Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category
Britain’s highest observation deck, the Shard, today opened to the public.
When building work was completed on the latest addition to London’s skyline, it was marketed as “Europe’s tallest building”. However, that title was short-lived and soon went to Moscow’s Mercury City which stands 31m higher.
Nor can there be a claim that the Shard contains the highest observation deck on the continent. That honour still belongs to the Eiffel Tower which allows visitors to reach heights of 275m, compared to the 244m lookout from the 80th floor of the Shard.
Despite the fact that earlier boasts no longer apply, the views over London and the surrounding areas will no doubt be spectacular. On a clear day, visibility is said to extend for 40 miles across the city. It’s just unfortunate that the nature of Britain’s weather make it impossible to predict a clear day!
And the weather may not be the only factor in keeping a lot of tourists away. Admission prices are also typically British, and purchasing a ticket on the day will cost adult visitors £29.95.
The cost would seem expensive even if the Shard was the tallest structure on the planet, but the prices become almost impossible to justify when compared to similar attractions around the globe.
The rooftop observation deck of Guangzhou’s Canton Tower is the highest in the world and twice the height of the Shard, yet the cost (¥150/£15.63) is around half as much. A 370m trip to the 86th floor of the Petronas Towers would set a tourist back a similar amount (RM80/£16.28).
In North America, the Empire State Building offers visitors the choice of ascending to viewing points situated on two levels. Rising 320m to the main deck on the 86th floor costs $25.00 (£15.75), while a ticket that includes the addition of elevation to the top deck is priced at $42.00 (£26.46).
Toronto’s CN Tower gives visitors a similar choice. A purchase on the day for standard admission costs $32.00CAD (£20.20). Arriving at an initial height of 346m it includes the chance to step on the tower’s glass floor, and is a height that most people would be satisfied with. If not, an extra $12.00CAD (£7.58) will pay for access to the Skypod – situated a further 80m above the ground.
Chicago’s Skydeck is arguably even better value still, with admission costing $18 US dollars (£11.34).
Nothing in Europe compares to the much higher structures of Eastern Asia or North America, but value for money can certainly be found in similar attractions within some of the continent’s biggest cities. The Eiffel Tower is amongst the most visited tourist attractions in the world, and views over Paris from the tower’s summit cost just €14.00 (£12.10). Cheaper still is entry to Berlin’s iconic Fernsehturm which at €12.00 provides 360 degree views over the German capital.
Britain doesn’t do value for money quite as well as many other countries. So, while the Shard may not be as tall as many of its global rivals, it could at least be marketed as one of the highest priced observation decks in the world.
It was the final episode of BBC’s “The Tube” this week.
Going behind-the-scenes on the London Underground, the series has revealed a fascinating picture of life on one of the world’s busiest underground rail networks.
Episode six focused on those who start work when all others are tucked up in bed.
The programme showed the work of the various teams of cleaners, responsible not only for the stations themselves but also for scraping dust and dirt from the tracks, and vacuum-cleaning the tunnel walls. Repair workers were also featured, and the replacement of a piece of track was documented.
All of these people had to work to tight four-hour deadlines, completing their underground tasks before power could be restored to the track in time for the start of the day’s service.
As is the case in many professions, it’s the “invisible” workers such as these who may not be seen publicly but make an essential contribution by sorting out any issues which could lead to problems – and potential disruption for passengers.
There’s still time to check out The Tube on the BBC iPlayer if you’ve missed it.
Last night I watched episode 2 of The Tube, the BBC series which goes behind the scenes of the London Underground.
The episode documented the work of ticket inspectors on the network, and focused on the number of journeys which are said to be made without a valid ticket.
The estimate is that 60,000 journeys per day are not paid for, costing Transport for London (TfL) a total of £20million in lost revenue each year.
And just to make any fare-dodgers feel that little bit more guilty, the quotes were carefully worded to emphasize that the lost revenue was “costing Londoners” and therefore depriving them of additional funds which could otherwise be invested into making network improvements.
But wait, there’s another side to the story! Before offering too much sympathy for Transport for London, consider the fact that over the course of a year, there are hundreds of thousands of paying customers every month whose journey is affected either by long delays or cancellations.
The TfL charter entitles customers to apply for a refund if their journey is subjected to delays of 15 minutes or more but a recent report revealed that 96.35% of passengers entitled to a refund fail to make a claim. As a result, more than £20million worth of refunds are not paid out by TfL.
So it’s not only the fare-dodgers costing Londoners millions of pounds each year, but Transport for London, too.
As headlines again focus on the Government’s proposals for high-speed rail link connecting London with major cities across England, and the push towards a greater use of public transport continues, I have experienced a weekend of rail disruption which illustrates exactly why many people simply don’t have enough confidence in trains to get them to places they need to be.
Thanks to Virgin’s Pendolino trains, the journey time when travelling from Liverpool Lime Street to London has been reduced to slightly over two hours. That’s short enough to be able to have yourself a weekend lie in, yet still be in the capital in time for lunch.
Any such timescale started to look under threat however, when the 10.48 service grounded to a halt at Nuneaton – a station not amongst those which we were scheduled to stop at.
An announcement informed passengers that problems with overhead power lines in the Wembley area was causing severe delays into London, and we would be stopped until it was possible to proceed onwards to Rugby, which was also not originally a planned stop.
A slow journey to Rugby went on to become a non-journey to anywhere. The service to London was suddenly terminated, and the train was heading back to Liverpool.
The Virgin train manager made no attempt to disguise the fact that she had no idea how long we’d have to wait at Rugby, or indeed if there would even be a service able to take passengers any further. Luckily there was already a train a few platforms away which was due to continue towards London, but the only guarantee available was that it would make it as far as Milton Keynes. Beyond that, there were no promises.
Overcrowded and full of frustrated passengers originating from a host of destinations, the train did make it to Milton Keynes, where after once again coming to halt, our new train manager provided passengers with three choices, none of which were particularly inviting for those of us keen to actually see London.
1. Get off the train and wait for a train travelling to London, which may or may not end up getting there
2. Go back home
3. Wait on the current train and hope that at some stage it would start moving again – though it was stressed how unlikely that would be, in the short-term at least.
As at Rugby, luck had it that on Platform 4, there was another train waiting to depart for Watford Junction. From there, we were told, overground services would finally get us all to London.
The first part of that came true, though just as one overground train was set to leave (with all other southbound trains already having been cancelled), a station announcement informed the hordes that due to an emergency evacuation of a Virgin train further down the line, there would be nothing leaving for London any time soon.
The only remaining option was to get across Watford to the Metropolitan line underground station, a trek best done by foot after witnessing the length of the taxi queue. Half an hour’s walk later and onto the fifth and penultimate train to our docklands destination.
Once on the underground, the problems ended but not before a 2.5 hour journey had become a 7 hour journey involving five changes of trains and lengthy waits on four chaotic platforms crammed full of unhappy passengers.
At least things would be sorted in time for the return journey, or so I thought.
Back at Euston on Monday evening, the sight of a crowded concourse greeted us, everyone staring up at the departures board. No matter where each person was due to travel to, everyone had something in common: their train was not going anywhere.
The status of each and every train listed on the board was either “Departure delayed” or “Cancelled”. An issue with overhead wires was again cited as the cause, though this time occurred the Northampton, Milton Keynes and Rugby regions.
For a period, most services were delayed by up to an hour, if not cancelled altogether. Passengers to certain destinations were urged to get alternative trains heading in the same general direction – such as “north” – and change to a more relevant service further along their journey.
The disruption caused on both days was simply put down to damaged overhead cables though the cause of the damage remains a mystery, to the travelling public at least.
With massively increased congestion expected on London’s roads during next year’s Olympics, we can surely expect that ministers will continue to promote the use of public transport as a better alternative to driving.
But until stories such as those above become a thing of the past, all appeals to rely on public transport will fall on many a deaf ear.
Because when you most need to be somewhere, putting your faith in public transport is still a very risky business indeed.