Tube in crisis over decay

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The Independent Online
London Underground admitted last night that it may have to reduce services or slow down trains through speed restrictions unless more money is made available for investment from the Government.

A catalogue of decay and disrepair, some of it life-threatening, is portrayed in a report prepared for government ministers and leaked yesterday.

The report was not intended to be published because of fears that it would deter people from using the Tube and was prepared to try to ensure that London Transport's grant from the Government is not cut in next month's Budget.

Transport infrastructure has traditionally been a balancing item in government budgets, often being cut at times of restraints on spending and London Transport has prepared this extraordinary document to put pressure on ministers not to make cuts.

Last year, after rumours of sharp cuts, the grant was unchanged at pounds 350m, following a campaign by pressure groups and business interests. LT invests another pounds 200m from passenger revenue. This year, Department of Transport sources are bracing themselves for a 5 per cent cut, which would probably result in pounds 100m being cut from LT's grant.

The document outlines in detail how several stations are in a state of disrepair which London Underground can only afford to patch up.

For example, Ladbroke Grove in west London, an elevated station built above a main road, is collapsing on its own foundations. The report suggests that there is a serious risk of collapse and that, until emergency repair work was carried out, there was a one in six chance of someone being killed by falling masonry. Now the chance is still one in 30 and pounds 1.7m is needed to remedy the problem.

Water penetration is causing severe problems at many stations. At Piccadilly Circus, tiles are falling off, putting passengers at risk of being hit and water is also shorting out electrical circuits. The cost of making long term repairs is pounds 2.5m.

At Covent Garden, the increased use as a result of the successful redevelopment of the area, with 40,000 passengers using it per day means a totally new station is needed at a cost of pounds 45m.

Escalators, too, are causing concern with a collapse of a stair at Euston causing a passenger to break an ankle. There is potential for what LT engineers call "complete step collapse" and as an interim measure pounds 3.8m is needed for repairs, while the long term solution of a total redesign is pounds 20m.

London First, the business pressure group, has calculated that an extra pounds 150m per year would allow LT to cut the backlog of investment within five years and become self financing thereafter. The Underground is the only major metro system in the world that pays all its running costs out of the passenger fare box, with only investment being funded from government.

An LT spokeswoman said last night: "This is a confidential internal study which we shared with senior government officials showing just how bad the consequences of a low budget could be. We are very hopeful that this will not happen but in any event the network will be kept in a state of repair by a regime of examination, maintenance, speed limits or withdrawal from service."