Expanding the tube for a growing city
It’s not often you get congratulated on reaching 150 years old. Last week London Underground or “the Tube”, reached that magic milestone.
As well as being celebrated in London and across the country, our special birthday became a global media event with papers and news channels in all corners of the world. That’s not a total surprise because London is the most visited city in the world and we’re the first ever underground railway, with close links to metro operators around the world.
Looking ahead, the Tube system is not static - it needs to grow and change to move the extra 1.25M people that will live and work in London by 2031. That’s a population growth equivalent to a city the size of Birmingham. In fact London will become the biggest city in Western Europe, and second only to Moscow across the whole of Europe.
So the Tube will need loads of extra capacity, and we’ve started with plans for a 30% increase through larger and faster trains and better signalling and infrastructure to achieve headways of two minutes or less.
The Jubilee and Victoria lines have been improved through massively boosted capacity and faster journeys. Stations like King’s Cross, Green Park and Blackfriars have been rebuilt. A fleet of new air-conditioned trains has been introduced on the Metropolitan Line, and over the next few years will be introduced to 40% of the Tube network.
Further improvements to come this year include higher frequency services on the Victoria and Central lines.
By the end of next year, the Northern Line upgrade will be completed, with higher frequency services, and shortly afterwards key stations in central London such as Victoria and Tottenham Court Road will have been rebuilt. The number of step-free stations is being expanded, an extension of the Northern Line to Battersea is being planned, and Crossrail will be delivered - transforming travel across London.
But there is no doubt that the boundaries will be really pushed as we increase capacity even more.
Internet technology will be at the forefront of the Tube of the future. It’s already used increasingly for the majority of purchases and mobile internet is in the ascendancy. In the very near future you will be likely to pay for your travel not through buying tickets but directly from your credit card through wave and pay technology, and you may be able to order your shopping on the way to work and collect it from your local station on your way home!
Increasingly all our engineering assets, whether they be trains, signals, points, or escalators will have computerised diagnostics and communicate their health status back to fault centres so that the whole railway is moved into the “predict and prevent” mode. The railway of the future will increasingly be a standardised one where huge economies of scale are delivered collaboratively with our supply chain.
To achieve all this it is essential that the lessons of the past are learned. Investment dried up in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, leading to serious decline. This trend has now been reversed ensuring that we go into the next 150 years with belief that the Tube can continue to be the engine room for the people and economies of London and the UK.
- David Waboso is London Underground capital programmes director