RAIL companies are facing intense pressure to devote more of their huge profits to manning stations late at night.
Passenger groups warned today that the fear of getting off trains at empty stations was one of the most pressing concerns of users of London's Tube and rail networks.
It was heightened last week by the murder of lawyer Tom ap Rhys Pryce, stabbed to death after he got off an Underground train at unmanned Kensal Green station.
Kensal Green is one of at least 14 vulnerable stations on the Tube network operated by mainline train companies that are left without staff late in the evening. They include stations in some of the most notorious parts of London for mugging such as Harlesden, Willesden and Stonebridge. Most are operated by the Silverlink rail company, which made pre-tax profits of Pounds 9.15 million in 2004.
Across the capital, all but one of the 253 Tube stations run by London Underground are manned until they close. Of the 22 combined Tube and rail stations run by railway companies, only eight are manned throughout opening hours.
On the mainline rail network, there are 317 stations in Greater London, but only the major termini, including Paddington, Victoria and King's Cross, along with a handful of busy intermediate stations such as Clapham Junction, are staffed around the clock. Manning hours are normally laid down in the bids that train companies make for operating franchises. Companies are often reluctant to take on the extra costs of laying on staff outside those hours.
Passenger group London TravelWatch said: "We would like to see Silverlink extend their hours. These are pretty central stations and have a reputation for high crime. It is not an acceptable situation and it is something that Transport for London, the Department of Transport and the train operating companies need to sort out.
"Late-night manning is an issue that comes up at our public meetings over and over again.
"There is nothing to stop the companies manning longer or patrolling the stations but they choose not to. It's a commercial decision and they would argue that they are there to make a profit and the more they make the less they have to take from the taxpayer."
Some of the busier combined Underground-mainline stations operated by the train companies do have a 24-hour staff presence, such as Richmond, run by South West Trains and Harrow and Wealdstone, run by Silverlink.
Another company, South Eastern, which operates New Cross Underground station, is responding to passengers' safety concerns by hiring an extra 20 "rail enforcement officers" to patrol its trains and …