5 reasons to be proud of Britain’s trains

5 reasons to be proud of Britain's trains

3. Squeezing every drop of efficiency out of the system

Okay, so Britain might lack the shiny new trains and dizzying array of new lines that China is capable of building, but that doesn’t mean that we’re not masters of maximising what we do have. Just look at some of the ultra-detailed work carried out by Transport for London.


Have you ever wandered into the tube station at Euston and wondered why the in and out ticket barriers are not in a line? In fact, the two gate-lines (as they are known) are staggered for good reason: someone analysed what layout best facilitates the most efficient flow of passengers, and has found that not having everyone bunch around the same places means that more people can safely pass through the station.

This level of thought is shown throughout the London Underground. In 1991, when Angel station was rebuilt to use escalators instead of lifts, they had the foresight to build a whole new platform for the Northern Line so that the gap between north- and southbound would be much wider. This made the platforms larger, enabling more people to squeeze underground and meaning that boarding, alighting and processing people through the station became more efficient

Transport for London has a habit of carrying out tests to maximise what it’s doing. Earlier in the Crossrail build, unsure which material would be the most durable for new platforms, engineers installed two new surfaces – one made from granite, the other from terrazzo – into the floor at Victoria station, so that they would be able to see which is better at taking a heavy pounding from commuters.


TfL is also good at squeezing capacity out of the lines, too. In recent years, the Victoria and Jubilee Lines have received signalling upgrades that enable them to run trains closer together, and thus run more trains per hour – without having to build any new lines or stations.

You can see how carefully TfL thinks about design by looking at the recently released “design idiom” document, which is essentially a design Bible for any future stations and upgrades. Just as the famous roundel immediately signals that you’re at a tube station, the agency wants the rest of its design to have some degree of consistency so that stations become more intuitive. The designs in the idiom won’t look too radically different to anyone who has travelled on the post-1999 Jubilee Line Extension (linking Westminster to Stratford), but what is new is the suggestion that lighting could be better used to highlight where exits are found. The station of the future should hopefully allow passengers to move around more quickly by pointing them in the right direction subconsciously.

Most recently, as has been widely reported, TfL committed a heresy at Holborn tube station and instructed commuters to break London’s cardinal sin and stand on the left of escalators, as well as the right, to see if everyone standing still means that it will be less congested at the top by the ticket barriers. This culture of experimentation means that, even if we don’t have the biggest transport network, London will hopefully still be able to cope with a growing population.

All photos copyright of TfL

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