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David Waboso: Make work not war

London Underground director of line upgrades David Waboso is keen to set the record straight after a turbulent couple of weeks that saw contractor Tube Lines accuse it of cost hikes on the Victoria Line.

Monday 1 February is a date marked in bold in the diaries of Tube Lines and London Underground (LU). In their circles this is otherwise known as the deadline for responses to PPP Arbiter Chris Bolt’s draft ruling for how much Tube Lines can charge for its upgrade and maintenance of the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly Lines between mid-2010 and the end of 2017.

But the date could also potentially mark the end of a tricky couple of weeks in which Tube Lines has been publicly showing its teeth by claiming LU has misled the Arbiter over its costs for upgrading the Victoria Line (News last week).

Transparency

In that time, Tube Lines has made the news following its decision to submit a freedom of information (FOI) request for full costs of the Victoria Line Upgrade (VLU). Some may question the wisdom of such a move by a contractor against its client, but Tube Lines revealed its information to the Arbiter and alleged that costs were three times the £4.5M/km figure cited by LU.

Not so, according to LU. And no one is more eager to clarify, and even mollify, the situation than its director of line upgrades David Waboso.

“I am keen to rebut this [Tube Lines’ allegations] because it’s wrong and misleading,” he says.

LU stands by its £4.5M/km figure for the VLU, and counters that Tube Lines has arrived at its conclusions by looking at a crude total for all the project costs. Instead, Waboso maintains that LU’s figure is truer because it strips out extraneous costs and allows for a direct comparison of core signalling costs between LU and Tube Lines upgrade work.

“You have to compare like with like. If you take loads of things to an extreme you can come up with a misleading answer”

“You have to compare like with like. On an upgrade there are loads of different things to look at: signalling, new trains, tracks, ramps, CCTV, etcetera. If you take these to extremes you can come up with a misleading answer.

“On the VLU there are new trains and the associated infrastructure − you have got to strip these out. When you do strip these out then you divide by the number of kilometres [being upgraded] and you get one unit cost.”

It is perhaps understandable that Tube Lines’ fighting spirit has come out now. In December, Bolt’s draft ruling meant the cost of work by Tube Lines over the next seven and a half years would be capped at £4.4bn.

This is way below the £5.75bn Tube Lines calculated it needed and much closer to − if still over − the £4bn projected by LU.

Budgetary barometer

As a result, the comparison of Tube Lines’ upgrade of the Jubilee and Northern Lines − which carries a £10M/km price tag − and LU’s upgrade of the VLU offers Bolt a barometer for his final decision.

“[The cost of upgrade work] is fundamental to the price we have to pay,” says Waboso, adding: “We want to pay an efficient price and we don’t believe [£5.75bn] is fair,” says Waboso.

Despite Tube Lines’ suggestions to the contrary, Waboso maintains that the VLU is good value for money and that it fares particularly well when compared with the costs of the Jubilee Line Upgrade (JLU).

The logic, he says, is that “the more you have of something, the lower the costs will be − so on a longer line you’re going to have better costs for certain things as you would when you bulk buy. The JLU is longer than VLU, which doesn’t favour us”.

“[The VLU] was being done very inefficiently [under Metronet],” Waboso says. However, he is cautious about describing LU’s role prior to the collapse. “We knew about them [the ineffi ciencies] but had no power to infl uence what was happening − it was not easy for us to get in and influence. We weren’t able to say: ‘Now what on earth were they doing that for?’, when we could see they were putting in all these signals before the trains were ready.”

Overall, the VLU will deliver 47 new and faster trains, a new signalling system and control room.

Steering the ship

It is clear that Waboso favours the situation as it is now, which allows him more involvement and control. There is now an integrated project team involving the supply chain and including former Metronet people.

The result sounds promising. “We’ve renegotiated some of those contracts and retendered the big signalling contract. Last year we hit every milestone. Before that, the schedule was slipping all over the place.”

“And I’ve nothing but praise for our suppliers,” he adds. “I sit in this office [with the project team] once or twice a month and it’s good old fashioned project management − we help each other. And our supply chain tells us it’s ‘never been better’. When it was under Metronet it was like there was a cloud over us.”

Not that it is all plain sailing now. “This is a complicated process − there are always problems and always will be. But we want them to be highlighted early,” says Waboso.

The disputed figures

£4.5M/km
Cost of Victoria Line upgrade according to LU. Tube Lines claims it is actually three times this
£4bn
The amount LU thinks Tube Lines should be allowed to spend overall
£5.75bn
The amount Tube Lines wants to spend over next 7.5 years
£10M/km
The amount Tube Lines’ work on Jubilee and Northern Line is costing

 

Despite the experience with Metronet, and the potential for Tube Lines to leave a bitter taste in the mouth, Waboso says he is upbeat about collaborative working and conciliatory towards the contractor. “Once a fair price is set, what we have to do is to work collaboratively − the [last] P in PPP stands for partnership after all.

“I have to make sure that people delivering on the ground are not distracted by this. We need to continue working to deliver the job.”

However, beyond Bolt’s final ruling in March, LU will no doubt have to face more distractions as Tube Lines attempts to make claims against it for breaching its PPP contract.

Tube Lines chief executive Dean Finch told NCE earlier this month that if the Arbiter’s draft ruling holds fi rm, it could kick start seven years of open contractual warfare (NCE 7 January).

“We want to resolve issues before they ever come to a claim. The way forward is by working as a team and avoiding such claims”

“What he [Bolt] is saying is that £4.4bn is the baseline from which Tube Lines would have to derive other sources of income,” Finch said, adding that the decision urges him to make up cost diff erences through further claims against LU.

Tube Lines previously secured £100M of claims against LU’s ineffi ciency and until this week there was another £500M worth of claims outstanding. But those hopes appear to have been dashed after an independent PPP adjudicator ruled that Tube Lines, and not LU, is responsible for delays to the Jubilee and Northern Line upgrades − costing it £327M that it had hoped to recoup from its client (News p6).

Once again, Waboso remains optimistic and hopes that Finch’s prediction can be avoided − if the two parties work together to identify issues early on.

“We want to resolve issues before they ever come to a claim. The way forward is by working as a team and avoiding such claims.”

Waboso is clearly keen again to play the role of mediator and of someone who is focused on the job at hand. “I don’t want to get into a media war over this. In partnership we can deliver so much. It’s so important we get beyond this.”

Waboso’s CV

David Waboso’s career defining moment came in 1989 when he was invited to work on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) project, a job he calls a “fantastic railway university”.

Not long after he joined, new management was brought in. Impressed with Waboso, the new management asked him to oversee a system of prime contractors − a first for the rail industry.

To add to the degree of challenge the DLR then became the first to install moving block signalling on a British railway.

This outstanding achievement bought into sharp focus the chaos being wreaked by the attempt to install a similar system on the Jubilee Line Extension (JLE).

Waboso, who has been an engineer for 30 years, is now overseeing London Underground Limited’s upgrade of the capital’s Tube network.

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