Mobile phones menace heads for Underground

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The Independent Online
LONDONERS MAY be about to lose their last refuge from the mobile phone. A new pounds 350m system could mean that commuters on the Tube will be able to use their phones to explain that they are on the train - even when they are underground.

London Underground managers have decided, however, to gauge the views of the travelling public before deciding whether to proceed. "We don't want to horrify people by introducing mobile phones against their will," said a spokesman. "If people think it's dreadful then we won't do it."

The technology that would allow mobiles to be used is part of a new tailor-made communications system being developed for the Tube, called Connect. Its benefits will first be for drivers and staff; at present, each of the 12 lines has a separate radio system.

The new system is being installed by the CityLink consortium of telecoms and finance companies under the Private Finance Initiative (PFI) - which promotes investment between the public and private sectors. It will integrate all Underground communications and the target date for completion is July 2004.

Communications on the Underground have always been a problem, because radios are limited by the depth and length of the tunnels. Mobile phones would initially only work on platforms, with the capability to work in tunnels being added if it is wanted by the public.

The total value of the system is expected to be pounds 1.2bn. Under PFI rules, ownership of the system reverts to London Underground at the end of the 20-year contract.

Leading article, Review,

page 3; Ken Livingstone, Review, page 4