Commuters hoping the billion-pound private investment in London Underground will revolutionise the beleaguered District Line have been told they must wait 16 years before new and more frequent trains are in place to remedy the network.

The Metronet Consortium, the private bidder responsible for infrastructure and train improvements on the often overcrowded and delayed underground service, has revealed new trains in south-west London are not its main priority.

A spokesman for the consortium warned improvements would not be instant and commuters on other lines would see the benefit of new high-tech trains before those on the District Line.

He said: "The first new trains will come into the system on the Metropolitan Line in 2009.

They will come off the production line at a rate of one every one-and-a-half weeks.

"The District Line is at the end of this production chain, but we will be spending many millions of pounds on refurbishing existing stock."

The spokesman admitted Wimbledon commuters were unlikely to see new trains on the line before 2018, and frequency could not be increased until then.

"There then could be the capacity for 18 services per hour, which will obviously

be governed by London

Underground," added the spokesman.

Plans are also in place to replace 95 per cent of the track and signals on the line, which will result in some weekend closures.

The news comes after Charles Nicholls, bid director for Metronet, told commuters at a Wimbledon Civic Forum transport meeting the company was under extreme financial pressure to meet targets.

It aims to improve reliability by 20 per cent over the next three years and will plough £7 billion into the first phase of improvements across eight lines.

Metronet maintained the District Line had suffered through under-funding and assured commuters work would begin as soon as the private contract was signed in late November.

Despite the promises, London Assembly member for Merton and Wandsworth Elizabeth Howlett said decades of disruption had already dogged the Wimbledon branch and commuters' patience was wearing thin.

She said: "The trains just aren't frequent enough.

"Peak hour journeys are just awful we have signal failure two or three times a week, which has an impact on the whole line."

She blamed Mayor Ken Livingstone for the legal wrangling that delayed improvements and said commuters should maintain pressure to ensure the private bidder delivered its promises on time.

October 22, 2002 09:30