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London Underground Train Derails

January 25, 2003

LONDON (AP) _ A train on London’s Underground hit a tunnel wall and derailed Saturday, slightly injuring 32 people and creating a frightening scene beneath the center of the capital, police and passengers said.

Four cars on the eight-car, westbound Central Line train had derailed but all remained upright, Simon Lupin of the transport police told the British Broadcasting Corp.

Fire engines and ambulances filled the street near the Chancery Lane stop, in a central London neighborhood dominated by offices and generally quiet on the weekends. The London Fire Brigade said it had received a call at 1:54 p.m. saying a train had hit a wall in the station.

The cause of the crash was not immediately clear but it did not appear to be suspicious, police Inspector Phil Trendall said at a news conference. Rail inspectors planned an investigation, he added.

London Underground said about 800 passengers had been evacuated and it believed no more were left on the train. A spokeswoman dismissed an earlier police report that there had been a fire, saying a great deal of dust and soot had filled the air in the tunnel, giving the appearance of smoke. Passengers aboard the train described a series of powerful jolts, broken glass flying through the air and a frightening few minutes as some doors stuck and people were trapped inside.

Several of the train’s cars stopped outside the station and some passengers had to walk through several darkened compartments to escape. Smoke and soot filled the air, they said.

Claire Ellis, her face covered with black dust, said she was trapped in the train.

``I was absolutely panicking, we couldn’t get out, all the lights went out and we could see people running along the platform,″ she said.

Smoke was visible outside the station and first aid workers treated some passengers on the street. Some left the station with blackened faces, a few crying.

British Transport Police said all the injuries had been minor, including smoke and dust inhalation. The ambulance service said the most serious injury had been a possible limb fracture.

London’s Underground system is the world’s oldest and is often criticized for poor maintenance.

Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government plans to partly privatize the Underground, selling off parts of the system to the private sector in a bid to generate $25 million in investment for the creaking network.