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Tuesday 6 March 2012

The Metro Grass Is Always Greener

Why doesn’t the Tube run for 24 hours a day? After all, Jennifer Lipman has suggested, similar systems in other cities do. Well, up to a point, but this is an interesting issue, and no doubt there will be someone in the upcoming Mayoral race that might seek to gain a little mileage from the idea. What must be said at the outset, though, is that it isn’t going to happen.

Canary Wharf station

And that means any candidate promising such things is trying to pull a fast one. The Tube knocks off for a clear four hours or so between weekday shifts – a bit longer before and after the Sunday service – because there is always, and probably always will be, work to do to make sure the whole thing is fit for purpose when the next day’s assault from millions of Londoners hits it.

But what of Ms Lipman’s assertion – you can read her thoughts at Telegraph blogs – that New York, Paris and Madrid provide a round-the-clock service? Sadly, only one out of three on this one: both Paris and Madrid close each night, giving a similar maintenance window to the Tube. Much of the New York system has four, not two, tracks and that makes it easier to provide a 24 hour service.

A train on the Central Line

The four tracks enable the operation of a “local” and “express” service alongside one another. That feature is particular to the city, the only parallel on the Tube being the Piccadilly west of Hammersmith, and the Metropolitan out from Baker Street. Not really enough to provide the kind of spare capacity to do an NYC. Other European cities also close overnight.

That includes Rome, Milan, Naples, Barcelona, Valencia, Porto, Lisbon, Berlin, Munich, Hamburg, Vienna, Budapest, Prague, Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Nuremburg. Many of these do not run a service as intense as the Tube, and the overcrowding seen regularly in London is thankfully rarely repeated, but there is still an overnight shutdown.

Ms Lipman cites shift workers and catering staff, but if there were sufficient of these to fill the trains, they would put a real strain on the night bus service that runs while the Tube is closed. That they don’t suggests that night time is when demand is lowest, and therefore that maintenance work done at this time is going to inconvenience the least number of people.

So that’s one item on the wish list that isn’t going to happen. Not that this mere fact will deter the most determined of campaigners.

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