Thursday, December 09, 2010

The Joy of the London Commute

Off message but I thought I’ll share my journey this morning to remind non-London folk that life is not all fun and games in our great metropolis.

I missed the 08.07 rail overhead train to London Liverpool Street so I waited for the 08.23 (big gap for rush hour?). It arrived on time but you could see from the front coaches as they passed that it was packed to the gills. I managed to get on and stood cheek by jowl with other travellers. So squashed that we could not move or even turn around.

Such is life in London but since most of us expected to change to the Central Line at Stratford in 4 minutes we thought we will put up with it.

Before the train set off the driver did announce on the PA that passengers should not obstruct the doors and that there was another train right behind us. If I could have got out then I would have done and waited for the next train. But I was stuck solid in the crush.

After 2 minutes the train stopped at Maryland station and somehow even more people got on to our carriage. Big mistake. Our carriage doors closed but our train driver kept reporting on the PA that there was a fault because people were obstructing the doors. He next announced that there was a fault with the doors which could be serious. He went out and walked along the train (some 15-20 carriages) testing each door to fix the fault. He came to our doors checked them from the outside then walked down to the next. It was by now beginning to get quite unpleasant and claustrophobic in the carriage. Passengers were mostly quite calm but some of them were beginning to be rather distressed. The train driver came to our door again and appeared to check it then walked away. It was very hot in the train since we were all wearing winter clothing. We asked people seated near the windows to open them and I asked people standing in the isles to move up and give us some room and take pressure away from the doors. There wasn’t a very particularly good response to this but the windows were opened and we had some fresh air.

After about 15 minutes in total the driver announced that due to passengers obstructing the door there was a fault which he could not fix and he would have to take the train out of service so everyone would have to leave the train. I think at that stage people were just relieved to know they could get out of the train. However, the doors were still closed. We could see people coming out of the train elsewhere and walking out of the station. Our carriage doors would not open. Passengers near the door pressed the open buttons but nothing happened. Some people began to get distressed. Others were asking us standing near the emergency handle to use it to open the doors. I thought about this and asked if anyone is feeling ill? To which an elderly lady replied that she was feeling very faint and asked me to use the emergency handle so she could out of the carriage quickly. There was no sign of anyone coming to open the doors from the outside so I pulled off the plastic cover and pulled down the emergency handle to open the doors. Nothing happened. I pulled the handle down again more forcefully and an orange light went on and the doors opened. Everyone streamed out and the lady who was ill thanked the Lord for being “rescued”.

Most of us had enough of trains for a while and we all walked to Stratford station (only about 5-10 minutes from Maryland). What was interesting is that everyone seemed to know the short cuts through the housing estates to Stratford station. So this sort of experience for commuters is not unknown. At Stratford I got on a peak hour Central line train which wasn’t that badly crowded but within 30 seconds we were deep underground for that long boring stretch from Stratford to Mile End.
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