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I haven’t lived in London for donkey’s years, but I still occasionally use The Tube, as the London Underground is affectionately known.
Hold on. Affectionately? Does anybody actually hold any affection for the network of tunnels that run beneath the surface of our capital, or the rolling stock that runs through them?
They’re over-crowded, far too warm and stuffy (the temperature in the tunnels is about 10 C higher than at ground level), and the views are pretty dire. In central London, all you’re likely to see is the dark walls of the tunnels, although if you’re lucky, you might just get a glimpse of another train passing in another tunnel through one of the gaps between them. Funnily enough, contrary to popular belief, the majority of The Tube is actually over ground. Not that there’s much scenic stimulation along those stretches either. You might see some fascinating factories, some interesting piles of rubbish that have mysteriously grown along the sidings and a few back gardens, but nothing much else.
Anybody who’s ever regularly used The Tube during peak hours (thankfully, I only had three years of that), will tell you that using this particular form of transport can take great courage and will power. The platforms are crowded to the point where those at the front, closest to the lines, can fear for their lives. We’re warned to stand behind the line, which is painted about three feet away from the platform edge, but with all those people behind you, all wanting to get forward and have a chance of getting on the next arriving train, the platform edge can quickly become dangerously close. Why do people have to push like that? Have they no sense at all?
Having a position at the front doesn’t necessarily guarantee you a place on the next train though. Oh no. Whether or not you’ll actually get on it will depend largely upon where on the platform you’re positioned and whether or not the carriage doors will be in front of you when the train stops. If you happen to be standing between two doors, then you’re very unlucky indeed. One way around this is to look at those ‘stand behind’ lines. As the rolling stock on each line of the underground are generally of the same type (the trains differ from line to line) and stop at more or less the same point (note: more or less… this isn’t an exact science), the ‘stand behind’ lines will be more worn where the doors are likely to be. Find those spots and you’ll be more likely to get on the next one. Unless of course the lines are freshly painted, in which case, tough.
This next point should be obvious to everybody but unfortunately, my experience tells me that this isn’t the case. When the train stops, even if you’re lucky enough to be standing in front of the doors, LET PASSENGERS OFF THE TRAIN FIRST! Don’t just push your way on, even if others are doing so. It’s bad manners and can cause accidents.
Once on the train, you’ll no doubt have to stand as there are few seats compared with the amount of passengers being transported during peak hours. It’s standard etiquette to offer your seat to elderly passenger and those carrying small children, whether still in the comfortable confines of the womb or otherwise, but unless you fall into those categories, you’ll have little chance of getting a seat unless you do as the more experienced underground travellers do. Target a seat. Those reading are unlikely to be travelling just a few stops, and although they could have been travelling for ages already, they rarely make good targets. Study people’s faces. If they look bored, they’ve probably already been there a while so maybe they’ll be alighting soon? Mind you, people do get very bored very quickly on The Tube, so they could just as easily have joined the train at the station before yours.
When it comes to seats that are vacated during the journey, there’s a general unwritten rule. Whoever is standing closest to a seat that becomes available has the greatest claim to the seat. He/she can choose to offer it to a fellow passenger, but it’s against etiquette to make a dash for a seat, when the privilege of sitting obviously belongs to another.
Speaking of unwritten rules, there are a few others that should be observed if you don’t want to unduly annoy your fellow passengers. The one that’s probably more annoying than any other, is the subject of occupying seats unnecessarily! Bags and other inanimate objects do not have the right to a seat. Sure, if the trains relatively empty, by all means pile them on a seat, but don’t imagine you can do this during peak times, even if you enter to train at its station of origin, where seats are still aplenty. You might consider holding your toddler on your lap too, rather than have him/her occupy a seat. Mind you, the rush hour on The Tube isn’t the best place for small children to be, so your best bet would be to wait a couple of hours before making your journey.
Getting back to those bags, another point worth thinking about is what to do with large bags if you have to stand. Do as seasoned tube travellers do, and put them between your legs. No, I don’t mean stuff it up your jacksy, I mean place your bag on the floor and straddle it, one foot on either side. It’ll take far less room this way than if you stood beside it, because your feet still won’t be much further apart that the width of your torso. Standing with your legs apart also make balancing easier, and when those trains are dashing through winding tunnels, swaying from side to side, you’ll need all the balance you can get. An added advantage is that should anybody decide to steal your bags, having body contact with it means you’ll be more likely to feel it being moved.
Body contact. Yes, that’s another subject. I wish I knew how many times I’d felt a ‘lump’ being pushed against my backside on a crowded tube. Please…. is this really necessary? I understand that the jiggling motion of the train whilst pressed closed to the body of a member of the opposite sex might cause a sensation that could lead to embarrassment, but it surely isn’t necessary to make a show of it?
On some lines, and at certain stations, a voice will tell you to “mind the gap”. The posh female voice is known as Sonia, because she “gets on ya nerves” and “the gap” is a terrifyingly wide opening between the platform and the train door. Being of voluptuous proportions, I’ve never had a fear of disappearing down the gap, but the thought of getting my leg stuck down there has been pretty scary. For goodness sake pick up small children and carry them on.
The London Underground first opened in January 1863, making the Metropolitan line the oldest subway line in the world. This stretch of line was nothing like The Tube we experience today. The carriages were made of wood and were pulled along the lines between Paddington and Farringdon Street, by cables. It wasn’t until 1890 that an electric train ran through an underground tunnel beneath London, when a stretch of tunnel running from the City of London under the River Thames to Stockwell was opened. Considering that one of the earliest lines ran beneath the Thames, it’s surprising that only 29 of the today’s 287 stations are south of the river.
When The Tube first started operating, any company tunnelling underground had to purchase any buildings that the tunnel would pass under. Obviously, this was because they believed that the tunnels would impair the foundations of the buildings, and for this reason, most of the older stretches of the system follow the middle of major streets where there were no buildings above.
The deepest part of the system is at Hampstead Heath (Northern Line), where the rails are approximately 220 feet below the surface. Being the deepest part of any line, you’d expect to find the longest escalator here wouldn’t you? But you’d be wrong, because of all the 409 escalators, the longest is actually at Angel station, where the escalator is 197 feet long with a vertical rise of 90 feet. That’s one awesome escalator! I’m glad I don’t have to use the station, because I hate those loooong escalators. Very scary! Especially when people decide to run down them, knocking you as they pass. If you’re in a hurry, please walk down them properly, running is dangerous! Oh, and if you’re going to stand still, stand on the right hand side. The left hand side is for those who are moving. You wouldn’t drive on the wrong side of the road would you? Well don't stand on the wrong side of the escalators either or you could find yourself being propelled downwards at an unnatural speed should one of those nasty running people come trundling down behind you. At the very least, you’ll be unpopular with those who are trying to walk up/down the escalator.
Whilst on the subject of moving stairways, I have to tell you that sometimes they don’t work and you have to walk up them, like it or not. There’s nothing quite like getting off a crowded tube train, feeling hot and sweaty and probably in need of murdering somebody, only to be presented with an out-of-order escalator that appears to be several miles long. Unless you’re ultra fit, it just isn’t funny.
But despite being uncomfortable at times, The Tube’s a relatively safe means of travelling around London. The most famous accident must surely be the Moorgate disaster, back in 1975, when 43 people were killed. The second disaster was in 1987 at King’s Cross, when a fire killed 31 people. Apart from those, I can’t recall, or find information about, any other major disasters. There have been a few bombs placed on tube trains over the years, but as far as I know, none have actually exploded on packed trains. I do remember one going off a West Ham, back in the 70’s, but luckily there weren’t many passengers at the time. I’m sure I’ll be corrected if there have been any more major incidents.
I once went into labour on a tube train. The contractions were getting closer and closer, but luckily, I managed to get to hospital before my son was born. If not, I could’ve made history as being only the second person to give birth on The Tube. The only baby to have been born on a tube train was back in 1924 at Elephant & Castle (Bakerloo line). She was aptly named Thelma Ursula Beatrice Eleanor (check the initials). Considering the amount of people that travel on The Tube each year, about 900 million passengers in total (although many make repeat journeys so this is based on individual journeys rather than individuals), I’m surprised that births aren’t a regular occurrence.
These days, The London Underground is a wholly owned subsidiary of London Transport and covers 253 miles of railway. That’s one heck of maze going under the streets of London!
A trip on The Tube will cost an adult anything from £1.00 to £3.60 depending on many zones you pass through, although a short journey within zone 1, which is central London, will cost you £1.60. Child fares are available for those under 15, with under 5’s travelling free. There are also one-day travel cards available, with prices starting at £4.10 and increasing to £10.50 depending on whether you want your card to include peak times and how many zones you need it to cover. Travel cards can also be used on London Buses, Docklands Light Railway and most national railways operating within London. Family travel cards, offering even more saving, are available for those travelling in a group of at least one adult and one child. In comparison, a journey between Bank and Shepherd’s Bush in 1900 cost 2d (that’s old money, for those youngsters out there, and the equivalent of just under 1p).
If you want to know which zone you’re in, or how many zones you’ll be travelling through, ‘TubePlanner’ is a useful site to visit (www.tubeplanner.com). The journey planner is actually easier to use than the one on the official London Underground site (www.thetube.com), with far less clicks and offering the same information that includes the quickest route, journey time and the fare. You can also look up tourist attractions and find out exactly how to get to them.
As much as we complain about The Tube, the truth is, without it, London would come to a stand still. The streets of central London are chock-a-block with traffic as it is so it simply wouldn’t be possible to transport that amount of people over ground. You only have to experience a tube strike to understand the chaos that takes over London. It may not be perfect, but it’s by far the quickest and most convenient way of travelling through London. And hey… even the map’s easy to understand!
If there's a bag on the seat...tell her to move! As for feeling "lumps", I'm sure Fellini would appreciate how apt that is...trains and tunnels and all that...~ Mark
mark-southside 30.04.2004 16:46
excellent, I was worried this might be a list of all the tube lines but there is lots of funny stuf on etiqutte (cant spell it). why is that if you speak to a fellow passenger, people assume you're a nutter? I gave some Germans the wrong directions once on the Underground and felt *so* guilty about it afterwards!!