Two topics get people worked up around here. There's the weather, and there's public transport. There's always something to bitch about. I walk to work and most days that's just fine. I don't get stuck in snow or soaked, and I don't freeze to death. When I take the tube on weekends, it doesn't always – because of "planned engineering works" – take me where I want to go, but it gets me around in comfort and with speed. I entertain the notion that all the complaining is just social grease, to give people something to talk about.
Today, as I sat in The Eagle for a lunch of sausage and mash washed down with a pint of DNale, I reexamined my view. I was in Cambridge for the day to connect with two guys there who are in the same trade as me, to learn from them and share some tricks. Getting there hadn't been so easy.
I had started my journey at eight at West Brompton – or rather, I had tried. I got down to the platform, read, Next Train in 7 Minutes, and started yelling silently at the London Underground customer service representative that had taken residence in my head for the occasion: "Seven minutes? During rush hour? You can't be serious." Then the train came, the proverbial can of sardines. The doors opened, there was some shuffling, then they closed again. I was still on the platform. The next train was only two minutes away, but hope was misplaced. It was another can of sardines, and I stayed behind again. I stomped off in aggravation, annoyed at being left behind, annoyed at having been charged two quid for the pleasure, wondering how people endure this on a daily basis, and dashed for Earl's Court. My train from King's Cross wouldn't wait.
Once there, under the wonderful glass-mesh canopy of the new extension, I wrangled with a machine. I had bought my ticket online. To print it, I had to not only insert my credit card but also enter a litany of letters and numbers that had been communicated to me during the purchase. Why is my credit card not enough, especially if I have a booking for that day? Is this for my own benefit? Is this is to prevent someone stealing my credit card and then going to all the train stations in London every morning to see if any of the machines print a ticket out for him to go somewhere he doesn't want to go? Or is it just a design flaw?
English railroads are of course notorious for design flaws. There's the idiotic warning sign about doors closing up to 30 seconds before departure.
All this really says is that the train might not depart for up to 30 seconds after the doors close. No passenger could give a rat's ass about this, as long as the doors don't close before the scheduled departure time and arrival is on time. My arrival in Cambridge, by the way, was ten minutes late. This made me miss a bus and be late for my first appointment, but that's just a side note. This post is about trains and about flaws.
My favorite design flaw is on each door of First Great Western trains that periodically take me into the Oxfordshire countryside for experiments. These doors don't have handles on the inside. To open them, a sign (always too dark for me to get a good picture of it but the story is on the web) instructs you to
- Wait for 'Door unlocked' sign above door
- Lower window
- Open door using outside handle
If you've never seen this, you will think this is a joke, but it's not. The handle on the outside is so far down that it requires certain acrobatic skill to reach. Trains thus pull into a station with an arm dangling from each door. There's nothing to add to this.
Except maybe: The train back to London was canceled, some problem with the couplings between two half trains to be mated for the journey. We were diverted to another train. Overhead, an announcement: "Passengers to London please board now. The train is about to depart." At that time, the door locks were still engaged and we were standing in the rain. There were no curses or gasps. Bemused looks were vastly outnumbered by stoic immobility. This is England.
We got to London eventually. Ignoring the social compact of the land that stipulates standing back and apologizing whatever happens, I pushed into a Piccadilly line train that was at capacity already. The PA system buzzed about the Victoria line, which was largely shut down after a creative engineer poured fast-setting concrete into a control room. This was initially announced as flooding, giving people something familiar to talk about. It's been raining a lot lately.