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London Commuters Slowly Get Back to Work

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Time now for business news.

London commuters warily returned to the city's transportation system following yesterday's terrorist bombings. The normally packed double-decker buses carried far fewer passengers than normal, as was the case with subway trains. NPR's Jim Zarroli reports from London.

JIM ZARROLI reporting:

Almost as soon as the bombs went off yesterday, police shut down the city's underground rail system, and buses were barred from the West End and the financial district, leaving workers with no easy way to get out of the city. The express train from Heathrow Airport to Paddington station stopped running. Andy Trotter of the British Transport Police urged people early on to think about alternative ways of getting home.

Mr. ANDY TROTTER (British Transport Police): Obviously, we don't want a great rush out of central London, but it's going to be a very difficult evening to get people away. But I know that everyone will be working together to try and get people home as best we can.

ZARROLI: That wasn't easy. With public transportation virtually shut down, taxis were at a premium, but even if you could get one, some roads were closed. A lot of people responded by simply walking home.

(Soundbite of traffic)

ZARROLI: Malcolm Rakstraw(ph), who manages a pharmacy near Piccadilly Circus, sent his employees home early in the afternoon. Then he began looking for his wife, who works in a store in a railroad station.

Mr. MALCOLM RAKSTRAW (Pharmacy Manager): Obviously, the phones were so red hot, you couldn't get through, so all the mobile networks were down, so we couldn't communicate, and that was probably the worst thing. It took me at least four or five hours before I could confirm my wife was OK, because she'd been evacuated, working in the station.

ZARROLI: After he found her, Rakstraw walked home to south London, a journey that took two hours. Much of the rest of the city closed down, too. While the financial markets stayed open, London's theaters went dark en masse, something that hasn't happened since the death of the princess of Wales. By this morning, the subway was running again, though the King's Cross station remained closed. The buses were running as well, and many companies set up shuttles and car services to get people to work. Commuters were urged not to drive into the city, but some, like Steve Miles, decided not to risk it.

Mr. STEVE MILES (Commuter): I decided to get a lift this morning. I'm a bit reluctant to get the train and even the bus after what happened. That way (unintelligible) the West End every day.

ZARROLI: A lot of other people stayed home. David Presswell(ph) was unloading frozen food from a truck in front of a hotel on Regent Street. He said there was some traffic on the roads leading into the city, but the center of London was a different story.

Mr. DAVID PRESSWELL (London): Eerie, very eerie, very lonely and sort of no one about at the moment. I was driving up here and there's no one walking on the streets, but I've only just got into London, but that's going through the other parts.

ZARROLI: With the news of the bombings reverberating throughout the world, some people worried that tourists would be scared away. Kevin Sapone(ph), a taxi driver of 16 years, says he thinks there may be a drop-off for a few weeks, especially among American tourists. He says after 9/11, US visitors probably react more fearfully to attacks like this. Sapone says Londoners who had to contend for so long with IRA bombings have learned to take it in stride.

Mr. KEVIN SAPONE (Taxi Driver): Can't let these people keep you indoors, stop you doing the things that you do naturally. Otherwise, they're the winners at the end of the day and, you know--and I figure as Londoners, we've seen this, so we just carry on working, get on with your life.

ZARROLI: Throughout the city, a lot of people echoed that sentiment. With summer getting into full swing, there was a kind of determination to press on. Officials said ceremonies to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II would go on as planned this weekend. But for a while at least, city officials warn that security measures would probably be a lot tighter. Jim Zarroli, NPR News, London. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jim Zarroli is an NPR correspondent based in New York. He covers economics and business news.