The Sound of Stations

One of the best things about working remotely is that I can get work done anywhere there’s a seat and wi-fi. In fact even the latter isn’t vital thanks to mobile tethering. It’s a great excuse to explore London a bit, and usually I’ll find a nice coffee shop, or a library.

Now forgive me for sounding old and grumpy here, but libraries are so¬†often full of children and teenagers making an absolute racket. My local Leyton Library being a particularly bad offender, they seem to have stocked¬†it with noisy children’s toys! It’s not all libraries by any means, but too many of them. At least I’m getting my money’s worth from my recently purchased noise cancelling headphones.

Anyway, the other day I did¬†sit down to do some work¬†in a rather pretty spot at St. Pancras station’s AMT Coffee (a chain¬†that¬†I do still retain a certain affection for):

St Pancras

Not a bad view, huh? The thing is, despite the fact that it’s a major railway station, it was surprisingly quiet. Not in terms of the number of people of course (see my earlier post) but the noise level. The only exception was when a Eurostar arrived, which they seem to have made as noisy and ostentatious as possible as if the train was announcing “HEY I CAME FROM FRANCE ARE YOU IMPRESSED?!”. But the rest of the time, surprisingly quiet.

I wandered into Cannon Street station during rush hour once and it was an almost creepy experience: huge throngs of¬†people were standing around gazing¬†at the screens for their platform, all in complete silence. Yes it’s a well-worn clich√© that commuters never talk to each other on the tube, but to a large extent it’s true, and it seems to extend to the stations.

Admittedly the stations with more tourists and leisure travellers, rather than just City commuters, tend to be a bit more lively. Still,¬†I find it interesting that the code of silence seems so much stronger in London’s stations than in its libraries.

London Bridge station timelapse

Here’s a hypnotic timelapse of London Bridge station during the morning peak (although it probably looks quite different¬†at the moment due to the ongoing works).

To put it in perspective, this isn’t even London or the UK’s busiest station. Waterloo, Victoria and Liverpool Street all handle more passengers.

Living up North, I used to think of Manchester Piccadilly as a huge and busy station. It comes 15th on that list, and all but three of the stations above it are¬†yet more London stations. Even what I now think of as my ‘local’ station, Stratford, is significantly busier than Piccadilly. And that’s just counting National Rail services, not including the Underground and DLR.

My other current favourite statistic: a single London bus route (25) carries 50% more passengers every day than Sheffield’s entire tram system.

This city really does rely on public transport to a staggering extent.