The Newspapers' Obsession With The Tube Being 'Too Hot For Cattle'

The Newspapers' Obsession With The Tube Being 'Too Hot For Cattle'
This cow is having a better time of it than you. Photo: Chris Marchant

It is a phrase you'll see spattered across newspapers this summer — newspapers which are themselves spattered in the stinking sweat of London commuters forced to endure temperatures that any respecting cow would wrinkle its snout up at.

Photo: The Engine Room

"Even with a bottle of water, a hand-held fan and minimal clothing, the London Underground at this time of year can feel like Dante's hell," reasoned the Independent in the summer of 2014. "So it may come as no surprise to learn that it would be illegal to transport livestock at the temperatures passengers are subjected to on the tube."

"Temperatures on the tube are going to exceed the legal limit for transporting cattle", the same paper mooed the very next year.

Just like this winter will undoubtedly, according to the tabloids, be the coldest since Narnia happened, so we are annually warned that friesians being shuttled about the continent are having a better time of it than us. It has become an annual certainty — as certain as any news of a summer heatwave will be accompanied by scantily clad young women.

From the Independent, 2014
From the Standard, 2009
From Yahoo, 2015

There are exceptions to the rule — well, one anyway. Sometimes the net is widened to livestock — which gives papers like the Metro a golden opportunity to print pictures of hens waiting to board a train (no doubt bound for Green Peck, where they'll alight for Cluckingham Palace — ohcomeonthatwasgood).

From the Metro, 2014

The big question: hyperbole or not? One document [pdf], issued to those transporting cattle, states, "The temperature within the vehicle must not fall below 0ºC during a journey of more than eight hours." Little danger of that on the 'Dante's hell' that is the tube. As for those higher temperatures, we're sad to say the papers are not scaremongering. As an official government website says, when transporting your 'cattle, sheep, pigs, goats and domestic equidae' — you must "maintain the temperature within the animal compartment between 5°C and 30°C (+/- 5°C)". Even with that 5°C margin of error, tube trains (and buses) in the summer often reach temperatures above that (trust us, we've done our research).    

Lies, all lies. Although, possibly not a lie when this poster was actually made

The papers have got this one right though. But why is the whole 'legal limit for cattle' thing a relatively new headline?

We plundered the newspaper archives for heated headlines from times gone by ("Twopenny Tube Ladies In Stocking Removal Scandal", that kind of thing), but didn't find a sausage. That's probably because the tube wasn't always so toasty; an article by Ian Visits explains that the London clay has gradually been absorbing and retaining the heat produced by trains over the decades.

Still, now we're sick to the back teeth of the same of headlines summer in, summer out, couldn't the papers be a little more imaginative this year, or at least put a positive spin on the situation? "Tube Temperatures Not Quite High Enough To Boil Water," for example. Anyone got George Osborne's number?

Last Updated 15 June 2017