Soon the last train to Cockfosters will be late in seven languages

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The Independent Online
JAPANESE TOURISTS who brave the Tube system in London could soon be able to "mind the gap" without opening their phrase books.

London Underground is looking for staff who can translate the babble of its public address system, which often confuses even hardened commuters, into recorded announcements in Japanese.

The initiative is part of a pilot scheme to make the Tube system more accessible to the 16 million foreign visitors who flood into London every year.

The Tube is already experimenting with announcements in other languages at selected stations, such as Gloucester Road and Sloane Square.

Tourists at these stops will find their interminable wait for a train relieved by the lyrical sound of "beware of pickpockets" in Italian, Spanish and French.

However, if the scheme is successful, Japanese tourists may find it rather puzzling to be told in familiar staccato tones to "seek an alternative route" or that trains have been delayed by a signal failure at Camden Town.

The Tokyo underground system is the epitome of efficiency. Employees sporting white gloves usher commuters on to carriages, and delays are unknown.

Jan O'Neill, spokeswoman for London Underground, said the company was always looking for new ways to help tourists.

"There are some areas, especially near the museums, which are crawling with tourists all year. London is the honeypot destination of the world.

"The company has always been open-minded about foreign visitors. If you visit our museum there is a picture of a member of staff with badges up his arm saying what languages he speaks."

She admitted, however, that the logistics of using the scheme for all announcements would be difficult because of the number of languages involved. Instead, it was likely that the project, which is backed by London Transport Police, would be used to tackle specific projects such as crime prevention.

"We want to do our best by our customers but it's difficult to know what is the best long-term solution to address the needs of travellers," she said. "There are so many languages spoken it is difficult to address everyone's needs. People also get fed up if they have to listen to an announcement in several different languages.

"We already give pay incentives to staff if they can speak or decide to study another language and there is a high proportion of our staff who have a second language."