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Prescott fury at London Tube `mess'

THE DEPUTY Prime Minister yesterday rounded on London Underground over its decision to close the Circle Line until the middle of August.

John Prescott said that he would be trying to ensure that managers of the Tube did not "make a similar mess" of other work in progress on the network which will shut part of the Northern Line this summer.

The closure of the Circle Line - used by nearly a quarter of a million passengers a day - began last Friday after services descended into chaos. The shutdown was made "official" and extended to 16 August on Sunday after an emergency meeting of senior managers over the weekend.

Despite more than six months of planning, London Underground has failed to find a way of running the Circle and District Lines through engineering work between Gloucester Road and High Street Kensington. After some deliberation they decided one would have to go. Passengers were to use the District Line instead, but the arrangement ruined both services. The District Line is to be kept going partly because it runs to Wimbledon where the tennis tournament began yesterday.

Mr Prescott, who is planning to privatise part of the system, said yesterday that customers had suffered unacceptable levels of disruption. "I am determined to make sure they provide as good as possible service and I will also be pressing them to ensure that they do not make a similar mess of the Northern Line closure."

The Northern Line, the busiest on the system, is to close for nine weeks from 3 July to 5 September between Moorgate and Kennington. Tube management estimated that around 75,000 commuters use that part of the service every day. Engineers will realign tunnels so that trains can be free of speed restrictions which have been in place since the 1930s.

Cynthia Hay, of the pressure group Capital Transport, called for a Government investigation into the Circle Line decision. She forecast a summer of misery on the Tube with passengers sweltering on overcrowded trains.

Mike Brown, Circle Line general manager, said the strategy had been aimed at minimising inconvenience: "Unfortunately despite intensive planning and a lot of work, any small delays on the system were causing significant back-up problems. We are sorry for the inconvenience this is causing customers but we feel this is the best option."

A spokesman for London Underground said the closure had helped District Line services to operate more efficiently and said the Hammersmith and City lines would be operating more trains to compensate.