Weekend tube closures, don't you just hate them? You trot merrily down to the station on a Saturday morning hoping to get a train, but the station's shut and there's a replacement bus and it takes you ages to get anywhere. Closed closed closed closed hate hate hate hate.
Well, TfL have heard your pain, and they're trying to do something about it. They've launched a big new campaign to promote their Tube Upgrade Plan, which involves posters, leaflets and even a series of YouTube videos. TfL won't be doing any less engineering work as a result, but they are going to tell you about it more often. Once you know why each weekend shutdown is essential, they hope you'll get pissed off less. Yeah, good luck with that.
Take this coming weekend, for example. There are closures on the Jubilee, Metropolitan, District, Circle and Hammersmith and City lines, so TfL has asked the General Managers of those lines to record a short film explaining what's going on. You can just imagine their sunken hearts when this idea first came up in a meeting, and how much they must be looking forward to recording a new video every week that their line is closed.
» [video]Mike Challis runs the District line, and he's been down to Bromley-by-Bow to record a one minute spiel on this weekend's double closure. He mixes what's clearly a pre-written script with a bit of cheery ad lib, although he's almost upstaged at the end by a voice coming over the station's tannoy. » [video]David Millard runs the "Hammersmith and Circle" line (which might be the name TfL will one day give this pair of routes should they ever combine). He tells us that hundreds of metres of track are being upgraded this weekend, and whips some stones out of his pocket to show us what ballast looks like (just like Mike did). » [video]Kevin Bootle runs the Jubilee line, poor man. He's got the rawest deal, trying to explain to seething locals why installing some "state-of-the-art signalling" will one day be so very beneficial. It's interesting that his film is the shortest of the four, even though he probably has the most need to reassure his passengers. » [video]Angela Back runs the Metropolitan line, so has the opportunity to beam about her brand new S stock trains. Alas it turns out to be these new trains, and their associated upgrade activities, which are forcing so many imminent Metropolitan line closures. Never fear - Angela has sensibly failed to mention any weekend-specifics in her video, so won't need to record a new one over and over again.
Not to be outdone, Managing Director of London Underground Mike Brown has also recorded his own video. He's a pro in front of the camera, and nips around the network from Stratford to the central control room to promote his message. Sorry it's not fun, he says, but it's for good reason and it's getting better. He apologises in particular for the Jubilee line, then proclaims more good news whilst standing next to a board announcing minor delays due to a faulty train at North Greenwich.
There's a lot more upgrade information online, certainly a whole lot more than there was last week. Note in particular the 'Planned Works Calendar', which is a brand new format for displaying which lines are being shut down when, and with mouseover text to explain the full details. Meanwhile every line now has its own dedicated page outlining long-term plans, where you can also see photos of all the line managers who've yet to make their own video. The idea is clearly to put a more human face on the tube upgrade plan, and is aimed squarely at travellers who haven't engaged before with all the benefits a transformed tube will bring. For those with deeper interest I'd recommend the leaflet to be found in stations, or even the 28-page booklet available online.
Unfortunately, TfL's information campaign makes me more depressed about weekend closures rather than happier. Their proposed timeline for future work suggests that these upgrades are going to go on, and on, and on, and on, for the whole of the next ten years and beyond. The Jubilee upgrade is to be completed "spring 2011" (yeah right), the Victoria in 2012 and the Northern in 2014. The final upgrade on the four sub-surface lines won't be complete until 2018. which is aaaages off. And as for the Piccadilly, Bakerloo and Central line upgrades, they're shown as finishing sometime after 2021. That's more than 500 weeks away, which suggests a monstrous number of weekend closures still to come. Oh yes, things will definitely be much better once the tube upgrade is complete. I just doubt that Londoners can stay patient quite that long.