Whatever happened to the Circle Line?

In Uncategorized on November 24, 2010 by grahamharrowell

Circle Line. I always thought that there was some significance in the name. I know that it’s not geographically a perfect circle but all my life I’ve known that the trains on it go round and round a continuous route. It was a fairly simple concept taking advantage of the coming together of different underground lines and easy for visitors to understand.

I remember the London mayor banging on about stopping people having parties on the Circle Line and had assumed that the legal ban on drinking alcohol on the system might have been enough to achieve that but, on a recent visit to the capital, I found out that over a year ago the Circle Line had ceased to be. Or rather the trains had ceased to run.

What brought this fundamental change to my attention was a long wait at Tower Hill for a train to St Pancras. Along with other bewildered provincials and foreign tourists I watched a long procession of trains bound for Upminster pass by whilst no trains via Aldgate showed up at all despite the occasional hint from the indicator board that one might be lurking in the tunnel waiting to leap out and surprise us. (More of that later.)

Having consulted my tea towel at home and then comparing it with the latest map, I find that the Circle Line is now a point to point affair. So the mayor has made sure that those flouting the alcohol ban now have to change at Edgware Road along with the rest of us who’ve done nothing wrong. I suppose it serves us all right for complaining.

This change reflects what happened in Paris when Fulgence Bienvenue took on the supervision of the network. He believed that trains should go from A to B and stop at all stations on the way. So he took the circular line which was under construction and chopped it in half so that we have what is today Line 2 and Line 6 and you have to change at Etoile or Nation. This of course was a triumph of logical thinking. That can’t be the reason behind the change in London.

What actually worries me more than the inconvenience to which the change puts customers (particularly the poor confused foreign tourist who like me still relies on the map on his tea towel to get about) is that fact that TfL doesn’t seem to know what its trains are doing. This is scary. Standing waiting at Tower Hill on the District (and very rarely Circle) Line and later at Archway on the Northern Line I was struck by the fact that the messages on the indicator boards, all digital and electric, bore no relation to the trains that were turning up. At Tower Hill one set of announcements gave different information about the approaching train’s destination and at both Tower Hill and Archway a different announcement counselled customers to look at the front of the train if they wanted to know where it was headed. That’s all very well for me be what about the poor foreigner who as a tourist or in some other guise makes up a large proportion of the capital’s population and who is a major user of the public transport system. Even native speakers have trouble understanding the announcements so there is a certain reliance on the information boards. I wonder just how many tourists trying to get from Tower Hill to St Pancras ended up bleakly in Upminster, never to be seen again?

The real concern is that the indicator boards are presumably connected to some central computer control within the network. I would expect that TfL somewhere has a system that let’s them know where each train is, where it is going and at what time and that this is linked to tricky things like green and red signals as well as the points that send the traisn hurtling down different tunnels. That being the case surely this is all connected to the information boards. If the signalbox knows where the train is surely that information can easily be conveyed to the waiting public? Or is it the case that they have no idea what’s going on? That seems more likely to me. Wherever possible I walk. Not only is it cheaper but I’m more likely to reach my destination. In one piece.


2 Responses to “Whatever happened to the Circle Line?”

  1. You’re actually describing my daily commute there – no one knows the lonely and dispiriting wait for the circle line like I do…

    TFL actually admitted recently that going from a circle to a ‘lasso’ configuration (I kid you not) has meant there are fewer trains running at rush hour. sigh.

  2. KOTW he say you could take a train in the other direction…. or walk (sigh).

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