Britain’s departure boards should tell us less about train operating companies, and more about service speed

This article was published on CityMetric on 15 March 2017.


From the train station near where I grew up, trains go in one of two directions. In a dichotomy that tells you an awful lot about everything going wrong in the UK, departures from Didcot Parkway, in Oxfordshire, pretty much go towards London or away from London.

On platforms 1 and 3 you can go to thrilling places like Oxford, Bristol, Newport, Cardiff, and (pardon me, I’m getting overexcited) Swansea. On any other platform – but mostly platform 2 – you go to London Paddington. All this is courtesy of Great Western Railway (formerly First Great Western). GWR, as it’s colloquially known, is infamous for its punitive policies that make it harder to take bikes on trains – a policy so egregiously awful it was once debated in Parliament.

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Here are some of the world’s most stupid time zones

This article was published on CityMetric on 9 March 2017.


As citizens in the great nation of the Royal Observatory at Greenwich, the Prime Meridian, and the official designated centre of the world, we Brits can forget the bizarre ridiculousness of time zones.

Time zones.

Why is it that flying west from London to Madrid results in shifting the clocks one time zone eastward – an hour ahead?

And did anyone ever give a thought to the zip wire across the River Guadiana between Spain and Portugal, where your flight across the river is so fast – at 45 miles per hour – that you land in Portugal one hour earlier than you left Spain?

Or, indeed, the one international border where stepping one foot over the mountains means you step three and a half hours back in time?

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The trains you can ride without leaving your desk

This article was published on CityMetric on 2 March, 2017.


If you’re a full-on transport freak like me, there’s a problem. You want to go gallivanting around the world, riding all the trains, metros, and trams you can find, mixing TGV with Shinkansen, Deutsche Bahn with Amtrak, and so on.

But the harsh reality is that economic necessity means you have to do a job and get on with life most of the time, and not just sit on trains in a pensieve but ultimately aimless way.

Suffer no longer! Where once only a tiny minority would relish the opportunity of a 55-minute YouTube journey showing the entire journey on an obscure city’s metro line, the beamed-to-your-screen train experience is becoming more mainstream.

It’s early days yet, but here are just a few trains you can ride without leaving your desk.

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Mexico City is drinking itself into the ground

This article was published on CityMetric on 1 March, 2017


When the Aztecs founded the city of Tenochtitlán in the middle of a lake, they thought they were being incredibly clever.

It was 1325, the height of the era of Mesoamerican tribes vying for supremacy in the narrowing strip between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Gulf, and a small island on the western side of Lake Texcoco seemed like a pretty good place to be.

The Mexica people who lived there – and from whose tribe the name Mexico now comes – became enormously successful. Their Aztec Empire was the most formidable force on the continent, exerted control and influence for thousands of miles around, and established trading relationships stretching as far as the Inca Empire in modern-day Peru.

Their island city, smattered with canals, causeways, and dykes, was a lesson in sustainability.

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