Mind the app: How Tube WiFi Is Causing Delays and Lost Phones

Smartphones and Tablets are at risk of being dropped
Mobile phones were once totally useless on Britain’s Tube system due to the lack of phone signal. However, the every growing number of smartphones and their apps are leading to more problems than ever on the Tube system. Transport for London (TFL) have been moved to point out the dangers to London’s tube riders, who are apparently dropping more and more phones on to the train tracks, causing severe delays. This comes on the back of anecdotal evidence from tube drivers and other observers that this has been a bigger problem since January this year.
Image representing Virgin Media as depicted in...
Virgin Media run the WiFi across the 150 year old Tube system with over 800k registered users

What changed at the turn of 2013?

There seems to be two key factors at play here. The first is that more people arrived back in to London after Christmas with smartphones then has ever been the case before. This has opened up a wider audience of web app users who are putting themselves in a position to drop their phone and cause a tube delay.

The second key factor, which is also the biggest cause of this problem, is the recent installation of WiFi across the swathes of the 150 year old Tube network. Virgin Media run the WiFi network on the tube, and recent figures released by the company show that they have 800,000 registered customers on the Tube.

WiFi on the Tube has transformed the Tube experience for these 800,000 people, meaning that the once communication dead network is now open to mobile browsing. Where once books and newspapers reigned supreme, now we have a new wave of smartphone email checkers and iPad web surfers.

One of the worst hit lines is the Victoria Line. As one of the Tubes busiest lines, it sees a constant stream of trains with very short intervals (<1 minute between trains during peak hours). This leaves staff with an especially short window to retrieve any dropped phones between trains, and as a result drops on this line are more costly then say the Circle Line. As a result, trials begin this week with the aim of reminding people to be careful with their devices whilst trackside.
Dean Horler, station manager at Victoria said “We’re asking customers on the Victoria Line to be more careful with their mobile and smart phones while waiting for a train,” .

Its unlikely that a dropped smartphone would fare well on the Tube

Endangering Lives

In the grand scheme of things, a lost phone is not a massive deal. A lost life is though, and TFL fear that this scenario may not be too far away. Station workers are trained professionals who know how to safely work around the live tracks. However, reports show that in some cases, regular passengers are climbing down onto the tracks in order to try to grab their phone.

Dean Horler was at pains to ask people not to climb onto the track in order to try and reclaim their property. “In some instances, customers have put their own safety at risk by attempting to get down onto the electrified track to retrieve their property.” Rescuing lost property doesn’t involve a quick dash from station personnel, there are advanced procedures in place. Trains have to be stopped and protection used in order to go on to the tracks.


TFL run a lost property collection service at the end of each day for lower value items, such as clothing, which often gets swept on to the tracks by the changing air pressures caused by a train approaching or departing.

TFL will be monitoring the effect of their warning over the next few months on the Victoria Line.
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