Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Why are commutes always more delayed in rush hour? -- REVEALED

So I need to work an early shift today as my wife's away overnight on business and that means I have to pick our tot up from daycare rather than drop her off.  It also means I'll need to work from home tomorrow in order to manage both drop-off and pick-up, since the missus won't be home in time to do either.  Given that I generally work from home on Fridays, don't expect much from Signal Failure for the rest of this week, unless I come across some really interesting news.  Oh, and I caught norovirus from our daughter, so was off work sick yesterday, hence the lack of updates.

Anyway, what I wanted to say was that I experience no delay whatsoever in this morning's journey into work.  In fact, I got to my final destination a whole one minute earlier than I had catered for (-£2.50 from TfL's invoice in the interests of fairness)!

This confirms something I've often noticed - namely that commuting seems to be less plagued by delays outside of the typical rush hours.  Like most people, I've generally assumed that this is because with more people needing trying to get on and off trains during rush hour, the trains spend longer in the stations than they otherwise would, and we accrue delay over long journeys accordingly.  Well, that and the occasional passenger action, which is more likely when there are more people around.

This morning, however, I've had an epiphany: you see, that can't be the problem because it would be so easy for TfL to rectify, for instance by amending journey times during peak hours so that, say, a 36-minute journey off-peak takes 40 minutes at rush hour.  This would mean TfL could claim a higher percentage of its services run on time, lead to fewer forward-planning passengers having cause to complain, etc., etc.  And, of course, it's inconceivable to even think that everyone at TfL is too thick to realise this and amend things accordingly.  All of which means the additional delays in rush hour must be caused by something more integral to the transport vehicles themselves.  Something, perhaps, a little insidious...

Here's the theory: trains can't function property when they approach (or exceed) capacity.  Naturally, every theory needs to be backed up properly, and luckily I have done that work for you too.  Here comes the science part, as those smarmy L'Oreal adverts would tell you: when you get trains that are too full, they quickly heat up.  This heat causes expansion of all the trains various parts (this is basic science, and if you don't understand it, go read a primer - I'm not your science teacher!), including - crucially - the wheels and locomotive mechanisms (so I'm not too technical on the names, big deal!).  But, because of the different parts' varying distances from the heat-radiating passengers, plus the exposure of some, but not all, of those parts to the cooler external atmosphere, they expand at different rates and to different degrees.  The parts no longer fit together as well as they should.  This causes friction, which reduces smooth locomotion and leads to inefficient travel and delay.  Furthermore, when the trains are hot, passengers often selfishly open the windows, letting in air that slams against the walls of the backs of all the carriages, increasing drag coefficient and thus exacerbating the delay problem by slowing the trains accordingly.

Here's the solution: more carriages on trains.  Of course, this means longer platforms at every station too, which is a major undertaking, but at least a one-time expense that would ensure trains are never running at anything close to capacity and therefore fully fix the system, with potential operating cost savings paying for themselves in just a few short years.  Oh, and adding air conditioning while sealing shut the windows couldn't hurt either.

The only problem to beware of is that, if the trains become too efficient, we may suffer from a macrocosmic version of the relativity effect, which I am the first to discover.  In its most basic form, the theory of relativity states that, the closer a moving object approaches to the speed of light, the slower time becomes for it.  If trains were to travel close to the speed of light, as they doubtless would with my improvements, those on the train would experience time more slowly than the rest of the world.  This means that as a commuter, your journey would subjectively last just fractions of fractions of fractions of a picosecond.  In the world outside the train, however, many years or even centuries might have passed (I haven't finished tinkering with the maths yet).  This would clearly make the problem of delays far worse than it already is, so perhaps we should choose just one of the above suggestions: either air conditioning or longer trains and platforms.  Air conditioning sounds cheaper, so I bet they go for that, TfL the stingy bastards.

So, yeah, Signal Failure's had a brief hiatus recently, and will likely do so again for a few days, but what have you done for science and public transport lately?  Man, I hope it's not too late to enter for this year's Nobel Prizes; I expect to at least be on the shortlist for this one.  Oh, and for Literature too.  And why not Peace, while we're at it, since fewer delays will mean fewer "random" acts of violence from frustrated travellers.  No need to thank me, just put my name down for the Nobel nominations.

On the other hand, maybe TfL has already worked all this out and done the maths, and have concluded any improvements along the lines of the suggestions I have made will lead to delays stretching into the millennia, and so have discarded the notion.  Yes, that must be it.  And that's why trains are always more delayed during rush hour than at any other time.  We got there in the end.

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