After two years living in South Ealing and Northfields, I'm bidding a grateful and not particularly fond farewell to the Piccadilly Line. I've also used the Central, Waterloo & City, and District and Circle lines over the past three years and none of them give me quite the same mix of frustration and resentment as the Piccadilly (no, not even the District!). I'm not a fan of the Tube in general but the Picadilly is the most difficult line I've used for my daily commute, even though it's fairly reliable and the trains are reasonably new (well, in comparison with the District Line anyway). So what's the problem? Its popularity. The Piccadilly runs through several popular tourist spots, including Knightsbridge, Hyde Park Corner, Piccadilly Circus, Covent Garden and Leicester Square. And one branch starts at Heathrow, which means that trains were almost always packed by the time they reach Northfields or South Ealing - even early in the morning. If you're about to embark on a similar commute (West London to the City), then maybe some tips I've picked up would help you: - If you get on the Heathrow branch before Acton Town and the train is packed, get off there. You often find trains coming in from the Rayners Lane/Uxbridge branch are a lot less crowded, so you can swap. - Change at South Kensington for the Circle Line if you're not in a hurry. District Line trains are usually packed (and quite smelly) by the time they get here, but the Circle Line trains are often quite empty, though they don't come quite as often. - Always stand in the aisle, even if there aren't that many people standing. The trains will get more and more crowded, especially around the doors. When you're in the aisle you can watch people and after a while, you develop a knack of working out when they're about to get off. All in all, I think the Picadilly Line is overcrowded, over-used an
d under strain. I don't really have to use it now - I'm swapping it for the Waterloo and City line and South West Trains - and even that's got to be better than the daily slog from Northfields ... I won't miss that feeling of resignation when the train turns up packed, steaming and humming at the start of my journey!
The Piccadilly line or the Picc as it is known. It runs east/west from Cockfosters to Heathrow/ Uxbridge. Most of the line is controlled from a control centre, shared with the District line based at Earl's Court. The exception being the Rayners Lane branch. The Earl's Court control room, is the oldest control room still in operation. It dates back to 1950. Today, it has virtually all the original fittings with only the slightest hint of modern equipment. The most modern works on Windows 3.1, hence you can see the problem. The Picc trys and operates 27 trains per hour, but realisticly can handle 24. Services mostly run Cockfosters - Heathrow and Arnos Grove - Uxbridge, with "non core" trains running only as far as Northfields. The Picc operates nearly 90 trains in peak, and generates 20% of London Undergrounds revenue. If a problem besiges the Picc, the signal staff and managers have to insert at least 6 full and seperate commands to get a train to change destination, now imagine that for 90 trains EVERY time you wanted to change a destination, assuming the driver is not due to end or change shift. The Picc desperatly needs funding, the 1950's control room has not got to be replaced until 2014. This would mean that it has lasted nearly 70 years running 24 hours 364 days per year. Therefore as the Underground is safety critical (i.e. won't take any chances with the publics safety) you can now see why you have many delays, while engineers are fixing the problem.
I use the Piccadilly line every day (note: two 'c's and two 'l's) to get from North London into Leicester Square and back. And, yes, it's packed - from Finsbury Park in to the centre, you're lucky if you get a seat. However, further out, it's much less packed, and much more likely to be comfortable - it ought to be pointed out that the ride gets more bumpy the further out of town you get. One Big Tip: when you go between Caledonian Road and Kings Cross, look out of the window at the same side as the platforms were. You'll see, once the train has achieved maximum speed, the wires in the tunnel disappear, and some bricks, a light, and a few rather grubby white tiles. This is York Road station, a station closed in the early 1900s after nobody ended up using it. I'm prepared to bet that, if LUL reopened the station, it would seriously add to the value of the property above. Incidentally, after the closure of the station, the distance between Caledonian Road and Kings Cross is one of the longest between stations. The shortest distance between stations is on the Piccadilly line too - between Covent Garden and Leicester Square. A few Big Tips for here, too - if you want a bit of exercise, come out at Covent Garden and walk up the stairs instead of crowding through the lifts. You're quite welcome to - hundreds do every day - and it's the equivalent of walking up a six store building. Very tiring, very good for the heart, and your legs thank you when you finally reach the top! Secondly, Covent Garden station can be closed, especially over busy Saturdays. To get to Covent Garden from Leicester Square, follow the Covent Garden exit, and turn left when you reach the street... then go down Long Acre into Covent Garden market. It's a short, about five minute, walk. A slightly longer but slightly nicer walk is to turn left when you reach the street, then first right into St Martin's Lane, then first lef
t into New Row - you end up in exactly the same place, but the shops are much nicer. The Circle line is dingy and nasty, and the Piccadilly line is, generally, bright, cheery and packed. It's a victim of its own success, but it's not really worth avoiding... buses and overland trains, from North London at least, take far longer and don't even get you into where you really want to be.
Aka "The joys of travelling by vacuum-packed cattle train" Firstly, my advice is, if you possibly can, avoid it at all cost if you are travelling particularly long distances, unless you actually get on at Heathrow. I used to commute regularly on the Piccadilly Line from West London right across to the other side, but cunningly I have found an alternative route, and boy am I glad. It might be the best known line in London, but that is probably due to it linking directly with Heathrow Airport. Basically, the Piccadilly line is touristsville, not many people speak English, and it is always absolutely ridiculously crowded. People get their hands and feet stuck in the doors because of the overcrowding, thus slowing the train departure up even more, and this is at one train every minute-two minutes on average. It seems that there is nothing to be done, no more trains can possibly fit on the tracks, as they are certainly frequent most of the time, but every single one that arrives gives those of us on the platform a deep-seated feeling of despair, as sure enough, the great underground worm winds it’s way towards the end of the platform absolutely chocked full of tourists and commuters. My only suggestion is to have a specific train for tourists travelling to and from Heathrow Airport, there already exists the Heathrow Express, but at around £15 a ticket, it can prove a bit on the expensive side. It is however a very enjoyable way to travel, with onboard televisions and plenty of room. We travelled on it between Heathrow terminals 1-3 and 4, where it is free, it only becomes costly when you travel the full distance to Paddington, where it may only take 15 minutes, but it is effectively a pound a minute - a worrying thought. Still, I’m almost tempted to say *anything’s* better than travelling long distance by Piccadilly line. I’ll have to admit though, that it is a very handy line once in the centre o
f London, you hop on and off if you have a travel card between Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus, or Covent Garden and Knightsbridge, and there are plenty of links to other lines along the way, the District line virtually runs alongside it for some of the way coming in from West London – Earls Court etc.. On top of all this, and despite there being X million more people travelling by tube than a couple of years ago, and the service is obviously not being improved, the ticket prices are still going up. A one-day travel card (all zones) has now gone up to £4.90 for an adult. Although this is a very useful little card to have, being that you can easily travel pretty much anywhere you want in London, be it on the tube, bus, train or the Docklands Light Railway, at nearly 5 quid a day, it can prove very expensive (considering my old student pass in Sheffield was about that a week!). The other thing about the Piccadilly line is it’s two branches. I may have bashed the fact that it carries mainly tourists from Heathrow, but this is not altogether true. There is another branch of the line which heads West, going to Rayner’s Lane and Uxbridge. The services on this branch are of course less frequent than to Heathrow as there are fewer people travelling there. My advice to non-tourists travelling back west and needing to get to Heathrow is to catch a train in central London bound for Rayner’s Lane or some where on that branch, and change at Acton Town (where the branches meet on their way into London). This means that you are more likely to get a seat for most of the journey when travelling home, and you’ll probably at least only have to stand for half your journey (from Acton Town towards Heathrow), providing everyone else doesn’t have the same idea that is! I have, however, waited considerable amounts of time before (anything up to 25 minutes! Off-peak) at Acton Town for a Rayner’s Lane or Ux
bridge train. If you are wanting to get to Uxbridge at busy times, it is probably more advisable to get a Piccadilly Line to Rayner’s Lane, and then change for a Metropolitan line which runs parallel to the Piccadilly Line from Rayner’s Lane to Uxbridge. Uxbridge-bound trains don’t usually run at peak times. Despite all my “Piccadilly-Bashing” I have to admit to have been using this line for many many years, as it has always been the closest line to where I’ve lived when in London. It can take a long time to get in to London however, and the over-ground can beat it sometimes by almost half an hour. Alright, I’ll admit it, that’s my alternative route, but don’t all go travelling by train now, as we’ll have the same problem all over again (and it’s getting pretty bad already). Getting back to my possible solution to the over-crowding. I think there should be specific trains for tourists travelling to Heathrow and back, or else, they should not be allowed to travel during peak commuter times. There is obviously no space for another line to be built, although this would be the ideal solution, so this is the only other suggestion I have. Although, I recently heard that apparently there runs a secret underground line for the Royal Mail only, which no one seems to know about, although I can’t confirm this, maybe someone out there knows? Take the Piccadilly line by all means when you are already in Central London, everyone seems to get off at Green Park anyway, as this is where you can change for the Victoria line, but I wouldn’t advise travelling a long way on it, especially at peak times. There’s still far too many people using it, the service is not improved, ticket prices have gone up, but it’s a handy route for tourist sightseeing. South Kensington and Knightsbridge for Harrods, Science Museum, Natural History Museum and V&A, King’s Cross, for trai
ns North, and St. Pancras, Covent Garden, Leicester Square and Piccadilly Circus for shopping, and so on. Personally though, I think the hotels in Heathrow and Central London should have to pay something towards the ol’ Piccadilly Line, if they are not transporting their customers via any other means of transport. Fingers crossed they don't start hoisting commuters on to the roof! Enjoy the squash!
Riddle: Where can you travel through 10 consecutive Underground stations that all begin with “H” without getting off the train? Answer: at the Heathrow end of the Piccadilly Line! (2 @ Heathrow, Hatton Cross twice, and the three "Hounslows" twice) As you can see I've had a lot of time to think about the Piccadilly Line! I have used it almost continually since I started work in 1968 until I “jacked it in” in 2000. My journey always involved getting on at Osterley on the Heathrow Branch, stepping lithely (?) over a ton of back-packer's luggage* and travelling variously to Holborn, Covent Garden and for the last 3 years, to Leicester Square, usually standing all the way. * At 8.00am, a time when you would expect the trains to have some seats available (after all it’s only 9 miles to Hyde Park Corner) the first Jumbos of the day have landed, and all their passengers have cleared customs. Over a 32-year period, I have seen the Piccadilly Line go from what was an unofficial “flagship” line for the Underground, proud of its Heathrow connection to a dingy, overcrowded and unreliable vestige of its former self. In fact, the existing rolling stock has been in service for most of this period – sure, it’s all had a heavy overhaul and facelift, but this has done nothing to improve reliability, since much of the Underground’s current day woe can be put down to a creaking signalling control system. Now, I don’t want anyone to worry over this as a safety issue. The Underground’s signalling has had a system for preventing “SPADs” (signal passed at danger) almost since its inception. What it does however lead to is an ever-increasing number of delays, which in my experience, nearly always happen on the way home! Yes, why couldn’t it fail on the way to work for once? It’s almost as if it can’t be trusted to run f
or a whole day, despite being given a damned good talking to in the morning. The vast numbers of tourists and business travellers that use the “Piccalilli” Line to access the airport show up one of its major failings - the total unsuitability of a tube train built for a 12’ diameter tunnel to convey passengers and large amounts of luggage, most of which finds itself across the doorway that I am trying to negotiate. Play around with seat configurations all you like, these trains should not carry luggage! What a great first impression for visitors to Britain – a hot sweaty cigar tube with narrow seats and rock-hard arm rests –oh yes, AND a bumpy ride. It is no wonder people are prepared to pay through the nose for the Heathrow Express, which at least gets you there in about 15 minutes – “there” being Paddington – not the most central venue in London, it has to be said. The whole Piccadilly Line, in common with most of the Underground needs an in-depth overhaul, and not just cosmetic like the refurbished trains and retiled stations, but proper investment on infrastructure. Did you know, for example, that a computer bought 2nd hand years ago from the New York subway, controls the District Line? How useful is the Piccadilly Line? Very, when it’s working properly. Here we have a line that links Heathrow to Kensington for Hotels, The Museums for Culture, Knightsbridge for Retail Therapy, Theatre Land for losing your wallet, and Kings Cross/St. Pancras for ….er.. .um…never mind, anyway you lost your wallet a while back! The latter is slated to be the new Eurostar Terminal when the High Speed Rail Link is finished so the Piccadilly can expect to be in the thick of it with transfer passengers. Coming from West London myself, I’ve left out The Arsenal – well you would, wouldn’t you? In recent months, I’ve only had to use
the line sporadically and mainly for “pleasure”, but in almost every case, some delay has occurred. I can only assume from a random sample like that, that this is now the case for the everyday user all the time. I shudder to think what will happen come “Privatisation Day” – will we see a milking of current assets, rolling stock et al, until the end of the first franchise period, which is what seems to have happened in many cases on the main line? Or will "Uncle Ken The Newt Man" prove his worth? In the mean time, I breathe a sigh of relief that I don’t HAVE to use it, especially in summer. Verdict: A vital west-north link that is letting London down, both its workers and its visitors.