Eighteen months of line closures and disruption on London's underground network to allow crucial engineering repair work was announced yesterday by London Transport.
The scale of the disruption, and the level of chaos it will cause the 2.6 million passengers who use the system daily, brought widespread condemnation from user groups and opposition politicians.
The urgent repairs, costing pounds 87m - including work on the decaying Victorian and Edwardian tunnels that carry trains beneath the Thames - will mean staggered closures from March this year until autumn 1997. The most drastic shutdown will affect the Bakerloo Line between Piccadilly Circus and Elephant and Castle in south London. This section will be closed for eight months from the end of the year.
Commuters using two of the capital's busiest rail termini at Charing Cross and Waterloo - home of the Eurostar Channel tunnel operation - will be particularly hard hit by the repair programme.
Labour's transport spokes-man, Brian Wilson, concerned with underfunding for London Underground, called for a full statement in the House of Commons next week. He said: "London is paying the penalty for 16 years of prejudice against the public sector. We are left with an infrastructure that cannot support services required by a modern economy."
Peter Ford, chairman of London Transport, said details of closures and alternative routes would be given out soon in specially prepared timetables. The scale of the disruption is a public relations disaster for London Underground, which raises fares tomorrow by an average of 4.5 per cent. The company insists that no more than 100,000 passengers will be affected each day.
Sources at London Underground said yesterday that there had been "decades of underfunding where repair and maintenance was ignored - by both ruling parties".
A spokeswoman said: "This year we will spend pounds 414m on core maintenance work. The pounds 80m projects represent less than a quarter."
And she added: "We could have easily spent pounds 700m, because other parts of the system are simply crumbling." The partial shutdown was the result of a policy of "doing nothing, till something stopped working".
The closures include: the Northern Line, Charing Cross Branch, from 30 March to 30 June this year. Tunnel strengthening work will mean no weekend service between Charing Cross and Kennington. Further work will mean closures between Camden and Kennington.
On the City Branch of the Northern Line, there will be closures from July to October this year. On the Waterloo and City Line, there will be closures from 4 to 14 April.
The southern section of the Bakerloo Line will be shut down for eight months from the end of this year.
Work will also be carried out on the Putney Bridge to Wimbledon services on the District Line and there may also be disruptions to the Metropolitan Line at weekends.