LETTERS Underground design
Sir: I am saddened that Gavin Stamp (`Taking The Tube To Task', 28 Novem- ber) uses the tragic events at King's Cross as an opportunity to repeat his well- rehearsed, but inaccurate, criticisms of London Regional Transport's design poli- cy. It is for the public enquiry to establish the cause of the fire, but there is no reason to believe that the broader aspects of design policy had any direct bearing on the outbreak of fire or on the extent of the casualties.
Well before the recent tragedy, LRT was committed to reinstating the very qualities of good design that Mr Stamp refers to so often. But we have the most aged, exten- sive and complex Underground system in the world. Expenditure on its updating was neglected in the 1960s and 1970s; we are now running fast to catch up — but we cannot do everything at once. Indeed, schemes specifically designed to increase the capacity of the system inevitably take several years to plan and bring to fruition. Inherent in all that we do is the safety and well-being of those who use the system. Stringent specifications are de- veloped for all materials and components used, all of which are designed to meet the highest safety requirements. Mr Stamp's criticisms of our programme to remodel stations which are heavily used and in poor condition are not shared by thousands of our passengers. Market re- search shows that they regard the stations as more pleasant to use and as giving a greater sense of safety and security. Invest- ment in such improvements to the travell- ing environment is not 'money wasted'. But funds are not unlimited and at no time is money spent on remodelling when a `wash and brush up' would do — LRT is neither that stupid nor that irresponsible. Our less dramatic programme of station renovation is concerned with preserving the best of the past where this is oper- ationally and architecturally practicable. We have been collaborating on an unpre- cedented scale with groups such as English Heritage, the Thirties Society (of which Gavin Stamp is Chairman) and the Victo- rian Society in identifying stations and particular features of significant interest. The new ticketing system, which will be fully operational by the end of 1988, will bring many benefits ignored by Mr Stamp. For passengers, there will be quicker and easier access to, and from, the Under- ground, with many more routine ticket sales effected through self-service machines. For the organisation (and the community that helps to fund it) lower operating costs and significant savings on fraudulent travel are among the principal advantages. The system provides a much greater number of exit points for travellers than has been the case up to now and in cases of emergency all ticket-checking gates can be opened at once. This will significantly reduce station 'bottlenecks', making it safer and more comfortable for everyone. Staff will become much more visible and available to give extra help to those who need it.
It is no secret that there have been difficulties in installing the new ticket machines at 'Heritage' stations. To help resolve conflicts between operational re- quirements and architectural considera- tions at these stations, John Winter, a Royal Fine Arts Commissioner and emi- nent architect, was asked to review the outstanding design proposals. Many of his recommendations have now been incorpo- rated in our plans, and he has also been retained to design a number of installations at particularly sensitive stations.
As in the days of Frank Pick, good design for LRT is not just a public relations exercise but an integral aspect of our remaining an efficient enterprise. LRT is putting design where it counts — where it can improve the travelling environment of passengers and working conditions of staff. This is a cornerstone of all development programmes.
Whether the final results of all this work will be considered stylish or not is a judgment which must rest with others. We ourselves are sure that it will result in clear and tangible benefits in safety and comfort for all our customers and staff. Raymond Turner
Design Director, London Regional Transport, 55 Broadway, London SW!