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September 26, 2014

UKIP once pledged to turn London's Circle Line back into a circle. Here’s why it’s a bad idea

By Jonn Elledge

Today marks the start of UKIP’s annual conference. There are still a few loony lefty idiots out there who’d have you believe that Nigel Farage’s UKIP is all lukewarm beer and genteel bigotry. Should you be one of those narrow-minded, liberal (and, frankly, bigoted) fools, here’s an extract from documents accompanying the party’s 2010 manifesto which shows that there’s so much more to the party than that. (We’ve taken it from The Guardian, because the original document has mysteriously been removed.)

“Ukip will return London’s Circle line to a circle – the complete circular service recently stopped. We will build grade-separated junctions to improve the number of trains and their reliability at Edgware Road, Gloucester Road and Aldgate.”

See? They have actual transport policies, too, you racist.

In fairness, you can sort of see why this idea might have some appeal. Once upon a time, Circle line trains did exactly what you’d expect them to do: go round and round a loop enclosing much of central London (it’s the yellow one):

Since December 2009, though, the line hasn’t been a circle at all, but a sort of spiral, beginning at Hammersmith and going once round the loop before giving up at Edgware Road.

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This throws up all sorts of irritating anomalies. It means the same train will stop at Paddington twice, 65 minutes apart, but on two different platforms. It means that the train will terminate at Edgware Road and reverse, but only the second time it gets there. And it means that there is no way to travel from the north side of the route to the west without changing trains at that very station.

Worst of all, it means it’s called the Circle Line and it’s not even a little bit like a circle. And that’s just really irritating, in the same way as when someone leaves a cupboard door slightly open in your eye-line when you’re trying to watch television, or when someone arranges all their books by order of colour. It just feels wrong.

So, bringing the circle back would be good, right?

Sadly, as with so many UKIP ideas, it all falls apart the moment you start thinking about it. The new service pattern was introduced for two reasons. Partly it was to increase the number of trains on the Hammersmith branch; but partly, it was because the old service pattern required trains to cross each other’s paths at three different points. That places a limit on how frequently trains can run (sometimes, there’ll be another train in the way). Worse, it means that a delay on one bit of the line quickly has a knock on effect right across this bit of the network.

UKIP clearly know this – hence the promise to create “grade separated junctions” at the three pinch points. That’d mean creating new tracks travelling either under or over the existing ones, so that trains no longer have to cross each other’s paths.

In other words, UKIP’s promise was a commitment to spend a lot of money on tunnelling, which might require paying compensation to those who own the properties above, would certainly mean moving a lot of utility pipes, and might not actually be possible at all – and all for no other reason than that it’s mildly annoying to have a line called the Circle line that isn’t actually a circle.

Alas for fans of policy-making-through-OCD, Nigel Farage later described his party’s 2010 manifesto as “nonsense”, adding: “I didn’t read it. It was drivel.” Tragically, it seems the Circle line may never be a circle again.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason.

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