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An Evening Underground

December 9, 2008

An Evening Underground

One of the joys of representing our constituency is to be found in discovering hidden aspects of London life. In the early, chilly hours of this morning I was lucky enough to glimpse the tireless efforts of tube maintenance workers on a trip underground with TfL contractor, Tube Lines. While we may sometimes find our tube network frustrating, in seeing first hand what goes on behind the scenes to keep the capital moving, I was both inspired and daunted.

After dark, when the last trains have run, an army of workers descends, transforming the underground into an enormous workshop. Starting at Holborn station, we walked along the tracks to Covent Garden, and saw the painstaking work that is being carried out to replace decades-old wooden sleepers. Small teams of men must complete their work in about four hours before the trains start up again, meaning that they can only replace about six sleepers a night. It is difficult, physical work in dark and dusty conditions. Furthermore, it is almost a never-ending job. Tube Lines has a thirty year contract with London Underground for the maintenance of the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines which all run through our constituency. The length of the contract gives some idea of the scale of the work involved.

The fact that much of the engineering technology that keeps our city running dates back to Victorian times is both testament to the skill of our forebears and evidence of the enormous task that lies ahead in providing London with a service worthy of a modern capital city. The renovations we saw underway at Covent Garden station, which seek to preserve original features of the building, reminded me too that our tube network is a piece of living history which requires the same care that is needed to preserve many of our best-loved landmarks.