Power engineers may get on their bikes to beat millennium bug

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Hundreds of London Electricity engineers could be told to get on their bikes as part of contingency plans to beat the year 2000 computer bug and millennium celebrations in the capital.

The proposal, under serious consideration by senior executives, is one of a host of ideas generated by a working party of engineers in London's main power distribution business. The group has been asked to come up with ways to stop London's lights going out, should the world-wide computer meltdown predicted by some experts become reality.

London fears that massive traffic disruption to the capital on New Year's Eve could make it virtually impossible for engineers to get to faults on the system.

One way round the chaos would be for all its engineers to be issued with mountain bikes, enabling them to squeeze through the congestion. "We're looking at all the options. Our priority is to keep the lights on and if it came to giving our engineers bikes then so be it," said a spokesman.

Many interruptions to supplies could come if computer systems crash, though London, in common with other companies, has been spending millions of pounds attempting to fix the problem.

The millennium bug comes because most computers can only recognise the last two digits of the year. It means computers are unable to distinguish between 2000 and 1900, causing all kinds of unexpected difficulties.

British Petroleum yesterday became the latest company to reveal huge costs to fix the bug. The oil giant said it expected to spend around $140m (pounds 88m), on top of up to $70m to get ready for the single European currency.

Other suggestions from the electricity group included installing an emergency phone service linking electricity sub-stations. Another is to abandon the computer age altogether and post engineers to all the main sub-stations, most of which are fully automated, ready to operate them manually.