New People. New Trains.

I love the fact that years ago people were thinking 50 years ahead, but is it enough?

There’s almost a week to go until the end of September but today really is #SOLS day. Today’s view from my pulpit is, once again, about transport. Is it too much of a theme.

I’ve written a couple of times in recent weeks about transport in South West London. I’ve never lived in any other part of the city so I can’t comment on issues elsewhere. Although, as I previously noted, I commute into Britain’s business station, so I feel a certain amount of attention is needed in this part of the world.

South London is woefully underserved by London Underground with 250 stations north of the Thames and just 29 south1. So, for those of us South West, the major transport options are main line services into London Waterloo; trams if you’re heading around Croydon or the “misery” Northern Line2 through to the City or West End.

Back in 1974 I don’t think I could point to London on a map (being about 4 years old at the time) but somebody, somewhere, decided that about 50 years later a Chelsea-Hackney underground line might be a good idea and so started a process that leads to this day3.

The Draft Mayor’s Transport Strategy 2017 includes a plan for Crossrail 2: a line that is described as

a new proposed railway linking the national rail networks in Surrey and Hertfordshire via an underground tunnel through London 4

The line is predicted to allow 270,000 more people to travel into the central London the morning rush hour. This is equivalent to about 10% of the current capacity into London. It’s really quite a lot.

The scheme will also “unlock 200,000 new homes”5. That also seems like a big number equating to a lot of new houses. But it also seems like room for a lot of new people because we need houses for the growing London population. If a good proportion of these new houses are near the Crossrail 2 route then it should be assume that some of the people will utilise the route for their commute, after all, why not take the shiny new trains into the office?

So, if each of those houses has at least one occupier and half of those people use the new train for a commute then we have 100,000 additional south west journeys. Much of the new capacity is used-up instantly. And, assuming a single occupier properties seems on the conservative side don’t you think?

I love the fact that years ago people were thinking 50 years ahead and started to make plans. I love the fact the Mayor is promoting the project as a strategic plan. But, is it enough?

Footnotes

1 http://londonist.com/2016/03/alternative-names-for-london-s-tube-lines, Croydon Advertiser
2 Take The Drain, The Misery Line, Then The Viking Line, Londonist
3 Crossrail, History
4 What is Crossrail 2?
5 The Importance of Being Earnest: Making the case for Crossrail 2, London Reconnections

#SOLS

#SOLS is a project to get me writing on this site in 2017. You can read more about it in an entry from the start of the year.  Recently, a few of the pieces have been about transport in South West London but can also see what else I have written about in the #SOLS index.

A Trilogy of Trains

If you were expecting some kind of thrilling denouement to the train trilogy, sadly, Network Rail, South West Trains and South Western Railway look like they’ve managed the whole thing rather well considering that to do the work hundreds of trains had to be cut and thousands of people had to change their plans.

The three greatest movie trilogies of all time, according to Empire magazine, are (at 3) Back to the Future, (at 2) the original Star Wars films and (top of the pops) The Lord of the Rings. Once I have sold the film rights to this site then my current thread of posts will be competing for the top spot.

If you’re not up-to-date here’s a handy recap montage: last month’s #SOLS post was about the Battle of Waterloo (the station not the Duke of Wellington battle) and, a few days later my ‘Will Commuters Even Notice‘ became a (not-quite) best seller on Medium.  Both discussed the state of the trains, major engineering works and the small matter of the change of franchise on the railway lines into London Waterloo station.  Assuming all is on-track (every pun intended) then Network Rail will give us our trains back on Tuesday morning.

If you see this series as ‘Lord of the Rings’ then this is the thrilling conclusion to the story. If you think of this collection more like ‘Back to the Future’ then this is the weakest of the three with a mixed plot including some strange wild west space theme. If you’re thinking that this series more of a Star Wars classic then you are sadly deluded and I don’t know that you should read any further without seeking help.

In the run-up for the engineering works, the poor people running the South West Trains publicity and Twitter machines went into overdrive reminding everybody to prepare for delays. There were plenty of warnings on the trains (see the picture on my last post). My personal favourite tweet warned of the End of Days (which, if you think about it, makes this more Lord of the Rings than Back to the Future) and you really only get the effect if you click through to the actual tweet:

 

At my local station we even got a sneak preview of the queuing system we’d be expected to stand in for 20 minutes each morning.

And then came Monday morning.  The alarm went off 45 minutes earlier and, with some trepidation, I made my way to the station.  There was some of those crowd control people I previously mentioned, lined-up to help the masses form an orderly queue.  But there was a problem with all the planning: there were no crowds.   For most of the time, I’ve had a seat on a partially empty train at a time I was warned I’d have to queue.  Pulling into Clapham Junction station at around 7am would usually find a platform crowded with commuters trying to find a space: this week more people got off the train at Clapham than got on. It was emptier leaving the station than it was on approach.   People have vanished.

Response to the #WaterlooUpgrade on Twitter seems to have come in three main topics: those who are frustrated that the train timings have changed; those that campaigned for some money back because of the disruption (even after 14 months of warnings) and those who expressed shock that South West Trains were, suddenly, quite pleasant to ride at morning peak times.

Sadly, it was’t all free ice creams and a seat on a train.  If you are completely changing the way you use the infrastructure around Waterloo station, I imagine you’ll find things that break when they previously didn’t. So, of course, there have been failures and problems and the temporary timetable extended every journey into Waterloo.  Quite early on there was a derailment which, in turn, meant extra days were added to the  most severe service reductions on the last weekend. As Modern Railways said, “every sinew will have to be stretched to hold the service together”. (1)

And in the middle of it all, with not a great deal of fanfare but a few little touches, Stagecoach bowed out and handled the franchise torch to South Western Railways.  A couple of stickers and a logo, or two, added in places.  The announcements were updated and my train was now a “South Western Railways service to London Waterloo” but it looked, and behaved, the same as always.  When railways are franchised to private operators I believe it’s important to know who is actually running (and profiting from) the service.  For the south west region,  I think it’s going to take some time for the new company’s brand to land and, even longer, for people to know that this it’s a totally different company. Still, in the midst of all the disruption, a launch party would have been inappropriate.

If you were expecting some kind of thrilling denouement to the train trilogy, sadly, Network Rail, South West Trains and South Western Railway look like they’ve managed the whole thing rather well considering that to do the work hundreds of trains had to be cut and thousands of people had to change their plans.

Sadly, the #SOLS timetable means I am posting this when there are still a 36 hours until the resumption of regular services and anything could happen. Over-runing engineering works would hardly be something new.  And unfortunately, there will be limited improvements to the old timetabled services until December so it might look like this work was in vein.  Plus, there’s the added pressure that, as part of the final stage of the London Bridge Thameslink works, South Eastern trains need to use some platforms at Waterloo from Tuesday. But, given what could have happened, there has been considerably less chaos than predicted and I am grateful for that.

Well done everyone.

 

Footnotes

(1) Modern Railways, August 2017, p7

Will Commuters Even Notice?

South West Trains, South Western Trains. You say tomato.

Window sticker warning of rail disruptionIn January 2016, it was reported that my local train operator, South West Trains had achieved 81% customer satisfaction. It always seems to me that there is a general feeling that our trains are no good but I think that’s a pretty decent figure. So, when Transport Focus’ autumn 2016 survey reported that the number was 83%, you’d think the company was moving in the right direction, wouldn’t you

As I noted in my piece about the upcoming disruption (starting in just a few hours) at Britain’s busiest station, London Waterloo, there are already plans to increase capacity by 30%. This increase is, in part, achieved by lengthening platforms to allow longer trains to run. This is in addition to the extension of most of the suburban platforms on the network and the extra carriages introduced in 2015/6 as well as the previously announced £210 million Desiro City trains that are due to enter service after the works are complete (part of the “biggest increase in capacity on this network for decades” [source]) adding 150 new carriages.

Given the frequency of trains at peak hours, this must mean that the lines are pretty full. From my local station, there are 12 off-peak trains per hour (or 1 every 5 minutes) into Waterloo. Network Rail are squeezing extra capacity in but that means massive disruption to get us there. But what next?

Well, despite all these longer platforms, extra trains and high customer satisfaction score, South West Trains lost their franchise. From August 20 2017, and for the next 7 years, First MTR South Western Trains Ltd (a joint venture between & Hong Kong’s MTR Corp) will run the service.

South West Trains 1990s LogoSouth West Trains been the only private operator of the service since I moved to London. Prior to 4 Feb 1996 the service was public, part of British Rail’s Network South East operations. I imagine over the coming months somebody may repaint the train. I’m sure there will be stickers over the old logo and I imagine that there will lots of promotion for new a shiny new web site and some new social media feeds.

But, really, will anybody actually notice?

South West Trains, South Western Trains. You say tomato.

Of course, franchises are not awarded on train colours or fancy logos. They’re awarded on the promises of service and money (this franchise is actually a net contributor to UK finances). I can’t argue the money part (see this article about “payments over the core period with a real net present value of £2·6bn”) because I can’t really work out who spaying who at any point in time. So, I’m looking at their services,

The first, “30% more peak seats per day at London Waterloo by December 2020” seems to be remarkably similar to service improvement already promised by South West Trains (and noted in my piece about Waterloo).

“Simpler fares with pay as you go smart cards” seems to me to be a decent proposal but no details on how it’s better that SWT’s existing smart card offering.

Of course there are promises of community engagement (“Increased engagement with local stakeholders” and “The biggest rail operator apprenticeship scheme in Britain”) which are all welcome but will have limited impact on the core railway issue: service provision.

Top of the promise list is “The introduction of 750 new suburban coaches” which are promised by 2020 (so will be in service for about two-thirds of the franchise). But these are, ultimately, replacing the new Desiro City trains that are coming later this year (they haven’t even been introduced yet). In 2020 it seems that its a case of out with the new, in with the new.

There are currently 1400 train carriages on the SWT network. It’s not clear from any of the promises (both from the incumbent and new provider) how many are really additional carriages rather than shiny new replacements.

Yes, there are train refubushments (unless you’re on the Isle of Wight there are only promises of “proposals”) which include wifi and at-seat charging. These changes are welcome if you can get a seat to plug your phone into & the on-board wifi isn’t over capacity because the train is full.

All this seems to me a change for limited gain. The new franchise will benefit from the improvement works at Waterloo and the introduction of the Desiro City trains but so would the existing supplier, who arguably, doesn’t see any benefit from all the work they have put in to get to this point. The new operator is adding new trains but taking away new trains and, even if they are better in some way, they won’t be here for a while.

I don’t doubt that there will be improvements but, as a humble commuter on the busiest line in the country, it seems to we’re getting either things that have already been promised or cosmetic changes. I wonder, has it been worth all the expense of the franchise process? As I mentioned in my last piece on the topic, if passenger growth continues, where will real new capacity come from in a few years when the promised 30% is filled?

So, what does the Mayor’s Transport Strategy propose as a solution to the overcrowding problems on the south west lines into London?

Crossrail 2 anyone?

{Have something to say about this post? I also published on Medium so why not comment there?]

A Reading Challenge for 2017

I made a simple resolution as we went into 2017: I would drink an extra small bottle of water everyday to improve my hydration. So far, that one is working.  Back in December I also decided that, on the last Sunday of every month, I would write something for this site.  It wasn’t really a resolution, rather an updated version of the Blog Every Wednesday in August task I set myself a few years ago: the idea was to write something here to make paying for the hosting worth it. This new commitment was given the title “Sermon Of the Last Sunday”.  As with all things these days, there’s a hashtag #SOLS. See if you can work out which came first: the series name or the hashtag.

Also at the end of last year I set myself a Goodreads challenge to read 12 books in 2017. This shouldn’t be the hardest commitment as it’s just one book a month but, if I succeed, I will end up reading more than I did last year.  There are plenty of people that inspired me to try this challenge (which you can follow on Goodreads) but, possibly, I made my decision after reading Bill Gates’ favourite books of 2016. He manages an eclectic list of recommendations. I hope to have as diverse a range of books on my ‘has read’ list by the end of the year.

More recently, Entertainment Weekly published a list of Every book Barack Obama recommended during his presidency. Another eclectic, and inspirational, list. Seriously, if he can be such an voracious reader and run America then I can read 12 books this year. As Bill Gates says,

Still, reading books is my favorite way to learn about a new topic. I’ve been reading about a book a week on average since I was a kid. Even when my schedule is out of control, I carve out a lot of time for reading. [source]

So, when trying to come-up with the first SOLS entry I thought I’d review one of the books that ended last year. It was the book I was reading when I read Bill’s list; it was fascinating and a little hard-going at times but it took me out of my daily commute and made me think about something else.  Which, I think, is something a good book should do.  I have reviewed books here before, and I am not sure I will attempt to review all 12, but it’s such a well written book I’d recommend adding it to your own reading list.

I’m grateful to the staff of Waterstones in Chichester who persuaded me that this was a book worth reading as I was browsing their store at some point last year. I don’t often spend time just wandering book shops but there was an opportunity and I took it. I’m very glad I did.

Cover of SkyfaringSkyfaring: A Journey with a Pilot

For some people, a job takes you to the same place each day, surrounded by colleagues who you see daily and get to know over time. Not quite so for pilots, especially those flying long haul, where the variation in crew is almost as changeable as the constantly altering view from the cockpit.

Mark Vanhoenacker, a British Airways 747 long haul pilot, writes about flight through series of chapters documenting the experiences of moving from one part of the world to another with chapters such as Place, Wayfinding, Night and Return.

It’s not a biography of a pilot, a technical guide to flying nor a travelogue rather it’s a rhapsodic love affair with flight and all it involves and, so, it’s a little bit of all those things put together with some beautifully written, almost lyrical, prose. Don’t expect a chronological guide to flight but a collection of chapters that take their subject and describe the experience from the complex to the minutia; written from a vantage of someone obviously captivated by the charm of flight.

The style is vivid and descriptive, but the detail of the language can sometimes make reading it hard work. Don’t let that put you off because it’s worth a little perseverance to get close to understanding why the experience of flight it both magical and disorienting at the same time.

Footnotes

Skyfaing, A Journey with a Pilot, available at Amazon.

Hidden London: Clapham South Deep Level Shelter

Each morning as I walk across the Thames, I look to my left and see the sights of St Paul’s Cathedral, the gherkin and Canary Wharf. It’s an amazing – almost iconic – skyline.  Although radically changed with the modern skyscrapers, can you imagine what it must have been like just over 70 years ago when a hundred or more doodlebugs, or the V-1 flying bombs as they were more officially known, could be filling the sky and you didn’t know what their target was.1

Early in the second world war, London had been bombed by the German Luftwaffe – a period known as The Blitz. In spite of early attempts by the government to lock them, Londoners took shelter in many of the city’s Underground stations. In addition, parts of the Underground were used to store national treasures.  Today it’s on an unused branch line, but in the 1940s Aldwych tube station, that I visited once before, protected artefacts from the British Museum from the damage aerial bombing could inflict.

At the height of the bombing, there were demands from the public for the government to provide more shelters. The government turned to the London transport authorities – who had the technical experience building below ground – to build new shelters. And, even though the bombing raids over London had subsided, a total of 8 deep-level shelters we’re built (although 10 had been commissioned). All the new deep shelters were built near existing tube stations: the unrealised dream being to bring them into service as railways post-war.

The shelters were eventually used for their intended purpose in the latter years of the war when, in June 1944, the flying bombs were sent to attack the city.

Last Sunday, as part of London Transport Museum’s Hidden London series,2 I visited the deep-level shelter at Clapham South. The above-ground pillar box can still be seen just around the corner from the existing tube entrance. The shelter is connected to the station but the walls have long-since been sealed forcing visitors to descend (and return later) via a 180-step spiral staircase. The lift, it appears, either not in working order or no longer fit for public use. It’s not easy on the knees but, somehow, not quite as many steps as it sounds.

Clapham South Deep Level ShelterBelow ground is a fascinating place. Wartime pictures of the shelter show the kind of Blitz-spirited Londoners that only seem to appear on old newsreel films.3 In reality, the space built for almost 8,000 people, must have been cramped, crowded, smelly and – probably – very loud. Even with the welcome addition of the canteen-served jam tarts that were not subject to the ration book, I can’t imagine it was the nicest of places. Admittedly, the feeling of 120 feet of earth above you probably went a long way to making it a sanctuary from the horrors above the ground.

DSCN0755-7The tunnels through which you are escorted on the tour are astonishingly clean & tidy – having been most recently used as a secure archive storage facility – but it’s clear from the remaining bunk beds that life would have been cramped. Row, upon row, of the stacked bunk beds could have given almost 8,000 people safety in the Clapham South shelter; your particular bunk marked on the ticket required to access the shelter. Most people would have to bring their belongings down in to the shelter each time they went; exceptions were made for people whose houses had been destroyed by the war. That’s 180 steps with mattresses and other personal items that you wanted to keep with you.

Post-war, the shelters have been used as a hostel for visitors to the great exhibitions of the Festival of Britain in 1951, places for incoming migrants to stay until they found permanent accommodation or as army barracks. In later years, the Clapham South shelters were the aforementioned storage facility while a nearby tunnel, that you don’t visit, is today used to grow salads under LED lighting.4

Walking across the Thames bridges in the August sunshine is a world away from the realities of wartime in the city: the Hidden London deep-level shelter tour a small, but important, reminder of what people went through and a fascinating insight into the ingenuity of the city to protect citizens in more difficult times.

Hidden London

If you’re interested in the Hidden London series of tours, visit the London Transport Museum site to see when the next series is scheduled.

About BEWA 2016

BEWA (Blog Every Wednesday in August) is a project aimed to get me writing in a blog style again. I wrote an introduction to kick the series off while the first proper entry championed an Olympic legacy.  The third discussed my fascination with location data while what should have been the fourth entry was more of an Oops. There is a page with the #bewa collection (including those from last year).  Fingers crossed I am back next week. I’m sure @curns will mention it.

Footnotes

1 V-1 flying bomb, Wikipedia
2 Hidden London, London Transport Museum
3 Clapham South Deep Level Air-Raid Shelter, Subterranea Britannica
4 Growing Underground: A Visit To Clapham’s Deep Level Farm, Londonist

Please Don’t Shout On Late Trains

Jakob Nielsen reports that researchers from the University of York have performed a study to assess why it’s so annoying when other people have cellphone conversations in public.

Earlier in the week, my fifteen-minute train journey was delayed due to over-running engineering works. Any regular traveller on the South West Trains suburban lines into London Waterloo station will be used to these delays after weekends or bank holidays. I know it to be so likely that I even plan for it and force myself out of bed and to the station a little earlier if I know there have been engineering works nearby.

As always some people are caught off guard by this or, perhaps, they use it as a cover for the fact they are running late. It’s amazing how many mobile ‘phone conversations announce that the caller will be late for the office/appointment/meeting due to how late the trains are when, in fact, there is no more than a ten minute delay (which when using London’s transport infrastructure you should be accounting for anyway).

Earlier this week, however, there was a well-spoken gentleman in my carriage who insisted in calling – what appeared to be – most of his mobile ‘phone contact book to let them know just how late he was. He also said that Justin would have to take the meeting (if Justin ever reads this, the gentleman in question claimed to have confidence that you wouldn’t screw it up which I thought sounded good for you). All very well but I didn’t want to know it.

The conversation was irritaing and irritation is always enhanced when a train is later (even if you have planned for it because other’s have planned for it and civilised behaviour goes out the window). The conversation, however, was loud but each one was brief and to the point and without any pointless small-talk. The gentleman was efficient in his conversations and factual. He was, however, still irritaing.

So I started looking for items on irritation factors caused by mobile telephony only to find that Jakob Nielsen has a some research on ‘Why Mobile Phones are Annoying‘ which implies that, upon testing, conversations face-to-face at the same volume are less irritaing that the equivalent mobile conversation. The research suggests,

Designing phones that encourage users to speak softly will reduce their impact on other people. For example, more sensitive microphones and improved quality on incoming audio will make most users less inclined to shout. [source]

Let’s hope Nokia et al. are listening.

Fast Lane on Foot

I haven’t spoken of London’s traffic problems for a while now. This is because it’s a bad story and I am trying to be positive. I have not been overly delayed for sometime (although every taxi I take tries to navigate Trafalgar Square which is a automobile no-go zone at the moment).

I also realise that London is a big city which is home to many millions of people who all travel. It stands to reason then that, if the system should fail one day, movement will be difficult. I know that an integrated public transport system run (efficiently, effectively) for the people is a (very) long way off.

Still, it did amuse me to read that,

London’s road traffic is travelling at its slowest ever pace, averaging less than walking pace, according to a new report. [Yahoo]

A Non-Existent Dream

If we’re not careful, the UK will topple over as the South East of Britain sinks into The Channel under the weight of all the people migrating from other parts of the country.

After last night’s little rant on the state of the London Underground system, I heard about this morning’s nonsense from the Strategic Rail Authority (SRA) to start charging commuters more to sit on over-crowded, dirty, late-running trains. I guess the plan reasons that charging higher fares means fewer people will travel by train. Surely, this proves that an integrated transport policy for London’s workers remains a non-existent dream. Ken Livingston wants to charge people for driving into central London. The SRA wants to charge more for travelling on trains. How are people expected to get into work? The answer is they will still drive and take the train and it will cost them more – status quo remains. It seems to me that nobody is prepared to do what it takes to sort transport in the South East out. And that still stinks.

So then, I got to thinking about John Prescott’s [John Prescott as Boss of Bosses?] little plan to build more affordable housing in the South East of England (to ease the cronic housing shortage, apparently). Affordable housing implies that this is aimed at people on a lower wage (am I taking a big leap here?). How, exactly, are these people going to get to work in London if train prices rise and roads get tolls? Again, it appears inconsitnet and badly thought out. Why not take some of these £4 billion and encourage businesses to move out of the South East to areas where there are too many houses or where there is less congestion. If we’re not careful, the UK will topple over as the South East of Britain sinks into The Channel under the weight of all the people migrating from other parts of the country.

London Life Underground

It’s a rant about the tube. Summer brings its own special brand of problems for London’s sub-terrain commuters: hot, sweaty and stuck in tunnels on the way to the office does not make for a contented work force.

The great struggle to and from work in London is over as another strike by London Underground staff finishes and the tube returns to its normal, over-crowded, hot, sticky self. I don’t think there can be a person in this City who does not believe that the Underground is under funded and appears, at times, not too far from breaking point. Summer brings its own special brand of problems for London’s sub-terrain commuters: hot, sweaty and stuck in tunnels on the way to the office does not make for a contented work force. When will Tony Blair, Ken Livingston and Bob Crow stop using the Underground as a great big political football and start doing something to ease the plight of those who try and use London’s public transport on a regular basis? I, along with most people who have chosen to live, work or visit London, am fed up with the self-serving posturing of the politicians and union leaders. I can’t say if I think the strike was wrong or not but I do know that the very fact that none of the parties involved are currently at a negotiating table resolving all issues and developing long-term strategies for coping with increasing commuter volumes stinks worse than the armpits of that harassed member of the public I will be squashed against tomorrow morning. Please somebody, for the sake of those of us who voted for you and pay for you, sort out the mess. [current tube status]