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Discovered: the west pole, somewhere in London

January 22, 2010 17 Comments

The only way is up. All roads lead to Rome. And just as you can only travel south from the north pole, apparently if you're on the Circle Line, you can only travel east, regardless of which way you're going.

As these pictures I took on the underground (hopefully legally) show:

  • If you're going from Victoria to Liverpool Street, you go in an easterly direction.
  • Want to go the other way, from Liverpool Street to Victoria? Ah, then you'll be needing to go in an, er, easterly direction.

But Liverpool Street is east of Victoria

But Liverpool Street is east of Victoria

Victoria is east of Liverpool Street

Victoria is east of Liverpool Street

Presumably if you can only travel east, we must be at the west pole.

Wouldn't clockwise and anti-clockwise work better on something called the Circle Line? There is an explanation of sorts at the BBC's bizarre H2G2 site.

Despite that being very illogical, there is a reason behind this. The Circle Line stations share its platforms with older Lines, eg the Metropolitan Line, which have quite obvious Westbound and Eastbound direction.

So how do you know which platform to go to? There are three ways of doing this. For this, you need a tube map. Find your starting place, and where you want to get to. Also look at the nearest NR [National Rail] station on the map.

  • Check the boards before getting on the platform - ignoring the West/Eastbound text, see if your destination is on the board. If it is, then that is the right platform.
  • Guess which platform is the right one and then look on the Electronic sign or the Light Box with arrows on it - these should then read: 'Circle Line via XXXXXXXX', the 'X's representing any one of the stations in between where you are and your destination. For example, if you are at High Street Kensington and want to go to Embankment, the sign should read 'Circle Line via Victoria'. If it doesn't have any of the stations in between where you are and where you want to get to, then you need to use the next step in conjunction.
  • Follow the instructions above, up to looking at the Electronic sign - if the sign doesn't read any of the stations in-between, but the correct NR station, then you are on the right platform. For example, you are at Paddington, and want to go to Baker Street. The sign should read, 'Circle Line via King's Cross/St. Pancras'. If it doesn't, then you are definitely on the wrong platform.

Alternatively, it may be simpler to ask one of the London Underground staff. These people are easily recognised by their blue uniforms, and are incredibly helpful in providing accurate information.

This one wasn't, of course.

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  • This is not the only 'Mobius strip' on the Underground, nor is it restricted to the Circle Line. If you go to Euston and take the northbound Victoria line one stop to King's Cross, then get off and take the northbound Northern Line one stop... you end up back at Euston.

  • Mike Doyle says:

    In Chicago, our metro system is similarly multi-directional and radial, and many of our train lines travel through downtown on a circular viaduct. (Or as we would say, many of our 'L' lines run through the Loop on the Loop El--meaning, yes, both downtown Chicago and the elevated structure encircling it are both confusingly called the Loop, and the terms 'L' and El have different meanings, BUT I digress...)

    To avoid a similar problem to yours, the Chicago Transit Authority just avoids using cardinal directions at all. Instead, platforms are referred to on signage by the destination of the line or lines that serve them instead of the direction of travel. (i.e. signage saying "Howard Street platform" for our Red Line's northern terminal instead of "Northbound platform".)

    On the Loop El it gets simpler--we just use the terms "inner Loop" and "outer Loop" to refer to them, with arrows on the system map showing in which direction each travels (inner is clockwise.)

    Directions aren't used in announcements either. On-board announcements refer to the train (or bus) destination instead of the cardinal direction of travel, and automated platform announcements and scroll signs simply refer to trains as "inbound" or "outbound" relative to downtown.

    The simplicity works well here. In a city like ours where the public transport agency has actually managed to misspell--and even to forget to include--its own rail stations on system maps, we deem it best not to overly tax the brains of our local transport planners.

  • Mike: while that sounds complex, it does also sound simpler!

  • Dan says:

    Reminds me of this post of mine from August 2007.

    "If you want to go from Euston to King’s Cross St. Pancras, you can either take the northbound Victoria Line or the southbound Northern Line (Bank branch)."

  • Luiz Lima says:

    It's not illogical as such, and actually correct, but I hate that the Jubilee is part North/South and part East/West! It always gets me slightly confused.....

  • Paul says:

    Surely this confusion only results if you don't know where abouts on the Circle Line's circle you are? The 'Eastbound' only tells you the direction the train sets off in, not where the destination is.

    If the western part of the Circle Line didn't exist between Moorgate and South Kensington, you would still have to set off Eastbound for both directions of travel, but you wouldn't expect it to say Clockwise or Anti-clockwise in that situation, because it would make no sense. So why find it be any more confusing with a complete circle?

    • Mike Doyle says:

      I can't help but wonder, though...what good is it to know the direction the train starts off in, anyway? In that case, the "direction" is only being used to differentiate one platform from another, not to give the rider useful travel information--especially if that information proves confusing. All people really need to know is which platform will get them to their destination station.

      If that's the case, wouldn't using "clockwise" and its opposite by definition be less confusing on the Circle Line? And it seems to me if the Circle Line from Moorgate to South Kensington didn't exist, signage towards Liverpool Street could just as easily say "northbound"--or simply "Liverpool Street", for that matter.

      (Apologies for jumping so far into this debate from so far away. In a previous life I was the associate director of the New York City Transit Riders Council, so I find public transport signage discussions fascinating.)

      • Mike Doyle says:

        Putting an even finer point on it--my whole (ahem) point is that you can be confounded by "eastbound", but it's a lot harder to argue with "clockwise" or "Destination: Edgware Road" :-)

      • Paul says:

        But if you don't know where on the Circle Line you are, how is Clockwise or Anticlockwise any more help? You only know which direction the train must go because you know where the stations are on the line.

        If I said that station A is 2 miles directly northwest of station B, and they are both on a train-line which forms a complete circle, to get from A to B would it be best to set off clockwise or anticlockwise - you have no way of knowing without knowing where on the loop the two stations are. In which case, you'd also know which compass direction you'd have to set off in.

    • Paul: I'm not sure many people realise the tube map sets off eastwards from Liverpool Street go get to Victoria do they? I didn't!

      You can see it if you look at a geographical version of the tube map and I suppose the standard map suggests it. But it had me stumped.

      What do they do at Aldgate where the standard map suggests north / south travel, althought the actual direction of travel is northwest / southeast?

  • Paul says:

    Oops. Sorry about the typo in the last sentence!

  • Wayne says:

    At Holborn on the Piccadilly line the two opposite directions are Northbound and Westbound!

  • R Wenner says:

    Official: The West Pole is located on the 98th meridian, it is located in Bee Cave, Texas. Certified by the 79th Texas Legislature in 2007 via H.R. No. 2933. It is the location of the annual Armadillo Day celebration (like Groundhog Day) every Feb. 2nd. “that location has been searched for, researched, and found to be positively located at 30 degrees, 18.25’ North and 97 degrees, 56.28’ West, in Bee Cave, Texas”.[1]

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