Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Angelico Anglo Adventure - Aviating Back where we Came on a Dreamliner Extraordinare

Abandoning my addiction to awkward alliteration, I woke the humans right on the crack of 10:30am and made them pack their bags. Before leaving they spent some time taking selfies with Shelly, which seems to be a good way for humans to deal with the whole being-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-world thing.

We took the bus to the tube station, and boarding the bus with baggage is just as hard as it was on the way in - it wasn't just because they were jetlagged. From my vantage point inside Midga's backpack I could feel every acceleration and deceleration, and if I had inner ears I would have been quite seasick.

On the tube there was more room, since it was off peak time, and we made the trip without incident. Changing at Acton Town for the Piccadilly line to Heathrow we managed to get a 1973 train - the same age as the Hitachis and still going strong. The trains seem to be in an M-T-M-T-T-M configuration, or at least that's how the cabs are arranged. We were in the fourth car, so we could see the driving controls in the adjacent cab. They looked basic and reliable like a W-class tram's, and Midga expressed a wish to have a go at driving one.

Heathrow hasn't changed since we were here two weeks ago. There's some sort of security scare on at the moment so they're being a bit more thorough with their bag checks, and we were told to arrive three hours before flying instead of two. That meant more time to kill after check-in of course, but we found power in a coffee shop and settled down to wait.

As we are now leaving the land of tube trains, let me just make sure I've covered everything.

As an Old World city, London has grown with not so much urban planning as urban opportunism. Even the spare of urban renewal courtesy of the Luftwaffe in 1940 didn't really make London focus itself on any particular key areas for development - or at least if it did that isn't really reflected in the layout of the transport network. That makes it hard to know what's what by any method apart from memorising vast numbers of origin/destination combinations and their attendant journey plans. An interesting side effect is that there's no rhyme or reason to platform numbers - where we can define Platform 1 as being the platform for up trains and Platform 2 for down trains (Burnley excepted), in the tube there isn't even a universal definition of up.

It's particularly bad on the Circle line. It's not a true circle - it comes back and meets itself, but not at the origin. From Paddington you can get Circle line trains in four different directions! How is this handled? Every train says "This is a Circle line train via x and y" - with x and y changing at intervals along the trip. Quite clunky really.

Most routes (including the Overground, DLR and British Rail services) use the "Fish and Chips" method of running services - a main line into a big city station with lots of terminating platforms. It's more flexible operationally than the "Apple Pie" method (services running through the city and out the other side, with only a few extra platforms) but uses more land and is less flexible strategically. So as tube patronage has grown and capacity at terminal stations has been filled, weird stopping patterns have arisen, with trains terminating one or two stops short of the end of the line. Also when new lines are built (or existing ones are connected up) they have to do the same thing.

Tunnelling, and especially making modifications to existing tunnels, is vastly expensive, especially in high value real estate. Anyone building tunnels needs to plan it carefully and tie it in with urban planning for the next few centuries, because changing it once it's in place is as close to impossible as macro evolution. Not looking at anyone in particular, Victorian Liberal party. And when I say plan, I mean every aspect - for example, a tunnel which enforces a non-standard loading gauge and platform height is a bad tunnel. (Incidentally, they really have done the very best they can with those tunnels - the trains fit like a 500-class in the Mount Lofty tunnel, which means the air in front of the train all gets pushed forward, not around - so the breeze in the face that tells you a train is approaching is of hurricane proportions.)

There were a few curiosities that don't really matter but stick in my mind. Escalator Manners exist in reverse - stand on the right, walk on the left. They don't drive on the wrong side of the road, I wonder how that state of affairs came up.

Tube trains are only just starting to get air conditioning now. Most trains just have a window in the end communication door for ventilation, not even hopper windows. And yet they manage to have trains packed to the gills (longitudinal seats will do that) without, presumably, people passing out regularly and needing an ambulance. Or maybe they do and that's why there's an ad campaign in the best "Eat More Fruit" style, telling people to keep cool with a bottle of water.

Due to the different loading gauges there are "mind the gap" announcements at most stations. But where the platforms are at the right height the gap is miniscule - about as good as our tram super stops. Suspension on the trains must have been tightened up or something, I've never seen that on a heavy rail network.

Well, bye bye tube. You've taught me a lot and I'm going to hold onto my Oyster card even though I could cash it in and get a few quid for it. Like Aslan would have said if he'd had wheels instead of paws, you form the backbone of Transport For London, which is both honour enough to raise the head of the poorest beggar and shame enough to bow the head of the most powerful king that ever lived.

A Narnia quote is always a good way to finish off a blog post.

1 comment:

Stephen Angelico said...

What are all those M-Ts for?