Proud rail officials are handing out leaflets at London’s Waterloo station telling passengers of the many advantages of the new ticket barriers. After months of installation and years of planning, the dream has finally become a reality. I think the barriers were first proposed sometime between the end of the Second World War and the official launch of the futuristic Oyster Card at the Festival of Britain in 1951. And now we’re finally there. The machines all sit proudly in bubble wrap, waiting to be unveiled at an unspecified point in December. Quite why they can’t work immediately isn’t really explained.
According to the leaflet, the station has been ‘gated’ – a hideous piece of rail jargon which could easily have been translated into plain English. And there’s a boast too. This is the longest ‘gate line’ in Europe. Don’t it just make you proud to be British? It’s a record breaker… dah-da-da-da-da-daaah! Why don’t we get Norris McWhirter and Roy Castle down there for the grand opening already?
The reality, of course, is likely to be chaos, as Waterloo isn’t a station with the capacity to cope with folk held up at barriers. It’s overcrowded and cramped. As people wait to enter the platform, they will be standing in queues that will probably stretch back into the concourse and cause major obstructions. I predict some disgruntled commuters in the coming months and possibly even a bit of a revolt if the station becomes dangerously packed. This is what the jargon-stuffed boneheads of the rail industry would call “passenger action”. Not saying I’d instigate it or even be a part of it. Just observing the potential outcome. And speculating about another entry in the record books: for the shortest-lived and most expensive gate line experiment in the Western world.