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Londoners escape tube woes online

"We are not sardines," scream users

Rail commuters in the nation's capital have found a means of venting their spleens online at TubeHell.com.

Registered users of the site are "TubeHellers," and their mantra is, "I am not a sardine. No, by God, I am a human being."

A posting from Dougal22 is typical: "My worst moment (on the Underground was) this morning on the Northern Line. I think I need therapy to cope."

The site also offers valuable information on train delays and broken equipment (you can currently write off the elevators at Baker Street, Bond Street, King's Cross, Liverpool Street and Moorgate tube stations) and will send you an evening email with the day's Tube woes, so you can prepare for your public transportation exploits before leaving work.

"The Underground is a significant experience in your life, but you're simply never going to talk about how bad the train is to a person (crammed) three inches away from your face," said site founder Samir Satchu. "A virtual community puts some space between people once they get off of the Underground and allows them to talk to each other."

Satchu launched TubeHell.com just over a year ago in December 1999 after being stuck on the tube one hot day during the previous summer.

As Satchu explains in the site's Manifesto: "I could have written to the Chairman of the London Underground. I doubt he would have written back. I could get angry with the station master but would he be able to change anything? Probably not."

According to Satchu, TubeHell.com has 10,000 unique visitors per month and 8,000 registered users.

This morning - 12 December - the site will launch an SMS (short message service) text messaging service that will send the latest Underground information straight to a user's mobile phone.

So how has London Underground Ltd reacted to TubeHell.com? "Initially, they were very antagonist to us and referred to us publically as 'a sad bunch of people', which isn't too smart in terms of [public relations], to call at least 8,000 of your customers 'a sad bunch of people'," Satchu said.

Since then, London Underground has sent one of its representatives to be interviewed online by TubeHell.com, and even the mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, has sat down for an interview with the irreverent Web site.

"But at the same time, we're very careful to keep from being co-opted by the powers-that-be who may be trying to score (publicity) points through us," Satchu said.

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