Obviously, the main headline from his column on the 8th February was enough to first attract my attention, and then, upon reading the piece, my ire.

On the fast track to a total disaster

Mr Forsyth has been vocal in his opposition to High Speed 2, putting forward many arguments as to why it should not be built, mainly regurgitating the same old stories that the “No2HS2” grouping tend to put forward as the significant reasons not to go ahead with it. This particular piece came out the week that the government announced its planned route for Phase 2, the “Y” branches to Leeds and Manchester. The last line of the opening paragraph is an indication of where Mr Forsyth’s interests lie:

But there are crucial questions still to answer about the southern line from Euston to Birmingham, planned to destroy great swathes of the beautiful Cotswolds.

Often there are pieces about Mr Forsyth’s country living, so it isn’t a stretch to think that he may well live along the route of Phase 1, which is why he is as aggressive in his writing as he is. According to the piece from the newspaper, the government are mounting a “wild propaganda campaign that no one seems to be questioning”, except him of course. The problem is, his questioning appears to be taking entirely the wrong course – he questions the government’s claim that HS2 will create 100,000 jobs, suggesting that at most it will create 2,000. But here he is looking at the workforce that will be involved in actually building the line itself. True, but there will then be the jobs created in the supplying of materials to build the line, and supplying the equipment that will build the line. There will be significantly more than the 2,000 he suggests in actually building HS2. Then he somewhat sarcastically mentions the government’s enterprise zones – these are areas the government has designated for greater investment through improved planning rules and infrastructure. Forsyth points out that the trains intended for HS2 won’t stop at any of them and “certainly won’t carry freight”. True and true, but freight will be carried on the existing network, and one of the major points for building the line is to provide capacity. By taking a large number of fast, intercity trains off the West Coast Main Line, then there will be more space for both the slower, interurban and commuter trains that carry the workers into the centres of London, Birmingham and Manchester, and there will be more space for the slow, heavy freight trains, a significant number of which use the WCML for some part of their journey. He then points out that on his train journey into Marylebone (35 minutes) all the “hard-nosed businessmen” are tapping away on their laptops/tablets/mobile devices, which evidently means that businessmen don’t need to travel anymore. So why do they still insist on doing that? Mr Forsyth points to the experience the Dutch have had with HSL Zuid, suggesting that everyone prefers using the existing rail network, which runs parallel for part of the route with trains “at half the price”. I’ve had a look at the Nederlandse Spoorwegen website and done a search for a return journey from Amsterdam to Rotterdam; using a regular NS Intercity service costs €28.00, while using the Fyra service costs €32.60. The additional cost is due to the supplement for using the high speed line, similar to the one Southeastern puts on its high speed services. Mr Forsyth also makes a comment that East Coast can “only fill a third of its seats” and is “losing fortunes”, things he suggests are “hard nosed facts”, before stating that he has simply “read this” somewhere, not stating where.

Mr Forsyth should come out and say that he doesn’t want High Speed 2 running through his garden, and that that is his primary objection, rather than try to clothe it in attempted arguments that make no sense whatsoever. The fact of the matter is that High Speed 2, as with all infrastructure projects, will not in itself be profitable. The idea is to improve the capacity of the railway network to enable it to move more people and more goods to get to the places that they need to be. More people than ever are using the railways, and more goods are being transported on them; the railways are bucking the trend of the financial situation we find ourselves in. Tinkering around the edges with longer trains and longer platforms on the existing network won’t solves the fundamental problem that it is full to bursting (although Mr Forsyth’s comment about East Coast suggests he’d like to junk that too). Perhaps Mr Forsyth might like to do a little reading before the next time he decides to write about this issue – I’d suggest that he looks at the testimonies of the people that live in and around High Speed 1. That too was going to be a disaster; a metal scar carving through the Garden of England, which would cause windows to smash and cows to fall over every time a train passed. Except none of that has happened. HS1 was built with its environment in mind. While not invisible, it blends in where it runs at grade, while its structures (perhaps most notably the Medway Viaduct) are the modern equivilents of Brunel’s engineering solutions on the Great Western. I have no doubt that the structures on HS2 will be even better, the 21st century equivilents of Box Tunnel. Mr Forsyth should be honest with us and admit that he is a NIMBY, and that his objections are based not on “facts” but on his own prejudices. And, if he was a journalist worth his salt, he would do some reading and have some discussions with the other side before committing pen to paper next time. Over to you Nigel Harris

“On the fast track to a total disaster”

Frederick Forsyth needs to fess up and admit his objections to HS2 are personal

On the road to…Arsenal

Posted in London, On the road..., Other general stuff about railways by Chairman Pip on 23 January 2013

One of the joys of supporting a London club is the presence in our nation’s capital of so many Premier and Football League clubs, which brings about a significant number of derbies. There are six London clubs in the 2012-13 Premier League, so out of a total of 760 games to be played, 60 of them (or nearly 8%) will be London derbies. All of this means that there are many opportunities for the gaining of bragging rights for me this season. Which takes me to derby number seven so far, and the scene of yet another memorable away day trip as I make the relatively short journey to Arsenal.

Date: 23rd January 2013
Stadium: Emirates Stadium
Capacity: 60,432
Attendance: 60,081
Away Section: Clock End
Score: Arsenal 5-1 West Ham United
Nearest station: Holloway Road, Drayton Park or Arsenal
Local rozzers: Metropolitan Police
Total Travel Cost: N/A – Zone 1-2 Travelcard

Rail journeys:
Piccadilly LineEarls Court to Arsenal (1973 Stock)
21:47 – Highbury & Islington to Dalston Junction (London Overground Class 378 Capitalstar)
21:55 – Dalston Junction to New Cross Gate (London Overground Class 378 Capitalstar)

Station to Stadium: The Emirates Stadium is located on Drayton Park on a triangular piece of land with a railway station and two tube stations forming the three points. However, the eponymous Drayton Park is not open on match days, while Holloway Road has severe restrictions on it, which means that the closest is Arsenal tube station, which is literally a hop, skip and jump away from the ground – exit the station and simply turn right, and then left, following the road around, until you reach Highbury House, which contains the club offices, then up and over the bridge across the Northern City Line where you find yourself on the plaza outside the stadium.

Unlike many stadia, getting away does not necessarily involve going to the same station, which is useful for me. Rather than going back the way you came to Arsenal, go in thesame direction as you came, following Drayton Park (past the railway station), until you come to the Holloway Road, and then turn left, walking right down to the end until you get to Highbury & Islington station.

Anything else?: Gillespie Road tube station opened in 1906. Following a campaign by then manager Herbert Chapman, in 1932 Gillespie Road was renamed as Arsenal, making it the only underground station named for a football club.

Arsenal tube station

Highbury & Islington railway station

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What happens in Vegas….

Posted in America, Customer service, High Speed by Chairman Pip on 11 January 2013

While it may be true that, with the current incumbent of the White House as a relatively vocal advocate, the advancement of passenger rail in the United States is growing, there is no doubt still a long way to go. A major example of this is the continuing disconnection of the city of Las Vegas – a city of half a million people (with close to 2 million living in the urban area), in which the only rail service is the 4 mile long Las Vegas Monorail that connects a number of major hotels along The Strip. While there is a plan to extend this to serve McCarran International Airport, this means that it will still primarily be for customers coming into the city to get to one of the hotels. Of course, this is not such a bad thing, as this is one of the major elements of the city’s economy. But, it still means that it relies on air travel to get people to the city in the first place, no matter where they originate from.

Las Vegas is around 270 miles from Los Angeles, which in flying time is probably about an hour, while driving takes anything up to four hours. In terms of distance within the United States as a whole, this is not huge, but it is still a massive inconvenience to have to drive all that way and for that long (even if the American roads system is supposed to be one of the great adventures one can have without fear of being shot), while we are all aware of the disadvantages of short haul flying. Which is why not one, but two groups have come up with plans for passenger rail services to Sin City, which would be the first since Amtrak withdrew the Desert Wind in 1997. DesertXpress (since renamed as XpressWest) originated as a privately funded plan to link the city with Southern California using a new build high speed line – initially intended to terminate at Victorville, later proposals were for the terminus to be extended to Palmdale to interchange directly with the California High Speed Rail network, making DesertXpress almost an appendix to the publically funded high speed network in the Golden State. This proposal has been expanded further (causing the the rebranding) to take in a number of other states in the west of the country. The core element though remains the route to Las Vegas, which would be around 90 minutes from Victorville (and probably a little under two hours from Palmdale). Palmdale would, once the CHSR is constructed, be less than an hour from Union Station in Los Angeles, making a journey time of approaching an hour less than driving (even with an interchange). Of course, that is for the future, with XpressWest not expected to start running trains until 2016, and CHSR not expected until the late 2020s. Which is where Las Vegas Railway Express has been able to step in – planning a service it calls X-Train, this will run on conventional track through an agreement with Union Pacific. Starting from Fullerton, where it will interchange with Metrolink, it will terminate at the Plaza Hotel, which is the former location of Las Vegas Union Pacific Station. It is estimated that the new service, intended to launch in January 2014, will take around 5 hours end to end, a result of the poor state of trackage and the way the network is owned and administered. The intention though is to provide a much better level of service than is experienced either on Amtrak trains or airlines, which presumably is intended to make up for the timetable. Of course, it would be better if the length of time taken for the journey was less, but if people decide to take the train to Las Vegas, and find that they like it enough that they don’t notice the time, then it’s possible, just possible that when XpressWest gets going, it will start with a bang.

X-Train will provide the first passenger service to Las Vegas in nearly twenty years

Haven’t we been through this before?

Posted in Business, Customer service, London, Metro by Chairman Pip on 27 November 2012

In case you hadn’t heard, once again ASLEF has balloted its members working for London Underground on strike action over working on Boxing Day. This is the same issue that has gone on for the last two years – from the way I look at it, there is an apparent disagreement between LU and the union over the definition of a public holiday and whether Boxing Day (or, if that particular day is at the weekend, then the next weekday that holiday falls on) counts as a genuine bank holiday or not. It seems that the union view Boxing Day as something outside the normal public holiday structure, which is why they’re after special arrangements (triple time and a day in lieu). London Underground view it as an ordinary public holiday, which should therefore fall under the arrangements they have in place for working on other public holidays. The announcement of the ballot result is due on the 17th December. All very irritating. It would be interesting to know just precisely what the people in the middle, the drivers who are represented by the union, actually think. Well, blow me if I didn’t find out. Or at least, what one driver thinks. The Observations and Opinions of a Central Line Train Driver is a blog I found while thinking about this piece, and the driver in question has obviously written his own views on the subject. While he naturally thinks that his bosses have their heads filled with moondust over the issue, he does make a reply to the following comment:

Why is there this need for everybody to not even be able to have just TWO days off with their families thats guaranteed time off

He points out that not everyone that works on Boxing Day is involved in retail; the police, fire service and hospitals are all on duty; the broadcasters all keep our televisions and radios working; the power generators that keep us heated and lit, the telephones and internets, all of this needs to be kept going, and all of it needs people. As a consequence, the country doesn’t simply shut down, and so all of those people need to be able to get to work. He also goes on to say that he is not in favour of the Tube shutting down on Boxing Day – simply that he doesn’t feel as many people are needed to operate a Boxing Day service level as on an ordinary weekend. To put this into context, he gives the following figures:

  • West Ruislip depot has 68 train operators (drivers)
  • On a weekday 41 are required
  • On a Saturday 35 are required
  • On a Sunday 26 are required
  • For Boxing Day working 18 are apparently needed

If this is the case then fair enough – I would certainly object to having more people going in than were needed. The problem is them having to volunteer, which means that the employer has to offer an incentive. Now I have no objection to someone who works outside the normal working time (i.e. at the weekend or on a public holiday) receiving some additional benefit for it, whether it be double time or an extra day in lieu. But (and I said this last year) I do feel that people employed on essential services should not volunteer to work on those days. There should be a prescribed list of days, which should mirror what is set out in the Banking and Financial Dealings Act 1971 and subsequently; and there should be a rota, so if your name comes up, you go in. This makes it fair and equal, and should nullify the threat of what is an essential service being at the mercy of the unions.

I should point out that I have a vested interest – not only is Boxing Day a big retail day, but it is also a big day in the football season, with a full league programme scheduled. There are seven Premier and Football League fixtures in London on that day, one of which is Arsenal v West Ham, which I plan to go to. You may remember the difficulty I had getting to a Boxing Day fixture away to Fulham a couple of years ago, which will likely be similar if I am unable to use the Tube to get to Arsenal this year. It would be nice to be able to get get to an away game at Christmas without having to think weeks in advance just how I’m going to get there. Mind you, as the Central Line driver (who it appears is also an Irons fan) points out, Arsenal have had four successive Boxing Day home games, while we have been stuck with three successive away games on the day after Christmas. Is there something in that?

“London Underground drivers balloted for strike action”

“…as it crumbles.”

Posted in London, Media, Other general stuff about railways by Chairman Pip on 31 October 2012

How much did you all enjoy Skyfall then? I certainly breathed a sigh of relief that it was significantly better than Quantum of Solace, and I was also pleased that the end had been kept so quiet by the producers. I won’t spoil it for those that might not have seen it yet, but suffice it to say I didn’t see it coming. Not to mention it was the first James Bond film to make major use of London as a featured location in the film itself, with a significant sequence taking place in the Underground. Naturally though, my keen eye spotted certain things about the sequence that only those of us with an eye for this sort of thing would pay attention to. Like the fact that the sequence was supposed to revolve around the bad guy escaping by jumping onto the District Line at Temple. The District Line that uses 1996 Stock apparently. Of course, we all know that it doesn’t, because it would be incredibly difficult to film on the actual District Line for any length of time without shutting it down, causing massive disruption. So, the actual filming of the scenes on station platforms involving trains were done on the now disused Jubilee Line platforms at Charing Cross, which are still used as turnbacks for trains that terminate at Green Park. However, this got me to thinking about how the Tube is filmed when called for, in terms of how much the network can actually be used. There are of course closed off areas that can be used, such as Charing Cross’ Jubilee Line platforms, or the Waterloo & City Line on Sundays (which saw Waterloo doubling as a District Line station in Sliding Doors), but it is often the case that it is just to constrictive and restrictive to get all of the necessary equipment to and from the station platforms at somewhere like Aldwych, particularly if it is a large and complex production. As an example, Die Another Day featured a sequence at the fictional Vauxhall Cross station. The designers did a lot of research at Aldwych, but the actual Vauxhall Cross was a set built at Pinewood. This is understandable as it would probably have been quite difficult to get a trolley with an Aston Martin Vanquish on it up the tunnel from Holborn. However, many is the time that Aldwych, which has no working lifts, has seen crews having to lug camera and sound equipment all the way down the stairs, and so having the money to build your own makes life a lot easier.

“‘Skyfall’ Set Visit: The Catacomb Confrontation Between Bond and Bardem, and One Near-Literal Meaning of the Film’s Title”

I’m sure there are times many commuters feel like doing this

Chairman Pip’s Podcast #2.5

Posted in Commuter, Customer service, Infrastructure, London, Metro, Podcast by Chairman Pip on 29 September 2012

Moving on out

There is a body of opinion that believes the removal of Justine Greening from the DfT to the backwater of the Department for International Development is a means by the Prime Minister and the Conservative members of the government to smooth the road ahead of a u-turn on a particular policy, namely the construction fo a third runway at Heathrow. Justine Greening was a vocal opponent of this proposal, representing as she does the constituency of Putney, which lies under the flightpath. Her successor, the somewhat unknown (up to now) Patrick McLoughlin, does not appear to have such strong opinions on the issue. One might claim that this means he will be open to the body of evidence that should be accumulated. Conspiracy theorists may say it simply means he’ll be more amenable to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer (who it seems is in favour of a third runway) changing the policy. Now, I have read in parts of the conservative press by various commentators that a third runway is the panacea, the silver bullet that will do away with all of our troubles, and that to oppose and suggest anything else it is “economic illiteracy”. Hence the ever present vocal opposition to High Speed 2 (although how many of these commentators live somewhere along the proposed route of HS2 I wonder?). Now, I claim to be no expert, but is it not the case that building a third runway is not the end of the matter? By increasing Heathrow’s capacity to accept more aeroplanes, you increase the number of people coming through, and that would likely mean you would need greater capacity once the aeroplane has come to a stop, and what this would mean is the construction of Terminal 6. The problem is that Heathrow is an old site, constrained on many sides by residential areas that make expansion difficult in the extreme, which is why Boris Johnson favours a brand new, purpose built airport in the Thames Estuary along similar lines to Chek Lap Kok in Hong Kong.

The government’s plan is to have an independent commission, chaired by Sir Howard Davies, investigate airport capacity and what can be done to expand and improve it. This is where the question of high speed rail should be taken into account, and where serious studies should be made looking at domestic and short haul flying in the UK. The argument about airport capacity is always made in terms of international travel – that Heathrow needs to retain its place as a world leading air hub to compete with both European rivals like Charles de Gaulle, Schiphol or Frankfurt, as well as those in Asia and the US. So why then is capacity at Heathrow (and other airports around London) taken up with domestic flights, and flights to destinations in Western Europe that are reachable by train? While in Edinburgh, I was asked whether, once the tram route to the airport is complete and running, whether I’d fly up from London, and my answer was a categoric “no”, for the simple reason that the United Kingdom is a country that is small enough, and well connected enough, to be able to get to most places by train in a reasonable amount of time. We already have 125mph running on most of the main routes. The electrification of the Great Western Main Line will potentially allow this to be increased to 140mph. And then there’s HS2 (which is not, as Frederick Forsyth continues to claim, simply a way to get from London to Birmingham 15 minutes faster), which will allow passengers to get to the major economic hubs in the north as fast by train as it would take to fly. Not to mention the extra capacity going begging on High Speed 1 to get to the likes of Paris, Brussels, Amsterdam and Frankfurt. The first thing for this independent review to do is see just have much of Heathrow’s existing traffic (and Gatwick’s come to that) is short or very short haul and say “where can we move this?”. Because in addition to the rail network, and the forthcoming improvements to it, there are also other locations where small, short haul flying could be transferred; Southend Airport has had a major passenger upgrade, and is directly connected to the rail network, while both Oxford and Lydd are looking to expand. Only once this evidence is gathered and studied should the question of third runways or Boris Islands be looked at.

It isn’t just me then

Posted in Ireland, Rolling stock by Chairman Pip on 21 August 2012

I’ve related often in the past my views about the policy of rolling stock disposal in Ireland, which seems to continue unabated with the news recently of both the offer of sale for scrap of Iarnród Éireann’s 90 Mark 3 coaches, and the final withdrawal of its 2700 Class fleet for storage. Given comparison with the withdrawal and storage of rolling stock on the British network, it often seems that IÉ, and NI Railways too, act as if they have had firecrackers inserted up their backsides. In this view, I have sometimes been accused of seeing conspiracies where there are none, something that is not easily levelled at me, as I hold no truck with conspiracy theorists – men have definitely walked on the Moon, it was the Titanic that sank, and Barack Obama was absolutely born in the United States. And yet I have concluded that the rapid fire disposal of rolling stock is part of a plan (conscious or otherwise) to maintain a monopoly on rail transport in Ireland in the face of approaching deregulation as per EU directives. I have commented on the fact that the size of the market in Ireland means any open-access operator would likely face significant costs and that, to keep these down, would likely look to procure second hand rolling stock. Given the unusual track gauge, sourcing this would be difficult, with virtually the only realistic option being the two operators on the island of Ireland. Thus, it simply makes good business sense to try and make it as difficult as possible for any competition to come in.

Additionally, IÉ have invested heavily in a brand new fleet of intercity DMUs that now forms the lion’s share of its rolling stock. Because they seem to have gone overboard on buying these new trains, they have put them seemingly onto as much work as they possibly can. Not only is the 22000 Class used on virtually every intercity route from Dublin with the exception of the flagship service to Cork, but it is also used increasingly on a number of interurban and commuter services. Most modern DMUs that are used on interurban services in Britain are fitted out internally for long distance travel, but have bodyshells that resemble commuter/metro trains, with double doors at 1/3 and 2/3 length, rather than single doors at the ends. Indeed, there has been large scale criticism of the decision to replace the specially built Class 460 trains on the Gatwick Express with Class 442s, as the single leaf end doors increase dwell time and make it more difficult for passengers with heavy luggage.

Had I been the only one saying things like this, then perhaps I could have been labelled “whacko”. But it seems that I’m not. Mr Mick O’Gorman of Ballybrittas in County Laois has written to the Irish Times suggesting something along the same lines. Indeed, he suggests that the scrapping of the Mark 3 coaches, a type that is still used extensively on the British network, is evidence of IÉ deliberately attempting to prevent competition once the Irish government’s rail derogation expires:

…as Ireland is under pressure quickly to put in place EU directives allowing competition in domestic passenger rail services, Irish Rail is adopting a “scorched earth” policy to rid the island of any rolling stock that might be available to other operators.

Every point that Mr O’Gorman makes in his letter – the overbuying of 22000 Class DMUs (“vomit comets”), the unique rail gauge in Ireland, the costs of procuring new trains for a prospective operator – I have stated before. It surprises me that not a single bid for any of the 90 Mark 3 coaches came in, even if it was to have them as spares caches, especially given that the British network is forever crying out for more trains. We have the Scottish Government planning to invest £100m in the Caledonian Sleeper, with the promise of new rolling stock; Mark 2 coaches still in use on commuter routes as a result of a lack of multiple units; Chiltern Railways the first to refurbish its Mark 3s with plug doors and retention toilets (amongst other features). Hell, both IÉ and NIR have expressed ever more fervant desires recently to increase Enterprise’s service frequency, which would be a lot easier to do if they didn’t have to go out and source new trains themselves. Is there more to this than meets the eye? I’m not the only one that thinks so clearly.

“Irish Rail to sell old carriages for scrap”

We can be heroes

Posted in Commuter, Customer service, Infrastructure, London, Metro by Chairman Pip on 15 August 2012

So, that was that then. London’s great big shindig (well, the first half anyway) has finished and the city has survived. In fact, something that gives me an inordinate amount of pleasure is that I can thumb my nose at all the naysayers who proclaimed that the transport network would suffer total collapse, because everything turned out fine. There were one or two teething problems to begin with, perhaps most notably a couple of signal failures on the Central Line, which was perhaps a bit unfortunate given that it serves Stratford and the Olympic Park, while there was a day when some of the central London termini were a bit congested but, overall, everything worked fine. Being a commuter I was right in the middle and noticed no problems. Indeed, the Jubilee Line didn’t look any different in the morning to most other mornings, at least until the start of the track and field programme started, which saw the capacity of the venues in the park itself more than double (the total capacity of all the venues other than the Olympic Stadium is roughly 62,000, while the stadium’s capacity is around 80,000). Even then though, there was none of the surly and irritated behaviour that usually accompanies travelling on the Jubilee Line in the morning.

Of course, even I had my own Olympic experiences – I got to go to events at three separate venues, and was thus able to experience a relatively broad spectrum of the transport network. I got to the ExCel, where I saw some of the weightlifting. This was on the first Sunday of the Games, and before a large number of some of the more popular events started, which meant that my route to the arena, which saw me go on the Jubilee Line followed by the DLR. Cleverly the DLR was working a one-way system to get to the ExCel, given the number of different individual venues inside the building – Custom House station was used to enter the venue, while Prince Regent took people away. On the last weekend of the Games, I then got to Earls Court, where the volleyball was being held, and then into the Olympic Park itself where I saw a handball game at the Basketball Arena. For both of these I based myself in Stevenage, which meant a journey into Kings Cross and then moving onto something else, which meant the Piccadilly Line to Earls Court, and the Olympic Javelin to Stratford. Again there were virtually no problems – getting to the venues was ok, getting away from the venues was ok.

Seemingly I’m not the only person to have embraced the value of the transport network, given the number of athletes and officials that eschewed the official cars and Olympic lanes in favour of taking the train, tube or bus. I can personally attest to this, as on separate occasions I shared a District Line car with the one of the Swiss beach volleyball pairs and one of the vice-presidents of the Amateur International Boxing Association. Then there have been the fairly well publicised stories, such as that of Ruben Limardo, who won the Men’s Epee, and then jumped on the tube wearing his tracksuit and medal to head into London to celebrate. Or the US men’s basketball team taking the train back to St Pancras after their evening games. So much did the competitors and officials embrace the transport system that the organisers found themselves with too many drivers to know what to do with. With the Olympics now over, we can take stock and offer a judgement on how well the transport system stood up. I think the fact that so many people, both taking part and watching, were able to successfully use public transport, means that this element, alongside the widely praised Games Makers, should be celebrated and applauded widely.

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