x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

New train of thought for London Underground

As part of a new experiment, the city's Tube drivers will be using the passenger address system to quote some of the world's greatest minds.

LONDON // Commuters on London's cramped underground trains are soon to have Gandhi as company. Shakespeare, Einstein, Sartre and many others will also be joining them for their remorseless, daily slog in and out of the capital. An experiment is to be launched on the Piccadilly line of the Tube - which runs from outer London into the heart of the city - involving drivers using the passenger address system to quote from a small book containing the thoughts of some of the world's greatest minds.

If the move succeeds in brightening the mood of commuters on the often-overcrowded trains, it will be expanded to other lines. Normally, announcements on the Underground consist of bland recordings telling people to mind the gap between the train and the platform or warning them to stand clear of the sliding doors. Sally Shaw, who is running the scheme for Transport for London, said the experiment was part of an effort to improve interaction with the travelling public and rely less on automated announcements.

Drivers who volunteer for the scheme are to be given passport-sized books containing quotations designed to amuse or give commuters something to ponder over. Some will have an obvious resonance with passengers. "There is more to life than increasing at speed," as Gandhi observed. "Hell is other people," according to Sartre. And when there are hold-ups on the line, Cézanne's observation that "we live in a rainbow of chaos" might seem peculiarly apt.

"It's ironic and a slightly risky thing," Ms Shaw said, "but if you think about it, part of the problem a lot of us face when we are trying to get from one place to another is the sense that we can't get there fast enough. But how fast can the human body travel? We're not time machines, so maybe we should think about that a little bit more." The scheme was the brainchild of artist Jeremy Deller, whose original proposal was to have a day when there were no announcements because "it does my head in".

Not surprisingly, Transport for London vetoed that idea but agreed to go along with Mr Deller's fallback position of giving drivers the quotation books. Passengers are to be invited to e-mail Transport for London with their reactions. "I wish announcements were more personal and reflected the realities and absurdities of living and working in a city," Mr Deller said. "I think the travelling public enjoys some humour and unexpected insight during their journey."

The London Underground system has pioneered various artistic projects in the past, including putting posters in trains and on stations bearing verses of poetry. The poetry in motion idea, introduced more than a decade ago, has now been copied by metro systems around the world. Quotations selected for the current experiment come from various parts of the planet and include: "Never criticise a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins" - Native American proverb.

"Those who lose dreaming are lost" - Aboriginal proverb. "Beauty will save the world" - Dostoyevsky. "Nothing is worth more than this day" - Goethe. "The afternoon knows what the morning never expected" - Swedish maxim. But on a wet Monday morning, when commuters jostle for space, the one they will probably not want to hear is: "Trouble will rain on those who are already wet." dsapsted@thenational.ae