Sorry I'm Late Home. It Was Coldplay's Fault

Posted on 28 June 2005 in London, Transport (No comments)

Right. I have one question to ask.

Which prat decided Crystal Palace was a good place to host a Coldplay concert on a weekday evening?

I ask as one of thousands of commuters whose journey home this evening was made a misery thanks to countless train disruption on the Southern Metro network, caused by hordes of gig-goers filling trains and stations whilst railway staff struggled to cope with the crowds.

Apparently this happened last night as well, but going out for a pint yesterday I was blissfully unaware until I arrived at Clapham Junction to the shouts of train company staff shouting at me that if I had a Coldplay ticket, I had to queue up on the right.

The footbridge at Clapham Junction had been split into three. One row for people going between platforms 2 and 14, another for people using commuter services on platforms 15, 16 and 17, and a third pen for people going to Coldplay.

The Coldplay pen was naturally a holding area - presumably so that they could drip feed gig-goers onto the trains going to Crystal Palace as and when space allowed.

Except there's a major flaw with this idea - and for once it's not one you can really blame Southern trains for. For starters there are just six trains an hour that go to Crystal Palace. Some are formed of just four coaches. And to make things worse, most of the trains going from platform 15 at 6pm in the evening are rammed to the rafters. And that's without the gig-goers.

I tend to get to platform 15 just in time for the 17:59 train which goes to London Bridge, via Crystal Palace. It's a four car train, and I normally cannot get on it. That's on an ordinary day.

Now imagine that there's thousands of people going to a gig trying to get on there.

Funnily enough when I got there, the backlog of Coldplay goers had almost filled up all its available space in Clapham Junction. The queue stretched from near platform 15 to all the way down to platform 2. Goodness knows what the station staff did ten minutes later when no doubt they had completely run out of room. And it was ultimately made worse by the fact that there was absolute chaos on the trains.

Trains were being delayed left, right and centre. In the 20 minutes I was stood on the platform (having walked casually down the commuter queue) just one train had gone through. In that time I'd normally expect six from that platform. No doubt they were having especially good fun sorting out the chaos further up the line at Victoria where scores of people would have been trying to get on the train.

Scores of trains were delayed. Commuter tempers were getting a bit strained, especially by the people who couldn't quite understand why, when they were stood at the bottom of the steps of platform 15 in the tunnel, why they had to go all the way to platform 9, climb the steps, walk along it, climb up onto the footbridge, and them walk back down to platform 15 again.

To be fair, and I'll say it again, the station staff did pretty much all they could. They had a plan, they'd put it in motion. But logistically there was no way on earth this was ever going to go smoothly. There was no way that the railway system could actually cope.

Now some smug git might point out that the tube regularly copes with thousands of people going to Wembley, Fullham or Earls Court. And they do. I've travelled on the tube when it's been packed to the rafters full of football fans or goths.

But the tube is different for two reasons. First is that if needs be, they can run more trains down a particular branch to provide extra capacity. In contrast, the Southern Metro network is a more complex system, finally balanced around a fixed timetable. And that's before we even mention the rigidity forced on the network by the fact that the train company doesn't operate its own tracks and signals.

Second is the frequency of the trains - and this is a biggy. Trains going through Earls Court - well you're looking at one every two to three minutes. Crystal Palace? As I say, six an hour, per direction.

Six trains an hour. Six already overcrowded trains an hour. One every ten minutes or so.

Tonight, and presumably last night too, was a disaster waiting to happen. Thousands of people - commuters and gig-goers - found their journey a complete nightmare because some muppet of a concert promoter obviously didn't consider, or care, about the fact that they were about to dump thousands of extra people onto an already overcrowded rail network, in rush hour.

Which leaves us back at the starting point. Which prat decided Crystal Palace was a good place to host a Coldplay concert on a weekday evening?

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