Down to the dark side

VIDEO DEEP below London, lies a hidden side to Liverpool Street Underground Station. In part three of the Gateway to London series, features editor TRACEY SPARLING heads downstairs - and finds a dark side.

By Tracey Sparling

DEEP below London, lies a hidden side to Liverpool Street Underground Station. In part three of the Gateway to London series, features editor TRACEY SPARLING heads downstairs - and finds a dark side.

EVERYWHERE I look, there is thick black dust.

Handrails, tangles of wires, and walls are coated in this layer of grime which has accumulated since the Victorians first hew this tunnel over 100 years ago.

Station supervisor Naipaul Etwaroo has turned the key in the lock, and we have stepped through an insignificant white door, at the end of Central Line's westbound platform.

We find ourselves in a dark dirty world which only the train drivers and cleaners usually get to see.

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In this disused Victorian tunnel, tube trains clatter past at the end of their shift, to park in a siding. Once the electrical current's switched off, their drivers can walk back along the track to a mess room tucked away up steep concrete stairs, which is fitted out with showers.

There are about 40 abandoned or relocated stations on the Underground network along its entire 255 miles of track - some subsurface and some above ground. A number have vanished without trace whereas others lie almost intact, grimy time capsules of the era when they were closed.

This deep dark world, 20m below ground, is a far cry from Naipaul's Caribbean roots in sunny Trinidad - where he loved the calypso music and cricket matches - but he insists he loves his job.

He said: “I have been here since 1968, and I tell you it's a whole other place which members of the public don't see.”

His boss Tom O'Riordon tells me about another hidden tunnel, the Queen Victoria Passage which was built before the Central Line, for the monarch to cross London on her way to Sandringham without facing the public.

He said: “People can't see it now because it's behind a wall. It took years to build, and in the end she never even used it. It's a bit spooky - if you go in there you can hear her train clicking past.”

I ask what it's like to work deep underground with no glimpse of sunshine, and Tom said: “I don't mind it. When I was a driver on the Northern line it would come to the end of my shift and I'd loosen my collar to find it was jet black!

“Air tests are done regularly. You would have thought that would be less dust when nothing is moving, when the station closes, for example between from Christmas and New Year, but in fact that's when the dust rises - footfall keeps it down. So the cleaners move straight in as soon as Central Line closes of a night. Every part of the station is cleaned from top to bottom.

“When the station closes, hundreds of little mice come out around the platforms - no rats I assure you!”

Irishman Tom is group station manager covering Liverpool Street - the busiest UK train station, Aldgate -the busiest junction of any metro system in Europe on District Line - and Moorgate.

“I came here for six months initially, 30 years later I'm still here,” he laughed, “I am proud to tell anybody I work for the London Underground.”

He was a train guard on Northern line, then a driver and then a duty manager for ten years. So with a time-worn sigh, he admits he's seen everything possible on the railway - which includes a few horrors.

He said: “When I was a driver a young man jumped under my train. It was back in the 80s but I remember it vividly. He was a young fella, 23 years old, and when he jumped he actually put his head down and dived. I saw him jump but there nothing I could do about it. It was as if I was watching a film and I felt sheer amazement. For a long time it played on my mind, and to this day I think it must be a very brave act to do that. We knew it was a suicide because he left a message in his pocket saying sorry to his mum and dad, which was extremely sad.”

He deals with one suicide a month at Liverpool Street and said: “The saddest case I've ever seen was a young girl of 13 who had run away from home and come to Liverpool Street and jumped under a train.”

Tragedy came on a massive scale when 7/7 happened in 2005. Tom was at Liverpool Street when one of the bombs went off in the tunnel towards Aldgate station, and he described how the force of the blast even affected staff behind the glass of ticket kiosks. He said: “There was a whoosh of air coming out of the tunnel, which went through the metal bowls - where tickets are passed out to passengers - and threw dust into people's faces.

“There were people all along the edges of the station needing help. That didn't faze me, because as a duty manager I'd been dealing with injured people for years.

“I was so proud of all our staff that day. I remember how everybody had to evacuate the station and of course staff had left keys to their houses and cars down in the station. Several hours later they still couldn't get home. I went out to St Botolph's Church and Reverend Brian let me use a room as an office - that became our control centre. People had to break into Starbucks to get bottles of water for the wounded. It's a period I'll never forget.”

It was also once of many occasions when Transport for London underground worked with Network Rail overground to keep people moving. Every day 200,000 people head to the underground at Liverpool Street and the peak times are 8.30am to 8.45am, and 4pm to 8pm - when there can be 32 trains an hour.

At these times underground staff man the escalators to stop people going down too fast which would cause a crowd.

If there is the slightest gap between trains, it can get really crowded.

One tool which control room staff can use, is weight sensors fitted to tube carriages, which herald the arrival of incoming trains bringing big crowds.

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See video of the hidden tunnel, at www.eveningstar.co.uk/features

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Improvements to Liverpool Street services will mean train delays in the coming months. Find out when and where, in part four tomorrow.

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Tell us what Liverpool Street Station means to you, at Evening Star Letters, The Evening Star, 30 Lower Brook Street, Ipswich, Suffolk, IP2 1AN or e-mail eveningstarletters@eveningstar.co.uk.

Transport for London runs 253 miles of track and 275 stations, with only 35per cent of which are underground.

NEVILLE Dyer is the voice of the tannoy announcements throughout Liverpool Street Station.

His voice beams out in the event of an incident or delay, but turn a camera on him and modesty rules.

“I don't like being in pictures,” he proclaims, but a gentle persuasion can today introduce him to Star readers.

Neville's office is hidden behind a wall in the walkway leading to central line trains. As control room assistant he watches everything that goes on around the station. “I am the eyes and ears of the station,” he said. “I love my job - mainly because I live just round the corner and don't have to travel!”

Every train coming and going, and every delay is listed on his bank of computer screens, next to a raft of cctv images. A laminated notice reminds him of the 'cleaner codes,' and I shudder to see there's a code for every eventuality be it vomit, broken glass, litter, wine or blood.

Emergency 'help point' telephones are on every platform, and Neville answers each call when it flashes on his screen. “Sometimes people are just asking when is the next train is coming,” he shook his head. “We get that all the time. One couple at bank left their kids behind, so the kids came here on a train and we had to reunite them! Someone left their stilts on Central Line - how anyone can forget they have stilts with them I don't know! Yesterday morning a young man asked directions to get to Paddington and staff told him he needed to be on the other platform so he just jumped down onto the track and ran across. I think he was from Bangladesh where it's normal to do that.”

As Neville talks, a signal failure at London Bridge means he has to radio all his 15 staff to accept the tickets of people having to find an alternative route. Then he tannoys a message to travellers, as there's no recorded message suitable.

He said: “I have to be a calm influence when you get problems - but it's teamwork that matters here and they are a good crew.”

EVERY week brings a challenge for station assistant Gresham Owen, who helps train colleagues who deal with every first aid emergencies.

The former prison officer is one of the 150 underground staff including five duty managers and 35 supervisors. He works as one of the multi-functional staff who swap between customer services, crowd control and selling tickets -whatever's needed.

He said: “We had a lady who fell down the escalator from the top, and had to have her leg amputated.

A man in his eighties cut his face open last week. There's not much we haven't seen.”

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