On the Tube

The District Line: through the eyes of a child

Seasoned Londoners have been known to indulge in chit-chat regarding which Tube lines are the ‘best’, and which are ‘worst’. Personal experience obviously colours these opinions greatly.

Consistently I read/ hear that in such assessments, the Circle and District Lines rank bottom. Novices don’t understand them – the splintering ends of the District Line are too much to handle for those used to the single-branch simplicity of the Victoria Line or Jubilee Lines – and regular users are painfully aware that familiarity breeds contempt.

I’m a District Line commuter. It’s snail’s-pace slow. A zombie apocalypse could have swept West London in the time you’re waiting for the dreaded red signal approaching Earl’s Court to clear, safe yet irritated.

It’s not just speed that’s an issue. Personally I find the unpredictability of my morning and evening journeys more annoying than the actual time taken to get from A to B. There’s something to be said for a consistently slow journey – at least you can plan ahead. When the stars align i.e. I’m not waiting too long for a train at rush hour which is then too full to board, and I don’t get held at any red signals or delayed by “an earlier signal failure at X” (hear this over the station’s loudspeaker and maybe take the executive decision to work from home that day), my overall journey is pretty acceptable. This happens about 20% of the time. Average journey time probably stands at 50 minutes, to cover 8km. The average speed of a Tube train is 33km per hour, meaning that I’m owed a good chunk of my life back from TfL. Check me breaking out the pedantry, but too lazy to do the maths.

So I’ve prefaced my optimistic tale with a considerable whinge, but I feel it’s a necessary backdrop for understanding the anecdote.

A few days ago, a little kid on my train expressed a refreshing view of the District Line. Squinting at the map of the line, he exclaimed, “The District Line goes everywhere!”

Now, I get that this boy’s world is relatively small; when I was five; outside of home and school my world pretty much consisted of the Holy Trinity of Adventure World, McDonald’s and Bowman’s Farm – all within 8km.

Yet this prompted memories from when I first moved from North to South West London a few years ago, and discovered all the places threaded by the District Line: Richmond, Kew, Chiswick, Holland Park via High Street Kensington, Notting Hill, Edgware Road… the list goes on. Even as a lifetime Londoner, SW was hitherto a black hole to me.

Avoiding a hometown becoming staid means finding new pockets of intrigue, or even entirely new neighbourhoods. Moving to be closer to work enabled me to view London through a different lens; South West London is verdant, relatively tranquil and lacks hipster pretentiousness. Generally somewhere that offers head space away from the bustle of urban living.

“And I can see things!”

Much of the District Line is above ground, allowing for ample time to use phones and appreciate natural light. In this respect, it makes for quite a pleasant journey. The less time spent in deeply-burrowed tunnels collectively resembling a worm farm writ large, the better.

So in summary, the Distrct Line: not so bad when you’re not in any great hurry, when you fancy a bit of a wander someplace green, and when small children make astute observations.


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