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London Underground explains more costly but more certain signalling upgrade

London Underground has revealed how Thales will complete the upgrade of its sub-surface lines for a total cost of £5.54bn - a 30% increase on its original budget.

The next major phase of the London Underground’s modernisation will see a new modern train control system introduced on the District, Circle, Metropolitan and Hammersmith & City lines.  The system is needed to allow more trains to run - more than double the number will run on the Circle line alone - to help support London’s growing population that is expected to increase by 1.4 million people by 2030.

The work will be delivered by Thales, after London Underground terminated its contract with Bombardier in December 2013.

Thales will use an improved version of the system it has successfully installed on the Jubilee and Northern lines, and also follows on from the Victoria line modernisation where, with 34 trains every hour in each direction, there now is one of the most frequent train services anywhere in Europe.

London Underground said the upgrade will now cost £5.54bn, a 30% increase on the original £4.26bn budget. It said the increase provides cover for a more realistic price for the new signalling contract, a longer overall programme, and additional infrastructure works and costs identified as necessary to the modernisation following the termination of the Bombardier contract. 

London Undergrond said it was in the final stages of negotiating a position with Thales and that its “firm expectation” was that the new price will be in line with, or below, the cost per kilometre of modernising the Northern line signalling – and a much lower cost than the Jubilee and Victoria line modernisations.

The contract will see a further 191 modern air-conditioned walk through trains introduced along with other improvements to get the most out of the new trains, including new track, lengthened platforms and rebuilt train depots with advanced technology to ensure the highest levels of train reliability.

The District, Circle, Metropolitan and Hammersmith & City lines together make up nearly 40% of the network and include the oldest part of the network built in 1863. Between them the four lines carry around 1.3 million passengers a day. The current signalling system is not capable of running trains close enough together to provide the high-frequency service now needed. Once completed most Circle line customers will see a train up to every four minutes instead of 10 and once London Underground adds in additional District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan line services there will be trains every two minutes across much of this part of the network in Central London. 

The improvements will all be delivered within the existing Transport for London business plan and the programme is expected to have a benefit-cost ratio of around 4:1.

Work is expected to begin later this year, and customers will start to see the benefits of the work on the Circle line in 2021, with customers experiencing the full benefits across all lines in 2022.

Once these four lines have been completed, London Underground will move on to buying new trains and control systems for the Piccadilly, Central, Bakerloo, and Waterloo & City lines.

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