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Victorian thriller

The £1bn Victoria Line Upgrade provides passengers with just what they want - greater reliability and increased capacity. But it was no easy task.


New trains: Low energy equipment has been supplied to reduce power consumption

Today’s passengers on the Victoria Line are revelling in a service that offers brand new trains and 33 trains per hour. But upgrading the line so that it could allow five more trains to run per hour has cost £1bn and pushed London Underground’s patience all the way.

The upgrade project began under PPP contractor Metronet BCV’s tenure in 2003, but the company went into administration in 2007.

In 2008 Metronet BCV was taken over by Transport for London (TfL), which carried on with the project. Bombardier continued to deliver the new trains and Invensys the technology upgrades required to support them.

Critically, London Underground ensured successful delivery by securing the wholehearted commitment of Bombardier and Invensys (formerly Westinghouse) to work collaboratively and openly as the “One Team”, focused on results, while respecting difficult contractual boundaries.

Head of BCV upgrade Anne Hadjiry joined the project three years ago at a challenging time when eight new Victoria Line trains had been brought into service.

“The decision was made to scrap the old trains as soon as new ones were ready to replace them. That was a big decision and showed a level of confidence in the new rolling stock,” recalls Hadjiry.

Initially, it appeared this confidence had been misplaced, when oversensitive doors on the new trains led to frequent delays.

But with the Olympics looming it was deemed vital. “One of the first things we had to address was that the Olympics were coming - which hadn’t been considered when the original PPP contracts were drawn up,” says Hadjiry. It was deemed too ambitious to have all 33 trains in operation before the Olympics, but achievable by January 2013, so a target of 30 trains per hour was set pre-Games.

Both targets were hit. Ultimately, this confidence was born also from having installed and tested new signalling equipment, upgraded the power supply and optimised the track to support the new trains over the previous three to four years.

The old fleet of 38 trains has now been replaced with 47 to increase capacity on the line. The new trains are bigger and use more energy, since they have more technology on board to communicate between passenger and driver. So low energy equipment has been specified where possible.

To reduce power consumption further, each new train’s braking energy can be directed to the train behind via the conductor rail, offering energy savings to the network.

Since the new and old rolling stock has had to coexist until two years ago, so too did their respective signalling equipment, which made the project much more complicated - it wasn’t just a case of ripping out the old and putting in the new equipment. The fragile existing equipment had to be carefully maintained and interfaced with, plus new space had to be found for the new system.

Extra activities, which were given the go-ahead by “One Team”, included the introduction of Automatic Train Regulation (ATR), currently used in Singapore.

ATR allows trains to be spaced out optimally should there be a short delay of around five to 10 seconds from, say, the train leaving the platform late. Delays such as these are common to the network - caused, for example by a coat being trapped in a closing door and being tugged free. With trains now spaced at less than two minutes apart, a few delays of just 10 seconds across the network could cause the service to bunch up. ATR keeps everything flowing smoothly.


Northern Line

Since the end of the Tube PPP, Tube Lines has remained something of an enigma, retaining responsibility for the maintenance and renewal of the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines and operating as a separate entity within Transport for London (TfL). But things have changed.

Tube Lines is now managed as part of TfL’s core Underground business and its capital projects team has moved into LU’s capital programmes team.

Its big job right now is clearly the Northern Line Upgrade, which will come in at just under £400M when it completes in 2014. The work has been heavily reprogrammed since the demise of the PPP. Then, Tube Lines had planned 65 weekend closures of the entire line. Now, it’s down to eight full line closures and eight partial closures.

The reprogramming will also deliver a more reliable product due to extensive off-line testing using a simulator built by signalling provider Thales in Canada and a test facility built in Highgate.

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