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A Weekend On London's New Night Tube

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Photo: Via @transportforlondon.
It’s just after 1am on Friday night and I’m on a train leaving Marble Arch tube station. I’m trying to catch a stream of vomit in a Bag For Life, rather than let the person being sick do it directly into her handbag. The girl, Megan, is a stranger, so it's lucky she has a friend with her, who pats her on the head and counts down the stations until home by lying and telling her “just one more, babe!" at every single stop. They tumble off the tube at Shepherd’s Bush – after offering me the bag back and screaming “thank you!” as the doors shut.

Welcome to the Night Tube, everyone!

The Night Tube opened in London this past weekend, running from 12.34am to 4.30am on the Central line (Ealing Broadway to Leytonstone and Loughton/Hainault) and Victoria line (Walthamstow to Brixton) every ten minutes or so (or 20 between Ealing Broadway and White City). Just three years (and several strikes and false starts) after Boris Johnson promised us round the clock tube transport, Sadiq Khan has finally made it happen.

The current Mayor of London gave the first official Night Tube train a test run on Friday night, shortly before I did, clambering on at Brixton at 12.34am on Friday, and commenting that it’d be useful for middle-aged clubbers like him coming home after a late night out with his “missus”. (I can’t bear it. He’s too adorable.) The service only runs on Fridays and Saturdays at the moment, but the plan is to expand the service to other days, and other lines (the Jubilee, Piccadilly and Northern), later this year.

When I set out to ride the Night Tube over the course of Friday night, I was expecting mayhem. Remember when they banned booze on the tube and everyone got smashed off their face in defiance on the last day it was allowed? I was expecting something similar: late night parties in carriages, makeshift clubs on the platforms, and a very stressed bunch of guards (I was honestly very worried for them). But when I hopped on the tube at 7pm on Friday, things felt normal; no sign of early revellers, just girls comparing lipsticks, couples on dates and crowds of tourists.

As the actual, official Night Tube kicked in after after 12ish, it was, well, quite empty. A man reading a newspaper, someone in gym gear, one girl who looked like she needed to leave her night out so she could put her trainers on. Admittedly, things start to pick up around 12.45am; a hockey bro who'd had so much to drink was stretched out over three seats, a girl whose night started when it was 22c outside looked like she was now regretting her white crop top. Oxford Street, the only interchange between the two lines running late, was boiling hot and busy. It was pretty rowdy, too: two girls on the platform almost gave a worried looking Community Support Officer a heart attack by screaming and whooping as the train pulled in, standing close to the edge of the platform. I also spot three drag queens with incredible make up alighting, and when I get on the train, the carriage is a river of beer.
Marble Arch was also chaos circa 1am, and the stop where my sickly friend Megan was helped from a bench onto the tube, deciding (at the last second) to try and jump out of the door, missing, bouncing off a pole and ending up slumped in a pile. Three minutes later, we were into the Bag For Life/ vomit situation, while a slightly tipsy couple patted her back and assured her that "we've all been there. We've all done it," which was actually kind of heartwarming, especially when everyone introduced themselves.

I got off at the end of the Central line – White City, which smelled strongly of sick and was totally empty aside from around six helpful London Underground employees – and headed back in the other direction to Tottenham Court Road. It was around 2am and it was packed: I spotted my first uniformed police presence and two girls in orange and purple wigs who looked like they went hard, then really had to go home. Crowds of people got on and for the first time in my entire night, every seat was full. At St Pauls, the tube driver announced "this is a Night Tube service" and somewhere down the carriage, a cheer went up. I also noticed a higher-than-average amount of people holding McFlurrys.

It seemed the Night Tube was only really being put to good use in central London, because when I got back out of Zone 1, and towards Stratford, everything went quiet again. The carriage was full of tired construction workers, men in suits, girls wrapped up in massive coats slumped against the seats. No-one was making eye contact. It was still boiling hot and a friend who was elsewhere on the Night Tube WhatsApped me with a conspiracy theory: They’re pumping up the heat to make all the drunk people sleepy, not rowdy.

The Victoria Line was similarly empty: Highbury and Islington was eerie and there were maybe six people on the platform at 2.15am. The novelty of being on a tube at night had fully worn off. Nobody was talking and an announcement told me that there was a signal failure between White City and Holborn, which meant that if you wanted to use the Central line Night Tube, you'd be waiting a long time. I headed back down south to my tube stop in Brixton, through a now very subdued Oxford Circus. The tube was silent apart from a couple of confused tourists with wheely suitcases and two men clutching beers and hugging each other.
When I called an UberPool to take me the final fifteen minutes to my house (yes, I’m that lazy), my co-rider Tom was confused. “What, the Night Tube is actually happening? This weekend? Why did I get a taxi from central then? Did everyone know about it?” Tom wasn’t the only one who appears to be in the dark about the Night Tube: fewer people used the service on launch night than London Underground expected: a mere 50,000 people compared to the 4.8 million that use it during the day. Maybe Londoners, after three years of delays, just didn’t trust the Night Tube not to be a hopeful mirage, or maybe the fact that London’s clubs and pubs are shutting at a frightening rate means we’re all already at home by 12.30am.

On Saturday night, I actually need to use the Night Tube for real, because I couldn’t face the torturous journey from my friend’s house party to home without it; it’s normally 70 minutes on the night bus if you’re lucky, or a £35 Uber (and it’s the week before payday). I took it at about 1.30am, and guess what? It was amazing. It was quick, quiet, and apart from the fact that it was roasting hot, made my life a lot easier and cheaper. By this point I was fully subscribed to the conspiracy theory that it’s overly hot to make the people who’ve had six white wines (like me) sleepy, but I managed to stay awake to get off at my stop. No Uber surcharge, no fights on the bus. Honestly, the Night Tube is a life changer... As long as you’re not left holding a bag of sick.
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