Central Line – is it time to replace the nearly 30 year old stock?

This week I’ve been travelling on London Underground rather than South Western Railway, and there are a number of observations I have to make:

  • South Western Railway doesn’t have the monopoly on delays. We’ve had passengers taken ill, or defective trains across a number of days which has lead to me arriving late in Wimbledon despite leaving plenty of time to allow for such incidents.
  • The Central Line has sections of track which emit deafening high-pitch squealing as the train passes over it. It’s like somebody dragging their claws down a blackboard. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s loud enough that it could ultimately affect people’s hearing if they’re regular commuters.
  • Shake, rattle and roll. Again, the Central Line has a section of track – between Mile End and Stratford – which has the effect of the train rattling around like a baby’s rattle when the train is going at a decent speed. For the poor saps inside the train, this is extremely uncomfortable and I nearly threw my back out during to a sharp jerk or three. I was sitting at the end of the carriage at the time. I like my insides as they are: neither shaken or stirred.
  • On a couple of days, when the Central Line train left the platform, it’d start and then violently stop. Then start. Then violently stop. And then start again, eventually picking up speed. I’ve a feeling this is the train’s safety mechanism kicking in – perhaps people are leaning against the door (because, of course, the idea is to cram as many people into these carriages like sardines despite the frequency in which the trains run). In any event, the jerking brought on by these stop-starts-stops-starts isn’t conductive to a healthy back.
  • Apple Watch and Apple Pay. A number of times the Apple Watch had difficulties with the barriers – causing a Seek Assistance or Use A Single Card. Attempting the process again resulted in success (unlike SWR’s terrible smart card system). Similar problems on London buses too.
  • People will NOT stop looking at their mobile phones. Man, these people are seriously addicted, and liable to cause accidents. Their eyes are glued to the screens before getting on the train, during the journey, and when getting off. And it’s the getting off part that’s the worst, because you are then stuck behind them and they ain’t going to be moving fast any time soon.

I remember when the current rolling stock for the Central Line was first introduced. It was around 1991 or 1992 when I was enrolled at Epping Forrest College studying for my BTEC, and we suddenly saw these futuristic trains replace the older stock from the time of the dinosaurs. Alas, now, these trains are now behaving like dinosaurs.

I have high praise for the District Line which has been flawless throughout. Bigger trains thanks to bigger tunnels, and walk through carriages results in a much more open environment. Oh, and I nearly forgot to mention proper air conditioning. Unlike the Central Line, where any kind of relief from the boiling temperatures of the train is best to stand against the carriage doorway with the window all the way down.

Next week: The Return of SWR.

This Drake was certainly well cooked yesterday on what was Britain’s hottest day in history. Getting to work wasn’t a problem, but getting home was. It took me three hours from leaving the office in Wimbledon to travel approximately 27 miles.

I had intended to go to Ronnie Le Drew’s book launch party for Zippy and Me at the Little Angel Theatre in Islington, but given that we knew what the weather was going to be like – I didn’t fancy my chances of getting from Wimbledon to Islington in time – nor how long it would take to get back to Woking.

The first problem was that as I was about to leave, the heavens opened up. First a spectacular thunder and lightning show, then a heavy downpour. Thankfully it didn’t last long. When I made to Wimbledon station, it turned out that the train to Woking would be delayed. Luckily there was a train to Guildford (via Epsom) which I sometimes take if it’s likely the Woking train is likely to be very late (which it very much was), so I hopped on.

The suburban stopping service on South Western Railway routes uses old train stock. They have no air conditioning to speak of, just windows that can be opened and closed. But this is not enough – especially when trains have to run far slower over track due to heat-related stress – to get a decent airflow. I was sweating buckets. It was if somebody threw a bucket of my own sweat over me. And I forgot to bring water.

When I got to Guildford, the train to London Waterloo via Woking was delayed too – so there was another 20 minutes worth of extra waiting to be had. To make matters worse, when I got to Woking, the regular bus service was majorly delayed by an hour.

So I went to McDonald’s, had something to eat and drink there, then went back to wait for the bus which turned up 5 minutes later. Three hours to get home – door to door – in some of the most uncomfortable conditions I’ve ever encountered. It wasn’t even this bad when I’ve been travelling to hot countries such as Egypt where there is little access to AC.

While it’s going to be cooler today, I strongly suspect the train services aren’t going to be much better..

Thought I’d take a peek on my way into work today:

Shogun interests me, but given the fragile state of the book, I’d feel better if I were to buy the Kindle edition instead. But not a bad selection of books – usually the shelf is empty. But I wondered what happened to the VHS tapes?

Welcome to crazy town!

It’s the time of year 
Now that Spring is in the air 
When those two wet gits with their girly curly hair 
Make another song for moronic holidays…

I’m sorry, that’s the opening to Spitting Image’s The Chicken Song. I’ll start again.

It’s the time of the year where everybody who enjoys a good game of tennis gathers in one place: Wimbledon, South London, to watch the best of the best thrash each other with their balls with the sounds of grunting and occasional comedic goings-on:

Ah, refreshing!

ALAS!

Most people will be getting to Wimbledon by train. And do you think South Western Railways has thought of putting on extra trains, extra carriages and making the suburban routes that little bit better? Of course not, that would be sensible.

It ha been absolute hell getting to Wimbledon – where I work – for the past week, and we have another week to go. At one point, the trains were so packed that after the next train arrived, a 4 car formation, I just gave up and went and worked from home.

With recent strikes, and a pitiful service that is not helping relieve the pressures of the Wimbledon championships, SWR is not fit to run a train service. I sincerely hope they lose their franchise. If I’m honest, I’m hoping the UK government will make it a public service again – just like the East Coast service.

Yes, South Western Railways and smartcards again. But before I start there, I popped into Woking station’s platform 1 waiting room to check up on the lending library there:

They’ve expanded to VHS and DVDs now?!

Quite surprised to see the entire series eight of Inspector Morse there, along with a VHS copy of Carry on Up the Khyber. Good luck to the person whoever manages to find a portable VHS player (a joke I shamefully nicked off a work colleague).

Smart card. Fart card. Whatever.

My replacement SWR smart card has faired as well as the card it was replacing. Bought another single day return ticket to Wimbledon from Woking and went to check that it was valid on the same machine that issued it at Woking station.

The ticket machine managed to do its job properly this time! Give it a biscuit!

ALAS!

The Computer Says No

Went up to the barriers at Woking and the dreaded “Seek Assistance” popped up. Several attempts. No joy. Went back to the ticket machine to verify – yep, it was readable and the ticket was found. So I showed the image above to the ticket inspector who advised that I tap in on a yellow contactless terminal on the platform. That should do it, he said. So I did. Green tick.

Merry-go-round broken down

Then the train I was to get down had developed a fault and I had to make my way to platform three and endure a delay of stopping at every single stop to Wimbledon – but at least I didn’t have to change at Surbiton.

Got to the barriers at Wimbledon:

SWR’s ticketing systems are a useless pile of toss

So more explaining to the guards at the barriers and I was let out. The same will happen again this evening. I am so utterly fed up with the hassle South Western Railway’s smart card system has brought. It should not go wrong this often. I fully blame their IT department for this. It’s as if the ticketing system cannot communicate with the barriers properly to validate tickets.

Hard to believe it’s the 21st century

I’ll probably end up using paper tickets again. But I find these wasteful and a pain in the arse to have to take out of one’s wallet every time they need to go through a barrier or inspected by a train guard/inspector. Furthermore, by the time I’ve got home, the barriers at Woking are unmanned, leaving me with a useless paper ticket. They tend to build up in my wallet. If I remember, they’re discarded in the bin – but I’m sure that somebody will delve in there and try and find a way of reusing it.

I sincerely hope that with all these problems, the franchise owners, The First Group and MTR Corporation, lose the franchise at the earliest opportunity. Since they took over, the service (at least the suburban service) has been bloody dreadful. The ticket system is still stuck in the 20th century and is unreliable as hell.

Hand-written ticket!

On Monday I tried to buy a ticket on the smartcard at Woking station. Paid for it via contactless, and put my ticket on the reader to update it. Uh-oh, the machine had trouble updating my ticket. Tried again. Still problems. So I went to the counter and ask them what to do. They got a notebook which contains special tickets that are handwritten. So I traveled on that for the day – but encountered some resistance at Wimbledon as the guard was not familiar with the SWR smart card system and insisted that I had to get a return ticket from the ticket office. Nope, the ticket office said, the paper I had was sufficient as they couldn’t deal with SWR smart cards. And indeed, within the London zone, none of the ticket machines can handle smart cards. And none of ticket offices, regardless of location, can deal with smart cards either.

Learn. Improve. Maybe unite?

It’s about time that we started to go down the route of TFL and use contactless credit/debit cards. Whether they be physical cards, or virtual cards stored on our phones or smart watches. I’d much prefer to use my phone to act as my ticket than the current system. Travelling with TFL is almost effortless. It’s not without a few problems, but considerably less than that of SWR.