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It's a great place to be an engineer

Bringing London Underground’s 150 year old network up to speed through a multibillion pound, multiyear investment is nothing short of a “heroic challenge”, according to the man in charge of making it happen.


Tottenham Court Road: Northern Line lower concourse

Sitting in London Underground (LU) capital programmes director David Waboso’s office in the Tube owner and operator’s St James Park HQ, there is a palpable feeling that 150 years of history is bearing down on those now charged with updating and upgrading infrastructure dating back to Queen Victoria’s reign. Amid the oak-panelling and mementos of yesteryear there are just two nods to modern technology - the iPad on Waboso’s desk and the monitor on the windowsill conveying the status of each of LU’s 11 lines. “Good service” it says, unwaveringly on all lines throughout.

That it didn’t waver is of little surprise given the punctuality and reliability stats that LU is punching in these days. Indeed, its most recent annual report back in March 2012 showed the Tube to be hitting record levels of customer service.

Which is a quite incredible achievement, given the age of much of the infrastructure and the demands being placed on it; indeed, some of the equipment being relied on is decades old - including a signal box from 1926 still in use at Edgware Road. And it is certainly the sort of performance that would have been unthinkable just a few years ago as LU and its collapsing PPP deals hit the headlines.

Much has changed since then, with LU now revitalised and indeed widely regarded as a capital client warmly embracing new thinking and innovative approaches as it goes about delivering its multi-billion pound programme; a programme that will provide 30% more capacity across the network through introducing new trains, signalling and track and rebuilding some of the busiest and most complex stations.

But getting there, in such a short space of time, whilst still delivering a capital programme on the scale that it had never before seen, has not been easy. “Heroic”, in fact, is how Waboso describes it.

As you’d expect LU’s first priority is getting the job done safely. “Of course our first priority is safety, because with so much construction and system work, often involving hundreds of staff on the network at nights and weekends, we have to remain ever vigilant,” says Waboso.


“It’s a fascinating, interesting job. It’s been a hell of a seven years. We have come a long way”

David Waboso, London Underground

But we’re here to talk about infrastructure delivery. And it’s an incredible story. “It’s a fascinating, interesting job,” says Waboso. “It’s been a hell of a seven years. We have come a long way.” And when you hear him describe the challenge back then, it is hard not to agree.

“The PPP with Metronet for two-thirds of the Tube was a very large capital programme and that fell over. When that happened we had to reintegrate that back into LU. But it is the third largest capital programme in the UK and we had not run that kind of programme before,” he says.

After all, the PPP was, he recounts, only established because the trials and tribulations of the Jubilee Line Upgrade in the late 1990s had cast doubts on LU’s ability to manage the scale of work needed to bring the Tube up to date. The then Labour government in its wisdom decided that the investment could only be safely delivered by entrusting it to three PPP Infracos - Metronet (twice) for the sub-surface lines and the Bakerloo, Central and Victoria Lines and Tube Lines for the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly Lines. Metronet failed, and Tube Lines was acquired by TfL, leaving LU - and specifically Waboso and his capital programmes team - to integrate the new teams and deliver the work.

“It was not just a case of four organisations coming into one, but also the capital culture that had to be embedded. We are talking about £4M a day investment here, with a supply chain of 25,000,” he says.

“Normally when you do a reintegration like this you see an impact on output; we had inherited large contracts that needed managing so had to keep delivery going as a first priority ” he adds. With up to 4M journeys made every day adding up to a record 1.1 billion journeys made in 2010/11, performance and customer experience have to come first.

“We want to get unit costs to be among the best in class and still be seen as a delivery agent of choice”

David Waboso, London Underground

“So we coined the phrase ‘New LU’ to make it clear it was not the same organisation. It was important that there was no victor. No loser,” he says.

It led to a capital change programme, and this programme became instrumental in getting projects on track.

Now, LU is moving to a new phase. “I’m a big fan of splitting big changes into small phases,” notes Waboso. “The first phase was integration and maintaining delivery. The second phase was to up the rate of delivery, and now over 90% of project milestones are on time, and the vast majority of contracts are within budget and risk provision,” he says.

LU uses NEC3 in a way that separates project risks from a centrally held contingency fund, with the risk pot typically big enough to cover risks that are deemed to have a 50% chance of occurring. Waboso says all his programmes are currently operating within budget and the P50 risk pot.

With costs seemingly under control, and projects coming in as expected, Waboso now wants to drive prices lower. “Now we are into the third phase,” he says. “Now we want to get unit costs to be among the best in class and still be seen as a delivery agent of choice - should there ever be a question mark over someone else doing what we do,” he adds. “We always have to have the philosophy that it is not a God-given right for us to do this.”

Getting unit costs down comes down to two things - benchmarking and standardisation, and here Waboso wants to keep it clear and simple.


Night work: in the tunnels

“Cost benchmarking can be a very complicated area but at its heart its very simple. It’s about how to do things well and learning from others.

“For cost differences, it could be that there are macro reasons [for differences] that we can’t change. But it’s the micro things - things that management can influence. That’s interesting,” he says. “That’s the really interesting discussion.”

Waboso says LU has learnt a lot from other Metro organisations around the world, particularly when it comes to driving down the cost/km of new signalling - an area where LU has historically had some “very, very high” costs.

“We went to see Madrid Metro who had done some resignalling without having to close the railway - which means costs come down. If you can test signalling in the day time it is a damn sight cheaper than doing it in the weekends and nights.”

Madrid’s approach was to use an overlay system - new signalling is installed during engineering hours but because it operates in the background until fully switched on it can be tested with the railway operational.

“Blame culture is no good. If you beat people up too hard they become risk averse”

David Waboso

“So we have specified that for our biggest signalling contract and have got a world class price. It is a good example of benchmarking,” he says.

That is a high profile and high level example, but Waboso wants everyone to be ruthlessly using benchmarking to drive up performance and find savings. “What I’m encouraging robustly is for my team to be obsessed by benchmarks. And that’s started,” he says.

It is no surprise, given the passion for it, that LU is a key player in Infrastructure UK’s cost benchmarking exercise.

The other area LU is focusing on is standardisation, and there is plenty of scope here. “History is against us; all our railways are different,” he says. “But the rail industry really needs to do more.” LU has a clear plan.

“What we want to get to is the sub-surface railway - which now is four lines with three types of train, five types of signalling and 13 signal boxes - to having one type of train, one type of signalling and one control centre,” he says. “That takes you to a whole different level of performance. You can see straight away you get more efficient operations. The sub-surface work is due to finish in 2018 and you will get improvement in performance,” he adds.

On the deep sections of the Tube it is more complex, where the PPP Infracos had got further along the line of ordering rolling stock from their tied supply chains. As a result of this, the Victoria Line has just received a new - yet still bespoke - set of trains and signalling; the Northern and Jubilee Lines also have newish stock and a different set of signalling.

But plans are afoot to get standardisation of trains and signalling here too, starting post-2020 with the Piccadilly, Bakerloo and Central Lines (see box). “We are going to drive huge whole-life efficiencies through the programme, and the capital programme is the catalyst,” says Waboso.

And that’s key - as Waboso is acutely aware that LU via its parent Transport for London is reliant on the government funding tap continuing to pour come the next spending round.

“To even get a seat at the table in the next funding round it is very important that we are able to demonstrate this delivery record,” he says. “And we want to further improve.”

And keeping the cash flowing is vital. “Track has a design life of 40 years. We generally have to renew it within that period” states Waboso. “To do that consistently means we have to renew about 2.5% of our network every year, and 2.5% a year is a lot of track - in fact it’s over 500m every weekend. It’s basic maths,” he says.

And even with the cash, simply getting it done logistically is a challenge. “That amount is a really good weekend on open track. In the deep Tube we are lucky if we can get 150m done because you can’t get the big kit in there,” he says.

To speed this up, LU are looking to get bolder with the track renewals programme and bring back the concept of blockades and use innovation to improve productivity in the deep Tube during nights so there is less reliance on weekend closures for the central areas

A highly successful blockade of the Central Line’s Hainault loop took place in October (NCE 23 November 2012). By doing that LU and its contractor Balfour Beatty was able to complete 19 days of work in just one 12-day closure, a far more efficient way of working that will directly translate into £4M of savings for LU.

Time is money, after all, and that is never truer than with track renewals. “Permanent way is a volume business,” says Waboso. The kit is there, so use it, use it, use it, and the more you do, the more the unit costs come down. So if we can do more blockades, the unit costs will come down.”

“I would say we’ve come a long way with the supply chain. We have a good relationship; we collaborate”

David Waboso

But it is not simply about finding more efficient ways of doing work on the network. For Waboso, a deep thinker and deeper strategist, that doesn’t cut it. Indeed, for Waboso, the old time/cost/quality triangle is far too simplistic for plotting operations on the Underground. He’s got “the zone”.

“It takes time, cost, quality into the rail environment,” he says.

Time, he explains, is critical, but has to be seen in two ways. For first time in its history, London Underground’s grant from the DfT is dependent on it delivering to milestones. So on-time construction is important. But second, there is the need to respect the time its customers, so time is also length of closures.

Similarly cost is also critical, but it is not as simple as setting a budget - unit rates and efficiencies are the key metrics here.

And quality is not just about the quality of the finished product; it is critically also how it impacts on performance of the operational railway once in use.

All projects are assessed against these criteria and compromises are made as required - for example a project which rates customer time as important will have to make a corresponding trade off in unit cost.


Future deep tube

With upgrades to the Jubliee and Victoria Lines done and the Northern Line being taken care of right now, long-term attention is shifting to the Bakerloo, Piccadilly and Central lines.

It is a classic upgrade - rolling stock, signalling and infrastructure as required - that’s power, track, communications and stations where appropriate. In numbers that’s 350km of track, 120 stations, seven depots and 220 new trains that LU is in the market to go out and buy. On the SSR there were 190 new trains so this will clearly become a bigger programme.


The Future: New EVO train concept

It’s not going to happen overnight; the roll out will be the end of the decade onwards, peaking at the end of the 2020s before ending in the early 2030s. Much needs to happen before then, not least, funding needs securing.

At the core of the programme is asset replacement. Bakerloo Line trains were built in 1972 so as we sit here they are already 40 years old, and by the time LU gets to replace them in 10 years’ time they will be 50. Piccadilly Line trains are only a year younger.

Standardisation of rolling stock is key. LU is developing ideas for a new deep Tube train that would replace four different trains currently in use on the deep Tube lines.

The concept - dubbed the EVO train is at feasibility stage right now, where the pros and cons are being compared against an enhanced version of the conventional deep Tube train. Key features of the EVO train are shorter carriages to allow the train to map closer to platforms, through-gangways between carriages to increase capacity and reduce dwell times at stations and, significantly, less wheel bogeys.

It’s complicated, but bogeys weigh around 50t each and weight saving equates pretty much directly to energy savings. And removing the bogeys would create space for something all Tube travellers are desperate for - air cooling units.

For the new train the main suppliers have already been briefed on the concept and they are heavily

Waboso is a man of contrasts; clearly a driven individual with high expectations placed on those who work for him, he is also keen to stress that the old LU blame culture is long gone. Not because he is going soft, mind, but to ensure people get to know the limits.

“Blame culture is no good. If you beat people up too hard they become risk averse. So what people willdo is plan for a blockade but only do 50% of the work they could do in it as they will have 100% certainty of doing it,” he explains.

“So people have got to be allowed to make some mistakes,” he says. “As long as they learn from them,” he adds.

Question is, does that courtesy extend to the supply chain? “I would say we’ve come a long way with the supply chain. We have a good relationship; we collaborate,” he says. “But that doesn’t mean we’re a soft touch; we have issues. We’re delivering £1.4bn a year - who wouldn’t have issues?” he challenges.


Upgrade: Bank Northern Line

But there are great examples out there. Waboso cites the £500M Tottenham Court Road upgrade, a project which he says he is “immensely proud of”. There, contractor Bam Nuttall/Taylor Woodrow is fully integrated with LU staff and that fact - along with the fact that there are “some very talented people” leading it - has been instrumental in the successes to date. “From a team point of view it has been very impressive,” says Waboso.

Waboso says the same is also true of the Victoria Line upgrade, which - despite televised spats with train supplier Bombardier in the past - also now features an integrated team and a new 33 trains per hour timetable. “There are issues, but they are put on the table,” says Waboso. “If you talk to suppliers they will say it is incredibly different to how it was under Metronet. They will say that they weren’t allowed to talk to us. Similarly, in the old Tube Lines, the contractor would be sat there, but he would be just nodding his head. It is genuinely true when people say the only conversations we had were in lifts,” he recalls.

“Overall on the Jubilee and Northern Line upgrades, the relationship with the supplier Thales has been transformed and we’re delivering really well together,” he notes.

Of course, the fact that LU is taking a more mature approach with project risks is a major factor, as is the fact that it is not awarding purely on lowest capital cost. “We have learnt the hard way that the lowest cost is not always the best cost. Two thirds of our costs are in the 40 year life cost,” says Waboso. “So the sub-service signalling contract was done on base cost + risk + 40 year life cost.

“It was revolutionary. It was the first time we’d done it. We even put in things to price called “typical railway interventions” - like if we wanted to move a signal or move a set of points or lengthen a station. Genuinely, the winning bid had to be a good deal over 40 years.”


Revamp: Bond Street station

The sub-service signalling contract is now a done deal. But there are many following on; indeed LU’s big challenge is trying to smooth the flow of work to ensure the spend remains broadly consistent at the current £1.4bn a year.

Big projects that will make a big dent in that smooth flow include the £600M Bank station upgrade. It, of course, is the project being used as the prototype for LU’s new innovative contractor involvement (ICE) procurement approach (see feature p6). Industry is genuinely excited about the model that urges all tenderers to offer innovative solutions as part of the tender process. “We are building on the way we manage risk and how we get the best base cost,” says Waboso. “It’s about using ideas that are not necessarily the ideas of the winning contractor. You buy that idea; then get someone else to do it. It’s real innovation, and has got a really good response from the supply chain.”

There is also the small matter of completing the resignalling of the deep Tube network, starting with the Bakerloo and Piccadilly Lines.

“We want to get that to best-in- class levels,” says Waboso about the deep Tube. The best metros in the world have reliability targets of around one five minute failure every three years or so. We’re getting closer but still have a way to go.

“There are good legacy reasons why we can’t hit these things right now,” he adds. “A lot of the designs are 10 years old. But the sub-surface resignalling, we designed. The deep Tube resignalling, we’ll design. Then we’ll approach these levels of reliability.

“So I think it’s feasible for the Victoria Line in three years to be up there with the best. We also have similar plans for the Jubilee Line. That will be the story - a Tube line hits Far East levels of reliability.”

All in all it’s fair to say Waboso is rather pumped up about the challenges now and in the future.

“We are doing some of the most incredible engineering here,” he says. “We have some of the biggest engineering challenges in the world,” he says. “It is a great place to be an engineer.”

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