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July 27th, 2002

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06:14 pm - "...because it's there"

The classic reason for swimming the channel, or climbing Mount Everest, is "...because it's there". However, being disinclined towards such physical challenges (my ambitions to compete in a One Hour Decathlon have dried up overnight - funny, that) it's interesting to see what similar feats of intellectual challenge, entertainment and inherent pointlessness there are to be conquered. No wonder I'm so interested in games and puzzles.

The most entertaining piece of news I've found so far today is this story from This Is London. TIL's pages seem to be far worse for linkrot than most, so I shall summarise.

The London Underground light rail system is famously, wonderfully complex. A well-known challenge of logistics is to visit all its stations in the shortest length of time possible. Obviously, this is a moving target; new stations open and close all the time. When the hallowed Mornington Crescent was closed for rebuilding for five years, does this mean records have to be marked with an asterisk? Are you not permitted to try for the record on a Sunday because Chancery Lane is shut? What about Shoreditch, open a mere forty hours a week? Do you have to hit all the stations on the Docklands Light Railway as well? What about the Croydon Tramlink? What about the North London line? What about Epping to Ongar?

However, in the linked-to story, it turns out that a freelance sub-editor aged 24 called Jack Welsby has managed to visit all 275 stations in 19 hours, 18 minutes and 45 seconds, apparently breaking the previous record by almost 40 minutes. Well done, sir. I salute you! (I salute you! The dungeon salutes you!) Incidentally, I wouldn't be surprised if Jack were directed to this some day - heck, the sort of geek who performs the Tube Challenge is probably the same sort of geek who has a LiveJournal, and I know I'd add him to my Friends list if I ever found it.

That said, it's interesting to note that another gent named Geoff claims a record time of 19 hours, 35 minutes and 43 seconds, obtained on Thursday 27th June. From this we can conclude that Geoff did hold the world record, but only for 25 days before losing it to Jack. We also conclude that the people at Guinness World Records don't have their act together as well as they might do, or they would have been able to give a more accurate figure for the old record which was beaten. Hmm. This is strangely worrying - or, at least, worrying if I ever set a world record. (Fingers crossed, it was an arithmetic error on the part of This Is London, rather than an error at Guinness' end.)

To be fair, I think the reason why the record is restricted to the classic twelve lines (possibly classic eleven - I'm not sure if The Rules state you have to use the Waterloo & City to go between Monument/Bank and Waterloo) is that it sets a challenge which can be completed in a long single day. Given the current opening and closing times of the various tube lines, many more stations and it would no longer be possible. Maybe people will think again should 24-hour services ever take off. I dare say that the Tube Challenge world would probably not benefit from a bunch of splitters promoting separate records incorporating some combination or not of the DLR and so forth.

To be honest, the easiest way to get the record is to wait for some new chunk of Tube line to open and then go for an initial record ASAP afterwards. It would be interesting to know what the record was before the advent of the Jubliee Line Extension, for instance. One might expect the next such opportunity for a vacant record to be the extension of the East London line - which, I think, will pose severe difficulties to getting the entire map done in a day, especially if it has five different branches some of which only receive twice-an-hour service as has been mooted.

The only other probable relatively-imminent extension is the prospect of Heathrow Terminal 5, which will split the otherwise neat rounded end of the Picadilly line. Incidentally, I'm ever so slightly disappointed to see that the plans for Terminal 5 imply satellite buildings from the very start. Will they be Terminal 6, 7 and onwards (getting as bad as JFK...) or perhaps 5, 5a, 5b and 5c? More to the point, how will passengers get from the main building to the satellites? Will the other terminals have their own underground stations (presumably not, on the grounds that they might well represent airside territory only), will there be some sort of internal people mover, a long bank of moving walkways or - perish the thought - a boring old bus connecting them all.

After that, we have the prospect of CrossRail and the Hackney-Chelsea line. Incidentally, while it does make sense of the management of the two projects to be considered together rather than separately - integration is inherently good - I think it's inaccurate nomenclature to refer to them as CrossRail 1 and CrossRail 2, as I have seen listed in a few places. Hackney-Chelsea will have far more in common with the classic twelve tube lines than it ever will do with CrossRail in terms of ride experience. I'm not even sure that CrossRail 1 and 2 will connect with each other, though presumably so.

The real question, though, is "what colour will they draw these new lines on the map"? I submit an early guess of gold for Chelney, especially if they do call it the King's Line, and a chain of XXXXXXXX for CrossRail. Heck, they might even not connect the CrossRail stations on the map and just put a little CrossRail icon by the 6-7 stations on the line given how few of them there are. While we're sticking very-long-range predictions down, let me register a view that one of the major routes travelled on CrossRail in 2025 will be London Heathrow to London Cliffelizabethatcherblairbeckham.

Some other transport issues to discuss at the same time:

Surreal, benign civil disobedience is always fun. There is a famous web site (so famous that I can't remember the URL) in which people added some extra road signs warning of things like blobs, semi-colons and pleasant surprises to a sleepy town in South-West England. Entertainingly, someone has done something very similar for the tube. I particularly like the second one. In a sense, don't we all loop the loop at Clapham South?

Plans for trams in Kingston - though, interestingly, making little mention of the Heathrow-to-Kingston proposals we've heard in the past, which I would have thought had the most going for them. Look, trams are Good Things for big cities - Croydon is a smash success, Manchester is a smash succss, Sheffield is an eventual success and the Cross-River Transit will be an out-of-the-ballpark hit. Transport For London should be taking a much bigger interest in Croydon, Kingston and all the other privately-inspired tram proposals; the establishment of LU (now TfL) and amalgamation (effectively, publicisation) of several private concerns was less efficient than it need have been, so hopefully the same mistake will not be done with what will probably be a multitude of tram schemes in 10-15 years' time. (And, yes, they will all eventually link up - and they will be far more useful when they do.)

Unfortunately not all public transport schemes are successful. Look North on the BBC suggests that the Sunderland extension of the Tyne and Wear Metro has got off to a poor start. Supposedly the breakeven figure for the extension is 25,000 passengers per day and the first three months has seen actual figures of 9,000 to 12,000 pax/day. Eek! I suspect that Nexus, the operators, were actually expecting this and also expect the figures to pick up in time. The advertising has been pretty good, as far as I can tell, and I have seen nothing to suggest that they picked a bad route. Hopefully this flapping is deliberate on Nexus' part so that they have some excuse for shifting money around in some reason and that it's not really in trouble.

Incidentally, I am not aware of anyone having set a record for visiting all the stations of the Tyne and Wear Metro. However, given that it consists of two lines rather than twelve, the logistics required are not especially interesting; the times recorded would probably be rather out of your control, being based far more on the decisions of the driver than of the competitive passenger. I suspect that the record would tend to be improved by seconds, rather than by minutes. However, I may have a go at getting a time on the board at some point, just so somebody has. It's not a very attractive record given that it can probably be cracked in about two hours or so.

Do we get anything like this in this neck of the woods - any attempt to try to claim our own share of the government's billions? No, we do not. Well, that's a little unfair. We have the Tees Valley QUANGO Yadda Yadda Transportation Unit who have theoretically employed consultants to work on such a proposal, among other things, and a bunch of renegades from Redcar who naturally enough want their out-of-the-way town to be better connected.

To be fair, it might well turn out that the TVJSUTU proposal ("the way ahead is just to improve the heavy rail services of the region to a frequent, reliable clock-face service") is actually correct and that there isn't a convincing business case for it in this declining conurbation. Perhaps there would be more of a case for personal driverless taxis, though; their business case in Cardiff seems to have been made on an assumption of 5,000,000 passengers a year, which ain't really very many. I look forward to seeing whether the Cardiff proposals really do stand up in court. Maybe they, not trams, are really the way ahead after all?

1850+ words in about two and a half hours, but I've been doing a lot of searching while I've been writing - plus the Commonwealth Games have been on in the background, too.

I have been paid a couple of very gratifying compliments recently. Many thanks to flourish and the non-Journalist who knows who they are.
Current Mood: amusedamused
Current Music: Commonwealth Games (hockey, cycling... boxing at the moment)

(2 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:July 29th, 2002 11:17 pm (UTC)

This Tube Challenge thing sounds like a blast. I would imagine that it involves a lot of dashing, a la Run Lola Run, in order to get through the stations quickly. This is the kind of thing only a seriously random person would love... which is of course why it appeals to me! Of course, almost anything about underground trasportation appeals to me -- we don't have any in Florida. It's mostly rather flat, with a high water table. V. excited about riding on a train around England too; have only been on a train once.
[User Picture]
Date:July 30th, 2002 06:49 am (UTC)

Choo choo

Haven't seen Run Lola Run, but bizarre challenges with lots of dashing are indeed always good. Tampa and Miami are reasonably likely to have some sort of similar light rail service running in about 10-12 years' time.

The train service in Britain is not as reliable as anyone would like. In my experience something like 1 in 5 (maybe 1 in 3 at the very most) long-distance trains will either arrive late, depart late, go by an unexpected route, have to be replaced for part of their length by a bus service, have no air-conditioning, have no buffet car or have no free seats... the shorter distance trains tend to be a little better, but not necessarily very much.

Furthermore, train travel in Britain is quite expensive. (For the American meaning of "quite", not the British meaning.) I'd expect a single ticket from London to Lancaster to cost something like GBP 50 (*) but you should buy a Young Person's Railcard which will cost you something like GBP 20 plus two passport photos and will get you a third off (basically) all your train travel for the coming year. It'll probably pay for itself in its first journey.

However, trains remain the most convenient alternative for getting around the country. The only serious, generally applicable alternative is coach travel, which is typically 50% slower, about one-third cheaper, about half as comfortable and the services take place about a quarter as frequently. (Some routes have excellent coach services, but really very few.) Domestic flights exist but aren't generally cheap.

Furthermore, it is quite usual that you will buy your train ticket at the station with no notice and hop on a train straight away (+); it's not like flying where you need to spend two hours working which flight to get, give your name and address when you're booking, get to the airport two hours early, check in at the desk and so forth.

The novelty of travelling on trains is a joy, at least for a long while. I'm still at the point where I'm enjoying the novelty of flight.

(*) As ever, returns cost only a small fraction more than singles. Unfortunately the return half of return tickets are only valid for a month.

(+) Things get cheaper (sometimes up to 50% cheaper, but this means you can't use your Young Person's Railcard discount) if you book seats on specific trains two weeks plus in advance, but you lose a great deal of flexibility - and the service is good enough that the flexibility is convenient to use.

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