diamond geezer

 Friday, February 24, 2012

Is the District line running to Kensington (Olympia) today?

I ask, not because I need to know, but because the answer's unexpectedly difficult to uncover.

The tube map's not much help. It now has a dotted line now where there used to be solid green, plus the legend "District open weekends, public holidays and some Olympia events". So if it's a weekend then yes, it's running. If it's a bank holiday then yes, unless it's the sort of bank holiday when no trains run, it's running. But if it's a weekday, how do you know if there's an event on at Olympia special enough to merit an all-day service?

Go stand on the platform at Earl's Court and there are few clues. There's the next train indicator, of course, and if Olympia flashes up then yes, trains to Olympia are running. If it doesn't though, is that because the next Olympia train is 29 minutes away, or because there aren't any? A timetable has been posted on the westbound platform, but it only shows what happens on non-special-event days. Just two departures are listed, at 1941 and 2021 respectively, so you're very unlikely to be around for one. But as for alternative routes to Olympia during the rest of the day - information which might be incredibly useful for visitors to London - there's no indication whatsoever.

Further up the line, there are also no clues. All the enamelled maps at District line tube stations still show solid green lines from Earl's Court, not dotted. Even the enamelled map at Blackfriars, which opened only this week, still shows the regular Olympia service that finished two months ago. There's been a forward-planning mix-up somewhere here, I think. At several other stations, including Mile End, staff have stuck some tiny white stickers along Olympia's green line to transform it into a dotted one. Clever, and cheap, but alas very temporary when some passing miscreant stops by and picks them all off.

Perhaps the website for the Olympia exhibition centre will reveal all. Does Who Do You Think You Are? Live, which starts today, merit the special Olympia service? Or next week's Data Centre World Conference & Expo, or mid-March's British & International Franchise Exhibition 2012? The website reveals nothing. Instead it parrots TfL's party line, which is that visitors should arrive by Overground via either Shepherd's Bush or West Brompton. And yes, that works - with more frequent trains, even if it is a slower, more roundabout route. But there's no hint on here of the District line's "normal" weekend service, let alone a list of the exhibitions which are to get regular weekday trains.

Which leaves the TfL website. Surely this will reveal whether trains are running to Kensington (Olympia) or not? But where? Not on the Live travel news page. This isn't a line closure, more a line opening, so it doesn't fit here. And it's not on the Kensington (Olympia) station page, nor on the attached timetable (which gives only the handful of weekday trains in the opposite direction). A list of opening dates, on some webpage somewhere, would be both sensible and practical, surely? But no.

Your only option is to dig around in the Journey Planner. Type in a journey to Olympia, either today or on some date in the future, to see if there's an option in the list where the last symbol's a tube roundel. If so, the special service is definitely running. If not, it probably isn't. To add to the fog, Journey Planner always splashes up a warning that the service might not be running, even slap bang in the middle of a journey where it quite blatantly is...
15:14 Earl's Court Underground Station
Take the District Line towards Kensington (Olympia) Underground Station

DISTRICT LINE TO KENSINGTON (OLYMPIA): The all day District Line service to Kensington (Olympia) has been withdrawn on Monday to Friday except for a very limited number of early morning and evening trains and during some events. Journey Planner will show when this service is operating. Reported: 10/02/12 17:52 Last Updated: 10/02/12 17:56
15:17 Kensington (Olympia) Underground Station
Head too far into the future and Journey Planner might be unreliable, so don't take a no-show as a definite negative. And remember, Journey Planner might help you to discover a simpler, quicker route to your destination, perhaps by Overground, by bus or on foot. Let's not get fixated on a runty infrequent District line spur service, as if it's somehow sacrosanct. Perhaps it's a deliberate thing that the Olympia service has been so heavily obscured, because then TfL can claim it's very rarely used and close the whole line down.

TfL won't spoonfeed you any Olympia information, they want you to dig. Everything's been hidden inside an online scheduler, rather than displayed in a public-facing timetable. Until that changes, potential travellers are lumbered with having to engage the online Journey Planner to answer a very simple Yes/No question?

Is the District line running to Kensington (Olympia) today?

And yes, yes, it is! Who knew?

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