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25 Jan 2008

The Alarming Prospect of Helicopters on the London Underground.

undergrndTravelling on the London Underground yesterday I was alarmed at a sign posted on the window by British Transport Police (see left). The sign invited passengers, in the event of seeing a train being vandalised, to call a particular phone number. Seemed reasonable enough. What was puzzling though was the use, on a sign designed to reduce vandalism on Underground trains, of a picture of a helicopter. It left me puzzled and somewhat alarmed at how British Transport Police might be planning to reduce such crime in this era of dwindling energy resources and the need to urgently cut carbon emissions.

On trying to think it through, I had a vision of helicopters flying, extremely carefully, along Underground tunnels in a desperate race to catch seat slashers before they left the scene of the crime. Aside from being highly dangerous, this is clearly a somewhat energy intensive way of reducing train abuse. Thought through sensibly, it is perhaps obvious that using helicopters on the Underground is a tad impractical and really rather unworkable. However, there on the sign is the picture of a helicopter, so I am still left wondering how these might be of use.

If one were to see an overground train being vandalised, helicopters are, again, really of little use. I have visions of exciting James Bond style chase scenes, with the helicopter chasing after the train, while the vandals lean out of the window throwing cut up bits of seat at them and making rude hand gestures. In the less thrilling event of the person next to me starting to write rude words all over the walls and my calling the given number, whether I am overground or underground , a helicopter, by the time the call has gone out, the highly trained vandalism prevention officer has been scrambled to the helipad, been cleared for takeoff and set off in pursuit of my train, it is almost certainly too late. Are there crack teams of such people permanently on standby somewhere?

Also, I have yet to see, although I concede I may be looking in the wrong place, a helipad at any of the train stations I pass through on a regular basis. When vandalism prevention officers get together socially, perhaps they swap stories of the intense frustration of circling stations while the train is standing at the platform, and they are unable to land. It is the stuff of recurring nightmares. “I nearly had ‘im”.

If British Transport Police do not plan to use helicopters to pursue vandals on either Underground or overground trains, then what? Perhaps they are using the image of a helicopter to convey the sense of powerfulness of their response, and the vigour and muscle with which they leap into action. In this case, as we begin to enter an energy lean economic recession, such images are no longer useful. Is British Transport Police run by a bunch of Jeremy Clarkson-inspired men, who still need to make the connection between the internal combustion engine and muscular, testosterone fuelled responses. “We will swoop down on your train vandalising naughtiness from above like a turbo charged helicopter”. Might as easily be “we will hunt you down like a brand new Ferrari, and then run you over repeatedly. Grrrrr”.

Beyond those 3 suggestions, I have to confess that I am puzzled. It is either deeply impractical or morally and environmentally dubious to suggest the helicopter as having any role whatsoever to play in reducing crime on British trains. I’m intrigued. Am I missing something here? Clearly, as you can see, the experience of seeing this sign has left me deeply discombobulated. Can anyone help me out here?

Categories: Energy, Transport

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Jane Buttigieg
25 Jan 9:34am

Well move over Ben Elton! Perhaps in a parallel universe you are a stand up comedian Rob. This really had me laughing. Thanks.

25 Jan 3:32pm


There is a serious point here too. The resource put into law enforcement in London has increased dramatically since we’ve had Ken in charge. All those extra police officers, cars, helicopters etc. add up to a lot of extra fossil fuel burn. Sometimes, it seems there is a more or less constant background “sound of sirens” in parts of London; would that it could be replaced with the “sound of silence”.

As well as the liquid fuel burn, the effort to keep us safe has seen an explosion in the use of what is now near blanket coverage CCTV. All those cameras and the associated monitoring equipment isn’t going to be very much use once we start getting regular power cuts.

That said, there are a lot more cops on bikes too, there there to police us naughty cyclists.

25 Jan 5:00pm

Perhaps it may be because the vast majority of the Underground network isn’t actually underground and therefore they can and I believe do make use of such aircraft from time to time to catch wanton vandals.

The consequences of vandalism have proved fatal in the past and sadly not always for the culprits Greenock for instance. If, as I understand they’re difficult to catch then good on them, might make us all a bit safer.

25 Jan 11:00pm

They are using helicopter drones! next time you are at a station, discretely raise a telescopic mirror to the roof of the train and look for the miniature ‘H’. That is a dead giveaway for a drone helipad. Have not worked out how they man the little blighters with effective enforcement agents. Maybe they are transformers, and Swiss army knife style they eject blades and miniature guns. Well, that is the only explanation I could come up with. I may be wrong.

26 Jan 12:03am

Probably used to catch grafitti artists working in the large yards where they park the trains at night. The artist Banksy describes hiding under a dumper-truck to avoid the police one night. Doubtless a helicopter with infrared cameras would have caught him – £2000 per hour well spent I’d say.

Jason Cole
28 Jan 8:11pm


I think this just means they want their CCTV control centre to be notified so they can train (boom-boom) any fixed or airborne cameras onto the vandals so they can be identified, at least to as far as what colour hoods they’re wearing.

Misunderstanding this is an inevitable consequence of not watching any TV 😛