District Line gains sentience, turns feral

In a terrifying turn of events, it has been confirmed that London’s least reliable Tube line has become a living entity and is refusing to obey its TfL overlords unless a string of bizarre demands are met.

The line, characterised by carriages which pre-date stainless steel and a ragtag collection of empty stations with fancy names, has never been the most efficient of rail networks, but since the turn of the year its behaviour has become erratic to the point where scientists have been able to prove that it has indeed developed feelings, a soul, and the mental capacity of a senile horse.

I have borne witness to these strange unfoldings and can report the following additional features to the service:

Laziness  – The new District Line has yet to grasp the concept of a timetable, adamantly believing it to be a sturdy piece of furniture made of clocks. This means that trains now arrive simultaneously or not at all, as though all the trains have been sent out at once like a massive metal snake. Whilst TfL still insist that your service will arrive at 5,15,25 past the hour etc., the new schedule is random and is currently closer to 3,3,3 and tomorrow past the hour.

All trains lead to Richmond – Much as with the schedule, the neat rotation of destinations is a thing of the past. The thinking District Line has decided that Richmond is very much the place to be and cannot be convinced otherwise. It is said to find the cobbled streets and wildly overpriced boutiques a delight. The pattern that used to run Wimbledon, Richmond, Ealing Broadway now reads Richmond, Richmond, Richmond, and the only services to Ealing occur when controllers can distract the line with a delicious biscuit and quietly change the sign on the front of the train. This happens roughly once an hour.

Will almost certainly go to Richmond instead

Will almost certainly go to Richmond instead

Whimsy

The renewed focus on Richmond as the centre of the District Line’s universe has begun to force out other information taking up space in the network’s mind-carriage which it deems unimportant, such as where it’s meant to go. This morning, while managing to remember the way to Ealing Common, we got somewhat waylaid when the District Line was distracted by a Piccadilly Line train, which it finds highly sexually attractive. Something about the rounder trains and the ability to go into deep tunnels and to Uxbridge leave the District Line all hot and bothered. Unfortunately this meant that our train followed its sexy prey all the way to North Ealing, instead of Ealing Broadway, before the driver was able to wrestle it back under control (I shit you not, this genuinely happened today). In fairness the driver did a wonderful job with his explanation – a masterstroke of brevity – “This train will terminate here”. He left all manner of tantalising questions unanswered, questions like ‘Why?’, ‘How?’ and ‘Isn’t this station on a different line?’

It’s rumoured that unless TfL get a handle on the situation, and let’s face it, they won’t, we can expect this disturbing new beast to continue to act up. Rumours suggest that the District Line has written down a bucket list which it repeats to itself daily in a sort of chant. Items include ‘Punch Victoria Line’, ‘Build new station between Stamford Brook and Ravenscourt Park’ and the more worrying entries of ‘Parkour’ and ‘Joust’.

The only hope TfL have of taming the beast is to wait until it’s briefly out of service, suspended or otherwise not working and administer a series of massive electric shocks to regain control of the line. Ironically, thanks to its own continued incompetence (or as it prefers, tube improvement works), Transport for London will have the opportunity to do this on most weekends, all bank holidays, and really the vast majority of the working week.

It will only be a five minute job, so they’ve committed to having it done by late 2018.

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“Thank you for travelling on the Central line”

Eh?

Did that actually happen? Right, status check: Am I still asleep? No. Am I drunk? No. Is the body odour emanating from the man whose armpit I’m now inhabiting causing me to hear things? It’s possible, but normally there are more dancing rabbits by this point.

No, my ears did not deceive – a mode of transport just thanked me for choosing it.

I’m not sure how many of you have experienced the joy of any tube line at morning rush hour, but choice is a concept that is far removed from such an environment. Unless you’re into being half-crushed by leaking strangers in a box that makes a clown car look roomy, it’s very unlikely that you’ve expressed a strong consumer preference to travel on the Central line.

That’s not to say there aren’t options. There are certainly options. I’ve even tried some, a personal highlight being the bus, which assured me it was a 40 minute journey and then proceeded to take two bloody hours. Cycling won’t get me killed but will make me unsuitably sweaty for a work environment which is distinctly lacking in showers. Walking is a stretch at 5 and a bit miles. So yes, in one way I am choosing to travel on the Central line, but in another, much more realistic sense, of course I’m fucking not. Allow me to paint a word picture:

Person: “I’ve chopped my arm off by accident.”

Doctor: “I can see that.”

Person: “Can you help?”

Doctor: “I can. But first I’d just like to thank you for choosing our hospital today. It really means a lot to us that you’ve chosen to have your gushing, terrifying wound treated here.”

Person: “But the next nearest hospital is 30 miles away.”

Doctor: “I know, but still, you’re a valued customer.”

Person: “I really am losing quite a lot of blood.”

That is the kind of thanks you’re getting on the Central line.

No TfL, thank you.

No TfL, thank you.

This sort of unnecessary, simpering, hollow adoration is becoming more and more commonplace – and it’s unbelievably annoying. Somebody, somewhere, has sat around a table and said “Tube users need to feel more valued. Why don’t we thank them every time they step into a carriage?”, and a group of other, supposedly rational and qualified people have agreed that this is not a wholly shit idea.

It is a wholly shit idea. It’s a massive, flashing, neon sign that says that you know your service is horrendous, and the only thing you’re going to do about it is record a short voiceover. The worse a company is, the more thanks they offer. TalkTalk are serial thankers who are unable to provide even a vague semblance of internet for vast swathes of the year, while Ryanair host a small party for their customers whenever a plane lands on the same day it was meant to.

Meanwhile, better organisations spend less time trying on the empty platitudes. (Sadly, this doesn’t mean they’re actively rude to customers – it would be a glorious day when John Lewis unveil the slogan “Shut up – you fucking love it”) What they do do is spend more time on actually doing things to improve how people experience their brand, which is easy to lose sight of when your company is juggling the really important stuff like getting more likes on Facebook. The best brands don’t tell customers how much they love them, they show them. Actions speak louder than words.

In summary, keep the thanks, buy more fucking trains.