diamond geezer

 Sunday, August 18, 2013

DISTRICT: (Olympia)

Are TfL trying to kill off the District line service to Kensington (Olympia)? That's either deliberately, or by default through a policy of passenger neglect. Here's some evidence for the prosecution.

1) On weekdays, only seven District line trains run from Kensington (Olympia) station. Five of these trains depart before 7am, so are essentially useless. Then there's a massive gap until 7.58pm, and the seventh and final train departs at 8.38pm. That's an incredibly passenger-unfriendly service.
2) On weekdays, only two District line trains run to Kensington (Olympia) station. The first of these is at 7.45pm, and the last is at 8.25pm. There are absolutely no trains to Kensington (Olympia) outside this single 40 minute period. That's a beyond-incredibly passenger-unfriendly service. (And OK, there is a reason for this. Earl's Court is such a complex junction that in 2011 TfL chose to withdraw most weekday services to Kensington (Olympia) to improve reliability and services on the other branches, the branches 99% of passengers actually use)
3) At weekends and on bank holidays, trains run to and from Kensington (Olympia) every 20 minutes. That's not a great service, but it's not a bad service all told, if only passengers were advised to use it.

4) An Olympia service also runs (every 30 minutes) for "some Olympia events only". But which Olympia events are these? Nobody's ever willing to tell. If you've been to the Great British Beer Festival this week, yes, there was an Olympia service. If you went to the 50+ Show last month, no there wasn't. There are never any posters to announce that a weekday Olympia service is running, nor any signs at any stations. And there's no information on the TfL website either, not unless you fire up the Journey Planner for your chosen day and see if an Olympia train comes up or not. It would be very very easy to have a webpage announcing which days the service was running, or to stick up a sign in a station somewhere, but TfL choose not to. Any weekday Olympia service is a secret service, discovered by accident, as if TfL would really rather you didn't use it.

5) If you go to the Olympia exhibition centre's website, they don't know whether the District line is running either. You'd think it would be important to them, but no, either they don't know or they're not going to tell you. Indeed, they go out of their way to discourage you from using the District line by placing it sixth on a list of rail lines you might use. Top of the list is the Overground, because that has the station's most frequent service. Second, unbelievably, is the Central line, which gets you to Olympia if you change at Shepherd's Bush for the Overground. Their third suggestion is the Piccadilly line, a 9 minute walk away, followed by the Circle and Hammersmith & City lines, "a 5 minute bus ride or 15 minute walk away". The District line limps in in last place, and even then the website recommends arriving via West Brompton or making an 8 minute walk from West Kensington. The dedicated shuttle appears only as an apologetic afterthought. "There is also an occasional service from Earls Court on weekends, and for some major events. Please check before you travel". Most Olympia exhibitions span the weekend, and at weekends the District line shuttle is one of the very best ways to get here. But nobody says that, nobody admits this is the case, because it seems nobody wants you to arrive this way.

6) If you turn up at Kensington (Olympia) to see if the District line is running there's only one clue - is there a District line train in platform 1 or not. If there is, great, go and sit on it. But if there isn't, is that because the train has departed or because there aren't any trains today? There are no clues on the platform, and the District line service never appears on the station's next train indicators even when it's running.

7) If you turn up at Earl's Court to see if the Kensington (Olympia) service is running there are a few clues. If the next train's going there, an arrow flashes up next to Olympia on the heritage Next Train Indicator board, bingo. If a train's heading there in the next 10 minutes or so, it appears on the smaller modern Next Train Indicator on the platform, hurrah. But if the next train's further away then there's silence. Does that silence mean no train soon, or no trains at all?

8) There is a Kensington (Olympia) timetable poster upstairs at Earl's Court, which you might see on your way in (but you won't see if you're changing trains). This features the normal weekly timetable (ie two trains on weekdays and trains every 20 minutes at weekends). But it doesn't say whether or not the Kensington (Olympia) service is running today if today is a weekday. The only message (in small print) is "Services also run to Kensington (Olympia) during some Olympia weekday events. For details visit tfl.gov.uk/journeyplanner or speak to a member of staff". I'm told that members of staff are often pretty clueless, offering vague, incorrect or conflicting advice. So good luck with that.

9) But there are big signs at Earl's Court to tell you how to get to Kensington (Olympia), hung high above the platforms between the Next Train Indicator arrows. These signs urge you get to Olympia in two steps, first taking a Wimbledon train to West Brompton, then changing there for the Overground. That works on any day of the week, no question. But it also takes at least three times longer, and that's only if you make a perfect connection. It also requires you to trek up and over a footbridge (and another footbridge) and down again at West Brompton, a very step-unfriendly journey. And it may mean cramming aboard an Overground service that's very busy, rather than a simple journey with a definite seat on the District. The big sign at Earl's Court does mention, in small print, that services to Kensington (Olympia) run at weekends and certain other times. But it doesn't recommend you to travel by District line at weekends, indeed it doesn't even mention the District line specifically. Instead a very deliberate choice has been made to promote the two-step Overground option, whatever the day of the week, even on days when the direct route may be better.

10) TfL have never said they want to close the District line spur to Kensington (Olympia). Indeed, closing a station is very difficult and generally requires government approval. But management of the District line would be much easier if the spur to Olympia didn't exist, reducing Earl's Court to a crossroads rather than a five-pointed junction. And TfL are certainly running the service down, with a woefully infrequent timetable and deliberately inadequate information. How long before the gods cast down a final thunderbolt and close the Olympia branch for good?

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