TfL station gets Xmas makeover…

Santa really did give Oxford Circus station a mighty big Xmas makeover! It certainly beats me how it was done – maybe security had been cut? Perhaps it was some management or other thinking as it was Xmas Day and there being a lockdown of sorts (Tier 4 in fact) no-one would be out to cause any problems – but people clearly got into the tunnels to do this work. It wasn’t any mere feat either but one that clearly took a number of others to manage and in terms of a security breach it would have been quite considerable. Graffiti was sprayed almost to the ceiling and right into the suicide pits themselves. It was done everywhere it could be applied, including along the platforms, on adverts, across station name roundels and even in the adjoining passageways.

Specific reference to Grenfell Tower on the Victoria Line northbound platform. Source: Twitter

Among the many tags and messages was one specific to Grenfell Tower with references that the political systems had failed the towers’ residents. It was being said on social media the graffiti was done by Diabolical Dubstars hence the tag DDS that could be seen throughout the station’s environs.

Graffiti near the bottom of the escalators. Source: Twitter

No-one knows how the graffiti crew were able to get into the station undetected, however there is one thing that is certain – it was Xmas Day and someone had clearly allowed security to lapse. The artists (or vandals if one prefers) would have had a considerable amount of time in which the walls could be almost entirely covered on the offside especially on the Bakerloo platforms where the biggest damage was done.

View looking down the Victoria line platform with graffiti widespread on the platform surface and walls. Source: Twitter

That of course depends on the number of people who had been present. if it had just been a handful of graffiti artists it would have taken a good amount of time but if there had been say a team say ten strong for example, it could have been done in perhaps ten minutes – there are videos on You Tube featuring the work of subway and railway graffiti artists – and its been shown a well organised team can cover at least two entire carriage lengths of a subway train whilst it pauses at a platform for perhaps no more than a minute.

Even though the posters had been replaced elements of the graffiti could still be seen on the Victoria Line’s tunnel wall.

The biggest concern some expressed however was the question of what if one of these people had a bomb? That certainly is a sobering thought and it brings up the question of security on the underground again in the light of a recent situation which I shall write about in a moment…

It is clear the Bakerloo northbound platform was conceivably the worst hit. The Victoria Line platform was hit very badly too however it was more random and the damage done was restricted to the platform and platform walls as well as the lower half of the offside platform wall. On the Bakerloo however the writing stretched from below track level right up to the top of the advertisements which shows there was at least a considerable team at work this side of the station.

Tags could be seen in the suicide pits too.

TfL no doubt swung into action as soon as they could which was in the early hours of the 27th December when trains were not running. They cleared up the passageways and platform surfaces and tackled the offside by replacing the affected adverts with new ones. The sheer amount of work that had to be done unfortunately left quite a bit of graffiti still visible especially on the Bakerloo side for passengers to see on the 27th December. There were also sections where partial graffiti could be seen because the cleaning teams had simply run out of time.

Victoria Line tunnel portal tagged with ‘Exit.’

There’s not just the cost of cleaning up the damage. As well as the replacement of the adverts which would need the necessary equipment to be brought in too rather than on a planned basis where the best use of staff and equipment could be made. It also seems some of the roundels may have been damaged and these will have to be replaced, plus of course the tunnel walls will need to be repainted to make them look good again. Its been rumoured the total cost of the damage is at least £60,000 probably quite a bit more because this is quite an extreme case. Its said TfL spend around £10 million a year on dealing with graffiti.

Whether that includes any other aspect of the non passenger side of the underground such as security gates or cameras that were perhaps damaged I couldn’t tell you, but if that is an approximate figure, it certainly shows this sort of thing is not cheap especially because at such a time, this being a holiday period, people would have had to be called out specially and be paid time and a half or even double…

Tags on the Bakerloo northbound platform.

Its not only that equipment would have to be brought to the station and additional staff employed to ensure that the tracks were well and truly switched off and that there were going to be no trains of any sort – not until the actual time services were to begin once again the next morning, so there would be quite a team needing to be brought in to sort this out and they would also be needed over the next few nights too in order to see to it that the station was restored to an acceptable level of decor, which again means track staff would need to be employed on those nights too to ensure conditions were safe for other staff to undertake their work.

‘Safety First’ not so much if people can enter the underground system with considerable ease! Bakerloo northbound platform.

Nevertheless it can be said the security element on the underground has been found wanting once again especially in the light of Banksy’s attempt on the Hammersmith & City/Circle Line during July 2020. The famous artist was able to negotiate the security systems and masquerade as a TfL cleaner before getting on to a train and spraying the front carriage with his famous tags including a mouse and a message related to COVID etc.

Its not known how that was done but judging from the videos of that exploit, it seems at the beginning he got into the Central Line’s depot at White City (possibly to throw people off the scent) and then he may have travelled on a train that went into service eastbound before joining a Circle Line train at Notting Hill Gate. From there he headed for Victoria (which explains at least a couple of scenes there.) He then continued round the Circle Line as far as Barbican where he is then seen joining a different train westbound, where he proceeds to add a touch of his famous, if controversial, artwork. TfL says he got off at Paddington. This isn’t shown in the videos but TfL may have in fact ascertained this information from their security cameras. Paddington would make absolute sense if Banksy was indeed heading home to Bristol…

The Bakerloo Line’s route diagram badly defaced.

The reaction to that episode has been very mixed, partially because Banksy is world famous and partially because of the security breach involved. Some TfL staff were horrified this had even been done and Banksy had breached the underground’s defences with apparent ease. One particular fall out from this was the claim London’s transport systems are not safe – indeed TfL refused to release a report which confirmed this was the finding as the BBC reported:

The transport authority has now confirmed to the BBC, in response a Freedom of Information Act request, that it had completed an investigation into the incident but would not release its findings because of security concerns and not wanting to encourage copycats.

The graffiti done at Oxford Circus on Xmas Day may have been stupendous but the reality is no-one should even be able to get into any tube station, depot or tunnels anywhere on the system for any sort of unauthorised reason – the fact they even managed it at Oxford Circus tube station is quite worrying. Whilst some would celebrate that work because it was seen as artistic, it showed there’s still a considerable problem in terms of security that the underground has to face – and so far TfL haven’t really made that a 100% success in terms of preventing breaches.

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