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Coronavirus: Air Conditioning in the London Underground

London underground
© Sergii Figurnyi / Adobe Stock

As people begin returning to work, following the relaxing of some of the COVID-19 lockdown rules, surveys show many commuters are still worried about using public transport.

Even though the government has made it compulsory for passengers to wear a face mask, a recent poll found 70% of London residents remain anxious about travelling by bus or tube. The survey of 2,000 adults by the consultancy firm Theta Financial Reporting revealed many of them no longer want to commute and return to their pre-pandemic routine.

Now transport chiefs are trying to reassure the public that the appropriate safety measures are in place to help stop the spread of coronavirus. While face masks are mandatory on every form of public transport, the London Underground is going one step further by carrying only 10% to 15% of its pre-lockdown capacity during the recovery period.

Air conditioning benefits

One concern voiced by commuters was the possible presence of stale air on the London Underground, which may harbour germs. However, air conditioning can help to reduce coronavirus transmission on the trains. By removing air that could be contaminated, proper ventilation could make all the difference to making the tube safer.

The ventilation varies across the network, with the Underground lines that lie just beneath street-level having airy single cars and tunnels wide enough for full air conditioning systems. However, many of the lines on the “Deep Tube”, far below the surface, have narrower tunnels, which can’t accommodate air conditioning.

The AC system makes a big difference to the parts of the network that can accommodate it, which have generally good air circulation on the platforms too.

Safety measures

The wearing of face masks became compulsory on 15th June and other safety measures have been put in place on the network, including reduced passenger numbers. Health experts say London’s public transport network doesn’t pose a high risk of coronavirus transmission for travellers because they won’t be sitting in the same vehicle for hours at a time, exposed to a huge volume of people.

According to public health studies in France and Japan, bars and nightclubs (where people remain in close proximity to each other for several hours) would be more conducive to spreading germs. Public transport vehicles, where people are enclosed for only a short time, practicing social distancing and not speaking to each other, are far safer than you might think. Health chiefs add that our best chance to stop the spread of COVID-19 is to take personal responsibility for everything we do.

Packed trains outlawed

This includes not getting on to Underground trains that look too packed, as it’s still important to socially distance. The advice is to wait for the next train and maybe even the next one after that if it looks too busy. This means allowing more time for journeys and possibly being late for work – which everyone will agree is preferable to potentially being infected.

Passengers with memories of London’s Tube network being tightly-packed with commuters at rush-hour are still experiencing “coronavirus anxiety”, according to polls, but these big crowds won’t be back any time soon.

Transport for London’s action plan includes encouraging people to walk and cycle to work if possible, so those using the Underground are unlikely to experience the cramped carriages of old.

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