Friday, January 05, 2007

It's getting hot in here

We have reached that time of the year when the on-train heating gets cranked up. From now until the end of May (thereabouts), every train will include at least one carriage that boasts a tropical climate. No one knows why this is so, but it is one of the immutable laws of commuting that January Shall Usher In The Uncomfortaably Hot Carriages, Particularly In Rush Hour. The heating system on the train is fascinating, because those clever people that make trains have clearly cottoned on the fact that heat rises, so rather than putting the heating units near the ceiling, as is customary in, say, restaurants, they put them at floor level so that it blows up at you. And my goodness it works well - too well. I am one of those annoyingly smug people who takes a packed lunch into London everyday (so that I can afford other things - a mortgage for example), and the other day I made the mistake of leaving the bag containing my lunchbox on the floor, rather than in the overhead racks, with the result that by the time I got off my sandwich was toasted!

One of the great joys of commuting in January is the sight of gangs of hardy businessmen and businesswomen, warmly wrapped up against the unforgiving British Winter, gradually realising that that warm feeling inside is not generated by the end of the working day, but by the steady increase in body temperature caused by having shafts of hot air fired up their trouser legs. After a few minutes, the first layer - generally a thick scarf - comes off, and by the time we have reached Finsbury Park, the chain reaction is well underway, as passengers divest themselves of layer after layer of insulation. Once they have removed as many items as is decent, the next step is to open the windows. Of course, "open the windows" is something of a misnomer, because all you can really do is pull that thin strip inwards, thereby creating a tiny crack through which fresh air can pass in an upwardly direction, keeping the ceiling cool but not really helping the poor, sweltering passengers.

You know things have reached boiling point (so to speak) when people start folding up their newspapers and fanning themselves in a desperate attempt to shift some of the hot air around and at least provide the illusion of a breeze. In the days of broadsheets, of course, this was a rather more complicated operation, generating enough rustling to be heard in the next carriage, but the rise of the compacts has thankfully made this less of a problem.

Another idiosyncracy of the system is that the driver seems not to be in control of it. The heating really does seem to have a mind of its own. For one thing, despite the fact that we had that really cold spell in November/December, the heat never comes on until after Christmas. Now, I don't know all the train drivers personally, but I'm absolutely convinced that they are both intelligent and decent enough to recognise that when we were really cold back then we could have done with some heating, and that they would have provided it had they been able to. Similarly, the heating will not go off until well into the Summer, and again I'm reluctant to believe that the drivers don't realise that, when the flowers are in bloom and the birds singing in late-May, the carriages are quite warm enough without mechanical intervention. Maybe it's all controlled centrally, and there's some shadowy fat controller figure who flicks at switch on New Year's Day, and again on the first day of June. Who knows?


At 2:23 PM GMT , Anonymous bus babe said...

I've heard that, for the new trains, the heating...and toilets...and all other electrics...are controlled by computers which are programmed at the beginning of journeys. Which probably means they are programmed at the beginning of the day and /or when someone remembers. Don't think the drivers can do anything about it once the journey is underway. Wonders of modern technology eh?
From a bus perspective the problems with heating really kick in during the summer. On the bottom floor you can choose between standing by the doors resulting in an occasional flash of air but disgruntled looks from fellow passengers, or you can sit at the back on top of the engine which makes things even warmer. On the top you say heat rises, the windows open but a crack, the suns rays pound down from all sides(and you are that much closer to the sun) their heat magnified by the glass and you cook. So for bus riders, winter is by far the better season.

At 10:29 AM GMT , Blogger JD said...

That's really interesting, if a little scary. What next, fully robotic coaches?

Maybe the machines really are taking over.


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