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‘Night Tube,’ a First for London, Brings All-Night Service to Two Subway Lines

A new 24-hour weekend service opened to the delight of late-night crowds. “People were cheering, ‘Night Tube!’ It seems to be the buzz,” a Tube worker said.
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Passengers descending into the Oxford Circus station in central London on Friday night. Credit Daniel Leal-Olivas/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

LONDON — The London Underground, the world’s oldest subway system, opened a new chapter in its storied history on Friday night and Saturday morning: For the first time, trains on two lines kept operating all night.

The late-night, weekend-only service, called the Night Tube, began on the Central and Victoria Lines and will extend to three other lines in the fall. The idea had been discussed for decades and was originally scheduled for September 2015, but was put off because of labor disputes.

The Central and Victoria Line trains will run about every 10 minutes between 12:30 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday, serving 51 stations. The two lines are among the busiest in the system, which serves 4.8 million passengers a day.

London joined a small club of cities — New York, Vienna and Copenhagen, among them — in offering weekend round-the-clock service. Like Berlin and other cities, London has a network of night buses, and the agency added eight new routes to its night-bus network to complement the new late-night subway service.

Transport for London, the city’s transit agency, estimates that the new service will shorten the average late-night trip by 20 minutes. About 200,000 people are expected to use the new service each weekend. Even before the new service, the number of riders using the system on Friday and Saturday nights had surged by around 70 percent since 2000.

The Central Line, which opened in 1900, runs east-west, covering gentrifying and youth-filled neighborhoods in East London, like Shoreditch and Bethnal Green, as well the City, London’s financial district. The Victoria Line, which opened in 1968, extends north from the multicultural neighborhood of Brixton, through major transit hubs like the Victoria, Euston and King’s Cross-St. Pancras train stations, into North London.

Night Tube service will expand to the Jubilee, Piccadilly and Northern lines in the autumn, but no date has been announced.

“It’s been busier than I expected,” Jamie Honor, a customer-service agent at the Finsbury Park station on the Victoria Line, said at 4:10 a.m. on Saturday. “There was a rush around 3 a.m., but it’s been great. People were cheering, ‘Night Tube!’ It seems to be the buzz.”

Safety is a concern in a capital where public drunkenness is not uncommon, but on the first night at least, things seemed under control.

“We were worried people may fall off the escalators, or fighting on the platforms, but we’ve been lucky,” said Faisal Ahmed, a Tube worker at the Liverpool Street station on the Central Line.

Transport for London said it had added about 500 employees to run the Night Tube, and invested 3.4 million pounds (about $4.4 million) in additional policing. By the time the three next Night Tube lines open, more than 100 officers will patrol a total of 144 stations at night.

“I was a bit worried about passengers’ alarms being pulled or drunk people causing issues, but it’s been absolutely fine,” a driver, Alicia Durant, 24, said as she walked to the northern end of a Victoria Line train at the Brixton terminus to begin the journey north. (Her shift ran from 9 p.m. to 5:30 a.m.)

The Night Tube was announced in November 2013 — along with 750 job cuts and the closing of ticket offices.

Labor unions quickly raised objections, and in 2014 and 2015, employees went on a series of strikes, including a four-day Tube disruption. An agreement on pay largely resolved the dispute in March, and the start date of the Night Tube was announced in May by the city’s new mayor, Sadiq Khan.

Mr. Khan met with Tube employees at the Oxford Circus station (where the Central and Victoria Lines intersect) on Friday morning, and then boarded the Victoria Line at Brixton just after midnight on Saturday. “I’m really excited — 153 years after the first Tubes began in London, we are going to have a Night Tube,” he said.

He added: “It’s about helping people get to work, doctors, nurses, porters, security guards, but also getting people to and from the theater, to live music venues, home safely.”

Riders seemed content.

“We’re always in London on weekends,” Clare Adamberry, 57, said as she sat next to a friend on a Victoria Line train at around 2 a.m. They had stayed out late after a day trip to the southern city of Brighton, on the English Channel. “I usually pay for cabs or Uber,” Ms. Adamberry said.

“I have an 18-year-old who goes out and takes night buses,” she added. “It took her two and a half hours to get home last week, taking different buses. I was on the phone with her the whole time. If she’s not using the Night Tube tonight, she’ll be using it tomorrow.”

Janka Horvatova, 27, is an assistant manager at a restaurant near King’s Cross station and is responsible for closing it. “I can never catch the last Tube, so I take two night buses, which can take up to 50 minutes,” she said as she got off the train at the Stockwell station in South London, still wearing her work clothes. “With the Night Tube, it took 15 minutes.”

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