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Colin Randall wrote here on France, things Anglo-French and more......but has moved

December 04, 2006

Lines of disservice

This site has now moved to Salut!

Imagine the Paris Métro has closed an important section of line one between La Défense and Château de Vincennes. Other parts of the Métro, including the link to Orly airport, are disrupted, too.

Two things would not be happening. No member of staff would be anywhere near a platform to explain to frustrated would-be travellers what was going on, or advise them what to do next.

And no announcement would be made informing people that a good service was operating on all lines.


London does it differently. When I was back there a few days ago, part of the vital Piccadilly Line service to Heathrow was suspended. There were no District Line trains from Acton Town to Ealing Broadway. Another line, from memory the Circle, was experiencing its own problems.

None of which was enough to discourage the cheery London voice from informing passengers, as you have already guessed, that a good service was operating on all lines.

At least London Underground could not be blamed for the grim onward journey to Luton Airport.

The signs said my train was on time, but a verbal announcement warned passengers needing to travel beyond Luton that they would have to take a replacement bus service. Then the phrase "on time" assumed new meaning as the number of minutes to arrival began to rise rather than fall.

When the train eventually turned up, it managed only a short distance before shuddering to the first of three or four stops between stations. Each halt lasted several minutes. Even when the train started to move again, that movement was painfully slow.

Every so often, a muffled voice would appear from a speaker on the roof of the carriage. The word "problem" could be discerned, but little else.

Finally we reached St Albans. There the train stopped, seemingly for good. Loud, clear public address announcements informed people that nothing was moving southbound.

By the time anyone could be persuaded to add some information for those of us stuck on the northbound train - information that turned out to be no more encouraging - passengers were beginning to scuttle off towards the taxi rank.

The usual suspicion in such circumstances is that your train will suddenly depart just as you climb the stairs and spot a queue a mile long for cabs. There seemed little such risk this time, and within a few minutes I was sharing a taxi with a Scot and a German also with flights to catch.

A couple from Waterford (is there anywhere planes don't go to these days?) pooled resources with a Swiss girl. Two builders from County Tyrone were already on their way, having opted much sooner to flee the train.

The German, perhaps dreaming of a return to a more efficient world after five years in England, was pessimistic about our chances. But he knew the area well and gave useful running commentary on our progress towards Luton. The Scot, most at risk of missing departure, thrust two Scottish fivers into the German's hands, promised (correctly) that they were legal tender and talked of making a sprint for his flight the moment we reached the airport.

In the event, I think we all caught our planes, having added £31 between us to the cost of getting from London to Luton. In my case, the RER and Métro then got me back into central Paris in no time.

There is no particular moral to just one more example of transport misery. The French railway worker's fondness for his strike, or mouvement social, has ensured a few hairy races against time from Châtelet to Charles de Gaulle. And if the Métro seems more reliable than the Tube, that may be because it is a smaller, more compact system.

But I was left with little sympathy for the Livingstone/Delanoë approach to getting around and out of capital cities.

Ban cars by all means, chaps, but not before you can assure travellers of a first class public transport network that actually works. Posted by Picasa
* Picture courtesy of Paul Cooper

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This site has now moved to Salut!


At December 04, 2006 11:41 AM, Blogger Colin Randall said...

Apologies to anyone who tried to read this post when the first few paragraphs were unaccountably missing......a good service, I hope, has now been restored to all lines

At December 04, 2006 1:42 PM, Blogger PhilB said...

Mishaps when you're travelling, and trying to reach connecting flights, are the worst sort. Recently I was returning from Florida to France through London, and though everything was going to be cheery... until on my arrival at Heathrow I discovered the connecting flight was leaving from Gatwick. Our travel agent had neglected to inform us, or even notice, this rather important detail of our travel arrangements.

I was there with my girlfriend and my three children, and enough bags to load down ten sherpa guides, and just moving this mountain of luggage into a shuttle bus - what turned out to be the wrong shuttle bus - was nearly impossible.

Needless to say, we missed our flight; we arrived ten minutes after they had closed boarding, and even though there were some 45 minutes or so before departure, we couldn't get on board. We did eventually get home, but it was one h@ll of a trip.

I think public transport rhymes with snafu. If it isn't strikes, it's somebody bollocksing things up, sometimes with far-reaching consequences. But what can you do? I don't really see any proper solution.

Cheers, --- Phil

At December 04, 2006 2:52 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Ken Livingstone should probably start by bringing back the Routemaster bus. No, it wouldn't solve anything but it would be a gesture of good faith and they're pretty few and far between these days. Meanwhile, I'm flying from Toronto to Rome at the end of the year, routed through Heathrow. It's not something I'm looking forward to one bit.

At December 04, 2006 3:23 PM, Anonymous hardhat said...

Let's spare a thought for Rome and Heathrow as well.

At December 04, 2006 4:00 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Hard hat, soft head. How sad.

At December 04, 2006 5:08 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good luck going through Heathrow - it must be the dirtiest airport in Europe. Going to NY I routed through Brussels on the way out which gets 10 out 10 for cleanliness - I missed my return flight and was routed through Heathrow where I had to spend the day waiting for a connexion - it was horrific. After four hours at JFK + a nine hour flight, I was longing, indeed gasping, for a cigarette ... they have a smoking room about the size of a toilet with ventilators installed - the nicotine was literally running down the walls - okay, so I shouldn't smoke but I do - so I smoked outside the smoking room and of course nearly got arrested ... finished the cigarette though!

At December 04, 2006 5:29 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

With only a handful of exceptions, airports in general are becoming more and more like bus stations (though buses are rather more comfortable than the economy section of an airliner these days). And in the U.S., they're so paranoid about security that it adds needless insult (they seem to think that being even remotely pleasant lessens their effectiveness) to injury.

At December 04, 2006 6:10 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey, Bill! English security has been trained by the Americans at Heathrow and Gatwick - don't joke, you will be hauled to one side in a flash!

Despite all their controls, it would appear that it isn't too difficult to get into the country with some polonium-210 - they are so busy making you throw away your bottled water and toothpaste that obviously something as mundane as radioactive material is overlooked.

At December 04, 2006 6:28 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

I've been to China twice and getting in and out of there is easier (seriously) than getting into the U.S. When you fly to the States from Toronto, you go through U.S. customs and immigration at the airport here and it can be a nightmare. Talk about being a foreigner in your own country. My wife, born and raised in the U.S., is routinely given a hard time because she also now has Canadian citizenship. The American officials, conveniently forgetting that they, too, live in Toronto, seem to take it as a personal insult.

At December 04, 2006 8:42 PM, Blogger richard of orléans said...

In Paris the other day I saw a novel approach to creating traffic jams. The new tramway blocks up the key traffic route, the Boulevards Marechaux. So of course they were running the tramway smack in the middle of the rush hour to maximise the congestion. Normal you say, people want to get home on the tramway. Not quite. The tramway was taking no passengers.

At December 05, 2006 3:28 AM, Anonymous Sedulia said...

The mayor has the commendable aim of lowering pollution by decreasing automobile traffic. But what about first insuring people will be able get around some other way?

That's the missing part of his equation.

(Enjoying your blog. What about a photo of the view before you leave?)

At December 05, 2006 11:32 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

All my flying is done these days from Montpellier to Stansted. The design of Montpellier airport is such that there is no public viewing area of the aircraft taking off and landing. Not even from the restaurant. You only have this privilege if you have a ticket to fly. Seems a bit of a shame really.

At December 05, 2006 2:37 PM, Blogger Bill Taylor said...

Do people still go to airports to watch airliners landing and taking off? Other than rabid planespotters?


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