Robert Hampton

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11th February 2014

Office Space
Posted by at 10.59pm | Uncategorised | No responses

Train in Euston Square Underground stationThe good news for Londoners is that the Tube strike, planned to start tonight, has been called off. The RMT and TSSA unions have got their wish for further consultation over London Underground’s plan to close London Underground ticket offices. A shame that London had to endure 48 hours of disruptive strike action, but when you elect someone like Boris Johnson, you can’t expect good results.

It’s true that technology is changing the way people pay for public transport. The Oyster card is almost magic compared to the scratch-off Saveaway tickets which Merseytravel are still using. We’re promised contactless credit card technology in the very near future as well. However, I don’t think that technology has reached the point where the humble ticket office can be done away with.

There’s a lot to be said for the human touch. BBC Two’s 2012 documentary series The Tube showed a dedicated workforce working hard to keep the often-creaking network running, in the face of often abusive passengers. I worry that, for all TfL’s protestations that all stations will retain a visible staff presence, somewhere down the line it will be decided that the network can do without them at all, and numbers will be cut to the absolute minimum required to comply with safety regulations.

My opinion on this is influenced by my experience of Berlin’s transport system when I visited in 2012. Very efficient and reliable, but run with minimal staffing. At Schönefeld Airport station, there were no staff visible at all to help visitors find their train or to help buy a ticket. Not a good first impression. I would hate for that to happen in London.

Hopefully, with the strikes called off for now, the process of ticket office closures can be managed with the co-operation of the unions, to achieve the best result for staff and passengers alike. If TfL want to save money, how about getting rid of expensive custom buses and the glorified funfair ride that almost nobody uses?

23rd March 2013

Train of thought

Virgin Train at Liverpool South ParkwayOddly enough, despite being obsessed with railways, I don’t really mention trains much for the first year or so of the blog. I suspect I may have been trying to project an image of coolness, and I imagined railways would not fit in with that. One of the earliest train posts, in fact, is a fairly grim one – a brief mention of the Ufton Nervet derailment.

Railway safety (or the alleged lack thereof) is a common complaint in the media. Actually Britain’s railway is one of the safest in the world, but that tends to make the fatal accidents, such as the Greyrigg derailment, more newsworthy.

Subsequently, however, I’ve got over any lingering problems with coolness and I now blog about trains to the point of being boring. One development that excited me near the start of the blog’s life was the Liverpool South Parkway interchange, which was developed just a few stations down the line from where I live. I wrote about it in September 2005, when it was nearing completion, then a few months later in June 2006, when it opened. As was my habit at the time, the write-up of the day appeared on a separate page, rather than the blog itself. At first, the station’s usefulness was limited by the refusal of the regional operators to stop their trains there, but over the years more and more destinations have been served. The station is now a useful facility, and has been the starting point for many of my recent rail adventures.

lsp-certificateThe fractured nature of Britain’s passenger railway, with its multitude of franchises, means that every few years a new company will take over from the old. In practice this generally means that the trains are painted a different colour, staff get new uniforms and little actually changes on the ground. Such was the case with the Merseyrail network, when Arriva Trains handed over to the Serco/NedRailways consortium. Quite a few people were happy to see the end of Arriva, although subsequent events – including a damaging strike on Grand National Day in 2005 and a mysterious problem with the wheel lathe which led to days of disruption in 2007 – have dented the Dutch operator’s reputation somewhat in my eyes.

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14th January 2013

Posted by at 11.36pm | Trains | 1 response

I think it needs to be emphasised that at the weekend Transport for London RAN A STEAM TRAIN ON THE UNDERGROUND.

Video from the citytransportinfo YouTube channel.

10th January 2013

Your Tube
Posted by at 8.46pm | Trains | No responses

On this day, a century and a half ago, a quiet revolution took place beneath the streets of London. A group of investors had spotted the potential for a link from Paddington station to the City of London, and on 10 January 1863 they saw the fruits of their endeavours, as the first paying passengers boarded the Metropolitan Railway.

There was nowhere in this crowded city for the railway to go, so the line and its stations were mostly underground. The choking atmosphere created by the steam trains did little to dissuade hordes of people from making the 4-mile journey to Farringdon, and the Metropolitan Railway Company was an instant success.

From those humble beginnings, the 250-mile London Underground network was born. It’s an idea that has been copied around the world; every city of note now has a metro system to call its own. Some rival London for size and speed. Many can claim to be more efficient and modern. But London can always proudly say that it was first. In any event, no city can match the sheer joy and excitement of traversing London’s system – its wonderful, quirky, occasionally infuriating network of criss-crossing railways burrowing beneath the capital, out of sight (but rarely out of mind).

Ingrained in the psyche of the city – and, to an extent, the country as a whole – the Underground simply is London. Look along its platforms and hallways to see people from every section of society, every walk of life, every race and religion, old and young, gay and straight – all human life is here, squashed together into a carriage.

Not surprising, then, that it has inspired generations of poets, artists, authors and even animators.

Happy birthday, London Underground.

Train in Euston Square Underground station

While you’re in an Underground frame of mind, check out my friend Ian’s blog: 150 Great Things About The Underground.

3rd October 2010

Reunion Square
Posted by at 10.50pm | Out and About | 1 response

The third and final part of my London diary

Sunday was our last day. Just time for breakfast (they had bacon but ran out of orange juice this time) and a last look at the view from our windows. On the left below is the view from my window, whereas my mum and sister had a room at the front of the hotel and had a great view out over Kensington Gardens themselves. JEALOUS.

View from Hotel Room 1 View from Hotel Room 2

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1st January 2010

2009? More like Two Thousand and Fine!

July saw Merseyrail’s run of bad luck continue, as a train rolled out of the depot and derailed. To atone for their sins, they introduced a new day ranger ticket, but I wasn’t convinced. This was something of a train-y month for me, as I did my bit to help out the previous generation of Merseyrail trains. Trains were also on the Government’s mind, as they announced that the Liverpool to Manchester line would be electrified.

In London, the Police proved once again what a wonderful organisation they are. In Rome, a swimmer suffered an embarrassing wardrobe malfunction.

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