Friday, March 10, 2006

Vertigo and Claustrophobia on the Heathrow Express

Heathrow Express StationWith its decade celebrations just round the corner, the Heathrow Express continues to impress me as an engineering and service achievement. As a resident of West London for many years, journeys from the centre outwards take along time. Heathrow Express cuts through all of that and makes you realise what happens if you take the congestion away. Paddington is really only a 15 minute blast from Paddington- not the hour it might take by car.

As the train peels off the Great Western line in Hayes it plunges into a tunnel. A very deep tunnel. By the time you alight at Heathrow, it's quite a way to the surface. In fact, on my last visit the other day, it struck me that it's a real problem for claustrophobes and vertigo sufferers (not a core market for air travel, I'll grant you). You have a choice. Rise to the surface on an air-on-all-sides escalator which must climb something like 50 to 80 metres. Even I held on a little more firmly than I normally would. Or take a lift... those small boxes on a cable.

All this just goes to reiterate the engineering feat, most markedly with immense concrete walls rising from the depths. Little wonder that the return ticket price needed to pay for it all was over 3 times the same journey by tube.

Paddington StationI wonder how the modern experience compares to what the Victorians thought when they first saw I K Brunel's wonder at the other end of the Heathrow Express- Paddington Station?

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