One breakdown - and agony for thousands

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The Independent Online
WHILE MANAGERS at London Underground promised yesterday to pour hundreds of millions of pounds into the cash-strapped Tube network, thousands of London's commuters faced another morning of misery.

Passengers were stranded for up to two hours in stuffy carriages on the Central line, which runs from Epping in Essex to the western edges of the capital, after a train broke down at Leyton, east London.

Nor was this an isolated incident. Two weeks ago, thousands of Tube commuters were stuck in tunnels on the Central line for nearly an hour following a breakdown of the ageing system. The effect of a seemingly simple incident was to lengthen some passengers' journeys by 200 per cent.

Denise Thompson, a secretary who works in Docklands, began her journey at Buckhurst Hill, Essex. It usually takes her 45 minutes to get to the office but yesterday it took her three times as long. "I started my journey at 8.35 but didn't get to work until 11. It was an absolute nightmare," she said.

Mrs Thompson was not the only one of the Central Line's half million daily users who were affected by the chaos.

Robert Georghiou, who works for a firm of stockbrokers, travels to work from Newbury Park in east London. Stuck just behind the defective train that was being "pushed" down the track, his journey, which normally takes 45 minutes, took him nearly two and a half hours.

He said: "It got pretty heated. At one point a man said to a woman: `Can you please stop talking because your voice is drilling into my head.'"

Despite an pounds 800m refurbishment programme, including new signalling, the Central line has been plagued with problems. It has fallen victim to the needs of much higher-profile schemes, such as the pounds 3bn Jubilee line extension, which have soaked up much of the engineering expertise on the network.

The promised pounds 1bn cash boost to the Tube will be welcomed by many passengers. Government figures show that more than 100 trains are delayed every day on the network.

Business was counting the cost of yesterday's disruption. A spokesman for the London Chamber of Commerce said: "When thousands of commuters are stuck ... and many of them are high earners going in to the City, I think we are talking in terms of hundreds of thousands of pounds. It amounts to a lot of unproductive time, lost business, general disruption and stress."

A spokesman for the London Underground said yesterday that passengers caught by delays could claim compensation under the Passengers' Charter.

Commuters face more misery next week, when a two-day strike by Tube workers will shut down the network.