Category Archives: Commuting

Improving the commute – Part 2: the legacy of history

Much of the rail infrastructure in the UK dates back a good century or more. This leaves us with a mixed legacy of inspiring architecture but also slow journeys, limited capacity and antiquated practices.

Rickmansworth station and the line it is built on are no exception. It seems unlikely that the tight curves of the line and the short platform wedged between two bridges would have been considered if the station and line were built today. However this the legacy with which we have to live.

The whole line to Aylesbury is itself something of a peculiarity of history. Built by the Metropolitan Railway deep into rural Buckinghamshire, the quite separate Grand Central Railway arranged the share the line for its trains to travel into London. Although both companies are long gone, the relative successors of both, TfL’s Metropolitan Line and Chiltern Railways, continue to play somewhat similar roles.

We need to understand the history of the line, not just to appreciate the limits imposed on the service today but also to show that the train service Rickmansworth receives has not always been as it is today.

How Rickmansworth used to be served

Old timetables aren’t easy to come by, but those available online indicate that in the past some elements of Ricky’s train service were better than it is today:

There are fewer Marylebone trains, fewer Metropolitan Line trains and longer journey times today compared to past timetables. And of course we’ve lost the link to Watford Junction.

The campaign

There’s historical precedent for a better service than we receive today. As rail usage continues to rise we should be demanding more trains, more capacity and faster journeys. Not only should service match that of the past, it needs to better it.

According to Wikipedia Metropolitan Line trains ran at 70mph until the 1990s when they were reduced to 50mph to help maintain the ageing trains. The line speed was also dropped, affecting Chiltern services also. As new Metropolitan Line trains are introduced we need to push for a train and line speed increase as quickly as possible. The new trains are initially set to have a top speed of 62mph, however we should push for 70mph to be reinstated at the earliest opportunity.

Chiltern Railways services need to call at Rickmansworth station during peak periods. Without these Rickmansworth remains underserved compared to all other stations on the line, most being much smaller in size and far less used than Rickmansworth station. Chiltern don’t seem to be required to serve Rickmansworth during the peak, so an argument needs to be put to the regulatory bodies for this to be required in the future.

Still not convinced?

In part 3 we’ll be looking at how the service compares with others today and highlight some stats that will show that there’s little to inspire in the service we receive.

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Improving the commute – Part 1: why we should care

I normally spend around an hour commuting to work and other back. Two hours of my day that are often spent in rather too cramped and close company with strangers than I would certainly choose to be. A bad commute can cause stress bearly before the day has begun or can ruin an evening. I’m a firm believer that commuters should take an active interest in this important part of their day and not sit by the passively British way when conditions are below standard.

For 3/4 of a year I’ve commuted from Rickmansworth to central London. On a good day it can be passable and tolerable. On a bad day it can be extremely long, awfully crowded and thoroughly uncomfortable. Now, I’ve commuted from a good few places in London in the past and have become used to busy, basic inner-London commuter trains. However, moving beyond the boundaries of London made me hope that a better commute would accompany the other improvements in living standard. So far I’ve not been impressed.

My feeling is that the service could and should be better. While changing the status quo with large transport operators is unlikely to ever be easy, this does not put me off trying. After all, if we don’t make our grievences known, why should we expect anything to change? Action may not produce quick results, but fighting our corner and arguing for a decent service can only help going forward.

A big part in making an argument is to be informed and empowered. Most commuters may be all too familiar with their own commute but are likely unaware how it compares with commutes on other, similar routes. Perhaps if they did they’d feel all the more compelled to taking action. Many facts and figures that would assist a campaign aren’t made very public friendly, however they are out there if you know where to look.

In this series of blog posts I’m going to try to better empower other commuters to make their views known and hopefully also reveal just how good or bad commuters in Rickmansworth and the local area actually have it.

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Empower the commuter

Commuting to and from London on a daily basis can at times be a tricky and frustrating experience, especially if there are problems on the line. Given a long day of work to contend with, I suspect most commuters, like me, just want the process of getting to and from work to be straightforward and as painless as possible.

How busy are trains from Watford Junction on the morning commute?
How busy are trains from Watford Junction on the morning commute?

I’m a big believer that passengers or customers, call them what you will, should be kept informed. This allows them to better manage their journey and might well help the service all. I was therefore impressed today to come across London Midland’s feature listing how busy peak trains are to and from town. Customers become empowered; they can see at a glance their chance of getting a seat on each service, which, if they’re like me, is a big factor when deciding when the travel.

I really wish this was a feature provided by all train companies, indeed the Underground too. Instead on the whole we gradually and through no end of trial and error try to piece together when works well and which journeys will be hell. However if the companies are collecting this information anyway – and let’s face it they must do to some extent – why not make it available and empower the customers?

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