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Five minute wonder

A brief journey and sighs of relief inaugurated phase one of the troubled Jubilee Line Extension. Antony Oliver reports.

DEPUTY PRIME Minister John Prescott this week launched the first passenger-carrying Tube train down the new £3.2bn Jubilee Line Extension from Stratford station in east London.

Last Friday's official opening was 14 months late. The project is now expected to cost £1.3bn more than the original budget.

Prescott was joined by ministerial colleagues, London Underground senior management, local school children and press.

Five minutes and three stops later the train arrived at North Greenwich - the Dome station, and the end of the line for now.

Relief at this small success was clear. If all else fails, there is now a working Tube link from Stratford to the Dome. And so far no one has been killed during five years of construction.

LUL expects up to 15,000 people a day to use this first phase of the JLE. But those keen to sample the smooth ride of the high-tech trains and view the architectural splendour of the stations have only a limited opportunity to do so.

Phase one will shut at weekends and from 7.45pm each weekday while further testing goes on. This will continue until phase two between North Greenwich and Waterloo opens in September.

It is hoped that trains will be running along the whole extension, through Westminster and beyond, by the end of October.

In December 1993, when then Prime Minister John Major pressed the button to start work on the first Jubilee Line Extension project, everyone was confident it would be fully up and running by 28 March 1998.

But the Heathrow Express tunnel collapse put the brakes on a large part of the tunnelling work for more than a year.

Problems with the design of the Canary Wharf station and mechanical difficulties with boring machines also ate into the programme; and the sheer complexity and scale of work at London Bridge and Westminster stations rapidly made the original 54 week timetable look optimistic to say the least.

Despite some heroic work by civil engineers to regain lost time, problems designing the ultra-modern moving block signalling added to the project's woes and in March 1997 led to the decision to abandon the 28 March 1998 deadline in favour of a partial opening by September 1998.

By the time project manager Hugh Doherty was removed and US consultants Bechtel were brought in last September the timetable had changed again, with opening split into the current three phases.

Opening of the first four stations this week gave the public first sight of the JLE's impressive station engineering and architecture. And for the first time anywhere on the Underground, platform edge doors are fitted, improving safety.

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