Some of the text on this page was written by 'AI' using gpt-3.5-turbo. I have corrected some US spellings to UK spellings in the response as the prompt for British English seems to have partially ignored
Back at the start of the year, I shared a piece of generative AI that I had created to try to understand how a mainstream tool worked in a specific, more technical context. I think it’s great but, at this stage, it was a generalist.
One of the limitations of the models used is that they have been trained on data to a fixed point in time and many are not able to look-up new data or information against the wider knowledge of the internet. Poe is a collection of AI tools and I noticed a bot had been released that is capable of conducting a web search.
So, with this week’s news that HS2 is to be scrapped I thought I’d try out the this AI to see what it came up with. I am quite impressed with both the output and the referencing but it is limited to a couple of sources. In particular, the references to the Construction Plant-hire Association (CPA) are to a single 185 word statement. Nonetheless, I thought interesting new capabilities from AI.
Summarise responses to the cancellation of HS2 to Manchester. Use British English.
The AI generated response
The cancellation of the HS2 leg to Manchester has generated various responses. Here is a summary of the key reactions:
Disappointment and Concern
Many individuals and organisations have expressed disappointment and concern over the cancellation .
The Construction Plant-hire Association (CPA) described the decision as “extremely disappointing” and a significant blow to the UK construction sector .
Former Prime Minister David Cameron criticised the cancellation, stating that it was the wrong decision and would make it harder to build consensus for future long-term projects .
Impact on Plans and Confidence:
The cancellation has raised concerns about the impact on people who had made decisions based on the HS2 plans, such as moving or selling their homes .
The CPA warned that the decision could undermine confidence and impact future investment in the construction sector .
Alternative Funding and Projects:
Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has promised to use the £36 billion of savings from scrapping the HS2 line to fund other transport schemes .
The government’s commitment to completing the HS2 line to Euston and diverting funding to other projects aimed at boosting transport infrastructure in the north has been highlighted .
Interestingly, WordPress (which is used to maintain this site) now includes an AI assistant that can review what has been written on this blog. I generated a review of this page. One of the pieces of feedback was, “Include diverse perspectives by including reactions from a wider range of individuals and organisations”. It amused me that an AI was, effectively, telling another AI to do better.
When it comes to major UK railway projects, everything changes and everything stays the same, huh?
People who occasionally visit here may notice that I talk about transport and trains, in particular, quite a bit. But, I’ve not written anything about the failure of London’s big transport project, Crossrail, to open because, on a day-to-day basis, it does’t impact me. No part of my daily travel would use the new trains. I don’t think Crossrail will remove that many people on my daily commuter route into Waterloo so the only thing I’m unable to do is try riding the new trains (and so, I will wait a while).
I have been following the news about the project and, last week, read the Evening Standard article that began
None of the nine new Crossrail stations are complete and testing of the £1 billion fleet of trains in tunnels has been “paused” due to technical issues, it has been revealed.
Today, the Blast From The Past links on this site point to a piece from 2004 in The Guardian titled “The £10bn rail crash” on which I commented. My immediate thought was that it was a piece about Crossrail but, of course, in 2004 Crossrail wasn’t the project it is today. No, this was a piece about the West Coast mainline.
Everything changes and everything stays the same, huh?
Here’s an interesting snippest about how a wholly unrelated decision in government (Theresa May’s decision to call a snap General Election earlier this year) can add an additional £13 millon pounds to a London transport project
For anybody with even a passing interest in how transport infrastructure works and impacts society, London Reconnections is a must read. Although articles explore the London’s transport, the nuances of transport policy probably apply everywhere in the world. For example, if you really want to understand the complexities of Transport for London’s ban on Uber and don’t want to rely on the social media outrage, then “Understanding Uber: It’s Not About The App” (and related articles) paints a much more complex (and fascinating) picture.
Buried away in a piece published earlier today is an interesting snippest about how a wholly unrelated decision in government (Theresa May’s decision to call a snap General Election earlier this year) can add an additional (un-budgeted) £13 millon pounds to a London transport project (in this case, Crossrail 2),
It is an unfortunate fact that the election and campaign may have only been around six weeks long and have seen the same party returned to government, yet the disruption caused to presenting a Crossrail 2 bill to Parliament has probably put the project back by a full year.
£13m sounds like a lot but isn’t in the case of these multi-billion pound projects. It does still have to come from some unplanned budget which must frustrate planners … but pushing the whole project back by a year? Wow.
I wonder how many other projects and plans across the country saw similar issues and what they cost.
Occasionally I write, not as well as London Reconnections, about transport issues that I see. Why not take a moment to have a look?
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.
South West Trains, South Western Trains. You say tomato.
In 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 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,
“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.
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?
In just a few days, from 5th August 2017, I expect a modern day battle of Waterloo as passengers at Britain’s busiest railway station fight for carriage during a period of “significantly fewer trains” when platforms 1-9 will be closed so work can start to extend those platforms for longer trains.
202 years ago, somewhere around where Belgium is on the map today, the Emperor of the French, a man who is immediately known by the use of the word Napoleon, was defeated by the Duke of Wellington at the Battle Waterloo. Those not around in 1815 may refer to the 1974 Abba song, although I think ‘surrender’ has a somewhat different meaning on the battle field than it does in the song “Waterloo – knowing my fate is to be with you”.
There’s a bridge over the Thames named after Waterloo (the battle, not the song) and, in turn, when the London and South Western Railway opened a station in the area in July 1848 it was named after the bridge, in fact Wikipedia says it was originally called as ‘Waterloo Bridge Station‘.
In just a few days, from 5th August 2017, I expect a modern day battle of Waterloo as passengers at Britain’s busiest railway station, now referenced in your station guide as London Waterloo, fight for carriage during a period of “significantly fewer trains” when platforms 1-9 will be closed so work can start to extend those platforms for longer trains. Appropriate emoji’s at the point are a happy face for the prospect of longer trains and the scream for the next 23 days commuting experience.
That’s basically half the platforms closed at a station where 100 million journeys start or end every year. Even though work has been planned in the summer when — hopefully — there are marginally fewer commuters that’s still a big hole to fill. If you’re already standing with your nose in somebody’s armpit on a morning peak service, the promise of “Services and stations will be busier than usual, especially in the morning and evening peaks on weekdays” is probably pretty depressing.
For some months, Adecco (“the largest staffing firm in the world”) have been advertising for Crowd Control officers to support the “blockade project which will positively transform the journeys of millions of people”. A nice spin on, what I imagine, will be a fairly thankless task to keep commuters calm: trains and stations have been plastered with signs warning of reduced (or even, no) service for most of the year but I can already see the Twitter outrage from those who did not get a personal visit for a member of engineering team. If you use expensive noise-cancelling headphones on your morning commute you may be forgiven for having missed the non-stop announcements warning of the works. The rest of us don’t have an excuse.
There will be the usual frustrations of people failing to get somewhere important — or standing around somewhere else for a long period of time, waiting — but I don’t see how any of this is avoidable. Maybe I should make the month off.
Of course, after all this work is complete we are promised capacity for 30% more passengers during the busiest parts of the day when 100,000 people pass through the station. The trouble is, in the 24 years I have been in London passenger numbers on these lines have more than doubled, making Waterloo the busiest transport hub in Europe. That’s a more-than 100% increase over that time. If that growth carries on at a similar rate then the extra space, which we’ll probably already fill, will be also be bursting in 6 or 7 years. These works are making a better use of existing infrastructure but what options do we have beyond that? Where will new trains go in 24 years from now?
If going to Japan had been a goal of mine for many years; riding the bullet train was a second aim and was a real highlight of the trip (even though you are really quite oblivious to the fact that the train is travelling at 162mph). That train, or Shinkansen as they are known, is part of a high-speed network that covers the country and runs – almost exclusively – on dedicated high-speed track. As a consequence trains are not delayed by other kinds of rail traffic and, generally, run to time. The phrase ‘to time’ Japanese-style seems to mean to the exact minute rather than the rather looser British version meaning ‘within five minutes’.
The Saturday lunchtime train took us to Kyoto for the second part of the Japan experience. We returned to Tokyo to spend the last day at Tokyo DisneySea; which really is a very different world.
Japan Vacation Retrospective Part 2: Kyoto
Photo of Day 7: Hikari Shinkansen: Bullet Train
I love travelling by train. There’s something inherently fascinating about locomotives, carriages, tracks and the networks that are formed from these things. So, I’ve always wanted to ride on the world’s original high-speed network: Japan’s Shinkansen. It’s amazing to think that trains that could reach speeds of 130 mph were introduced back in 1964 for the first Tokyo Olympics. I measured 162 mph today on the Shinkansen to Kyoto. Who knows what speeds they’ll reach for the next Tokyo Olympics in 2020; a line using maglev technology is already under construction and maglev trains have set the world record at 375 mph.
We rode the Hikari service on the Tōkaidō Shinkansen which runs through to Shin-Ōsaka & Okayama and is, apparently, the most heavily-used high-speed train line in the world. Hikari is the fastest service that accepts the Japan Rail Pass (which makes using Shinkansen much more affordable) so we lingered at some stations while faster Nozomi services passed on the dedicated high-speed lines. Amazing to think that the only thing that could delay our train was an even faster train. No delays on Chessington South stopping services or leaves on the line here.
But the running speed isn’t the only fast things about the trains. The turnaround time for our train today was less than 15 minutes after the set had arrived into the platform at Tokyo central station. Waiting patiently at a space for each door was somebody to clean, turn all seats 180 degrees to face the direction of travel and place new headrest covers on each seat. The efficiency of the teamwork is a sight to behold. The bow to the boarding passengers a pleasing part of the culture.
Apparently, Shinkansen changed the way business was done between major Japanese cities by making day trips possible where they hadn’t been practical before. I wonder if we’ll ever see similar between London & Scotland?
Photo of Day 8: Fushimi Inari Taisha
A Shinto shrine houses the spirits that are worshiped in the religion. As well as the dead, the spirits could be forces of nature or elements of the landscape. There are many sub-words for Shinto shrines in Japanese but the English language only has the one.
At the base of the Inari mountain is the Inari shrine; Inari being the spirit of commerce and industry (and also of rice). There’s a 2 hour hiking trail up the mountain, from the base at the main shrine, where you climb up through thousands of orange Tori that have been donated by Japanese businesses. On the accent the gates posts appear bare orange but on the decent you see the names of the companies that donated the Tori. It’s quite simple but also remarkably clever. I don’t know if it works as advertising or not.
Conveniently located near a railway station, this temple gets busy. But as you climb the crowd thins out. There are hundreds – maybe thousands – of small shrines on the way up. And a few shops and resting places. We made it about an hour up before deciding that we should head down to see some more of Kyoto.
In a city of temples this one really stands out.
Photo of Day 9: The Way of Tea
If my memory serves me well, you should brew a Yorkshire Tea teabag for between 4 and 5 minutes. You can leave it in the mug infusing until it’s a good strong ‘proper brew’. At work, I use the timer on my watch to make sure I brew for enough time otherwise it’s too weak and somewhat pointless.
Not so with the Japanese Way of Tea which takes a good ten minutes of ceremony to get to the first cup, and is served without milk or sugar but, generally, with some kind of sweet food immediately before the drink.
Using the Matcha green tea we’ve been enjoying throughout our trip, The Way of Tea is a quiet, thoughtful process of precisely using the tea-making implements (linen cloth, tea bowl, ladle, caddy and the whisk) to prepare the perfect cup (70 centilitres of water at 80 degrees Celsius). Apart from memorising the correct sequence and placement of the utensils, whisking the Matcha powder with the water correctly to prevent bitterness is a real skill.
Hanging scrolls and flowers decorate the room and the host, perfectly attired in traditional kimono, pays respect to both the tea and the invited guests who, in turn, reciprocate with appropriate bowing. Apparently, following the preparation of the tea there’s polite conversation where controversial topics are avoided and the chatter is more about the heritage of the tea-making equipment.
Mastery of The Way of Tea, learnt in special schools, can take ten to fifteen years but, in the end, what you get is a beautiful art form and the perfect cuppa.
Photo of Day 10: Ryokan
I was expecting Japan to feel stranger, more alien to me, than it turned out to be. I assume this is because Tokyo is a major world city that exhibits the characteristics of such a sprawling urban mass: and that turns out to be quite familiar. Plus, many of the signs are in recognisable (and, therefore, easily readable) Roman characters and there’s a Starbucks wherever you turn.
Kyoto was a little different; a smaller city with narrower streets, what seemed like a temple on every street and, it seemed, more people in traditional dress. It was also the place we stayed in a more traditional Japanese Inn, a ryokan. Although I think the one we stayed in was straight out of the 1950s rather than 1650, it was simple with a tatami-matted room, public bath and basic facilities (if you count air conditioning and wifi as basic). Sitting on a cushion on the floor, sleeping on a mattress rolled onto the mats & drinking green tea is probably a tourist stereotype but it made for a different way of doing things and was unlike any hotel I’ve ever stayed in. I’d recommend it: even for a few days, if your knees can cope.
Photo of Day 11: Disney Resort, Tokyo
When planning the Japan trip, there was a full day in Tokyo following the return train journey from Kyoto and before the flight home. Somehow, and I am not sure I recall how we came to this decision, we decided to visit the Disney parks in Tokyo.
In many ways this was an odd thing to do. Disney is the undisputed global king of the theme park but, surely, the experience is identikit and it would be a waste of a day that could otherwise have been used for more authentic local experience.
In the end I am glad we did. Aside from being quintessential Disney there are some subtle differences that we would have missed if we’d done something else. Plus, of course, it’s a theme park with enough rides and queues to fill several days.
There are two parks, Tokyo Disneyland, which I imagine is from the ‘how to build a Disneyland’ manual. And the nautical-themed Tokyo DisneySea which, according to its Wikipedia entry, was the fastest theme park in the world to reach the milestone of 10 million guests.
Apart from the fact that Disney doesn’t have another park like this one (although many of the major attractions do appear in other places), the most subtle difference can be seen the enthusiasm of the guests for all the Disney characters; for some reason I noted a lot of Donald Duck fans. And this is from visitors of all ages. It would be natural to expect the kids to jump with joy with an unexpected Chip & Dale encounter but not so much their fathers. Almost everybody was wearing a Disney character about their person; there’s a factory somewhere churning out thousands of pairs of Mikey ears for each day. And what makes it most interesting is that the enthusiasm is infectious. It really is a happy place.
A couple of months ago I wrote a thing about receipts and the utter pointlessness of P, T and M on that piece of paper. Admittedly, it’s not the most exciting piece of writing was it? On the other hand, it appears I’m not alone with this line of thinking. Jack Dorsey, you know one of the chaps that invented Twitter, apparently spoke at the US National Retail Federation’s annual Big Show conference (I suspect they are, close to what I thought was, a receipt industry) about this problem and ways the receipt can be better used as a communication tool to customers. If I was so inclined, I’d claim credit. You know, something along the line of how smart people follow my thinking. But, that’s pretty much a long-shot huh?
A little digging is a fascinating thing. It seems all sorts of pieces of paper could be improved with a small amount of design expertise. I was drawn to the idea of improving the receipt during an extended attempt to claim expenses for a recent trip. That trip included a train, a flight and several taxis. I know taxi paperwork is being improved: Uber and Kabbee do a great job of just emailing you the receipt after the journey – no more scribbled bits of paper that are incomplete. How many times have you had to add information to a taxi receipt yourself so that it was obvious what it journey it was for? They’re clear on where I have been and how much the journey cost. And email makes them easy to retrieve when it’s time to claim those expenses from the people that sent you there.
As it turns out there are plenty of other people who think train tickets and plane boarding passes could also be improved. These are a bit more complex as, unlike many taxi receipts they have to be shown while the journey is in progress. To that end they contain lots of little nuggets that mean nothing to you and me but might be crucial to the ticket inspector or air stewardesses’ ability to quickly interpret the ticket. I like Neil Martin’s version of the British Rail ticket (others have had a good go too). But for some innovative thinking, take a look at Peter Smart’s version of the airline boarding pass. If you’ve ever had to look twice at your pass to see which terminal/gate you’re going from then this redesign couple be really helpful.
What I particularly like about both of the examples I’ve shown is the removal of industry speak. Those little airport codes, you know LTN to WAW, are really London Luton to Warsaw Chopin in real, human, understanding. Why not just say that? Unless the product is a business-to-business tool where the people using the system speak the language of the industry it’s never a good idea to confuse with codes and jargon; and even in industry-specific systems I’m not always convinced. In the airport the departure screens don’t show WAW so why should the ticket?
There will be those who think a digital ticket/boarding pass is the solution but that experience needs improving too. My British Airways mobile phone app once showed a partner airline’s flight number for the journey – so the on-board crew were very confused – and I’ve known people who have stood at the front for five minutes or more rebooting a crashed phone so they can show a ticket and take their seat. Paper may be around a while for those things.
Now I just need an original idea for something to redesign.
Technology is good for us. But sometimes it gets the better of us. Like today when it wasn’t that helpful. My train was rebooted this morning. I was heading to the airport and sat in my train seat waiting to leave the station. I had a nice cup of morning coffee in my hands (I was still in England, it’s civilised like that).
I am writing this episode of .org on one side of the screen while watching an episode of Queer As Folk (US version) on the other side of the screen. I’m playing it from my computer’s built-in DVD. I am doing this as I am sat in a hotel room in Oslo. See, the relentless march of technology allows me to mutli-task in ways I would never have imagined a few years ago.
You could almost say I am stunned. But I am not. I am just bored in a hotel room.
Having said that, it would be great if all that technology stomping around the world managed to get a coffee machine or kettle in this hotel room. As it is I had to take the lift and fetch a cup of over strong coffee from the reception area. Really, Scandinavia is supposed to be so much more advanced. All this wood, heated bathroom flooring and sweet herring is all well and good but I want a good old fashioned cup of Costa Coffee and there isn’t one to be had.
Sorry, back to that relentless technology marching. I am seeing sleek back and silver gadgets marching in perfect unison through Red Square; USB cables tightly rolled and ready to attack at the first sight of an invasion. General Mac and Air Marshall Windows quietly surveying their battalions with stern pride and swelling chests full of medals. But this is modern tech. It would fail. It would let you down. The connector would be the wrong size or the driver would be missing. The intruders would conquer and a few bits of bare wire and broken hard drives would litter the streets.
See, I am well aware that technology is not fool-proof. How many times have you sent that email to somebody who should not have been on the cc list? How many times have you wasted half the paper in the printer because you forgot to check how that document would print? How many times did your Sat Nav take you the wrong way down a one-way street? How many times have you called somebody on your mobile that you didn’t mean to call? How many times have to had to reboot your train?
Yes, honestly, my train was rebooted this morning. I was heading to the airport and sat in my train seat waiting to leave the station. I had a nice cup of morning coffee in my hands (I was still in England, it’s civilised like that). I was thinking ‘which terminal?’ and wondering if those people on the platform were going to be charged excess baggage for the small van-load of cases they were taking. Then the train driver announced a small problem they were working on. A few minutes passed. We were late. The driver came on the tannoy again: now the power would be turned off and back on again. We weren’t to panic as we were plunged into darkness and the doors locked themselves. So we sat there in darkness with all the power gone. And then somebody switched us on again and – as with all turn it off and on agains – we were good to go. So we did. Go, that is.
Seriously, they turned my train off and then on again to fix it.
And it was at that moment I knew that technology had gotten the better of us. Machines now rule and we are relegated to the bit parts (every pun intended).
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.
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?
It stunned me that I could walk onto a platform on the Northern Line at Charing Cross station and find it deserted.
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!
One of the most disturbing facets of the west coast saga is the failure of democratic government that it represents. Not just of a particular party, but the whole system of government.
And yet we cannot accuse our elected representatives of looking the other way. In mid-February and early March of 1995, after the consultants had delivered their report but while Railtrack and the government were still mulling over it, members of the House of Commons transport committee questioned Edmonds, Horton and the heads of some of the big signalling firms about the WCML project … Members of parliament had done what they were elected to do, conscientiously and thoroughly scrutinising a big plan by an unelected organisation with power over the lives and purses of the public. It had pointed out its weaknesses. And nobody paid any attention.
What the article does highlight is that, today, projects of national importance and public good like this one come second to short-term profit, power and – to some extent – ego. I wonder if we will ever see a situation where transport planning is for all our good rather than the few?