Networks & Connections

I don’t know what it is about the railways that fascinates so many people but it does. As I type, there’s a mysterious world of trainspotters taking pictures of Diesel Multiple Units from the far end of station platforms somewhere in the UK. Certainly, it’s an important/large enough passtime for the BBC to have devoted three hours of evening TV hours to Transporting Live a few weeks ago week.

I’ve often wondered if this is only a British phenomenon? I am not sure I understand that although I will admit that, as a child, I crossed out bus registration plates in a book that listed all the vehicles operated by the Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Executive. Bus Spotting: it was Pokémon Go for a 70s childhood.

Perhaps it’s not that hard to explain after all.

However, I do have my own fascination with the networks of the railways. There’s something about the running of an infrastructure that moves thousands of people daily that really interests me. Previously, I’ve highlighted the complexities of the Oyster smart-card system and written about the Hidden London visitor series which can take you to disused parts of the Underground network.

Fellow London commuters frustrated by the levels of service provided by the Southern franchise right now will rightly not be interested in the history of the network or Oyster permutations: after all, what good is a fare if the trains have been removed? But they may be interested in this from the London Reconnection site: “Meltdown Monday: How Southern’s Problems Run Deeper Than Disputes” which provides interesting background on why the current problems are not as simple as an argument about who closes the doors.

People have warned for years that London’s transport system will start to collapse due to the sheer number of people using it. That is unlikely and gentle degradation is a more likely outcome. What consistently seems to get overlooked, however, is the possibility that two or three problems, relatively small and insignificant in themselves, can come together to produce a situation that is hard to unravel and even more difficult to solve.1

How many of us travelling on the railways understand things such as Dwell time or Sunday Rest Day working?

Basically on large parts of the railway, still, Sunday is not a rostered working day for train crew, and management is reliant on people working rest days to provide a service.2

It’s worth a read if you have the time while staring at the platform display hoping a train will appear.

Footnotes

1 Meltdown Monday: How Southern’s Problems Run Deeper Than Disputes: London Reconnections
2 ibid

Coming Up

I guess I could have tried to make this the first in the 2016 Blog Every Wednesday in August series. However, last Wednesday I said that the quote and link format, although a blog staple, is not the BEWA way. I felt this post would be cheating. I may regret that next week when I have to find something to write about.

Hidden London: Aldwych Underground Station

I took another tour of a hidden London Underground station last weekend. This time it was of Aldwych (formerly, Strand) station which has a fascinating history. Originally planned as the terminus of the Great Northern and Strand Railway, even by the time it opened in 1907 it was a little used spur of – what is today – the Piccadilly Line.  Closed in 1994, Aldwych can still be seen in films and TV programmes and, very occasionally, as part of a Hidden London tour.

Fearing that the station would be little used, economy was sought during construction. Only one set of stairs & passages to the platforms were completed. The eastern platform was not used for trains from 1914 onwards.
The eastern platform, shown here, was not used for trains from 1914 onwards, although they were used to store national art treasures during the world wars.

Fearing that the station would be little used, economy was sought during construction. Only one set of stairs & passages to the platforms were completed, and only about half the platform area (at the south end where the short trains would stop) were tiled. The remaining passages were left incomplete and never opened, all passengers using what would have been the exit passages to access platforms and lifts …

The Aldwych branch was never well patronised. Before the time of its closure only 450 people were using the branch each day. From June 1958 the line began operating only in rush hours as off peak traffic was almost non-existent. The line was considered for extension to Waterloo on many occasions throughout its history but due to financial limitations and lack of demand, this extension never came to anything.

There’s a few more pictures in a Flickr album: https://flic.kr/s/aHsksZdTtV

The station was originally called Strand but was renamed Aldwych in 1915 when the nearest Northern Line station became Strand (now, that's Charing Cross)
The station was originally called Strand but was renamed Aldwych in 1915 when the nearest Northern Line station became Strand (now, that’s Charing Cross)

Footnotes

Source: Hidden London: Aldwych Closed Station, © London Transport Museum, p3/p18

Oyster Complexities

Something I learned this week about the complexities of managing London’s smart-card ticketing system,

Starting with 700 stations, Oyster does not know the destination when you tap in. So the system has to hold 700 times 700 possible fares.

Then there are alternative routes, where you have to allow for people doing ‘weird and wonderful things’. As a result Oyster allows for up to 32 different routes between any origin-destination pair.

Then there are peak and off-peak fares. Here Oyster has built in ‘stretch’ which could accommodate up to 16 different time bands over the day.

Add in adult, child plus youth, senior, unemployed and other concessionary fares and the total number of combinations in the system comes to 216 million fares. That is, of course, irrelevant to the customer, who knows that, however he or she travels between Zone 1 and Zone 2, the peak fare will be £2.90.

Source: Modern Railways magazine, March 2016, p73

Powered By Rotting Fruit

The Swedes, god-bless their efficiency, have come up with a train that is, effectively, powered by that rotting fruit.

I don’t know if it is the glorious sunny weather or something else altogether but, right now, commuting life in London seems so much more pleasant than it used to be. I have no idea why that is but my morning battle with overcrowded South West Trains doesn’t feel to bad right now. Perhaps these new trains really are making a difference. Of course, if it is getting better the rail bosses have still managed to stir up controversy again by suggesting further peak-travel charging for using the railways. There’s nothing likely to get people stirred up than a story like this. I mainly feel for the poor people from the rail companies having to justify these statements. Lost in all the furore about this was the news that the Swedes, god-bless their efficiency, have come up with a train that is, effectively, powered by that rotting fruit you throw away each week. What a great idea.

A Pointless Rant About Trains

I am not shocked at the mediocre service. I am not shocked that the staff on board couldn’t care about the confused passengers. What amazes me is that I took two trains and for the majority of both journeys the trains were full.

Today’s illogical rant follows in a moment. Do not be alarmed. An emergency exit is located here and here.

Virgin Trains have made a big deal about the investment in new trains. And the trains were very nice – the airline style at-seat audio was a nice touch. But the service was still below par. On the way north last weekend  the train had been changed and so seat reservations were no longer valid (yet our seat numbers were still there). They seems to have removed the at-seat buffet (which is handy on a full-train so you don’t lose your seat) and the train terminated early.

I am not shocked at the mediocre service. I am not shocked that the staff on board couldn’t care about the confused passengers (are you in my seat or not?). What amazes me is that I took two trains and for the majority of both journeys the trains were full. And by full I mean people were sitting in the parts between the carriages, on the floor in the cold, draughty bits (as an aside, how come it can be so draughty and ventilated and the toilets still smell?). Every train I ever take is full. To work in the morning. Home in the evening. North to visit my parents. South to visit PY’s parents. So why do we always hear about the lack of money in the railway system?

Aliens Eat London Commuters

It stunned me that I could walk onto a platform on the Northern Line at Charing Cross station and find it deserted.

rush hour
rush hour

I posted this picture over a Flickr tonight as it stunned me that I could walk onto a platform on the Northern Line at Charing Cross station and find it deserted. All the best movies had alien invaders clearing the streets while our lonesome hero wandered the empty streets and echoing buildings. It was very strange indeed and a great relief when somebody else made it to the platform and stood waiting the few minutes for the next train. I’ve spent the day in central London training some customers on our software products and so have been on my feet all day, talking. I find it quite hard to be engaging for six hours of so and do find it very disconcerting when I can see the participants interest wane. I imagine it’s a great relief for all that we make it to the end of the day. I was glad to head of for a meal with friends – which is why I was taking the train!