Delays extended on Jubilee Line

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WRANGLING OVER the long-delayed opening of the Jubilee Line extension linking Waterloo Station to the Millennium Dome in London descended into farce yesterday.

London Underground and rail safety inspectors rushed to pin the blame on each other for the latest delay after staff were told the opening date for the vital link had been put back by another six to eight weeks.

Tube managers' excuse was that they were waiting for the go-ahead from Health and Safety Executive rail inspectors. "Nobody knows exactly which date it will open, it's not down to us, it's down to Her Majesty's Rail Inspectorate," said a spokeswoman.

The rail inspectors begged to differ. A spokeswoman said that, while there were undoubtedly inspectors working at the project, they were awaiting final approval from London Underground to carry out the necessary inspections. Any claims to the contrary could only be described, she said, as "a bit naughty".

As the two organisations bickered about which of them should do what first, London Underground insisted that the link was "on schedule" since the latest, albeit delayed, deadline was "late summer" this year.

This left only the vexed question of what constituted late summer. One Jubilee Line official resorted to the Oxford English Dictionary, which states that the summer might be seen to last until the autumnal equinox on 22-23 September. Another spokeswoman ventured an even more liberal definition. She said that the summer might be considered to finish on 31 October with the end of British and European Summer Time.

Whatever the definition, all agree the extension is very late. The full Jubilee Line extension, from Green Park to Stratford, the final cost of which could reach pounds 3.5bn, should have been finished by March 1998. It was first delayed for a year; then another two months. Eventually the first phase, a three-mile section between Stratford in east London and North Greenwich, near the Dome, opened on 14 May, 1999.

The extension is seen as vital to transport the expected millions of sightseers who are likely to want to visit the Millennium Dome. A great deal is riding, commercially and politically, on the completion of the rail link in time for the opening of the Dome later this year.

No firm date is fixed for the final completion of the link but the latest optimistic forecast is for "late autumn". And this time nobody is venturing a definition.