Category Archives: Within London

Tube Strike and the Walk to Work

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).

At first I thought the statement at the bottom was just a little bit ironic, but then I realized that some non-tube rail services, like the separate Docklands Light Railway and London Overground networks, were still running!

At first I thought the statement at the bottom was just a little bit ironic, but then I realized that some non-tube rail services, like the separate Docklands Light Railway and London Overground networks, were still running!

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.

The straight line distance from home to work is only about 3.14 miles...but it typically takes at least 35 minutes on a normal day walking 5-10 minutes at each end and using one or two tube lines.

The straight line distance from home to work is only about 3.14 miles…but it typically takes at least 35 minutes on a normal day walking 5-10 minutes at each end and using one or two tube lines.

Here was my walking route this morning - one of the best things about London is the fact I could walk a different way each time and see new and interesting things, all while getting there and all being safe!

Here was my walking route this morning – one of the best things about London is the fact I could walk a different way each time and see new and interesting things, all while getting there and all being safe. I thought I was cutting a good diagonal across the park but ended up way too far east…but of course it isn’t so easy to get across the Serpentine in the middle!

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).

As I walked past Euston Station at 7:30 this morning, there were already big queues waiting for buses to take people onward to their destinations in the city...

As I walked past Euston Station at 7:30 this morning, there were already big queues waiting for buses to take people onward to their destinations in the city…

In addition to some non-red buses (gasp!), TfL also pressed some old Routemasters into use - here is one operating on the 205 route which runs parallel to the original 1863 tube line serving Paddington, Marylebone, Euston, King's Cross St. Pancras, and near Liverpool Street railway terminals.

In addition to some non-red buses (gasp!), TfL also pressed some old Routemasters into use – here is one operating on the 205 route which runs parallel to the original 1863 tube line serving Paddington, Marylebone, Euston, King’s Cross St. Pancras, and near Liverpool Street railway terminals.

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!).

A Four-Year Underground Odyssey

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.

Starting with the end - the front of Uxbridge Station, the last part of the Underground to see. This is a classic LU design, by prolific and well-loved architect Charles Holden, that opened just before the war in 1938.

Starting with the end – the front of Uxbridge Station, the last part of the Underground to see. This is a classic LU design, by prolific and well-loved architect Charles Holden, that opened just before the war in 1938.

This Zone 6 station (about 15 miles to the west-northwest of the center of London) serves both the Metropolitan (big train) and Piccadilly (little train) lines.  It is odd to see here that the little train is in the middle track with the high roof, while there are big trains on either side with low roofs!

This Zone 6 station (about 15 miles to the west-northwest of the center of London) serves both the Metropolitan (big train) and Piccadilly (little train) lines. It is odd to see here that the little train is in the middle track with the high roof, while there are big trains on either side with low roofs! This is primarily Metropolitan Line turf, where there are 8 trains an hour all day (half only to Baker St, half around the top of the Circle to Aldgate). The regular Piccadilly Line service is only one train every 20 minutes.

Cockfosters is the frequently heard funny name at the north end of the Piccadilly Line, that is a 99-minute one-seat ride past 40 stations from Uxbridge.

Cockfosters is the frequently heard funny name at the north end of the Piccadilly Line, that is a 99-minute one-seat ride past 40 stations from Uxbridge.

The station opened in 1933 at the end of the Piccadilly Line extension, adjacent to a new depot in Zone 5.  Can you tell that it was designed by the same architect??

The station opened in 1933 at the end of the Piccadilly Line extension, adjacent to a new depot in Zone 5. Can you tell that it was designed by the same architect??

Just three stops down the line, this was the temporary terminal of the line from 1932 to 1933 and is probably the finest example of the modern London Underground architecture of the time.  In the cutting below it has three tracks with two island platforms, and some trains still terminate here (during the day, 3 of 21 trains per hour turn back here with the rest going on to Cockfosters).

Just three stops down the line, Arnos Grove in Zone 4 was the temporary terminal of the line from 1932 to 1933 and is probably the finest example of the modern London Underground architecture of the time. In the cutting below it has three tracks with two island platforms, and some trains still terminate here (during the day, 3 of 21 trains per hour turn back here with the rest going on to Cockfosters).

This is one of the two northern terminals of the Northern Line, High Barnet (you'd better say BARNet, not BAR-NET!).  Interestingly, this northernmost station on the Northern Line is south of stations on both the Metropolitan and Central Lines - yet the southern end of the Northern Line at Morden is the southernmost station on the network!  Though it opened as a railway in 1872, it didn't become part of the tube until 1940.

This is one of the two northern terminals of the Northern Line, High Barnet (you’d better say BARNet, not BAR-NET!). Interestingly, this northernmost station on the Northern Line is south of stations on both the Metropolitan and Central Lines – yet the southern end of the Northern Line at Morden is the southernmost station on the network! Though it opened as a railway in 1872, it didn’t become part of the tube until 1940.

Mill Hill East is a short stub on the High Barnet Branch of the Northern Line, which is typically served by a shuttle every 15 minutes that only goes one stop to Finchley Central (with some peak through trains to Central London).  Interestingly, this sleeply single-platform dead-end terminal used to be a through station on the main railway to Edgware.  It would still be that on the tube today if it weren't for the events of September 1939, it seems.

Mill Hill East is a short stub on the High Barnet Branch of the Northern Line, which is typically served by a shuttle every 15 minutes that only goes one stop to Finchley Central (with some peak through trains to Central London). Interestingly, this sleeply single-platform dead-end terminal used to be a through station on the main railway to Edgware. It would still be that on the tube today if it weren’t for the events of September 1939, it seems.

Moving to one of the two other single-track stations (all terminals) on the Underground, the Heathrow Terminal 4 station is on an underground single-track loop that travels under the runways.  This odd configuration was added in 1986 to the 1977 Heathrow Central extension, when presumably no one thought there would be further expansion at Heathrow.  Of course, 22 years later Terminal 5 opened, along with a new extension from Heathrow Central (T1,2,3) that is separate from the T4 loop, leading to a split service with a train every 10 minutes to T4 and T1,2,3 and every 10 minutes to T1,2,3 and T5 - no, not confusing at all for the world's busiest international airport!

Moving to one of the two other single-track stations (all terminals) on the Underground, the Heathrow Terminal 4 station is on an underground single-track loop that travels under the runways. This odd configuration was added in 1986 to the 1977 Heathrow Central extension, when presumably no one thought there would be further expansion at Heathrow. Of course, 22 years later Terminal 5 opened, along with a new extension from Heathrow Central (T1,2,3) that is separate from the T4 loop, leading to a split service with a train every 10 minutes to T4 and T1,2,3 and every 10 minutes to T1,2,3 and T5 – no, not confusing at all for the world’s busiest international airport!

Rounding out the three, this is Chesham - the most remote point on the Underground and the last of the single-track stations.  Chesham is a small country town with a population of about 21,000; its station is nearly 4 miles from the next one (the longest distance), nearly all of which is single-track.  Until the end of 2010 Chesham only had a shuttle train every 30 minutes to that next station, Chalfont and Latimer; but with the introduction of the new fixed-length 8-car S Stock trains there is a through train to Central London, through all 9 zones to Aldgate

Rounding out the three, this is Chesham – the most remote point on the Underground that is the furthest north and west that the system goes. Chesham is a small country town with a population of about 21,000 that is about 25 miles northwest of the center of London at Charing Cross.  The station is nearly 4 miles from the next one (the longest distance), nearly all of which is single-track. Until the end of 2010 Chesham only had a shuttle train every 30 minutes to that next station, Chalfont and Latimer; but with the introduction of the new fixed-length 8-car S Stock trains there is a through train to Central London, through all 9 zones to Aldgate.  The fact that this tiny little place has “underground” service is merely an artifact of history.

I had the chance to ride in a train pulled by this bad boy last September out to Amersham, the other outer terminal of the Metropolitan Line.  I even got a personal tour of the loco by its owner, an eccentric British Empire Man who seemed to have made a fortune in the late 80s S&L crisis on Wall Street and never looked back. This was one of the steam locomotives in use to celebrate the Underground's 150th birthday last year.

I had the chance to ride in a train pulled by this bad boy last September out to Amersham, the other outer terminal of the Metropolitan Line. I even got a personal tour of the loco by its owner, an eccentric British Empire Man who seemed to have made a fortune in the late 80s S&L crisis on Wall Street and never looked back. This was one of the steam locomotives in use to celebrate the Underground’s 150th birthday last year.

Harrow and Wealdstone is the current outer end of the Bakerloo Line, but is just an intermediate stop on the West Coast Main Line, with 6 tracks here (including London Overground local services that share tracks with the Bakerloo, London Midland suburban services, and Virgin Trains intercity services). The real claim to fame, if you can call it that, is the horrendous 1952 crash that killed 112 people.

Harrow and Wealdstone is the current outer end of the Bakerloo Line, but is just an intermediate stop on the West Coast Main Line, with 6 tracks here (including London Overground local services that share tracks with the Bakerloo, London Midland suburban services, and Virgin Trains intercity services). The real claim to fame, if you can call it that, is the horrendous 1952 crash that killed 112 people. I highly recommend you read the “harrowing” story from the excellent London Reconnections local transit blog – interestingly some of the key first responders were from the US Air Force who were stationed nearby, and African-American nurse Abbey Sweetwine introduced the modern concepts of triage to Britain.

Holy CCTV!  This is the platform at West Ruislip, the western end of the Central Line.  From here in Zone 6, the trip to the other end of the line (also Zone 6, but having passed through 5-4-3-2-1-2-3-4-5!) is the longest journey on the Underground on one train, about 34 miles, with 35 stations that takes about 83 minutes (so much shorter than Uxbridge to Cockfosters!).  West Ruislip is one of ten stations that start with "West" and one of five (all nearby!) stations with "Ruislip" in the name.

Holy CCTV! This is the platform at West Ruislip, the western end of the Central Line. From here in Zone 6, the trip to the other end of the line (also Zone 6, but having passed through 5-4-3-2-1-2-3-4-5!) is the longest journey on the Underground on one train, about 34 miles, with 35 stations that takes about 83 minutes (so much shorter than Uxbridge to Cockfosters!). West Ruislip is one of ten stations that start with “West” and one of five (all nearby!) stations with “Ruislip” in the name.

Hainault is on the opposite side of the Central Line, on a loop that opened in 1948 on a former railway line, with an appealing sort of art deco / moderne combination look to it. Beyond here only one train every 20 minutes around the last part of the loop, which has the least-used station on the whole network (Roding Valley, with an average of just 575 total passengers per day).

Hainault is on the opposite side of the Central Line, on a loop that opened in 1948 on a former railway line, with an appealing sort of art deco / moderne combination look to it. Beyond here only one train every 20 minutes around the last part of the loop, which has the least-used station on the whole network (Roding Valley, with an average of just 575 total passengers per day).

This is Bank Station on the Waterloo & City Line, one of the line's only two stations (you can call it "City" if you'd like, and I'll let you guess the other station!).  This oddball 1.5-mile shuttle line that opened in 1898 to link mainline railway passengers at Waterloo to the City of London financial district is colloquially known as "The Drain", and plays an important role in getting bankers to and from their suburban trains.

This is Bank Station on the Waterloo & City Line, one of the line’s only two stations (you can call it “City” if you’d like, and I’ll let you guess the other station!). This oddball 1.5-mile shuttle line that opened in 1898 to link mainline railway passengers at Waterloo to the City of London financial district is colloquially known as “The Drain”, and plays an important role in getting bankers to and from their suburban trains.

Finally, last but not least, I had to include a picture of my favorite line - the Victoria Line.  The 13.3-mile, 16-station express metro line is fully underground and primarily serves Central London (with 8 stations in Zone 1, 4 stations in Zone 2, and 4 stations in Zone 3 only).  It is fast and frequent, with a train every 2.5 minutes almost all the time (most hours 7 days a week) and a peak frequency of 33tph.  The other key factor is its excellent cross-platform interchanges at Finsbury Park (with the Piccadilly), Highbury & Islington (with the National Rail route to Moorgate), Euston (with the Northern Line Bank Branch, where the lines travel in opposite directions to go the same ordinal direction), Oxford Circus (with the Bakerloo), and finally Stockwell with the Northern Line's southern branch to and from Morden.  You might be confused because I said that the line was totally underground - well, it is apart from the depot.  This shot is the end of the line for the staff train from Seven Sisters station to the depot, which I rode with a work group back in 2012.  No regular passengers ever see the light of day from one of these trains!

Finally, last but not least, I had to include a picture of my favorite line – the Victoria Line. The 13.3-mile, 16-station express metro line is fully underground and primarily serves Central London (with 8 stations in Zone 1, 4 stations in Zone 2, and 4 stations in Zone 3 only). It is fast and frequent, with a train every 2.5 minutes almost all the time (most hours 7 days a week) and a peak frequency of 33tph. The other key factor is its excellent cross-platform interchanges at Finsbury Park (with the Piccadilly), Highbury & Islington (with the National Rail route to Moorgate), Euston (with the Northern Line Bank Branch, where the lines travel in opposite directions to go the same ordinal direction), Oxford Circus (with the Bakerloo), and finally Stockwell with the Northern Line’s southern branch to and from Morden. You might be confused because I said that the line was totally underground – well, it is apart from the depot. This shot is the end of the line for the staff train from Seven Sisters station to the depot, which I rode with a work group back in 2012. No regular passengers ever see the light of day from one of these trains!

Teddy and the Cable Car

The obligatory “one foot in each hemisphere” shot standing on the Prime Meridian at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich at 0 Degrees Longitude (the home of Greenwich Mean Time, or GMT).  While standing in the queue to take this picture, it started to pour!

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 is the station on the South Side of the Thames, although as the Thames is really curvy here it is practically west of the river.

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.

Here I am in the hot sun – today was probably the hottest day of the year here, reaching about 85F with bright sun and a fair amount of humidity (tomorrow is forecast to be back down to about 72F).

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.

Emirates, the Dubai-based airline, has paid £36 million over 10 years for the naming rights and branding of the cable car, and have gone all-out (here you can see ads for their first-class service on the Airbus A380 – complete with on-board showers – as well as their service to Washington DC).

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 trip is about 1 km (0.62 miles), reaching a maximum height of about 300 feet, and the cabins can be as frequent as every 15 seconds, they claim. The technology is pretty standard single-cable gondola style, I believe.

Teddy enjoying the view…on the left is the O2 Arena (formerly the Millennium Dome, and a major Olympics venue as well).  Behind me you can see the Thames Barrier.

The northern/western terminal is at the Royal Victoria Dock, near the ExCel Exhibition Centre (London’s largest convention centre, and a major Olympics venue). The funky building under construction to the left is the Siemens Sustainability Centre, a new project sponsored by the German conglomerate to showcase green design and sustainability.

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!