Richmond – Earls Court – Green Park – Langham Place – Euston – Willesden Jct – Richmond
I travel quite frequently, not daily, but certainly often enough to consider myself seasoned. Although I write a lot about things going wrong on these trips, it’s very rare that I get emotionally invested, for good or bad. Que Sera as they say, getting worked up won’t help. However, once in a while I can’t help myself.
In order to travel I invariably need the assistance of other people in some way. On buses (in London) this is quite low impact, the driver deploys the ramp without getting up from his seat (usually). On trains it’s somewhat less effortless. Across the rail network there are a plethora of different ramps to fit different trains. If you look around at any station you can often see three or four different ramps on any particular platform, but they all have one thing in common, they need a person, a ramp wrangler, to fetch them and lay them on the train. I’ve been told often that it’s the age of our stations and variety in platforms that means there can’t be automatic ramps on trains as there are with buses.
The Underground, as you may know, is slightly different. It is, in parts, as old as any rail network, but it has consistency in the type of trains running on any line. This means that where ramps are available, only one type is needed (caveats apply, but I’m going to skip over those for brevity). Sadly however these ramps are still manual and require the intervention of a ramp wrangler. Richmond is one such station with rattly, decrepit 40 year old trains.
As usual I arrived at the station and sought out assistance. Together we made our way to the platform, picking up the ramp on the way. What greeted my when I arrived was not expected. Instead of the usual bone-shaker, sitting waiting to depart was a shiny new S-Type train. These have been on the Wimbledon branch for some time, but there are only a few (like one?) in use on the Richmond branch, for testing. Apart from shiny and new, why is this a big deal? The platform at Richmond, and other step free District Line stations, has been raised to allow many (but not all) wheelies to have level access to the train, no ramp, or assistance, required. Apparently even the ramp wrangler didn’t know.
This simple ability to get on and off the train where and when I like, without relying on booked assistance, the freedom to change my mind mid journey, frankly being able to travel like every other Londoner, fills me with an absurd amount of pleasure. Being able to just be ‘normal’ shouldn’t make anyone this happy.
Of course these trains aren’t being fully rolled out until sometime in 2016, so until then I will remain special.
Interestingly the booked assistance at Earls Court didn’t show up. But of course with the new train it didn’t matter. The icing on the cake was that the Picadilly line at Earls Court and Green Park is also step free to train, so for the first time ever I was able to make a full, end-to-end underground journey with changes without having any assistance. I feel like a teenager who’s just made his first trip across London without his parents! Of course, it would have been more convenient to get off at Oxford Street, but step free there is a long way off.
I decided, for no other reason than variety, to return on the Overground. It didn’t offer the same simplistic joy of the inward journey, but the assistance was there when I needed it, and very unusually the schedule worked out so that there was no waiting between trains. If only it was always this efficient.
Sadly, the final bus leg of the trip was quite unpleasant. The driver insisted I face backwards. Whilst this is the regulation I have no idea why. The bus accelerating and turning corners means I am usually thrown around like a rag doll. I have tried to find out why wheelchairs users are required to sit contrary to everyone else on the bus, but so far no joy. The search continues.