Six straight hours on a night tube

Commuters wait on the platform at East Putney tube station on the London Underground, Britain November 18, 2016.
Photo: Reuters

What one writer witnessed on London's new, open-all-night subway service.

It is almost midnight at Paddington Station in central London.

Everybody is sitting in half-frozen metal chairs in front of the platform's arrivals information board, ignoring each other.

Except, that is, for the man who is wearing a neon-bright yellow traffic cone as a hat.

He does not respond when I ask him about his hat, where he's been, where he's going. His eyes are bloodshot.

Only when he drops his train ticket and I hand it back to him does he acknowledge me; a moment later, he promptly forgets I exist.

I've taken on the assignment of exploring the Night Tube until dawn. I have six hours to go.

London's Night Tube is a relatively new phenomenon, despite years of strike-related delays and political promises - Boris Johnson first announced the programme in 2013.

Evening service on the Victoria and Central lines began in late September; 50,000 people used the service during its inaugural Friday night.

By the time all five planned lines are open, Transport for London expects the service to garner 200,000 nightly visitors.

The Jubilee line opened on October 7; the Northern and Piccadilly lines, which run roughly north-south and east-west through Central London into its suburbs, are slated to open later this year.

For the first time, London - whose late-night-transport options have heretofore been limited to expensive cabs, surge-price Ubers, and the notoriously dodgy night buses - has the chance to be the city that never sleeps.

I'm more anxious than I expected at the prospect of spending my night talking to strangers on the Tube, despite the veneer of legitimacy afforded by my being technically 'at work'.

Only recently, a quixotic American National Heath Service worker distributed 500 chirpy "Tube Chat?" badges to passengers.

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