After last week’s slightly depressing episode, I almost hope that episode 4, which is all about upgrade works, is entirely uneventful. In fact I’d be perfectly happy if it was just our favourite train driver Dylan Glenister talking about how much he loves the Piccadilly line and doing impressions of all the other lines. In fact I think that should happen. It could be a five-minute show on Radio Four, just before the shipping forecast, and they could call it “He Do the Underground in Different Voices”. Geddit?!
1:23-45: We’re at Victoria station, where Customer Service Assistant Carl Downer is doing his best to cheer up the station’s less-than-enthused commuters. “Don’t let no one cramp your style, ladies and gentlemen! Driver, do your thing.”
2:25: “I do like my personal space,” says one sweet, naive passenger. “There’s not a lot of personal space on the tube.”
4:00: Victoria station is busy. To emphasise the point we see at least three minutes of sped-up footage of people walking combined with slightly sinister piano music. Point made, BBC.
4:45: It’s all getting a bit fraught. A station worker is saying “WAIT PLEASE!!!!” very firmly. Ha, as if that’ll work!
5:00. Oh. Hang on. People are standing and waiting quite patiently.
5:59: Things are going from bad to worse at Victoria. There’s a problem on the Victoria line after a train is “de-training” at Warren Street. At least I think that’s what they said? Is that a thing?
6:43: Aaaaand Victoria has to close. In the middle of the morning rush hour. We know we should be empathising with the stranded commuters but it’s actually quite satisfying…?
7:03: It’s all gone a bit Dr Who. Everything’s very quiet and there are lots of people standing listlessly in front of gates, staring straight ahead.
7:15: Ooooh vintage footage of the underground! Swoon.
8:25: We’re introduced to David Waboso, the underground’s capital programs director. He’s spending £10 billion on modernising the underground, apparently. Obviously not him personally. At least, I’m assuming not him personally?
9:18: He’s in Leicestershire, checking out some of the new trains destined for the underground. “You’ve got to keep an eye on those sensitive edges,” he says ominously. Uh-oh.
10:26: David has a go at driving one of new trains. I don’t think I’ve ever seen someone look so happy.
12:36: To Tottenham Court Road, where they’re expanding the Northern line. They’re carving out a new tunnel, and Ben Thompson, the site manager, tells us that “the ground’s natural desire is to fill the void” (basically that the dirt falls down a lot) so they have to reinforce the tunnel. Cue to shots of a strange machine blasting the walls with something that looks like dirty, lumpy custard.
15:14: David McLaughlin is the “pit boss”. He says: “You’ve got to keep going, keep fighting, keep arguing with the men. I’ve been down the tunnels for 44, 45 years. I’ll probably die in one.” Crikey. And we thought we spent a lot of time on the tube.
15:49: Barry Griffiths is a customer service assistant at Tottenham Court Road. He is a firm believer in “the power of the map”. He pats it like a trusty steed. “Bring ‘em to the map,” he says, with an almost-wink.
16:32: Barry says that the men “never know where they’re going”. Tell us something we don’t know, Barry! Am I right ladies?!
17:13: We’re back at Victoria and it’s still all going wrong. Although going wrong differently. I think?
17:34: Oh no! It’s what tube bosses dread the most! Nope, not a close inspection of their salary packages – A LINE SUSPENSION!!!
18:08: We’re at the control centre, where STUFF IS HAPPENING. The interviewer is really ramping up the drama; she says to the chap attempting to sort it all out: “You’re under a lot of pressure at this moment.” Just in case it wasn’t clear.
19:30: Hurray, it’s fixed!!
19:50: Whoops. Not quite.
20:56: A station worker at Victoria sums up the precocious line: “It’s a bit like being Forrest Gump – you never know what you’re going to get.” Er, it’s the box of chocolates, not – oh, nevermind.
22:09: A meeting has been called to dissect what I’ve decided to call The Upset at Victoria. Someone mentions “apocalyptic black Tuesday”. I’m struggling to figure out what catastrophic event could merit the description “apocalyptic black Tuesday”. Ticket barriers malfunctioning, trapping people in their steely grip? A traffic jam involving every single train on the underground? Multiple small dogs getting caught in an escalator?
26:41: Apparently TfL get lots of complaints about how long it takes to refurbish an escalator. One asked if they were employing “Guatamalan pygmies” to do the job; another letter writer said that he and his mates could build it themselves in a weekend.
29:04: Yes! Dylan’s back! Remember him?? The one who really loves the Piccadilly line? Well, he particularly loves this part of the line. “You can feel all that grey horrible suburban utilitarian post-apocalyptic, concrete rubbish just disappearing in the background now, can’t you? You can feel the warmth of the city just throbbing.” Sensual. He says he’d love to keep a cabin from a train when he retires. “The missus is well up for it. She said ‘Dyl, I know it means a lot to you, so do it.’ I could sit in it while she’s watching the X Factor.” Dylan, we salute you.
30:25: The last of the ’67 Victoria line trains is completing its final journey. There’s a banner on the front and everything.
30:55: Tube boss Howard Collins has turned up to give it a proper send off. So far it feels a bit like a funeral that only the next door neighbour has turned up to.
31:57: Thank God! I was wrong! People do care! They’re filming it and clapping!
32:11: Man, people care hard. A group of enthusiastic teenage boys have made celebratory posters to stick on the train’s windows. Apparently they ride the underground together often, “like every weekend”. One bemoans the fact that “having a place in your heart for trains” is not socially accepted. Aw, you guys! Everyone’s accepted here at London Loco – especially young lads who make posters for retiring trains!
34:22: The old girl even gets three cheers as she ambles out of the final station. Moving stuff.
36:36: Barry’s back, directing hapless lost person after hapless lost person. After four episodes full of hapless lost people it’s starting to amaze me that any of us manage to get anywhere.
37:33: Barry tells us that he can tell a group of woman are “from the Midlands” because of the way they’re dressed. He excitedly points out “clubbers” on the escalators, and then grins like a little boy as he tells us that someone’s “done a wee wee on the platform”. Apparently Tottenham Court Road also used to house “The Secret Crapper”, who would strike “every week, but on a different day”. It’s kind of like an episode of Poirot combined with The Life of Mammals.
39:55: We check in briefly with driver Anne O’Grady to see what she makes of the new trains. She says she likes the Bakerloo line because it’s old, but she doesn’t like the new trains because there are computers.
46:20: There are problems at Oxford Circus, and the station is briefly closed.The film crew have managed to find the most reasonable passengers yet: one particularly philosophical chap says “It’s part of travelling. If you get upset about it you’ll end up blowing your top.” Another acknowledges: “There’s not a lot you can do about it. It’s just frustrating.” It suddenly dawns on me: reasonable people are boring.
49-50:30: Another very serious meeting at tube HQ, this time about the sensitive train doors, which are causing trouble. TOTALLY CALLED IT!
50:44: Tara Parandeh, an engineer, says that the sensitive edge doors are too safe. Can something be too safe?!
52:40: Hurray! Barry’s back, and ready to reopen the Northern line at Tottenham Court Road. Bravo, Barry.
56:10: Howard Collins and David Waboso are checking out the site at the station. Howard says that there’s a “neverending” amount of work that needs doing, and that TfL have to “deliver the impossible”. Howie! You’re way too hard on yourself. We don’t want the impossible, we just want a prompt, clean, cheap, regular tube service! Easy!