The tube at a standstill: why TfL stopped people walking up the escalators

On 4 December last year, the London Underground ingested 4,821,000 passengers and spat them out at their destinations, and in doing so set a new record for a single day. If you paused to contemplate this for a moment, you might think of all those Oyster cards tapping, all those doors sliding, all those people moving, consider whatever mad visionary first thought of demolishing houses to dig holes in the ground to put trains in, and conclude that a subterranean public transport network is a small miracle. Most of the time, though, commuters don’t pause, and don’t conclude anything of the sort. They have other things on their mind. To many of them, “a small miracle” might seem more like a description of their journey to work than of the system that facilitates it.

In the execution of their own daily miracles, London’s commuters have learned to withstand vast and unpredictable challenges: track closures; signal failures; engineering works. And they have developed a thick skin. But on that particular Friday, the 11,000 of them who got off at Holborn station between 8.30 and 9.30am faced an unusually severe provocation. As they turned into the concourse at the bottom of the station’s main route out and looked up, they saw something frankly outrageous: on the escalators just ahead of them, dozens of people were standing on the left.

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