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The Northern Line was fine! - B. Henderson Asher's Moments of Mirth [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Listen in, listen Ian!

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The Northern Line was fine! [Sep. 2nd, 2008|10:32 am]
Listen in, listen Ian!
I got to the station and all the Moorgate trains this morning were diverted to King's Cross. Not ideal, especially on a day when I'm going to London Bridge, but there's no point getting angry, especially as you don't know who to get angry at. Is it First Capital Connect failing to adequately maintain their trains so that one's broken down and blocked the line somewhere between Finsbury Park and Moorgate or is it (more likely, and as it turns out the correct answer) Network Rail's inablity to keep its infrastructure running?

What does annoy me though is the lack of information you get. I got to the station and the indicator board said that the 8.43 had been diverted to King's Cross, and was expected at 8.47. It arrived at 8.46, and then just sat there until nearly nine. In all that time there wasn't a single announcement to let us know what was happening, and they didn't change the board from the time it had been showing. Let us know what's going on, is that too much to ask?

The true bonus was a chance to experience King's Cross in the rush hour though. Bearing in mind that this is a recently upgraded station, it seems absurd that before ten, as a notice pointed out, access to the station is limited to avoid overcrowding on the platforms. Now I realise that capacity of the network isn't a function of station design, but could they not have designed the station to take this into account and avoided the need for a big crowd of people to wait in the rain on the pavement outside King's Cross? The whole thing is fairly symptomatic of the approach to railways in the UK - where demand outstrips supply there are two solutions - increase supply or reduce demand. Which one do we always seem to go for? Well, you've got four years to get it right before the world starts watching London - good luck.

(Ha ha. borusa has just sat down next to me and pointed out with exasperation that his train stopped for fifteen minutes outside Paddington "for unspecified reasons". Told you so.)

[User Picture]From: borusa
2008-09-02 09:59 am (UTC)
The problem is that you can't, in fact, increase supply very much. At peak times, all of the arterial routes into London are running at pretty much full capacity - that's actually why my train got delayed. There's amusingly a poster around "when did you last see a train jam?" to which the answer is "pretty much every day around Paddington, and London Bridge, and Waterloo, and Victoria."

Obviously, the solution to this is to make there be more capacity, but it's getting into the realms of "very expensive" at that point, and also hard onto "knocking people's homes down", which isn't popular. Also, there's almost infinite demand for train travel, limited only by the fact that it's expensive and unpleasant - if capacity is increased, then more people will travel, until the equilibrium point of expensive and unpleasant is reached again.

The only long term solution to this problem is getting businesses to relocate outside of London. Good luck with that.

It's still annoying when your train stops for no good reason, though.
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[User Picture]From: bengraham
2008-09-02 10:26 am (UTC)
The key here is that you can "increase supply" without the railways. If you incentivise drivers to get out of their cars and use public transport, you can reduce congestion on the roads, which will allow commuter coaches to provide the extra capacity. My company (National Express) trialled commuter coach services earlier this year from Milton Keynes to Docklands, with a journey time and price that was competitive with trains. The problem is that for us to expand this from a "trial" into a full-blown business requires the government to give coaches more priority on the arterial routes into London, either by adding more bus lanes or by getting cars off the roads.

I'm rambling a bit... I guess my point is that you can't talk about rail capacity without considering road capacity too. It's a bit of a vicious circle though... transport operators won't provide the supply of capacity unless the roads are clearer, and the roads won't be clearer unless transport operators increase capacity. The government could solve this problem by providing financial incentives to those who leave the car at home and to the companies providing the additional services, plus penalties to those who clog up the roads. But right now, it's not financially viable to provide such commuter coach services, the demand isn't there because the journey times are adversely affected by congestion on the roads.

In Spain, corporate suits frequently travel by coach. It works there. But their roads aren't nearly as congested as ours.
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[User Picture]From: offensive_mango
2008-09-02 11:01 am (UTC)
Posts like ruudboy's explain the reason why people won't get out of their cars, if they have them. I was a quarter of an hour late for work because of five buses that were 3/4 full refusing to stop, even though they had capacity*.

I've lived in the UK for 10 years and have never had a car, but if I could afford one I would almost certainly be selfish enough to drive to work to avoid that sort of fhit. Being beholden to buses and tubes is enough to keep me from travelling altogether, even out of peak hours.

*(I think the first one doesn't stop because it's pretty full, even though it could still hold the 4 people at the stop, but then by the time the second one comes there are 8 people, and so on and so on until finally 20 people have to cram on the one bus where the driver takes pity.)

Edited at 2008-09-02 11:01 am (UTC)
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[User Picture]From: bengraham
2008-09-02 11:16 am (UTC)
True, although I think there are two points here:
1) If you could afford one, you'd be selfish enough to drive. Well, quite. And despite the high fuel prices, driving is still affordable. That's part of the problem, and I think the solution needs to be intervention from the government/GLA - penalise those people who commute into London by car to the extent that they have no choice but to travel on public transport.
2) If this were to happen, then we'd face even worse capacity problems than those that already exist. Expanding rail capacity is not really an option, as discussed above. But bus capacity is a different story altogether. Buses run every 10 minutes... if they ran every 2 minutes instead, there'd be a hell of a lot more capacity. But they don't. Why not? Because the London bus operators are publicly-quoted businesses, responsible to their shareholders first and foremost, and therefore it's in their interests to want to fill their existing capacity before they even consider adding extra vehicles. The finances of London bus operations are not good at all... very low margin businesses. Too much of the ticket price goes to the Mayor and the London Assembly, and not enough to the private operators. It's not being reinvested in the system to a great enough extent to encourage the operators to add extra services. Ultimately, this whole issue of public transport capacity comes down to the way the London Assembly choose to run the finances of the city, and in my view, they do this very badly. The proceeds of public transport (and of the congestion charge) have to go back into public transport, and I just don't see evidence of that happening - the accounts aren't transparent enough to be certain, but you'd have thought that given how high our fares are, there should be plenty available in the coffers.
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[User Picture]From: boyofbadgers
2008-09-02 12:18 pm (UTC)
I *think* this particular bus madness is a result of bad government target setting, which measures bus timing rather than passenger satisfaction. Once a bus gets near to capacity, the time to load and unload at every stop can make it effectively impossible for a bus to meet the time targets in rush hour traffic. Which means you get buses failing to stop, and/or terminating early.

Edited at 2008-09-02 12:18 pm (UTC)
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