Journalists are a cynical bunch the world over it would seem, or at least Down Under. The Australian press pack have spotted what they claim is the Achilles heel in the much-maligned Olympic transport plan and one of their veteran sports reporters, who has just turned up in London to cover his third Olympic Games, felt obliged to inform the FT’s transport correspondent of the problem.
The issue is not apparently with one of the underground lines to the Olympic Park at Stratford, which have had their share of problems in the build-up to the opening ceremony later on Friday. Nah mate, it’s the flagship high-speed Javelin train, the newest, shiniest and quickest way to get to to Stratford. Running a shuttle service every six minutes during the Games from the gleaming spires of St Pancras station in north London this smooth, air conditioned seven minutes ride is a far cry from the hot, oppressive and not always very reliable trains on the Tube.
The problem is the number of gates and escalators at either end, our source reckons. “It was bad enough with just a few hundred journos trying to get through the station every morning this week,” says the doubtful reporter. “But imagine what’s going to happen when thousands of spectators turn up to use it.
The FT went along to investigate and while transport officials have long made it clear to expect queues of more than an hour to use the service, they have also boasted it can cope with 10,000 passengers an hour. One customer service supervisor the FT spoke to at Stratford International (the high-speed service has its very own station about half a mile from the main Stratford interchange) was confident the station would cope but admitted there were planning for long queues. He said people using the Javelin should allow an hour and 20 minutes to get from the station into the Olympic Park, compared to an hour and 40 minutes for those arriving at the main Stratford station – that 20 minute saving is what high-speed rail is all about!