Every four years (well, twice now) we’ve had a few proposals come up from one candidate or other that sound like great ideas. They're the sort of things that everyone would agree with, but then never happen. Why? Mostly because they are (technically or financially) impossible. Here are four regular manifesto perennials that you should take with an air-conditioned tube train full of salt.
“I’ll give you air-conditioned Tubes!”
Many a Mayoral candidate has tempted us with air-con for the tube – that is, the deep lines: Bakerloo, Central, Jubilee, Piccadilly, Northern and Victoria (the shallow lines are already getting air-con). What a wonderful idea! Who could possibly disagree with this? Well the second law of thermodynamics, that’s who. Air-conditioning doesn’t destroy heat – it moves it from one place to another; from inside the train, to outside the train — and doing so creates more heat. Unfortunately, 'outside the train' on the Tube is a few inches of hot, stale air. Without massively upgrading the ventilation the running tunnels would get hotter, making the air-con’s job even harder and bringing the platforms to boiling point (visit the New York Subway in August for an example of this).
We’ve had competitions that came up with nothing, but at least two ideas of how tube trains might be cooled are under research: Siemens have a plan (PDF) to make a lighter, more efficient train so that some air-conditioning can be used without increasing overall heat output, and there was an idea that we could run air-conditioning only on the above sections of lines. But at heart, when some electioneer promises you a freezer-cold Victoria line they are either willfully lying or an idiot.
“I’ll open the Tube later!”
This one isn’t physically impossible, so much as very, very hard. Could the Tube run later? Yes, it does on New Year’s morning. However, they only manage that by missing out regular maintenance and safety inspections. Could these be rearranged to avoid Friday and Saturday evening? Maybe, but not while the Upgrade Programme is running (unless you want it to take even longer), and — as per the 2006 proposals — only by delaying Saturday and Sunday opening times (causing huge inconvenience for shift workers reliant on early trains). Then there are our dear unions, who don’t want to work later for the most part and would relish the opportunity to renegotiate their contracts. Better for everyone that we all get a night bus; mayoral candidates who don’t think so are very courageous indeed...
“I shall give South London Express Buses!”
The provision of express buses in London is a lovely idea — sadly the absence of any express roads for the express buses to run on makes it a non-starter. With lots of main roads in south London two lanes wide, and the best being only four, and all of it busy, any express bus would probably sit in the bus lane indicating despondently to overtake its non-express counterpart. Comparing the existing express X68 against its stopping brother the 68, between Norwood Library and Kingsway, you save four minutes according to the timetable. If your candidate tempts you with this they are a profound optimist, have never driven in London or have secret dreams of finishing the Ringways.
“I’ll make a no strike agreement with the RMT!”
No, you will not...