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Rail union calls for tube station closure

The Rail, Maritime and Transport Union has called for a London Underground station to be closed for health and safety reasons after roof tiles fell onto one of the platforms.

The union claims that tiles in the roof of Ealing Broadway station, one of the busiest tube stations in London, contain asbestos, and that the release of dust and particles into the air could cause a health and safety emergency.

Removal of asbestos must be carried out by licensed contractors, and the entire area would need to be sealed off prior to work commencing. An asbestos survey and risk assessment are also part of the safety measures laid down in the Control of Asbestos Regulations, 2012.

A spokesperson from Transport for London (TfL) claimed that the tiles in question were made of fibre glass, and that no asbestos was released.

A history of asbestos on the underground

Although the Central line originally opened in 1900, various refurbishment projects have been carried out and extensions to the line constructed after the Second World War, when the use of asbestos was at its height.

Victoria Tube station underwent refurbishment in 2007, with a large-scale operation to remove asbestos being carefully organised so that workers and members of the public were not put at risk. Each area of the station was sealed off during the project, to prevent the escape of deadly fibres and dust.

Tunnel walls covered in asbestos

Speaking to the International Business Times in 2012, London Underground worker Alan Jenkins, warned of the large-scale use of asbestos in the tunnels:

“The East End of the Central line is in a bad way. The asbestos is above and beyond anywhere else on the whole of the Underground system. No matter what, they won’t remove it. It costs too much money and takes too long. They are going to leave it there.”

Mr Jenkins, a Rail, Transport and Maritime Union member, went on to explain that the tunnel walls contain asbestos, which at the time of construction were covered with encapsulating paint to prevent the release of any asbestos particles.

The problem is that this paint could easily peel or chip off over time, giving rise to concerns about engineers and other workers in the underground tunnels. In fact, Mr Jenkins warned that the paint and underlying layer of asbestos could be damaged simply by someone dropping a tool on it.

A representative from Transport for London said:

“TfL has robust rules in place, which means that work teams know in advance if there is asbestos-containing material in their work location before they start work.”

Asbestos widely used in the rail industry

Asbestos was a popular material to use on the railways because of its fire-retardant properties. Train carriages and engines were insulated using asbestos sprays, and asbestos-containing materials were commonly used for repair and maintenance.

Pipe work and boilers were lagged using asbestos canvas, and also spray-on insulation. These materials still pose a huge risk to the health of railway workers, both above and below ground.