Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Underground in London: the Tube

The first escalator was installed in the tube in 1911, over a hundred years ago. Since then, the system has undergone a lot of changes and improvements. In preparation for the Summer Olympics 2012, the transit system is being upgraded to improve speed and efficiency. The Victoria Line, opened by Queen Elizabeth in 1968, has been replaced by a state-of-the-art system, and the old and new lines still run side by side while the old system is slowly being dismantled. It will be phased out when the new one is fully operational.

The Victoria line trains are also new, and there are more of them. According to John Doyle, the Line Manager, there will soon be 30 trains an hour rather than 28, and eventually, in peak hours, 33 trains per hour will add 10,000 more passengers to the current capacity.

It's all part of a huge upgrade plan that will continue for another ten years. King's Cross - St. Pancras Station has had its capacity quadrupled, and Wembley Station has been upgraded to relieve congestion for visitors to the stadium. At Heathrow, the Piccadilly Line has been extended to Terminal 5. At Wood Lane, the first new Tube Station in 70 years has just opened. When the work is complete, it will mean a thirty percent increase in capacity, says Transport for London.

The old protocol of "stand on the right, walk on the left" still obtains; so too does the posted exhortation that "dogs must be carried." Recalling my first Tube rides in 1973, I noticed that there was no longer an instruction specifying that "pushchairs must be folded," a source of mirth to me then, as the word was unfamiliar, and it would be quite some time before I had need of such a device. Clearly, stroller technology has moved on, along with that of the telephone.

Contemporary Londoners hurry down and up the left sides of the escalators, talking on their mobiles. Blocking the left lane causes annoyance, as I rediscovered after staggering bag and baggage off the Gatwick Express and onto the Underground. The cool "Excuse me" darted in my direction by a commuter sounded unmistakeably displeased.

Begun in 1863, the London Underground is the world's oldest below-ground rail system, with almost double the length of track of the Paris Metro and more than quadruple that of Singapore. Considering its size and complexity, along with the fact that it is older than the nation of Canada, the Tube, backbone of London's unique transit system, functions very well indeed.

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