London Underground at Night


The London Underground system, lovingly called the tube, is one of the oldest and longest metro systems in the world. Although many people complain every day that the tube is dirty, the trains often break down and too many line closures for engineering works occur during the weekend, running a network of 270 stations and 250 miles of track is no easy task.

An even bigger challenge is maintaining this network. Many people wonder why the tube is not open 24/7. The answer to this question comes from the faq section of the Transport for London website. Each day, the lines need to stop between 1: 00 and 6:00 to carry out essential maintenance and cleaning work. Unlike the four tunnel structure of the metro system in New York, where one tunnel in each direction can be used for maintenance work while the other allows the trains to run, the system in London, like on most European cities, is two-tunnelled. Therefore, to carry out essential maintenance work, the tube needs to shut, which is conveniently done during the evening hours.

But what is exactly happening during the night? Wired magazine recently went down to one of the stations and talked to the people working at Tube Lines, one of the companies responsible for the Piccadilly, the Northern and the Jubilee lines. You can see the entire video here. In this video, we witness the replacement of track sleepers, track maintenance and cleaning are the principal work carried out during those hours.


The replacement of sleepers is the main task being carried out by a team of people. During the night, the team can manage to replace only 3 sleepers. The work involves drilling the old sleeper from the concrete, lifting the sleeper (which is essentially a 4 man’s task) and then replacing it with the new one. On the other hand, the track work is now done by a special milling machine. The machine scrapes off the track to make it even and ensure a more comfortable ride for the passengers. Finally, the cleaning of the stations and the ballast is also an enormous task. Rubbish and newspapers are cleaned by hand by the staff, whereas grime at the side of the station and the ballast is being cleaned by special machinery.

Each day, therefore, the team maintaining the network faces a race through time to complete all those works and get the line to acceptable standards for the passengers for the next day. While it sounds simple, it is not an easy task considering that temperatures can go up to 40 ℃. And all that, during the time that we are having our dream in the comfort of our home.



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