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A Yankee Takes the Tube: Robert Kiley and the London Underground
June 2, 2001

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London -- known to most Americans for its double decker buses, aggressive press coverage, stately accents and even statelier monarchy -- may now be known for something else: Robert R. Kiley. Okay, so Kiley is an American, but he's now as much a part of everyday London life as the meal of fish and chips wrapped in a greasy newspaper. As the first commissioner of transport for London, overseeing tubes, buses, taxis, and main roads, Kiley has volunteered to doctor a sick, embattled, and under-funded fleet.

Underground station map

A map of the London Underground

The most conflicted (and politically vexed) patient is the London tube, a 253-mile system that ferries 3 million passengers in and around the city daily. It is a veritable underground artery with 275 stations and 3,987 subway cars. Though not yet on the crime-laden and rat-infested level of the New York subway system in the eighties, it is no longer the castle of architectural efficiency or engineering ingénue it has long been billed. Its workers are striking, its subway cars are grimy, usually delayed, and subject to rabid overcrowding.

Enter Robert Kiley, Yankee, ex-CIA officer, and transportation extraordinaire. Kiley is the man behind the organization of the Boston T in the seventies and the New York subway renewal in the late eighties. He is exulted in transportation fix-it circles, credited with the near-inhuman feat of maintaining a graffiti-free New York subway. He was lured to London by his own addiction to challenge as well as a deal, rife with incentives, presented by London's mayor, Ken Livingstone.

Livingstone is banking on his Yankee transportation genius to ease a political battle over the privatization of the London tube. Livingstone, unlike the Deputy Prime Minister, John Prescott, wants to fund the tube renewal through billions of dollars worth of bonds (the same way Kiley funded the New York renovation). Prescott and his cohorts would rather see a privatization of the system, allowing the tube to be, in essence, owned and maintained by private interests for the next thirty years.

Resources and Links

Some wacky, informative, or just plain official sites relating to the London Tube:

Visit the Official Tube Site

Tube Spotting-- or Celebrities on the Tube, is a comprehensive collection of celebrity tube sitings (though admittedly few and far between).

Going Undergound, is a quirky web guide to the London Undergound, covering such topics as tube smells, notable fare-dodgers, tube etiquette, and the occasional subway-riding pidgeon.

Click on Transport for London Made Simple for up-to-the-minute tube news, such as delays, fares and strike information.

To monitor your favorite tube routes, recieve e-mail containing travel news on your cell phone and/or personal computer, visit