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Monday, 23 April, 2001, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
Sniffing out Tube fragrances
An underground station
Perfumed platforms aim to sweeten journeys
The smell of sweaty commuters crammed together on dirty London Underground tubes could soon be a thing of the past.

On Monday London Underground pioneered air sweeteners to mask unwanted smells at three London stations.

If the Madeleine fragrance becomes a success the scheme will be extended from St James' Park, Euston and Piccadilly stations to the rest of the underground.

BBC News Online's Jane Elliott goes in search of the new "eau de tube."

Every London commuter is only too familiar with the smell of the Underground.

Hundreds of different perfumes and aftershaves compete daily with stale take-away, filth and body odour to distress the delicate nostrils of the early morning commuter.

I think the best idea to get rid of the smells is to deodorize the people instead

PR Consultant Neil Crump, of Bath

The hotter the day - the worse the smell.

Perhaps it is not surprising as three million passengers a day leave their mark on the air quality of the tube, particularly during the rush-hour.

Sent to try out the new "eau de tube" I must admit to scepticism.

I expected the strong smell of lavatory cleaner or the overpowering and completely unsubtle whiff of granny's cheap air freshener.

New odours

Travelling to St. James' Park tube, one of the stations where the new perfume is being tested, I had the chance to compare the old and new tube smells.

The Central Line as usual smelt of stale odours, grime, sticky seats and the smelly trainers of the man opposite.

Steeling myself for the next nasal assault I changed for the Circle Line at Notting Hill.

But within seconds of getting on the Circle Line tube I noticed the difference - whether I would have done if I had not been specifically looking out for it is debateable.

The new fragrance had attached itself to the commuters and was travelling round the system with them.

And St. James' Park was a completely smell sensation. As soon as I stepped off the tube I could smell the difference.

Not too overpowering and certainly not too chemical the Madeleine scent was a subtle, clean and fresh mix.

The tube platforms are coated with the substance made by ICI subsidiary Quest International, which is released as commuters walk.

My fellow passengers seemed overwhelmed by the cameras and reporters - but many failed to notice the smell or understand the fuss.

Universal appeal

Once they were alerted to the new odour, which their subconscious had detected - almost all were appreciative.

Gauttam Rupani, of West London, said the smell immediately made him think of "April flowers and sunshine."

He said: "I think the smell is good and I think it will have a universal appeal to both men and women as it is not too florally."

One poor commuter remained bewildered and sheepishly admitted she had no sense of smell and could not understand what all the fuss was about.

Tourists Ruairidh and Karen Campbell, from Montrose, in Scotland, said the new fragrance made a pleasant change and wanted it extended to all train stations.

Mr Campbell said: "The platforms are usually oily and dirty, this is a much nicer smell, it is a bit like an air-freshener."

Neil Crump
PR consultant Neil Crump felt deodorant for commuters would be more effective
But PR consultant Neil Crump, of Bath, remained dubious as to how well the new fragrance would mask the rush-hour odour of sweaty commuters.

He said: "It smells like flowers or pollen, but I think the best idea to get rid of the smells is to deodorize the people instead."

Deborah Lee and Emma Dansey, of Essex, said they noticed the fragrance as soon as they entered the station.

Ms Lee said: "You can really smell it, it is a very clean smell, but it would upset you though if it was too florally."

Deborah Lee and Emma Dansey
Deborah Lee and Emma Dansey liked the clean smell
Sadly though the pleasant odours seemed to have little positive effects on the commuters.

I suppose I had expected the magic wand which had transformed the station air from fetid to fragrant to work its magic on the travellers.

No such luck, the faces of commuters remained just as grim and miserable as ever and the Circle Line just as slow and prone to break-downs.

The real test will be on 3 May as the third tube strike takes its toll.

Somehow I think it unlikely that the fragrant aromas will calm the irate and stressed traveller - perhaps soothing music, blindfolds and magic tele-porters are the real answer to the commuting nightmare.

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See also:

17 Apr 01 | UK Politics
Two-pronged attack on Tube plans
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