The signs in stations on the London Underground direct you to platforms for a particular line heading in a particular direction — for example, the eastbound Circle Line, the northbound Jubilee line, and so on. The different lines are all colour coded — the Circle Line is yellow, the District Line is green, the Bakerloo Line is brown, and so on. With many platforms being shared by two or more lines, one would expect that the trains themselves would arrive indicating primarily which line they are running on, preferably with the same colour coding fairly prominent, right?
The trains themselves, and the notice boards on the platforms, indicate only which station is their final destination. There is no clear indication of exactly which line they are running on. When you are on a platform that is shared by two different lines, this can cause quite a bit of confusion if you are unfamiliar with the routes themselves, and, as is often the case on the Underground, you have only seconds to determine whether the train on the platform is the one you want or not before it closes its doors and heads off into the unknown.
Take what happened with the five of us who went up to MiniBar last night as an example. After some debate on the way back as to whether we should walk to Aldgate East or Liverpool Street station, we decided to head for the latter. At Liverpool Street, you head for the eastbound platform and take a Circle Line train. The Circle Line turns south then west after Liverpool Street and reaches Victoria after a dozen or so stops.
The train on the platform was the one for Barking. Okay, fine, where’s Barking? These trains stop for less than a minute, so rather than find a map and then look for Barking to see if this was the right line or not, we collectively decided to jump onto the train with only seconds to spare, and then ask questions.
We were halfway to the next station before we realised that Barking is, of course, at the end of the Hammersmith and City Line — i.e., heading in completely the wrong direction.
Not to worry, however. You get out at Aldgate East, cross over to the platform on the other side of the tracks, and catch the next District Line train heading west, arguing vigorously all the way about whose fault it was that you ended up on the wrong train in the first place.
The only problem is that you have the same problem on the other side. We had arrived on the platform and were scrutinising the map when a train came along. “Hammersmith via Kings Cross/St Pancras.”
The same individual who led us onto the wrong train in the first place now embarked on this one, and most of the rest of our party would have done so too, but for the fact that two of us had already figured out that this one was also operating on the Hammersmith and City Line, which does not go directly to Victoria, and would merely have taken us back to where we started.
Fortunately we managed to convince them to wait on the platform until we had determined which train was the right one before getting onto it, and eventually we ended up on the right train, but by this time, we were beginning to come to the conclusion that the game of Mornington Crescent bears a lot more resemblance to reality than originally intended.