diamond geezer

 Thursday, November 19, 2015

(Note to self: try to write a post soon that isn't about TfL)

The Ruislip Lido Railway is a fantastic miniature railway line in northwest London operated entirely by volunteers. It runs for a mile around the edge of Ruislip Lido and is Britain's longest 12 inch gauge railway. It runs afternoons only during the school holidays and pretty much every weekend (including this weekend, if you're interested). It has two stations, one at Woody Bay near the beach and one at Willow Lawn near the car park. It's a great little trip as part of a fun afternoon out. It's very reasonably priced. And back in July TfL added it to their Journey Planner.

They were very proud of the fact, and rightly so, publishing a special post on the TfL Digital blog announcing what they'd done. They explained that the Ruislip Lido Railway and associated places of interest were "now available in our Journey Planner solutions". They said this meant customers using the TfL website could now plan their trip from home to Woody Bay without the need to navigate to another website to plan other legs of the same journey. They alerted app designers that the new Ruislip Lido data was now available in the Open Data API used by developers. And they summed the whole thing up as being able to "catch the big train, to the little train!"

And it almost works. If you'd like to play along and give it a try, get yourself over to the TfL Journey Planner and have a go. You'll need to make sure you've set the date and time to a weekend afternoon, say this Sunday at 2pm, because the RLR doesn't run on Thursdays. TfL's web developers have been clever enough to incorporate the proper timetable into the Journey Planner, so it will indeed deliver a correct result.

But good luck working out what precisely to type into the destination box. Typing 'Woody Bay' doesn't seem to work, it brings up a point which doesn't seem to exist and then the error message "Journey planner could not find any results to your search". Typing 'Willow Lawn' does bring up 'Willow Lawn Station, Ruislip, Greater London HA4 7TS', but this turns out to be 5 minutes walk from the station and is no use in planning a follow-on journey. Typing in 'Ruislip Lido' doesn't help, and neither does 'Ruislip Common'. Only if you think to type in 'Ruislip Lido Railway' and then do a search do the relevant points of departure appear. And then it's all brilliant.

And I bring all this up, four months late, because of the cablecar. Bear with me on this.

When it's a bit windy, services on the cablecar have to be suspended. TfL never use the word 'suspended' on their Status updates webpage, because in one sense of the word a cablecar always is, and gentle mocking on social media would ensue. But neither do they use the word 'closed', preferring instead to describe closure as a 'Special service'. Is this euphemism because winds could ease at any minute and the cablecar come back on line, or is it that TfL would rather not frighten off any potential passengers who might be on their way to visit? And look, there's even a contradictory message underneath which says 'Good service', when the service is clearly anything but. What is going on?

High winds cause another inexplicable issue, as you can see from the screenshot below, which is that the adjacent map clearly states 'There are currently no major line disruptions reported on the network'. There clearly are such disruptions when the entire cablecar 'network' is closed due to high winds, but the line diagram on the website seemingly chooses not to mention this.

Full details of the closure are only made clear if you choose to click on the box that reads 'Emirates Air Line - Special service' to read the current status. And here's the truth... EMIRATES AIRLINE: No Service due to high winds. This state of play can last for hours, indeed last Sunday it was mid afternoon before gusts diminished sufficiently to allow cross-river travel. Only if you've decided to dig this deep is the cablecar's non-functional status finally revealed. But have you spotted the truly mysterious thing about all of this? Also uncovered at the bottom of the fully-opened status box is an extra line of information which concerns the RLR, or Ruislip Lido Railway!

For reasons which don't entirely make sense, the Ruislip Lido Railway has been added to the rainbow board on the TfL website Status update page. The designated colour is black, which is a bit dull, but presumably all the other good colours were already taken. This kind of modal presence isn't entirely without precedent - click on another tab and each of Croydon's tram routes appear, while six different river services are shown elsewhere. But the inclusion of the RLR under the Emirates Air Line tab goes beyond rhyme and reason.

What's more, the RLR status update always shows a Good service, even when the railway is closed. This is partly because it's not a TfL service, but mostly because nobody in Ruislip is providing TfL with regular updates on the status of the line. If a family of ducks wander onto the lido-side tracks this will never be displayed as 'Minor delays', and if a derailment causes trains to turn back at Haste Hill Halt we'll never see 'Part suspended'. Whilst it may be utterly charming to see a London-based miniature railway given prominence on the Status updates page, it is alas also entirely pointless.

The RLR's status is seemingly a permanent presence on the cablecar tab, you may even have spotted it earlier on in today's post. That contradictory message saying 'Good service' had nothing to do with the Emirates Air line having a Special service, it was instead the service update for the Ruislip Lido Railway. Indeed if you're on the Journey Planner and you drag your cursor across the blank space at the start of the 'Good service' line, the three letters RLR can be revealed. White writing on a white background doesn't generally show up, indeed it's quite a good way of hiding text, but the three letter acronym is absolutely definitely there.

It's fair to say that TfL are fully aware of this 'RLR' issue after it was pointed out to them on social media yesterday. They also tweeted yesterday to apologise that the cablecar's status update "isn't correct and is being fixed" - it appeared to be showing Special service no matter what, although this morning it's being better behaved. It's not a great state of affairs when you get a far better idea of the cablecar's operational status from Twitter than from the TfL website itself, because these things are supposed to be reliable. So it may be that by the time you read this the whole thing has been cleared up and the RLR aberration has disappeared. Aww, shame, it was a delightful idea while it lasted.

(Note to self: well at least it wasn't about buses)

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