Terminal Five at Heathrow!
By now, of course, you've all either read about this or seen it on the news. I was going to put this in Schadenfreude Corner, but I don't actually take any pleasure from this cock-up. T5 (as it's known, probably in anticipation of a future Terminator movie - Terminator 5 - The Year We Spent Waiting For Our Bags At Heathrow) cost a smidge over four billion quid, took five years and an insane amount of man-hours - and some deaths - to build. It's been tested for the last few months with weighted bags running on the luggage conveyors. It was opened by the Queen earlier this month, on which occasion Sir Nigel Rudd, chairman of the British Airports Authority, said, "Terminal 5 marks the start of a new beginning for Heathrow, for BAA and for our millions of passengers. It is by any standard a triumph of ambition, commitment and collaboration. It will breathe new life into Heathrow, allowing us to continue our transformation of the rest of the airport and will put Heathrow and BAA back where they belong - at the leading edge of global travel."
It does not work.
I have yet to see a statement in Sir Nigel's ringing and lyrical tones about the events of the past couple of days.
Now, I have to tell you that very little of this comes as a complete surprise to me. Our recent record of public works is not edifying. The Millennium Bridge from Tate Modern to the North Bank of the Thames swayed alarmingly when *gasp* large numbers of people wanted to walk across it on the occasion of its opening. Wembley was late and just a fraction over budget. The Dome was a catastrophe, from start to finish.
But. The Bridge had dampers fitted to it and now it's a big tourist attraction. The Dome has been reborn as a music venue and, from friends who have been there, it's one of the better ones in the Capital. Wembley? The last time I saw a match there the pitch looked as if the larger part of a Panzer division had been driving up and down it before the game, but apart from initial concerns about food franchises and the toilets and escalators not working, I've heard suspiciously few criticisms lately, which leads me to suspect that the teething troubles have been ironed out.
The moral we can infer from these examples is that we are really crap at large public works, but given time to tweak them we'll get them right. Which, no doubt, will happen at Terminal Five. By the end of next month, it'll probably be running just fine.
And now I want to offer you this thought. In a little over four years London will host the Olympic Games. The Olympic Games run for just a fortnight. There will be no time for tweaking; we'll have to get it right first time.
Am I optimistic? Let's just say I have space booked in Schadenfreude Corner for the 2012 Olympics. I hope I won't need it. But I have space booked.