At Oxford Circus Underground station, girls in miniskirts stumble downstairs, gripping one another for support. Couples stand on platforms snogging. Groups ride the escalators in sunglasses, drinking from cans of beer.
In Brixton, at the end of the Victoria line, a boy lowers his head between his legs and is sick on the platform.
It is 2.30am on Saturday and the “vomit comet”, as people are already affectionately calling London’s new night Tube, has opened for business.
Three years after it was first announced — and 153 years since the Underground’s first gas-lit wooden carriages chugged 38,000 passengers from Paddington to Farringdon — the Tube is running all night.
For now, at least, it is just the Victoria and Central lines at weekends, but the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines will follow in the autumn.
At 12.34am, the first night Tube sets off from Brixton. Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, is so busy taking selfies on the platform that he almost misses it.
As the train hurtles towards Walthamstow, he tells passengers they are “making history”, before noting that just 100 days or so after becoming mayor “we got the detail and the planning right”. His predecessor Boris Johnson must have been seething in bed. Having announced the project in November 2013 but failed to deliver, Johnson has watched Khan take the credit.
At Walthamstow, Khan hops off to cheering and more selfies. “I love you, Sadiq!” a blonde girl shouts. “Excuse me,” a boy says to a policeman. “Can you tell me who that is?”
Transport for London (TfL), which runs the capital’s transport network, claims the night Tube will create 2,000 permanent jobs and boost London’s economy by £77m a year.
Some suggest it could save a London night scene being strangled by gentrification and subscriptions to Netflix, the television and film streaming service. Now party people will be able to rave around the clock as they do in other international cities, without having to brave a two-hour night bus journey home. Club-hopping from Shoreditch to Brixton won’t mean being held hostage to Uber’s surge pricing, and the “walk of shame” home will be far more comfortable. The only downside is it will no longer be possible to escape Tinder dates by claiming you’ve got to catch the last Tube.
At 2am a group of boys with long hair and ripped jeans board at King’s Cross. “We’d normally have gone home now but, for better or worse, we’re going on for another drink,” explains one of them.
As they leave, Natalie and Ellie sway into the carriage wearing Hare Krishna garlands and singing “Night train, night train, night train!” When they alight they are chanting “TfL! TfL! TfL!”
Stephanie, 21, is on her way home from St Paul’s to Woodford. A taxi would have cost her £40. The night bus “isn’t a nice experience. This feels much safer. There’s CCTV.” Not to mention 100-odd British Transport police.
After the clubs kick out at 3am, platforms are quickly crowded with women holding their high heels and groups drunkenly eating McDonald’s. Periodically, a whoop goes up: “Night train!”
Not everyone is so effusive. At Walthamstow, a man is slumped in his seat. “You’re on the new night Tube,” he is told. Bleary-eyed, he says: “I went all the way round by accident.”
Sometime after 3am the vomit appears. TfL prepared by spraying carriages with vegetable soup to see how quickly staff could clean it up. Tonight the platforms are immaculate — but will it last?
After battling Johnson over drivers’ pay, the two biggest Tube unions, the RMT and Aslef, accepted deals in March. Now 200 part-time drivers, including mothers attracted to the hours, are earning £22,706 a year for 16-hour weeks.