diamond geezer

 Monday, January 24, 2011

Rail Replacement Safari (part 2)

For the second part of my quest to ride every rail replacement bus in London, I headed west. That meant getting from Liverpool Street to Hammersmith - a journey normally possible on one train, but not on Saturday. There was no service of any kind round the eastern half of the Circle line - that's between Edgware Road and Embankment - and no rail replacement buses either. TfL no longer believe in running RRBs through Central London, so leave passengers to find their own way via whatever other tubes (or buses) are running. From Liverpool Street the only escape was via the Central line, hence the platforms were absolutely packed when I came to use them. Carriages too, as if it were the height of the weekday rush hour - the mismatch caused by running only a weekend-level service. Sometimes, TfL, what we need are extra rail replacement trains.

Hammersmith & City line replacement service D: Hammersmith → Paddington
"Today this station close" read the scribbled message on the board outside Hammersmith station on Saturday. Not a phrase to raise hopes of high-level communicative ability in either of the two members of staff standing alongside. "Buses all stations to Paddington" said the printed text underneath, before explaining in small type "Not stopping at Wood Lane. Calling additionally at Shepherd's Bush." You had to get up pretty close to read that, which suggests that whoever designs these posters is using an undersized font.
Mini-rant: There were two posters, and from a distance the only obvious wording said "BUS STOP →" on one and "BUS STOP W" on the other. The arrow was very definitely pointing around the corner so that's where I went, but instead found Bus Stop Q which didn't have any rail replacement branding at all. Bus Stop W turned out to have been immediately outside the station, back where I'd started, which was frustrating. I pointed out this signage confusion to a nearby member of staff, but he was from the bus company not TfL and quite frankly didn't care. Then when the bus finally arrived it stopped at both bus stops, W and Q, which seemed bafflingly unnecessary.
Mini-rant 2: Just after the bus pulled up, the TfL employee standing by the bus stop loudly announced "All stations to Paddington". But it's not is it, I said to him, we're missing out Wood Lane. "All stations to Paddington!" he confirmed, in that smug way people do when they're wrong.
The journey to Paddington suffered from a simple problem - one I experienced several times over the weekend. Just because there's a railway line linking a set of stations doesn't mean there's a road. There was no direct road from Latimer Road to Ladbroke Grove, for example, so we had to drive up, across and back down to get from one to the other. There was no direct road from Ladbroke Grove to Westbourne Park either so we had to drive down, across and back up, this time along streets barely suitable for two-way traffic. And there was no direct road from Westbourne Park to Royal Oak (apart from the A40 Westway, which was out of the question) so we had to drive way up, across and back down yet again. These tortuous detours stretched out the journey so much that the bus took more three times as long as the tube journey would have done.
Mini-rant 3: And then at the end, one final bit of customer neglect. The bus ejected us halfway down one side of Paddington station, not at the front. We could clearly see a side entrance to the station, but on the other side of very long iron railings and one level below. We were left to our own devices to decide how best to get down there, several minutes walk away, which especially annoyed the elderly passenger and the lady with a suitcase. If you want to feel like a second-class citizen, ride the rail replacement bus.
Hammersmith → Paddington: normally 14 min, rail replacement bus 47 min (+240%)

Jubilee line replacement service C: Stonebridge Park → Stanmore
You have to feel sorry for the people of Stanmore. They've suffered more than most with the incompetent installation of signalling on the Jubilee line, facing rail replacement bus services at weekends for years. And again this weekend. Not that you'd have known when the bus rolled up at Stonebridge Park, because the destination wasn't visible. If you're not familiar, most rail replacement buses don't have the destination up on the front blind where the destination usually is. That would be too useful. Instead they convey information via a small card plonked behind the windscreen wherever the driver thinks fit. In large font is written the 'letter' of the service (in this case 'C') and alongside that a list of the stations the bus will be stopping at. And the last station on the list invariably disappears, because it slots behind something, so it's impossible to read. In this case 'Canons Park' was the last station name visible, because the word 'Stanmore' had disappeared below the fascia horizon. And this was no one-off. All the buses we passed in the opposite direction had "Stonebridge Park" concealed, leaving "Wembley Park" as the final visible destination. Somebody needs to tell drivers to display these cards properly, consistently, clearly. A serious rethink on front-of-bus signage is long overdue.
Wembley Park → Stanmore: normally 11 min, rail replacement bus 24 min (+120%)

Metropolitan line replacement service A: Harrow-on-the-Hill → Wembley Park
I had to get one eventually - a not-very-nice double decker rolled out of retirement for the use of weekend engineering nomads. Some lucky folk in the opposite direction got Routemasters, but we got some bog standard 20th century workhorse. If I sat carefully enough, I could just about keep my shoes out of the pool of phlegm on the floor. Throughout the journey, even with headphones plugged in, I was forced to listen to the well-urban conversation of the trainee footballer sitting behind me. "You know what club was interested in me, bruv, Yeovil." "I can't sign anything with Barnet until I get an agent, innit." "Watford was an even worse shithole than Barnet, know what I mean." If only the bus hadn't detoured round the backstreets to Northwick Park I might have been spared the full details of his long-term injury woes. The Road to Wembley is never easy.
Harrow-on-the-Hill → Wembley Park: normally 5 min, rail replacement bus 20 min (+300%)

Jubilee line replacement service D: Wembley Park → Finchley Road
Four possible rail replacement destinations from Wembley Park, and three empty buses lined up. But which one was which? Not a bloody clue. The crowd mustering impatiently on the pavement wanted to know, waiting for one of the many customer service agents to finally point at one and say yes, get on that. As a prime example of rail replacement directional incoherence, this was hard to beat. When the pack finally swarmed aboard bus number two I ended up on the top deck beside a flapping copy of the Sun and an empty packet of onion garlic potato snacks. There then followed a depressingly slow meander through the streets of northwest London. Beyond Neasden most of the streets along the railway were residential, and deemed too narrow for double decker buses. We therefore took some ridiculous detours merely to ensure that we passed all the same stations that the train would have done [map]. Neasden to Dollis Hill was particularly convoluted, three times longer than it could have been, and delivered us into the hands of some annoyingly bouncy speed humps. Willesden Green to Kilburn was a right pain too, and we ended up stuck in nasty traffic on the Kilburn High Road because our driver wasn't allowed to turn off sooner. What would've really helped would have been an additional Metropolitan replacement express - Wembley to Finchley Road without deviation, repetition, or hesitation. But no, every city-bound passenger got to take the slow route through Jubilee purgatory. I hated this one, never again.
Wembley Park → West Hampstead: normally 11 min, rail replacement bus 45 min (+310%)
Harrow-on the Hill → Finchley Road: normally 12 min, rail replacement buses 77 min (+540%)

Lessons learned
7) When several lines in Central London are closed, a more frequent service on any parallel lines would help to absorb increased passenger numbers.
8) Simply displaying "Rail Replacement Service" on the front of a rail replacement bus isn't good enough. If the correct destination's on the roller blind, show us that. Please.
9) Tiny cardboard rectangles on the driver's dashboard are not the solution to rail replacement bus signage. They're surprisingly illegible from a distance, inconsistently placed, and the bottom line often disappears from view. Design something bigger and clearer, and use that.
10) Rail replacement buses can be told apart by a single letter code, but members of the public rarely notice this. They're looking for a destination, not a letter.
11) Certain rail replacement bus routes would be much quicker if they passed 'close' to a station, rather than all round the houses to stop right outside. Excessively tortuous routes are a curse, not a blessing.
12) The London borough of Brent was pretty much tube-free yesterday. Do try to coordinate your line closures more carefully, TfL, otherwise residents will think you've got it in for them.

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