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Delivering a world class underground network for Londoners

Posted: 22 December 2009 | Dean Finch, Chief Executive Officer, Tube Lines | No comments yet

It is now just over six years since Tube Lines took over responsibility for maintaining and upgrading London’s Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines. One of the largest capital infrastructure projects in the world, the 30 year Public Private Project (PPP) will transform the lives of millions of Londoners and give them the world-class underground network they deserve. Now six months into the job, new Chief Executive Officer, Dean Finch, shares his thoughts on Tube Lines with Intelligent Transport.

The Tube is an icon of London and the sheer scale and complexity of the upgrade work being undertaken is unlike any other. Over the past six years, Tube Lines has worked hard to turn around the performance of its three lines and the benefits are clear to see. Services are more reliable – the Piccadilly line is 70% more reliable today than in 2003 and reliability on the Northern line, once dubbed the ‘misery line’ has improved by an impressive 65%. Stations are cleaner, more modern and fit for purpose and the quality of the track has been vastly improved leading to fewer faults and a better journey for passengers.

It is now just over six years since Tube Lines took over responsibility for maintaining and upgrading London's Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines. One of the largest capital infrastructure projects in the world, the 30 year Public Private Project (PPP) will transform the lives of millions of Londoners and give them the world-class underground network they deserve. Now six months into the job, new Chief Executive Officer, Dean Finch, shares his thoughts on Tube Lines with Intelligent Transport.The Tube is an icon of London and the sheer scale and complexity of the upgrade work being undertaken is unlike any other. Over the past six years, Tube Lines has worked hard to turn around the performance of its three lines and the benefits are clear to see. Services are more reliable - the Piccadilly line is 70% more reliable today than in 2003 and reliability on the Northern line, once dubbed the ‘misery line' has improved by an impressive 65%. Stations are cleaner, more modern and fit for purpose and the quality of the track has been vastly improved leading to fewer faults and a better journey for passengers.

It is now just over six years since Tube Lines took over responsibility for maintaining and upgrading London’s Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines. One of the largest capital infrastructure projects in the world, the 30 year Public Private Project (PPP) will transform the lives of millions of Londoners and give them the world-class underground network they deserve. Now six months into the job, new Chief Executive Officer, Dean Finch, shares his thoughts on Tube Lines with Intelligent Transport.

The Tube is an icon of London and the sheer scale and complexity of the upgrade work being undertaken is unlike any other. Over the past six years, Tube Lines has worked hard to turn around the performance of its three lines and the benefits are clear to see. Services are more reliable – the Piccadilly line is 70% more reliable today than in 2003 and reliability on the Northern line, once dubbed the ‘misery line’ has improved by an impressive 65%. Stations are cleaner, more modern and fit for purpose and the quality of the track has been vastly improved leading to fewer faults and a better journey for passengers.

One of the first things I did when I took up my role as Chief Executive for Tube Lines in June 2009 was to visit as many work sites at night as I could to meet the teams actually doing the hard graft and to better understand the challenges they face. The engineering side of this work really is a nightly minor miracle. Every night, our people are on the network either maintaining and renewing the lines, or completing one of hundreds of hugely complicated upgrade projects on the lines.

I joined Tube Lines at a really important time with the negotiations to agree the scope and cost of upgrade work for the second review period (2010-2017) about to reach an important stage. Continued investment in our transport infrastructure has an important part to play in helping the country through the recession, generating jobs and providing skills training. I do of course also recognise the pressure on public spending caused by the current economic crisis and so came into this job fully aware of how important this review process would be to ensure London continues to get a value for money service.

Then there is of course the Jubilee line upgrade – without doubt the biggest prize for passengers – which was scheduled for completion by the end of 2009. When I joined Tube Lines there was growing frustration amongst passengers and local businesses over the necessary line closures to complete the testing of a new signalling system on the Jubilee line. All this made an interesting backdrop for a new Chief Executive to walk into and, as we approach the end of the first review period, what has struck me is how far the company has come to reach this juncture.

Making up for lost time

Tube Lines took over the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines against a backdrop of decades of under-investment and at a time when the Tube seemed to be in decline. The signals and track were in desperate need of modernisation and the stations were worn out, unwelcoming and with no prospect of upgrade. Financial pressures meant that projects regularly had to be abandoned and what upgrades did take place often had to be scaled back or overshot their budget by millions of pounds.

Six years into the investment programme and it’s a vastly different picture. So far, we have invested over £4 billion in maintaining and renewing infrastructure on the three lines and already passengers are benefiting from the major improvements we have delivered. Day-to-day performance across each line has improved significantly with overall reliability 57% better today compared with our first year of operation. Added to this, we have completed the upgrade of 76 stations, replaced hundreds of kilometres of track and refurbished hundreds of lifts and escalators.

These improvements in performance are even more remarkable given that they have been delivered during a time when London itself undergoes major redevelopment. The construction of the 2012 Olympic site, the redevelopment of Wembley Stadium and the opening of Terminal 5 at Heathrow, all placed significant additional demand to the lines. Having these flagship projects constructed at the same time as the Tube upgrade presented enormous challenges. Constructing the Olympic site has meant that an additional 30,000 people need to be transported to Stratford on a daily basis – yet the capacity improvement already in place on the Jubilee line together with improved day-to-day performance have enabled it to absorb this massive increase in demand and still deliver an improved journey time for commuters.

Delivering better value for money through lessons of the past

When I’ve visited the work being undertaken in the tunnels, it is remarkable how much work is done in a challenging workplace environment such as that. Aside from working in cramped spaces, in near darkness and with high temperatures, the vast majority of work takes place overnight during a four hour ‘engineering hours’ window when the lines aren’t in operation. It is clear to me that, in overcoming such a hostile workplace environment, our people are constantly looking for ways to be more efficient and to make best use of the limited time on the lines to get the job done.

It has certainly been a steep learning curve. The scale of the work being undertaken on the Tube has never been attempted before due to of the lack of long-term funding. Indeed, some aspects of the upgrade, such as the installation of the new Seltrac 40 signalling system on the Jubilee line, has never been attempted on a live rail network before.

Looking back to 2003, I can tell that significant improvements have been made in work practices, asset management practices and adopting new technologies. In just six years, Tube Lines has reduced the costs of station upgrades by more than half and track works by 40%. Maintenance costs across the board are cheaper than on any other line on the Underground network, escalators are refurbished in record time and failure events on these assets have decreased by a third.

The unwavering commitment of Tube Lines employees to health and safety is another quality that I find impressive and reassuring. It does of course go without saying that safety improvements result in increases to productivity and workmanship, but I was delighted to report that in August 2009 we achieved a major safety milestone: a full year’s work without a single Lost Time to Injury (LTI). That’s over 3,000 men and women from our own organisation and supply chains working a total of more than 5.8 million safely every day and every night without losing a single shift due to injury!

I believe that this is unheard of in the rail and construction industries – and it’s reassuring to know that I can draw on this collective effort as Tube Lines approaches the next stage of the upgrade project.

Looking ahead to 2010

June 2010 marks the end of the first review period. Nearly all of our projects have been delivered on time and within budget and I am confident we will be judged to have delivered the work in a way that represents real value for money for the fare and tax payer.

The focus of the company over the next six months is to complete the Jubilee line upgrade and work with London Underground and the independent Arbiter to conclude the periodic review which will set out our programme and funding for the next seven-and-a-half years.

Without doubt, the Jubilee line upgrade is the most complex project being worked on to date. Significant improvements have of course already been made; reliability on the line has improved by roughly 20% since 2003 and passenger capacity has been increased by 17%. However, the real gains will be made with the completion of the installation of the new Seltrac 40 signalling system which, once operational, will reduce journey times by 22% and increase capacity by a further 23%.

This is by no means an easy task – installing a high-tech signalling system on a ‘Brownfield site’ has never been attempted before, anywhere in the world. The fact that Tube Lines has completed more than 95% of the upgrade on time is a remarkable achievement itself. Since I arrived in June, the focus has been on completing testing of the new software so we know that it operates reliably and safely. The finish line is in sight, however completing testing requires access to the line which means closures on the line are necessary.

I know that this is not an easy pill to take – I also live on the Jubilee line. But the prize is going to be worth it and over the coming months Tube Lines, with London Underground, will be doing all it can to provide certainty to passengers and businesses alike – they’re right to expect nothing less.

Tube Lines will be continuing negotiations with London Underground on a work programme for the second review period. Already a lot of time and effort from both sides has gone towards reaching an agreement and significant progress has been made. The PPP Arbiter is due to make his final determination in April 2010 and the best result for all is an agreement that delivers the upgrade Londoners deserve at a price that is value for money.

Conclusion

The coming months will indeed be a challenging period for Tube Lines. There is a lot that is positive about how far Tube Lines has come and what it has achieved to date. I’m looking forward to playing my part in helping the company continue its great work and drive forward its work programme beyond the current review period.

Progress is undeniable. Tube Lines has done an outstanding job getting the upgrade on its three lines to the level that it is now – but there is much more that needs to be done. But there is no doubt in my mind that we’re up to the task. I can already tell from just my short time at Tube Lines that the skills and expertise of its workforce are more than enough to get the job done – and I will be doing all that I can to provide strong leadership and support so that we can approach the coming year with a strong sense of optimism.

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