IT has been described as the “arm-pit” of the underground and is a perennial source of rage for browbeaten Circle line commuters.
Now, the mystery of the delays and cancellations at Edgware Road Tube station has been solved.
At its nerve centre is a signal box first fitted in 1928 – a relic from the first days of the network when there was only one line for the whole of London.
London Assembly Member Murad Qureshi made the discovery during a behind-the-scenes tour of the station as part of his duties on the mayor’s transport committee.
He said it was a “joke” that the box was still in operation in a city that claims to be the capital of the world, and has called for mayor Boris Johnson to replace it as a matter of urgency.
“I couldn’t believe it when I saw it,” said Mr Qureshi. “It’s full of cranks and levers, and is a full-time job for two men, who sit their sweating away keeping it going. A lot of people, including myself, avoid the station, because of the bottlenecks. Sometimes you sit there and don’t go anywhere for ages. Now it makes sense.”
He added: “It is one of the oldest, if not the oldest signal box in the entire Underground, and quite simply, replacing it would make life a lot less stressful for a lot of people.”
Last year the Circle line route was extended into a “lasoo” shape from Edgware Road to Hammersmith, a development claimed to have improved waiting times at the station by 26 per cent.
But Transport for London’s own figures reveal commuters are suffering longer waits and have fewer trains since the redesign in December, with some forced to wait up to 20 minutes for a train.
Responding to questions about the line’s clunky performance this week, the mayor conceded progress had been hindered by signal failures.
Mr Johnson said: “Unfortunately, a number of factors in the first few months of the new Circle service combined to prevent performance from improving as much as I would have liked. These included the coldest winter weather in 30 years, recurring problems with the aging train fleet, some driver shortages, and a high incidence of signal failures on what is a very old signalling system. I know these have been frustrating for customers and LU (London Underground) has worked hard to overcome them.”
TfL have earmarked the line for upgrades over the next eight years, and say the signal box would be replaced under its programme.
A TfL spokesman said: “Signal cabins on the Underground are now rare and remain in use only on the sub-surface lines (Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan). The signal cabin at Edgware Road has been in use since around 1928.
“In most cases signals are controlled from a central control room. However where cabins are used the signaller controls the signals for the local area only.
“It is imperative that we press ahead with the sub-surface upgrade which will see the introduction of 191 air-conditioned trains, starting this summer on the Metropolitan line, and new signalling which will be complete along the whole of the sub-surface network by 2018. As part of the upgrade, the signal cabin at Edgware Road will be taken out of use. The upgrade will mean faster and more reliable journeys delivering around 50 per cent increase in capacity thereby cutting congestion.”