Category Archives: Within London
Two days after the 10th anniversary of the 7/7 tube bombings, and about two months before the planned start of all-night tube services on Fridays and Saturdays (“The Night Tube”), unions are staging a 24+hour strike that started to disrupt services during the Wednesday PM rush hour and led to no tube service at all on Thursday. This is the first strike to completely close the London Underground network since 2002 (although there have been plenty of quite disruptive partial closures due to so-called “industrial action” in our years here).
All four major unions are taking part in this strike, which is why the impact is so total. And why? Disputes over pay related to the introduction of the overnight services. Before you get too sympathetic for those poor train drivers having to work overnight, let me just remind you that the average driver salary (according to a report from the union itself!) is about $77,000 per year. Where else can you make that kind of money with no need for any special education or skills, and with excellent benefits (some reports suggest that they get around 50 days off per year)? The offer on the table is for a 2% raise along with a £2500 one-time bonus for those drivers on lines that will operate overnight. Plus, they are hiring 137 additional drivers to support the extra service, which means more jobs for the unions (isn’t that what they should want?). I can’t see how the public can really be on the unions’ side, given the massive disruption and real cost to the city as well as the terms of the deal and the fact that they don’t seem to be getting much of a message out there. I really think such strikes should be illegal here like they are in New York!
Anyway, I was originally going to work from home to avoid the mess, but after some stern words from my employer insisting on relatively broadly defined “reasonable effort” to make it in, I decided to walk. I am in better shape than many others, as we live only a little more than 3 miles as the crow flies – but when walking that along streets and through the park that inflates to about 4.25 miles.
Last night the strike was supposed to start at 6 or 630 pm, so they advised everyone to complete their journeys by 6pm. I had a late meeting and was in the office until about 630pm, but decided to still give the tube a shot. It was amazing – best commute home ever! Peak service levels were still running, but there were hardly any passengers! I should have gotten some pictures of the empty trains, but didn’t. By the time I exited at home at King’s Cross around 7pm they were starting to ramp down some services – the Metropolitan Line seemed to be the first to go, not surprisingly as it has the longest reach outside of London and also tends to be the most unionist stalwart (senior drivers seem to prefer this route because it is relatively long, has fewer passengers, and mostly outdoors in the countryside!).
To try to keep the city moving, Transport for London has mobilized about 200 extra buses – not a huge number compared to the approximately 8000 buses on the street each day, but targeted can be helpful – as well as additional Thames riverboat services. The key issue is that most* of the suburban rail services are still operating, leading to large volumes of passengers needing to travel from terminals to their final destinations (*there is a separate strike on First Great Western, the operator serving Paddington, due to concerns over reduced on-board train staff on the new long-distance trains that will be introduced in the next couple of years).
After the long walk this morning I don’t think I’ll want to do that again tonight, but I have a work social event after work and I should be able to get a bus or use the operating Overground service to get home later in the evening. The real question, I suppose, is whether there will be additional strikes over this issue and how the dispute gets resolved (and whether it impacts the start of the night tube services in September or not!).
Well, I’ve finally done it. After just over four years, I’ve managed to traverse all 250 miles of the London Underground network. I haven’t been trying to do this – after all, it can be done in just a bit more than 16 hours (as has been done as part of the Tube Challenge). But, piece by piece, through a combination of random trips and occasional days off or weekend excursions, I believe that I have travelled to the outer ends of each of the 11 lines, from Zone 1 all the way out to Zone 9.
One of the delays in doing this was, of course, not living on the Underground for more than 3 ½ years. That made the extra effort to get the train from Earlsfield in to connect to the Underground – and even more painful, the thought of having to reverse that journey after a long day – a bit too much. But that is different now that we live in zone 1, adjacent to the King’s Cross St. Pancras Underground Station, which is the third-busiest station complex in the system (serving 81 million entering and exiting customers per year, which is nearly 123,000 entries per weekday) and the largest interchange serving 6 of the 11 lines.
As of 2014, there were just three sections I was missing, and I took advantage of Astrid’s business trip to Dubai to tackle two of them – the famously named Cockfosters at the opposite end of the Piccadilly Line from Heathrow Airport, and Mill Hill East, an odd one-station stub off the Northern Line High Barnet Branch, which interestingly has the highest point on the Underground on its short length, a viaduct about the ground. Finally, last weekend Astrid and I decided to take a ride on a new Metropolitan Line train to the last remaining outer terminal, Uxbridge.
Below is a brief photo journey of some of the outer terminals and obscure locations that I’ve visited.
I will just skip the apologies that I should make for the lack of posts here to tell you that we are 2/3 of the way through my brother Teddy’s visit here in London and doing well! So far we’ve visited a lot of different places in London (including Greenwich, above), took a day trip to Brighton, and an overnight trip to Portsmouth. Hopefully we will post a bit about that later.
Today, however, I heard that the new cable car over the River Thames in East London was scheduled to open, so we decided to go ride it on the first day. We took the Jubilee Line to North Greenwich Station, emerged into the bright sunshine, and made our way to the river’s edge. One benefit of an aerial cable car is that you can fairly easily locate it!
This cable car was first announced about 2 years ago as a new way to connect the new development on each side of the river here, capable of transporting bikes and pedestrians. There has been a lot of talk of need for a new river crossing in this general area (usually a road bridge), as east of Tower Bridge there is only the Rotherhithe Tunnel and then a highway crossing way out in Dartford (although there is the Jubilee Line of London Underground and a couple of Docklands Light Railway crossings as well – all built in the last 10-15 years). Construction finally started last August, and in a will-they-make-it cliffhanger they have now finished it just ahead of the Olympics – they had avoided announcing any specific opening date so as not to be embarrassed if it wasn’t ready in time.
This project has gotten a fair amount of bad press here, mostly being labeled as a vanity project of the mayor (Boris Johnson), both because of its cost (about £45 million for construction and £60 million in total) and because of its relative lack of utility – it doesn’t really connect any places where there is that much demand, at least for the moment. There is actually a bit of a trend around the world to build “urban” cable cars (including in South America), so it appears that maybe Boris jumped on that bandwagon.
You may have noticed the word “Emirates” in the station picture above. The cable car is officially called the “Emirates Air Line” (not to be confused with Emirates Airline, the largest of the fast-growing global airlines from the Gulf region and flag carrier of the UAE). Ha! See what they did there – they made a real funny! They’ve also managed to apply the same theme throughout – the tickets are not merely tickets, they are boarding passes! The ads claim that there are two new destinations (the north and south sides of the Thames) being added to Emirates’ 120 destinations on six continents. Ha again…well, you get the picture – you can see more of this branding at the Emirates Air Line website. There is a lot of skepticism (at least among transport purists!) about introducing branding to what is claimed to be a part of the public transport network – this is shown on the Tube Map, after all.
The ride across the Thames took only about 7 minutes or so, I believe, and we walked over to the Docklands Light Railway on the far side. We will have to see if this becomes a useful transport link or just a slight tourist attraction. Although it is on the tube map, it is not covered in regular transport passes; we each had to pay £3.20 one-way to ride, and it will close at 9pm normally. Still, I think it is impressive that this went up so quickly and is now open, well in time for the Olympics. If only the same resolve and determination could perhaps be applied to more useful or important projects as well!