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Monday, 14 January 2013

For ticket holders and dignitaries only - why I felt cheated by "Steam on the Underground"

‘The events’ writes the Transport for London's (TfL) website ‘will explore the tube’s history and will look at the role it will play in the future – both in the lives of Londoners and the economy of the City and the UK.’ We have repeatedly been told that London’s underground network is the lifeblood of the city; flowing into the veins of all who live and work here. We have been told that it serves us, that it functions for our benefit, through times of happiness and joy; and through sorrow and heartache. This does, therefore, lead me to ask why one of TfL's events, the running of steam on the Underground, was seemingly so poorly orchestrated that there was no hope that most Londoners could get a descent look-in.

I’m not talking about the lottery for tickets to ride on the steam train. There were limited spaces and this was probably the fairest way to decide who got to go on the historic run. Nor am I talking about the success of getting a steam engine running on the underground in the first place; that is a notable achievement. Rather, I am talking about the chronic lack of information available; the very un-friendly provisions for families and the arrangements for viewing the train at Moorgate.
Enthusiasts at Earl's Court

 The underground’s website suitably praised TfL’s operation of a historic train; except that crucial of all information, the route and times of its journey. Nether was their information on the best places to see it. I knew, as did almost every railway enthusiast, which rather obscure website held such information. But imagine if I were a parent wanting to take my children to see the run, would I have known which website to go? I don’t think so; I don’t think many would have known how to find the times out. Consequently, at the stations I visited it was clear that the railway enthusiast fraternity had turned out in droves; while ‘Londoners’, young and old, were in short supply. Why the times were not on the main TfL site (or if it was it was very well hidden) is beyond me.

TfL also probably made a windfall out of the steam train’s journeys. This wasn’t because of the £180 it cost to ride on it, that presumably covered the cost of operating the train. I’m referring to all those who ‘touched in’ with their Oyster cards, but failed to touch out in time because they were waiting around for the steam train, meaning money was subtracted from it. Suffice to say I got stung twice. I topped up my Oyster like a good little lad at Hampton Court; I usually top it up to the price of a travel card, so I had £8.90 when I left there. But after being inside Earl’s Court Station waiting for the steam engine for about an hour, on attempting to leave I was told I had no money. I queried this, but eventually put it down to some fault in the system and topped up again. Yet, when the same thing happened on attempting to leave at Barbican, after being ‘inside’ the tube for about two hours - it was only then I twigged. I appreciate I should have been more astute and figured this would happen; after all, I travel on the tube weekly. But what about the uninitiated; someone who was unfamiliar with Oyster cards and visiting to specifically see the train? I dread to think how much TfL made out of such people who made the same mistake I did. Yet, people could have avoided such a blunder if TfL had simply placed a mention on their website and at stations ‘Do not use an Oyster if planning to stay in the station for some time – use a paper Travelcard.’ Would this have been so hard?
I probably got one of the best views - still dreadful though

But then there was what happened at Moorgate. Now, I know that a lot of people wanted to get to the steam train to have a look, but the way that the situation was handled was verging on the infuriating. For those who are unaware; Moorgate has two terminal platforms. When I arrived behind the barrier, TfL had decided to put the steam train in one of these and then had shoved a tube train, completely obscuring mine and others view, in the next. This was followed by at least 45 minutes of very mixed messages from different officials and police officers as to whether the tube train would move – at first it was going to; but then it didn’t; although we weren't certain of that for some time. Following this the dignitaries who had just got off the steam train came round in front of us, wandered up and down the stationary tube, and then left by another train that had arrived on a platform we were on.

Still our view was obscured. I heard a mother with three children, one of the few families I saw there, say ‘this whole thing has been organised against children’ – a sentiment I couldn’t disagree with; especially as she was unsure whether her two boys would get a look at the steam train. Eventually, we were let on the stationary tube so we could peer through the windows at the piece of railway heritage on the next line. It was ridiculous really. You weren’t able to take descent photos because of the glare from the glass; you weren’t able to even see much because of the people cramming by the windows; and awe and wonder was in generally short supply. Then, I heard the crying from down the train; one of the children who had waited couldn’t see it.
No way to see much, if any of the steam train.

The steam train was only at Moorgate for about an hour and half. Would it have been so hard for TfL to cordon of one side of the platform for that short time, have the barrier patrolled, and remove the tube train so that all, not just dignitaries, could see the steamer in all its splendour? Would that have been so hard? In the end I came away with numerous blurry photographs and lots of reflection from the window. Unsurprisingly, most around me had exactly the same grumble.

All in all, a steam engine on the underground was a wonderful thing; and those who got the special service running should rightfully be congratulated. But I am sorry to say that as someone who has paid for the journey through may underground fares, who loves the tube and is interested in railway history, it seemed that unless you were lucky enough to have a ticket to ride or were a dignitary, you were a burden to TfL; not worthy of suitable attention or information. Overall, I came away feeling cheated; I had paid £18.90 topping up my Oyster, had waited over four hours in the cold, all for limited return. Therefore, TfL take note; you claimed this event was for those who live and work in London; yet you created a reality that was quite different.

4 comments:

  1. Totally agree and I did not have Children

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  2. In TfL's defence, I must mention the very helpful staff member on duty by the Moorgate ticket barriers in the evening. Having waited to see the penultimate train running through Barbican I, too, was caught out by the Oystercard problem and couldn't get through the barrier. On seeing my plight, he not only let me through but also used the staff override to top my Oystercard back up again.
    Clearly, the situation was badly handled at Moorgate and the information provided could have been better. But I saw plenty of families and ordinary Londoners, not just enthusiasts, when I viewed the evening runs at Kensington Olympia and Edgware Road, so they must have managed to get information from somewhere.
    Also, as a POI, the £180 fare only applied to first class, steam-hauled tickets. I enjoyed a third-class ride behind Sarah Siddons for only £50.

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  3. To be fair, TfL didn't know how many people were going to turn up - if they'd made the times public the stations could well have been so crowded no one would have seen anything but they didn't try and stop people either.

    Their approach ensured the numbers were manageable and those who were really interested actually got to see the trains. As for the S Stock, i believe it was a combination of crowd management, preventing a scrum on the opposite platform, providing a 'then and now' bit of PR, and also providing somewhere for the backup S Stock to stable.

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  4. ...it's worth noting also that the LTM have now put up timings on their website for the various runs this Sunday - http://www.ltmuseum.co.uk/whats-on/events/vehicles-on-the-move

    ReplyDelete

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