Opinion / Chris Peterson

Such a capital travel experience

By Chris Peterson (China Daily Europe) Updated: 2016-09-23 07:59

The quirks and delights of getting about in London

I'm a little weary of writing about the ongoing saga of Brexit, the now resolved case of Hinkley Point, the protracted death throes of the opposition Labour Party, and the ghastly UKIP crew who have done so much to push Britain into an unnecessary crisis.

So I thought I'd switch focus this week and look at London's overcrowded yet wide-reaching transport system. After all, I love to travel.

London, may be crowded, trains and tubes may run late, and traffic can sometimes be a nightmare. Sometimes, however, something happens to throw into sharp relief my chosen subject.

It happened as I was starting to write this column in my head. At around breakfast time, reports starting coming in of a train derailment just northwest of London. By the time I reached the office, it had become clear that a landslide caused by heavy rain had derailed a commuter train, which had then hit another train. By some miracle, no one was badly hurt.

Such a capital travel experience

To be honest, these things are rare in the UK. But here's the thing - the reason I knew so much about this incident was that a passenger on the derailed train was an old friend, Sarah Lowther, who in the past has contributed to China Daily's European edition.

Pro that she is, within minutes of the accident, Sarah was posting pictures and a commentary on Facebook, despite being a bit shaken up and suffering a sore neck. But she's OK.

Sarah is from Hartlepool, a gem of a seaport town on England's northeast coast, where my family come from - they breed 'em tough up there. Anyway, I digress.

London's lucky enough to have a widespread network of underground trains, known universally as The Tube, complemented by a great system of buses and suburban commuter trains.

Nothing, of course, is perfect, and the suburban commuter trains in particular throw up their specifically British idiosyncrasies. They can be late, crowded and noisy.

Such a capital travel experience

One of the most depressing phrases in the English language, often heard as I climb the stairs to the London-bound platform at Westcombe Park, is "Southeastern apologizes for the late running of this train " followed by that day's particular excuse.

The following reasons for delayed trains have been given regularly: Crew late in reporting for duty, leaves on the line, frozen points, sunshine in the drivers' eyes, unruly passengers on the train (at 9 am?), heavy rain, and (almost daily) signalling problems, which usually translates as thieves having stolen the copper wire used to link signals in the night.

Buses, by and large, lead a charmed life, having as they do their own dedicated bus lanes.

They will soon, I hope, get even better, as a Chinese vehicle manufacturer has teamed up with a British bus maker to introduce London's first all-electric double-decker, which I hope will improve the air quality as they gradually replace the fume-belching diesels we have at present, although to be fair some of those have become hybrids.

Air travel is a mixed blessing. Yes, it's terrific that my wife and I were able to fly from London to Toulouse at a seriously cheap fare. It's great that we were able to travel down to Gatwick on a dedicated fast train right into the heart of the airport.

But it's a serious pain in the backside that you then have to go through a security process that can take up to half an hour, longer on busy days. And I bitterly resent having to take my belt off.

Now, where are the keys to my car?

The author is managing editor of China Daily European Bureau. Contact the writer at

(China Daily European Weekly 09/23/2016 page11)

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