Once again trouble on the North London Silverlink line getting in this morning. As I arrived to catch the 9.02 down to the ‘Bury, the previous Clapham train was standing stationery, its bowels of commuters waiting anxiously on the platform or crowding around the poorly informed driver who could give us no more information than the displays and was clearly misunderstanding people’s irritation as directed at him. It isn’t, but he is a representative of a corporate entity, that despite the poor investment and populist government and tax policy, should treat its customers as… customers and attempt to break through the lexicon of ‘displaced stock’, ‘understaffing’, ‘technical problems’ and try to be a little more human.

The train itself was one of the gleaming new ones they have introduced quite recently… Seemingly based on the European paradigm of open plan interlinked coaches (these are safer as provide more visibility and accessibility throughout), they are clean, silent, air conditioned even… Yet they don’t seem popular with my fellow passengers. The older trains were slower, less smooth running and probably held fewer punters at capacity but somehow created a feeling of community. Each carriage was different in layout so depending on which end of the train you boarded, the journey home had a different flavour, people talked to each other, drawn together by the familiarity of the surroundings. These new trains are a triumph of design over usability… Yes they carry more people, and I am sure I will thank the aircon in high summer, but I am not sure whether the human element was considered enough…

As daily inhabitants of the transport network, in which many of us spend many hours a week (someone called it the ‘sixth day at work’), we rightly feel, and should be granted, some ownership over our environment. For once, the clean, sparse, minimal lines I so adore in the design and architecture of public spaces seems to fail. Perhaps the designers of these projects could learn something from the chaos, inefficiency and inherent humanity we all find at our homes…

Related to this there is a nice (but slightly dated) article here on home working and how to balance the peace and focus home can offer against the domestic backdrop and its inevitable distractions.


One thought on “Wrong kind of… people in the trains?

  1. You see I don’t agree with that at all. The old stock was barely fit for purpose, with the narrow bottlenecks around each compartment and the narrow spaces between columns of seat blocks. Getting on those trains at 8.30am was a lottery, and once on there, you were in sardine class. As for a feeling of community, I’m not sure what strength your rose-tinted glasses are, but the only communication I’ve ever witnessed on that line in my 4 years travelling it daily was the odd suck of the teeth and mumbled apology as a fellow fishy’s elbow scraped somewhere delicate.

    The new stock may be stark and functional, but at least I can play my PSP in peace without smelling what my fellow passengers had for breakfast.

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