Delay fears over Tube link to Dome

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The Independent Online
The pounds 3bn Jubilee Line extension - the main link to the Millennium Dome - is in trouble. Randeep Ramesh, Transport Correspondent, explains why reaching Greenwich might be a miserable millennium experience.

Visitors to the Millennium Dome, Britain's pounds 700m celebration of 2000, are in for a bumpy ride. Linked to the capital by an extensive public transport network, developers have made much of the dome as a "car-free experience".

However, they had not counted on the site's main artery, the Jubilee Line extension - London Underground's most important project in 25 years - being in a mess.

Running at full capacity it could send 36 trains an hour along 16km of tunnels from Westminster to east London. Industry sources say full service is unlikely by 2000. It is, they say, unlikely to run more than 10 trains - each carrying 1,000 passengers - at peak times

JLE managers had promised New Millennium Experience (NME) - the company charged with developing the site - that it would have no fewer than 17 trains an hour running at peak times. But it has been dogged by problems, the latest with its sophisticated signalling system.

This would mean serious delays travelling to or from the Dome. And business says the "competitiveness of the capital as a world-class city is at stake".

A spokeswoman for the JLE said: "We have more than enough capacity to deal with the numbers expected and the trains will be fully operational."

However, the site could be choked by its own success. The exhibition is expected to attract 12 millions visitors a year. As the Crystal Palace exhibition of 1851 managed 6 million people in one year and 1889's Paris exposition attracted more than 10 million, the Government's estimate for the millennium exhibit seems low.

NME is understood to be working on a figure of 15 million people in 2000 - with busy Saturdays attracting up to 100,000. Without access by car this may be difficult to cope with. The NEC in Birmingham attracts 4 million visitors a year - 3 million driving to the venue.

But can public transportcope? The Dome's Tube station - the biggest in Europe - can cope with 22,000 people. There should be 7,000 car parking spaces available and John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister, is expected today to announce a contract for a river bus service which will handle 6,000 people a day.

Despite this, contingency plans are being drawn up to stagger visiting times to the Dome and take the seats out of Docklands Light Railway trains to double passenger numbers on its route to Greenwich.