Working night to five with London's tube workers

Tue Apr 3, 2012 4:53am EDT
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By Li-mei Hoang

LONDON (Reuters) - A light breeze moves through the cavernous tunnels of London's underground train network, a rarity for the workers whose heads are bent down while methodically sifting rocks and dust armed with just a brush and metal pick.

Among them is Michael Emordi, one of 10,000 night workers employed by London Underground to help ensure its subterranean railways are in top condition for the capital's four million commuters and prepare an already creaking system for the influx of half a million visitors for this summer's Olympic Games.

Emordi works as a "fluffer" manually removing hair, fibers and dust shed by passengers every day in the underground railway system, which if left to build has the potential to bring down the whole system.

It's a tough job but one of the many important roles that night workers perform in the dirt-caked tunnels beneath London's bustling surface to ensure the smooth running of the world's oldest underground transport system, which most Londoners simply refer to as "the tube".

Transport for London (TfL), which is responsible for the majority of London's transport system, including the London Underground, expects to see an additional 500,000 passengers on the tube during the Olympics, a number that has seen many voice their concerns over whether the system can cope with the influx.

London Underground Chief Operating Officer Howard Collins told Reuters that is a challenge his organization is prepared to take on.

But providing a perfect service during the Olympics may be difficult to achieve, said Collins, who hopes that the company's experience of dealing with delays will help ease congestion on a service which carries 1.1 billion passengers annually.

"I can't guarantee a perfect service, what I can guarantee is we have focused on all the issues in terms of reliability but more importantly if something goes wrong, the great thing about TfL's transport system, there are often alternatives routes."   Continued...

A cleaner, known as a fluffer, inspects the train tracks on the Victoria Line near Highbury and Islington station in London March 30, 2012. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez