Was it a bit warm on your tube train yesterday? Aww, poor you. Then you'll probably have been over-excited by this report in yesterday's Evening Standard, which I've reproduced below. Don't be over-excited. Here's why.
Cooler summer for commuters as Mayor unveils aircon Tube That's a very carefully worded headline. It says nothing untrue, but you've probably read far too much into it. The cooler summer won't be this summer. Only a minority of commuters will benefit. And all Boris did was unveil the first fruits of a project launched by Ken. Don't be over-excited. And don't read too much into it.
The Tube has its first air-conditioned train. That's one train. The Tube may have 500-or-so trains, but so far only one has air-conditioning. And it's not in service yet. Mayor Boris Johnson said passengers will be "terrifically impressed". Emphasis there on the word "will".
He said: "For thousands of clammy Tube passengers some relief is finally in sight. The Tube has millions of clammy passengers. Alas, relief is only "in sight" for thousands. We have now begun testing the first of 191 super cool and spacious new trains." You know why the new trains are spacious, don't you? It's because there'll be fewer seats, so you'll be more likely to have to stand. Cool, but not necessarily comfortable.
Mr Johnson, who boarded the new air-conditioned train at an Oxford test track, said: "Having taken it for a test run myself I can vouch that passengers are going to be terrifically impressed." The test track's actually in Leicestershire, not Oxford. Here's a website about the Old Dalby track, including some photos taken this week. And the first train started test runs there in March, it's just that Boris didn't visit until yesterday.
He said the air conditioning "will keep passengers comfortable whatever the weather". "more comfortable", maybe. It'll be lovely to sit in an air conditioned train during a heatwave, but that won't stop your fellow passengers from ramming into the carriages like cattle.
All the trains to have air-conditioning will operate on the subsurface lines. That's really important to know, because there are only four sub-surface lines. Passengers on the other seven lines will continue to overheat for the foreseeable future. The first will run on the Metropolitan line, to be followed by the Circle, District and Hammersmith & City. The correct order is actually Metropolitan first (starting 2010), then Circle and Hammersmith & City (starting 2011), and finally District (starting 2013). The final upgraded train won't be in service until 2015, at least six summers hence, and ten years after plans to introduce aircon were first agreed.
However, the cooler trains won't be in service until next summer. You're still reading far too much into this, aren't you? Please, don't expect the entire Metropolitan stock to change overnight. The new air-conditioned trains can only be introduced at a rate of one every 10 days, so during 2010 you'll still be more likely to get on board an old hot one than a new cool one.
And for commuters using the deep level lines, such as the Victoria, Central and Northern, it will be years before they get relief from the sweltering conditions. These lines were built long before air conditioning was developed and there is no space for such bulky equipment in the narrow tunnels. Oh this is so important. The deep level trains are staying hot and sweaty, and don't kid yourself otherwise. This aircon-lessness isn't because Boris doesn't care, and it isn't because there's not enough money, it's because upgrading them would be wholly impractical. Deep tube tunnels are narrower than the subsurface tunnels, so the trains have to be smaller, so there's no room to cram aircon equipment and passengers into the carriages. When you're feeling hot and sweaty down the Bakerloo, blame the Victorians, not the Mayor.
The Mayor said: "Cooling the deeper lines remains a considerable challenge. A crack team of Transport for London engineers is focused on that and is concentrating on the Victoria line in particular." Don't get your hopes up. The crack engineers are focusing on the stations, not the trains. Brand new Victoria line carriages are arriving imminently, and they won't have any aircon at all.
The Tube's 3.5 million daily users face yet another long, hot and very sweaty summer with in-train temperatures expected to reach as high as 47C which can cause some passengers to pass out. Do let us know when this long, hot and very sweaty summer begins, won't you? It's Midsummer's Day already, and I can't say my daily commute's come anywhere close to Death Valley meltdown yet.
Measures to keep the ageing network cool have been hit by funding cuts. Instead Tube bosses will resurrect their old campaign of advising passengers to carry bottled water with them, not board a train if they feel unwell and to get off at the next stop if they start to feel ill. Faced with the choice of a multi-million pound rolling stock upgrade or a few bottles of water, guess what, TfL's plumped for the water. And that's absolutely the right choice, if you ask me. It gets unpleasantly hot on the underground for a few weeks every year, but far better to put up with that and spend the money on something that'll be of benefit all year round. Something like new signalling, or modernised stations, or repaired track - something genuinely useful. Tube passengers really need to pull themselves together and stop moaning about something which makes a few summer hours not quite as pleasant as they could be. Air con - it'll be nice to have, but it's hardly the end of the world without it.