LONDON (AA): Londoners hitting the city’s busiest clubs at the end of a busy week will encounter an unfamiliar feeling on Friday night.
Two lines on the London Underground metro system – known to Londoners as the ‘Tube’ – will stay open through the night and the entire weekend as part of the network’s first regular overnight service.
It promises to end the dilemma faced by anyone who has been out to enjoy the British capital’s nightlife: to end the party early and catch the final train at midnight, or brave the city’s notoriously jarring overnight bus network.
The so-called Night Tube service will provide “wonderful benefits” to London, the city’s mayor Sadiq Khan said on Friday.
“It will support thousands of workers who have to travel to or from work at night, it will provide huge economic benefits to our vital night-time economy and it will help Londoners get home quickly and safely after a night out.”
Transport for London, which operates rail and bus services in the capital, says there has been a 170 percent increase in demand for travel on night buses since the turn of the century, fueled by a rise in population and more businesses that need to operate 24 hours a day.
Mike Brown, London’s Transport Commissioner, predicted it would be a “massive benefit” for at least half a million people who use the network after 10 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
But transportation officials were not always so keen.
London Underground once claimed the entire system would “come to a halt within days” if 24-hour running was introduced.
It said the problem was engineering: metro networks like New York operate four tracks on most routes, allowing repair and maintenance work to take place on two lines while running trains on the other two.
London’s network by contrast is the oldest in the world – the first line opened in 1863 – and exclusively operates two tracks, meaning the trains had to stop to allow the engineers to work.
“So that’s why the Tube must close down for a few hours every night. Remember that the next time a politician promises, in exchange for your vote, he or she will have the system running 24 hours a day,” a caustic message on London Underground’s website read in 2003.
But within years, London was running an all-night service each New Year’s Eve. A similar service operated when the city hosted the Summer Olympic Games in 2012.
After proving all-night running was a technical possibility, the network’s maintenance program was radically altered so that all routine engineering work took place overnight on weekdays only.
But when Khan’s predecessor as mayor, Boris Johnson, announced the Night Tube in November 2013, there was an obstacle he had not foreseen: whether drivers and station staff were willing to operate it.
Labor unions staged a series of all-out strikes in a dispute over work hours and pay, forcing Johnson to first delay and eventually cancel his planned September 2015 launch date.
The workers’ dispute now resolved, the Night Tube will launch on two London Underground lines on Friday with three further lines to follow before the end of the year.
It joins cities like Berlin, Melbourne and Vienna in running a 24/2 operation, although it will always be a relative minnow to the 24/7 service offered by New York and other U.S. cities.
For Mayor Khan, the Night Tube is a massive economic boost to the U.K. capital two months after the vote for Brexit.
Londoners voted strongly to remain a European Union member but were outnumbered by voters elsewhere in England and in Wales. Khan has argued London – as Europe’s largest financial center – must remain as close as possible to the EU and its single market.
The Night Tube is one way to boost business, he said. The economic benefits will see £77 billion ($101 billion) turn over in the London’s economy, supporting around 2,000 permanent jobs, according the figures provided by the mayor.
Author Michael Sercan Daventry
[Photo: London Underground passengers walk past a new Night Tube sign at Oxford Circus station in London, England on August 19, 2016. Photographer: Tolga Akmen/AA]