Mind the new-wave architecture! A journey to the jubilation line

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The Independent Online
JOHN SELF, general manager of the Jubilee Line, stood on the new platform at North Greenwich station and was seized with lyricism not often found on the London Underground.

"It is like being underneath a ship and seeing it sailing above you," he mused. The first phase of the long-awaited extension to the Jubilee Line - eventually linking the centre of London with the Millennium Dome and Canary Wharf - opens this week, although yesterday the management could still not say exactly when. (The second opens in July, the final phase by the end of the year).

I rode the four-station stretch of the first phase with Mr Self, sat in the driver's cabin and explored the new- wave architecture of the 21st- century Tube. It was not necessarily the stuff of sonnets. That didn't matter. More importantly, it was not the stuff of the old Underground.

Gone are the endless passageways and dark corners that epitomise the routine depression of travel for Londoners. The new stations emphasise space and light, and, at last in the capital's Underground system, find a place for imaginative architecture. The vast glazed concourse at the Stratford interchange, with its curved roof, makes a breaking-wave profile. Canning Town also has a glazed roof, allowing daylight through an escalator canopy suspended from a steel armature. West Ham is a low building but again emphasises light, entering through glass blocks and permeating the concourse and ticket hall.

Then come the striking azure panels and sloping funnel-shaped pillars of North Greenwich. This is the station that connects with the entrance to the Dome. It is also the Jubilee Line's answer to the Pompidou Centre. In the suspended ticket-hall overlooking the platforms you can see the workings of a station, with maintenance walkways above your head. On the platform is the most visible and striking sign of the new line: the Platform Edge Doors, which slide across to form a barrier between travellers and track, ending one of the most conventional forms of suicide. As in New York and San Francisco, so in North Greenwich. When the train doors open and close so do the platform doors.

So far only the train-drivers have been able to witness it at regular intervals. Since March trains have been running every six to ten minutes as part of the testing. But the drivers have their own new-wave props to make them feel special. I rode with Simon Gusah. Next to him are two video screens giving the driver sight for the first time of every carriage. If someone presses the alarm, the driver can see and talk to the person.

"What's more," said Mr Gusah from his reclining driver's seat, "if someone sounds the alarm, the train stops." This used to be the case throughout the Underground years ago. Progress sometimes means going back to basics. Each train has a "black box". "Basically," says Mr Gusah, "it is a train that tells you what's wrong with it. On older trains all you had were the symptoms. The lights might go out, for example. But now it can tell me exactly which car is having trouble with the brakes."

Back to North Greenwich, where they are practising the platform dot-matrix messages. Surreally, across the empty platform flashes the sign: "Due to overcrowding in the ticket hall you are being held here for your own safety."

That message, anticipating not just all three phases of the new Jubilee Line being open, but a popular and triumphant Dome, may not be seen again for some time.