Tube geek (34)The Olympia shuttle Today's Underground boasts one more shuttle service, other than the two I've already mentioned. It's more centrally located, and it actually goes somewhere useful, so you might well have used it. Perhaps more likely you've stood at Earl's Court waiting for a proper train and this shuttle's come in instead and you've cursed. It's the Kensington Olympia service, which spends its days chugging to and fro in the face of general lack of interest. Maybe there's a good reason for that.
The station at Olympia used to be more important than it is now, which explains its size. District line trains first served the station in 1946, running during exhibitions only, and travelling just the one station to Earl's Court. Things improved somewhat in 1986 with services running whether the exhibition centre was open or not, and now one stop further to High Street Kensington. And it's this full journey between Olympia and High Street Kensington which is particularly non-useful, as I shall now attempt to demonstrate.
Kensington Olympia → High Street Kensington (train) Imagine you're at Kensington Olympia and the shuttle's just arrived into the platform. Is it quicker to walk to High Street Kensington, or should you climb aboard and wait? Remember, walking takes the direct route, whereas the train travels in a great big wasteful semicircle [map]. To find out, let's climb aboard and wait. But the shuttle only runs every 20 minutes, so if it's not five past, twenty-five past or quarter to, you're going nowhere. Ho hum. Aha, doors closing, we're off. 0:00: Off under the bridge at Kensington High Street, heading southeast. 3:00: Into Earl'sCourt, where the doors open so that the crowd on the platform can stare but not get on. 4:00: Off again, signals permitting, and the train curves back round to the northwest. 7:00: Into the side platform at High Street Kensington. That wasn't too long. Or was it?
Kensington Olympia → High Street Kensington (walk) Let's try that again, but this time on foot. Direct route this time. To make a proper contest of it, we'll wait for the shuttle to arrive at Olympia and open its doors before we set off. And then start the clock. 0:00: From the station exit, walk off past whatever trade fair's spilling out onto Olympia Way. 2:30: Turn left onto Kensington High Street. It's a long trek, but we're on the right road. 10:00: Still going, and only just reached the old Commonwealth Institute. 15:00: At last, after not quite a mile, here's the station entrance. Surely this is slower. 17:00: Arrive on platform at High Street Kensington. But platform 3's empty. Where's the Olympia train? 22:00: The Olympia train pulls in. Blimey, walking wins!
Conclusion: Yes, the train takes seven minutes, while walking (fast) takes seventeen. But walking can still be quicker, because the train hangs around at Olympia for more than ten minutes before setting off. So if you're ever at Kensington Olympia and the platform's empty (or only just been filled by a fresh train) then don't hang around, walk it.