I conducted Myers-Briggs personality assessments of London's 11 tube lines. Here's what I learnt

"What are you thinking?" Image: Getty.

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment is a set of questions, to which someone’s answers will supposedly tell you exactly what kind of personality they have. For example, you can find out whether they think about things, or perhaps have feelings.

The test was created by mother and daughter Katharine Cook Briggs and Isabel Briggs Myers, fans of psychologist Carl Jung, after Katharine noticed that her son-in-law had a different personality to the rest of her family, something that definitely required formal and rigorous investigation.

Someone’s Myers-Briggs Type is represented by a sequence of 4 letters. You sometimes see these on online dating or social media profiles: “I’m an INFJ”, someone might say, which means that they’re "Introverted, Intuitive, Feeling and Judging". The opposite would be an ESTP: "Extroverted, Sensing, Thinking and Perceiving". Some famous ESTPs, according to my extensive research, include David Cameron, Hermann Goering, Madonna and the Circle Line. 

You might think it would be hard to judge the personality type of the Circle Line, because it’s a tunnel in London with some trains in it, but you’d be wrong. All the tube lines have Twitter accounts these days – and whilst the normal way to establish a Myers-Briggs Type is get someone to fill in a questionnaire, it’s apparently possible to use a sample of text to analyse the personality of the author.

So, in 2013, I ran an analysis on all a collection of the tweets that have been posted by each London Underground line – and here’s what I found:

Almost every tube line is either ESTJ (a personality type sometimes described as "The Doer") or ESTP ("The Guardian"). There's just one exception: the Waterloo & City Line is ESFP – "The Performer" – a personality type shared by Miley Cyrus.

That the Waterloo & City lines has a fundamental difference in personality from its peers seems to be borne out by looking at how the different tubelines interact. Here's a slightly confusing diagram showing how often the different tube lines mention each other on Twitter. The redder the boxes, the less "social" a line is:

Lines tweeting on the horizontal, lines being tweeted at on the vertical. Samples of around ~3200 tweets per line.

The Waterloo & City Line is by far the least social. The other lines just aren’t interested in it, and it isn’t particularly interested in them. But why is it so different?

The line opened in 1898, built by the London & South Western Railway, because even after they’d gone to all the effort of moving their terminus from Vauxhall to Waterloo, that still didn’t actually get most commuters to where they worked in the City. It’s the only London Underground line that’s completely underground (taking trains on and off the line used to be done using a hydraulic lift; nowadays they use a crane). But for a long time, it wasn’t really a London Underground line at all. It doesn’t even appear on Harry Beck’s original 1933 tube map, despite pre-dating it by over 30 years.

The original Harry Beck tube map

That it opened as an independent railway line isn’t unusual among the older London Underground lines. What is unusual is that it was still operated by Network South East a national rail line until 1994, when it was decided to correct the anomaly before rail privatisation took place. For arcane contractual reasons, London Underground bought the line for a pound.

The 1987 tube map does include the W&C, but it’s marked as a National Rail service.

Once integrated into the tube network proper the line was given the exciting colour of turquoise, all the good colours having already been used up. At least it’s better than what the Jubilee Line has been known to claim is “silver”. Chinny reckon.

Maybe that long isolation from the “proper” underground lines has taken its toll, marked the Waterloo & City out as different. The sad thing is, it seems like it’s trying to be chatty and approachable: it may be the line that tweets the least but, if we look at how much each line tweets given the number of stations on it, or the total line length, the Waterloo & City has them all beat hands down. It’s also the least egotistical line, mentioning itself less than any of the others.

 

Whoa, District line, get over yourself.

If we look at the words it uses the most, we can see while it’s pretty work-focussed, it is a fan of Easter and the Paralympics.

Perhaps it’s the case that we can’t learn absolutely everything about a thing by analysing its Twitter account. Perhaps. So I took my second ever trip on the Waterloo & City Line, making the journey in the order the name suggests. That I’ve only used it twice in 10 years might not be not that uncommon, as trips on it account for less than 1 per cent of all Underground journeys made in London.

But for what it is, it’s hard to fault: at around 9 minutes (including getting to the platforms) it’s still the fastest way of making the journey between Waterloo and Bank, if you don’t fancy cycling really fast or taking a helicopter. And it’s definitely the most efficient bit of tube line naming on the whole system:

Waterloo & City Line Map

The line’s name was actually even more functional when it was opened, as until 1940 the terminus in the City was called City.

For some reason, on the day I took my trip, every single advert displayed in the carriage was for a special brand of Beats by Dre headphones aimed at executives. Not even a single one for that hair clinic. All Beats, as far as the eye could see.

As my trip was on a weekday afternoon no-one much was about which is good because people might have thought I was a bit of a weirdo for taking photos of Beats by Dr Dre adverts.Empty train

At the other end I walked up what as far as I can tell is the tunnel that gave the line the nickname “The Drain”. I have never heard anyone actually call the Waterloo & City Line “The Drain”, but it says they do in about four different books, so it must be true. Anyway, I guess this tunnel is a bit like a drain, if drains had lights and steps? I’m not going to start calling the Waterloo & City Line “The Drain”.

The Drain

Later that day I found a book in Guildhall Library which is mainly about 200 pages of Victorians arguing about corners but does have some exciting fold-out diagrams of the Waterloo & City Line – handy for if you want to want to build a Waterloo & City Line. Here’s a very bad photograph:

To be honest, I didn’t really learn a lot about the Waterloo & City Line from this experience. I think it’s just some trains? The tweets are almost certainly just written by someone in an office, and this has probably been a largely pointless exercise.


But then the Myers-Briggs test is itself a largely pointless exercise, taken seriously only by people who work in HR and designers of bad online quizzes, where you can find out if you’re more or less perceptive than Clara from Doctor Who. So let’s call that the point and move on with our lives.

Ed Jefferson writes some things on the internet. He tweets as @edjeff

An earlier version of this article appeared on his blog, Some Fool Notion, in September 2013. It's reposted here with his permission.

 
 
 
 

To build its emerging “megaregions”, the USA should turn to trains

Under construction: high speed rail in California. Image: Getty.

An extract from “Designing the Megaregion: Meeting Urban Challenges at a New Scale”, out now from Island Press.

A regional transportation system does not become balanced until all its parts are operating effectively. Highways, arterial streets, and local streets are essential, and every megaregion has them, although there is often a big backlog of needed repairs, especially for bridges. Airports for long-distance travel are also recognized as essential, and there are major airports in all the evolving megaregions. Both highways and airports are overloaded at peak periods in the megaregions because of gaps in the rest of the transportation system. Predictions for 2040, when the megaregions will be far more developed than they are today, show that there will be much worse traffic congestion and more airport delays.

What is needed to create a better balance? Passenger rail service that is fast enough to be competitive with driving and with some short airplane trips, commuter rail to major employment centers to take some travelers off highways, and improved local transit systems, especially those that make use of exclusive transit rights-of-way, again to reduce the number of cars on highways and arterial roads. Bicycle paths, sidewalks, and pedestrian paths are also important for reducing car trips in neighborhoods and business centers.

Implementing “fast enough” passenger rail

Long-distance Amtrak trains and commuter rail on conventional, unelectrified tracks are powered by diesel locomotives that can attain a maximum permitted speed of 79 miles per hour, which works out to average operating speeds of 30 to 50 miles per hour. At these speeds, trains are not competitive with driving or even short airline flights.

Trains that can attain 110 miles per hour and can operate at average speeds of 70 miles per hour are fast enough to help balance transportation in megaregions. A trip that takes two to three hours by rail can be competitive with a one-hour flight because of the need to allow an hour and a half or more to get to the boarding area through security, plus the time needed to pick up checked baggage. A two-to-three-hour train trip can be competitive with driving when the distance between destinations is more than two hundred miles – particularly for business travelers who want to sit and work on the train. Of course, the trains also have to be frequent enough, and the traveler’s destination needs to be easily reachable from a train station.

An important factor in reaching higher railway speeds is the recent federal law requiring all trains to have a positive train control safety system, where automated devices manage train separation to avoid collisions, as well as to prevent excessive speeds and deal with track repairs and other temporary situations. What are called high-speed trains in the United States, averaging 70 miles per hour, need gate controls at grade crossings, upgraded tracks, and trains with tilt technology – as on the Acela trains – to permit faster speeds around curves. The Virgin Trains in Florida have diesel-electric locomotives with an electrical generator on board that drives the train but is powered by a diesel engine. 

The faster the train needs to operate, the larger, and heavier, these diesel-electric locomotives have to be, setting an effective speed limit on this technology. The faster speeds possible on the portion of Amtrak’s Acela service north of New Haven, Connecticut, came after the entire line was electrified, as engines that get their power from lines along the track can be smaller and much lighter, and thus go faster. Catenary or third-rail electric trains, like Amtrak’s Acela, can attain speeds of 150 miles per hour, but only a few portions of the tracks now permit this, and average operating speeds are much lower.

Possible alternatives to fast enough trains

True electric high-speed rail can attain maximum operating speeds of 150 to 220 miles per hour, with average operating speeds from 120 to 200 miles per hour. These trains need their own grade-separated track structure, which means new alignments, which are expensive to build. In some places the property-acquisition problem may make a new alignment impossible, unless tunnels are used. True high speeds may be attained by the proposed Texas Central train from Dallas to Houston, and on some portions of the California High-Speed Rail line, should it ever be completed. All of the California line is to be electrified, but some sections will be conventional tracks so that average operating speeds will be lower.


Maglev technology is sometimes mentioned as the ultimate solution to attaining high-speed rail travel. A maglev train travels just above a guideway using magnetic levitation and is propelled by electromagnetic energy. There is an operating maglev train connecting the center of Shanghai to its Pudong International Airport. It can reach a top speed of 267 miles per hour, although its average speed is much lower, as the distance is short and most of the trip is spent getting up to speed or decelerating. The Chinese government has not, so far, used this technology in any other application while building a national system of long-distance, high-speed electric trains. However, there has been a recent announcement of a proposed Chinese maglev train that can attain speeds of 375 miles per hour.

The Hyperloop is a proposed technology that would, in theory, permit passenger trains to travel through large tubes from which all air has been evacuated, and would be even faster than today’s highest-speed trains. Elon Musk has formed a company to develop this virtually frictionless mode of travel, which would have speeds to make it competitive with medium- and even long-distance airplane travel. However, the Hyperloop technology is not yet ready to be applied to real travel situations, and the infrastructure to support it, whether an elevated system or a tunnel, will have all the problems of building conventional high-speed rail on separate guideways, and will also be even more expensive, as a tube has to be constructed as well as the train.

Megaregions need fast enough trains now

Even if new technology someday creates long-distance passenger trains with travel times competitive with airplanes, passenger traffic will still benefit from upgrading rail service to fast-enough trains for many of the trips within a megaregion, now and in the future. States already have the responsibility of financing passenger trains in megaregion rail corridors. Section 209 of the federal Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 requires states to pay 85 percent of operating costs for all Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles (the legislation exempts the Northeast Corridor) as well as capital maintenance costs of the Amtrak equipment they use, plus support costs for such programs as safety and marketing. 

California’s Caltrans and Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority, Connecticut, Indiana, Illinois, Maine’s Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin all have agreements with Amtrak to operate their state corridor services. Amtrak has agreements with the freight railroads that own the tracks, and by law, its operations have priority over freight trains.

At present it appears that upgrading these corridor services to fast-enough trains will also be primarily the responsibility of the states, although they may be able to receive federal grants and loans. The track improvements being financed by the State of Michigan are an example of the way a state can take control over rail service. These tracks will eventually be part of 110-mile-per-hour service between Chicago and Detroit, with commitments from not just Michigan but also Illinois and Indiana. Fast-enough service between Chicago and Detroit could become a major organizer in an evolving megaregion, with stops at key cities along the way, including Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, and Ann Arbor. 

Cooperation among states for faster train service requires formal agreements, in this case, the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact. The participants are Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. There is also an advocacy organization to support the objectives of the compact, the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission.

States could, in future, reach operating agreements with a private company such as Virgin Trains USA, but the private company would have to negotiate its own agreement with the freight railroads, and also negotiate its own dispatching priorities. Virgin Trains says in its prospectus that it can finance track improvements itself. If the Virgin Trains service in Florida proves to be profitable, it could lead to other private investments in fast-enough trains.

Jonathan Barnett is an emeritus Professor of Practice in City and Regional Planning, and former director of the Urban Design Program, at the University of Pennsylvania. 

This is an extract from “Designing the Megaregion: Meeting Urban Challenges at a New Scale”, published now by Island Press. You can find out more here.