Blight At The End Of The Tunnel

By london_will Last edited 157 months ago
Blight At The End Of The Tunnel

Is it just Londonist, or does the proposal to extend mobile phone coverage into Tube stations have some of the makings of a disappointing development?

It would obviously be useful to be able to inform colleagues and loved ones of delays, previously the Underground has been a haven of disconnectedness, a reminder that there was, in the dim and distant past, a time when we weren't permanently in touch with everyone all the time. The way that mobile phones have utterly revolutionised society can be seen in our popular culture (and I'm not talking about that bloody frog).

For instance, Londonist has recently been enjoying some of the early seasons of Seinfeld on DVD, and it's extraordinary how many of the plotlines, misunderstandings and situations of that mighty sit-com are now near-impossible to conceive thanks to mobile phones. How on Earth anyone actually successfully gathered a group of people in a pub or restaurant before mobiles is difficult to imagine.

But other people's phone calls are extremely irksome to overhear, for reasons that aren't immediately obvious. Perhaps it's because you only get one side of it. Perhaps it's because they tend to be quite loud to make themselves heard over the bus or train engine. Perhaps it's because, for some reason, the people making the calls so often reveal themselves to be repellent animals.

And of course we must not forget that more than half of the Underground is in fact above ground, so on great stretches of the outer network it's been possible to make and receive calls without any special technology. And civilization does not seem to have collapsed as a result of this. (But it's touch and go.)

Londonist's experience of commuting to Epping, on the wildest edges of the Central Line, is that despite being above ground after Stratford, the trains are so clanky and noisy that making phone calls is rendered fairly difficult.

Anyway, there will be "Silent Carriages" as a sop to the quiet brigade, but there practicality is frankly unconvincing. For a start, will they always be placed conistently, such as at the back of the train, so people can plan to get into them? Or will the placement be random, leaving it to chance? And they're no help at all to us exit freaks, who like to know just the right place to stand when boarding a train, so that you debark opposite the way out.

Also, the scheme will cost £1bn. In Londonist's day, that was a lot of money. And there are security concerns. The train bombs in Madrid last year were triggered by mobile phone. Mobiles make such useful remote-detonation devices, and the tunnels must be tempting to al-Qaeda. This fear alone should be enough to kill the idea.

But no. Progress must march on, it seems.

The image shows the Pokia retro-style mobile phone, created by design agency Poke.

Last Updated 01 June 2005


Very crowded, hot, smelly train carriage.

A mobile phone rings, obnoxiously loud, sending the mind-bogglingly irritating Crazy Frog ringtone into the painful space behind the eyes.

Fat Bloke in "amusing" Adihash t-shirt: Hallo? Alright Noodle.


Nah, I got nothing.


I got nothing!

Cue zombies lurching out from nowhere to rip his head off

It could happen! It could come true! Dogs CAN look up!


Great, just what we need...more people on mobile phones! Could a tube ride be any more annoying? The answer is now yes!


Why do people get so uptight about the fact that the Madrid train bombs were set off by mobile phones? They weren't set off by being called, the coverage round Atocha's platforms is not particulrly brilliant, nor in the tunnels near El Pozo del Tio Raimundo or Santa Eugenia.

People seem to focus on the "mobile phone" bit and forget the rest of the evidence: They were actually set off using the clock on the mobile phone as a timer. No calling necessary.

Now, admittedly, trying to ensure that a train bomb goes off on the circle line platforms of Westminster station during rush hour is going to be a bit difficult with just a clock, but it's not impossible. Adding mobile phone coverage to the tube is no more of a security risk than it is already, the point being it's bloody easy for someone to leave a rucksack with a bomb and a timer on the floor of a train during rush hour and nobody notices it. Or even more likely, on the luggage rack of a train on the south london metro.

The triggering device is the least of your worries. It's the bomb that's important.

(N.B. I was sleeping 100m from the front door of Atocha 11th March last year. It was not a nice alarm clock.)


‘Anyway, there will be "Silent Carriages" as a sop to the quiet brigade, but there practicality is frankly unconvincing.’

Here’s a quick grammatical lesson. There as in over there. Their as in his and hers. They’re as in they are.

For various legal and other reasons, pokia handsets are now called Hulger handsets and are available to purchase from



Andi: Thanks - a simple typing error, I'm aware of The Law.

Moof: I genuinely didn't know that. I had just heard/read that the blasts were "triggered by mobile phone" - I assumed, perhaps not unreasonably, it was using the call function. One lives and learns.


Since our dear leader Ken-Il Sung is so fond of foisting these 'improvements' to our modes of transport upon us - and is indeed such a visible enthusiast of tube travel himself - I look forward to having a loud, inane and irritating phone conversation right next to his earhole some time.

Preferably when he's doing that shuffling-through-his-papers thing for the news cameras.


Well, on the 1972 model tubes you get on the Bakerloo line, I always head for the very last carriage because it's the one with the nice seats that face along the carriage. And it's usually empty...