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The London Underground is on the verge of collapse and here's why

The London Underground is on the verge of collapse and here's why

The London Underground is on the verge of collapse and here's why
13 November 2015

If you thought your morning commute was busier than normal last month, then you may have had a point.

Newly released figures from TfL reveal that the London Underground had its busiest-ever day and busiest-ever week in October, with 4.735m people using it on 9 October, and 28.614m taking the tube in the final week of the month. While the Rugby World Cup would have had an impact, TfL apparently expects new records to be set before the end of the year.

Mind you, that figure would undoubtedly have been higher had all the people who wanted to use it been able to do so: another recent survey revealed a "list of shame" of tube station "black spots" where queues for ticket machines - often the only place to buy tickets after the closure of ticket offices - are now up to an hour long. At stations such as Victoria, staff are quoted as saying, "There are dreadful and dangerous bottlenecks of passengers".

Meanwhile, an incident at Stratford station on 28 October - slap bang in the middle of that record-breaking week - saw the station experience "mayhem" after a stabbing incident during rush hour led to "total chaos" and reports of crushing as staff struggled to deal with an incident in a packed station. One onlooker said ""Nobody seemed to be trying to control the situation or realised how overcrowded it was."

Stations closing during morning and evening rush hours is now commonplace - the likes of Oxford Circus and Holborn are regularly shut due to overcrowding, while, over the past 12 months, Brixton, booming in population but still hindered by the fact there aren't any more tube stations south of it, has become an overcrowded bottleneck for seemingly the whole of South London.

Nonetheless, Steve Griffiths,  LU's Chief Operating Officer, told The Evening Standard: "Customer satisfaction is at an all-time high."

It is simply impossible to believe that this is true.

I abandoned the tube and bought a bike three months ago, having finally reached breaking point with it. There are a thousand Twitter complaints every morning from commuters frustrated about signal failures and delays, but that wasn't what did it for me. What was actually scarier is that the service was crazily overcrowded when things were working fine.

When I moved to my house on the east of the Central Line two years ago, you were able to nab a seat most days of the week. Now, you're lucky to even get on the third or fourth train that goes through the station, packed to bursting point with miserable commuters pressed up against the doors. And yet there is a train literally every single minute. There's no way of moving any more people any more quickly - and the staff were constantly trying their best to move things along as best they could.

When there was a delay - any delay, which is bound to happen occasionally on any service - it turned into mayhem; queues ten deep at the platform within minutes, and people on the edge of platforms at the mercy of the crowd building up behind them. I'm still staggered I never saw someone nudged over onto the rails by accident.

For stations such as Stratford, Victoria, Bank and Brixton, insane levels of overcrowding are now the norm: in eleven years of using the tube regularly, I've never known it as bad as it is now.

But what can be done?

Naturally, the government, like everything else, has decided that cuts are the solution. This week the Transport Department's budget was cut by 30% and it was announced that the London Underground was facing the loss of £700m a year of state subsidy to its operating budget by the turn of the decade. Admittedly, there are £1bn of upgrade projects pencilled in before 2020 but incidents such as those at Stratford highlight the importance of more 'boots on the ground' which would come from the operating budget. And that just isn't going to happen.

And of course, there's the night tube. It's a nice idea, but - let's face it, it shouldn't be a priority over simply getting the existing network to work.

Even if there were a massive extra program of investment, the sheer speed at which I've seen overcrowding increase over the last few years suggests that wouldn't be enough. And with London only growing in population size, with seemingly no coherent government policy to stop the 'brain drain' to London - and more people filling up the outer reaches of the tube lines, who do not have the option to cycle due to distance - it's simply going to get worse.

God forbid it happens, but sooner or later there's going to be a fatal crush, or a fire disaster that claims hundreds of lives - and I, for one, won't be able to say I didn't see it coming.

(Image: Rex)