Ex Bibliotheca

The life and times of Zack Weinberg.

Friday, 2 April 2004

# 7 PM (GMT-8)

Six hours later, still on the plane.

This plane flight is way too long. I am deeply frustrated that there is no great interest in long-distance, non-luxury supersonic flight. Yes noise, yes nasty technical problems to be solved in engine and wing design, yes hairy questions of environmental impact (discussion) but nothing not soluble in a sufficiently large pile of money, and I find it difficult to believe that the market isn't there for planes that go from London to San Francisco in less than ten hours.

# 6:45 PM (GMT-2)

Writing this on the plane; we are currently over the west coast of Greenland (hence I'm using Nuuk time for this entry). The plane, it turns out, was to take off at 1pm London time, and then was delayed an hour on the ground because the pilot's seatbelt was broken. Despite this we are still scheduled to land at 3pm, San Francisco time. I hope we make it; plans for this evening are to go see Brother in Antioch, and I have to be home in time to connect with Sumana who is driving my car (since I'm not wanting to drive on nine timezones' worth of jet lag) and I want a shower first.

According to the little route map it shows on the TV embedded in the seat in front of me, we have come about halfway. Six hours of flight yet to go. Alas, the battery on my laptop is almost worn down.

# 3:20 AM (GMT+1)

Sod it, the shuttle bus doesn't run this late, I have to get a cab. That'll chew up my remaining small handful of pounds sterling nicely.

# 1:50 AM (GMT+1)

mind the gap ... mind the gap ...

I got a room for the night at a cheap hotel close to the airport; the best way to get there is to ride the London Underground out to the airport itself and then get a shuttle bus. It is a long, long ride, twenty-four stops, on the Piccadilly line from King's Cross to Heathrow. And so I have heard a robot intone this, the unofficial slogan of the Tube, many times now.

What is this gap? See, unlike every other subway system I have ever ridden on, the doors on the trains do not line up neatly with the platforms. At most stations there is about a four-inch step up from the platform to the train. At some, however, there is a four-inch step down from the platform to the train. And at many there is a sizeable distance — a gap — between the train and the platform. The robot is to remind people so they don't trip and break their legs or something.

I wonder why they do not re-grade either the track or the station platforms to eliminate both the gap and the step. It could be done (would have to be done) a few stations at a time. It would probably be easier to redo the platforms than the track. In the outer regions, each station could be taken out of service for a week or so on a rotating schedule; in the inner regions, where stations cannot close even for a single day, the platform could be re-graded in sections.

Another odd quirk of the Tube is that the tracks have four rails. Two are the usual bearing rails, a third is the usual live rail that powers the train, and I don't know what the fourth is for. It sits between the bearing rails and is insulated from the earth in the same way the power rail is; but why would two power rails be necessary?