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As somebody who, at the time of writing, makes fairly frequent visits to London from Newcastle I tend on travelling to my destinations via the London Underground and to be quite honest it's a system I love to use... but perhaps not every single day.
In Newcastle we have a rail system similar to that of the Underground called the Tyne and Wear Metro. There are some similarities but a great number of differences and it's these differences that make my journeys on the Tube that much more enjoyable.
Underground Stations -------------------------------- For a network that has a massive amount of history behind it, you'll bound to come across some stations that are very old indeed. Nonetheless, nearly every station I have been to has been of a good, clean standard and has common amenities such as seating, vending machines for snacks and drinks (more on that later) good accurate sign age, and staff at every platform.
This is another point I love about the Underground. Each and every station is permanently manned, which makes for an easy ride if you'll excuse the pun. Should you arrive at a Tube station and not know something, such as what line to get or what ticket to purchase, a member of staff is always on hand to offer helpful and simple advice. Just today I was in London and was at Upminster, wishing to travel back to Central London. I queried a couple of things and the staff member was most attentive and provided me with all I needed to know. It's very satisfying to know that you'll be well looked after during your travelling.
Tickets / Oyster -------------------------------- You can purchase paper tickets from the automatic ticket machines at each station, or from the ticket offices should they be present. Both methods are easy to use and take no time at all. The network is broken up into zones. You take a look at the map of the system,
work out how many zones you wish to travel through and request a ticket that will allow that much travel. Simple. As far as I'm aware, the newer automatic ticket machines even allow you to search for your destination and work's out the price for you.
There is another way to purchase tickets on the Underground and it works out a hell of a lot cheaper too; and this method is called Oyster. An Oyster card is obtainable from many ticket offices and gets you a discounted rate of only £1.50 (starting from) instead of the cash fare of £4.00. There's no zone's to work out either as you simply top up your card, touch your Oyster against the gates on your way down to the platform and touch out on arrival. Your card is debited accordingly.
Train Punctuality, Frequency... and overcrowding! -------------------------------- As I said I come from Newcastle and so I don't get the Tube every day, but from what I've experienced the Tube is a very frequent and reliable service. You can expect a train to arrive every 2-3 minutes at certain times which is great news if you're in a hurry. Unfortunately although most Underground trains are long in length, you'll more than likely find yourself feeling like a Sardine in a can should you travel through Rush Hour. Most of the trains are quite low down by the edges where the doors are, so should you be a tall person either stand in the centre... or duck down!
Information Provided -------------------------------- The Underground pulls out the stops when it comes to relaying information to passengers on the system. It all begins in the ticket office or ticket hall where you'll nearly always find a white board of some sort informing of any delays or news which may affect you in your journey. Whilst you're down on the platform, you'll often hear Underground staff making vocal announcements over the Public Address system and will ask you to stand back, watch the doors for closure etc.
Some of the newer trains, especially the 1996 stock, have digital displays which show the next station, the terminus for the train you're on and so on. A recorded voice relays this information through the trains internal speaker system and will also tell you of all possible Tube connections, some places of interest and various pieces of information such as a gaps from the train to the platform edge and if sets of doors will not open due to the upcoming station's inability to cope with the trains length.
From the start of my journey on the Underground until the end I never feel like I'm without information. With the details they pass on to you, you can plan ahead should any delays be present - It's all good stuff.
Lifts, escalators, disabled access -------------------------------- Something the Underground lacks is system-wide disabled access, but if you consider the age of the network, it's history and so on you'll begin to understand not only why a global disabled access system exists yet but also how implementing one would take some serious planning and a great deal of time. Nevertheless, many stations have facilities to accommodate travelers with disabilities and again, because every station is manned, a member of staff is always on call to help out in any way they can.
A lot of stations have lifts which is a nice touch. A few lifts are completely automatic, where they arrive and depart without you having to press anything. The escalators are decent enough, but something I found is should you hold the dark handrail and stand on a step and don't let go, you'll begin to slide forward until you hit the passenger in front. The handrails travel faster than the stairs so be warned =)
Hazards -------------------------------- Unfortunately the Tube is not without negative points and these include hazards. Many platforms have gaps between the platform edge and the train doors. In addition, when you hear the door closing tone, do not attempt to board the train as the doors are very powerful and you can end up getting your bags - or even yourself - trapped.
The Underground being so deep under ground level is prone to high levels of heat. During the hotter months this can be very uncomfortable, especially with crowded stations and packed trains during rush hour and so it's advisable you take a drink of water with you. The Vending Machines, which can be found on most main platforms, are a good resource should you not have a drink but be warned that vending machines can be out of order - I've seen a fair few like this on the Underground so don't rely on the machines to provide you with beverages in the hot weather.
Personal Conclusion -------------------------------- As an infrequent commuter on the Underground, and as someone who's used to an unmanned Metro system up north, the London LUL Network is a refreshing change. The trains are good, fast and frequent and the fact that all stations are manned by knowledgeable staff is a much welcome and praised feature of the system. Getting around the network is fairly easy, even if you're not a regular and the good signage and wealth of information available is nothing short of brilliant.
The Underground does have it's downsides, with that being the number of hazards that can appear on the system but should take into consideration that most train networks carry risks too. Should you ever visit London, live in London or simply need to get somewhere then I strongly advise going by the Tube. Sure, I could probably get buses around the Centre of London but with the Tube you always know where you stand, where trains are and the number of helpful staff, information resources and the high frequency of trains means minimal delays and a quicker, stress free journey.
Copyright 'sosull' 2007 - All Republishing Rights Reserved by the Author
The IT company I work for designed and maintain the Oyster system! The underground is indeed amazing, where would London be without it.... Great review. Nicky xx
marymoose99 13.06.2007 10:43
A good review, and I have to say that I do like the Underground on the whole. However, after I commuted for a year I am certainly not as positive about it as you are! Delays are frequent, but depend very much upon the line you're travelling on (as to the quality of trains and stations). Then there's the whole thing where you're on one train, they move you to another, then back to the first one. I have on occasions ended up on the wrong train, and ended up at stations which are quite frankly scary. I have found that when there are staff around they often don't know what is going on. Then of course there's frequently 'bodies under the train' (aka people jumping in front of them)....not very pleasant. God, I'm glad I don't have to use the Underground daily anymore!!!