Five years ago today I was due to meet a then colleague at Paddington Station by 09:00 and travel by train to Swindon for a meeting. When I got to Waterloo and made my way down the escalator to the Bakerloo Line I discovered that it was ‘down’; not working. I think it was the Bakerloo Line. One of them wasn’t working. What would I have done? I’d have thought about walking to the Jubilee Line platforms, picking up a Stanmore train there and changing to a west-bound Hammersmith and City or Circle Line train when I hit Baker Street, but it probably would have seemed too long a walk so what I did was hop on a northbound Northern Line and instead of going straight up to Warren Street and then switching via that short walk at street level to the Circle Line at Euston Square I got off at Embankment and changed platforms to pick up a clockwise Circle Line train that would take me slowly but surely to Paddington via South Ken. Such are the instant computations and adjustments made by any tube traveller; decisions made almost beneath the threshold of conscious thought. At 08:50 the train stopped in the tunnel some distance short of Bayswater tube station. A few minutes later there was an announcement blaming an electrical surge elsewhere on the network for the delay.
Because we were underground there was no mobile signal, so no communication in or out. Minutes ticked by and I missed my friend, my train and my meeting. One hour passed; people were very calm and just chatted or read their books and newspapers. Two hours. There may have been one or two further announcements, but no new information until getting on for 11:00 when we were told that we would have to leave the train – I think they said that we would be ‘de-trained’ one carriage at a time – and be led along the tracks to the nearest station, Bayswater.
Soon it was the turn of our carriage and as our single file of passengers neared the train driver’s cab through which we were due to exit, I remembered that my then still new-ish mobile phone had a simple video camera and enough memory to shoot a few second’s worth of video at a time. ‘How cool! What are the chances?’ I thought, realising that I would be able to get rare footage of our walk along the Circle Line’s tunnel, through which — as with many of the shallower, cut-and-cover style tunnels around the London Underground network — run both the clockwise and anticlockwise tracks. I shot as many bursts of video as I could, the first of which was logged on the phone as being taken at 11:13, or two hours and twenty-three minutes after the train had been halted in the tunnel. At one point we emerged into the daylight of the brick-sided Moscow Road cutting.
Here is the video. I don’t think I even showed it to anyone for about a year. We’d been out of harm’s way after all and such images had become instantly commonplace, but then recently I needed to migrate photo and video files off that old phone so thought I should edit it together.
When we reached street level and were in range of a mobile signal once more I found a new SMS in my phone’s inbox. It was from S asking if I was OK. How strange, I thought, when she could have had no way of knowing that I had been stuck in a tunnel for nearly two and a half hours!
I remember a fleeting impression of a science fiction-style scene of abandoned or stationary buses parked on a Queensway that was curiously free of motor traffic. Puzzled, I went into a shop where I was told the still only partially correct news that there were bombs on buses.
More voicemail and SMS messages came through much later, including from my friend who had reached Paddington before 08:50 when the first bombs had gone off at Aldgate and — more relevant to us — Edgware Road stations, and safely caught the train to Swindon before the lockdown of travel to and from London rail terminals.
Mobile networks were down, too, by this time, overloaded or jammed, so like everyone else — everyone, that is, apart from the four bombers, the 52 innocent people they killed and the nearly 800 injured — I continued walking, in the direction of home.
Circle Line, London by Tony White is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.