If you have travelled on London Underground’s Victoria Line over the past few months, you may have noticed some very impressive differences.
After a nine year £10bn upgrade programme completed earlier this year, the line, one of London Underground’s busiest, can now operate at 36 trains per hour at peak time. To put this into perspective, this means it has capacity for 3,000 more passengers in peak hours, and trains are pulling into Victoria Line stations every 100 seconds – beaten only globally by the Moscow Metro which runs trains every 95 seconds. No mean feat.
To find out how this was achieved, Siemens held a masterclass at New Civil Engineer’s UK Transport conference. Its team shared its experience and insights into improving and sustaining rail capacity and working collaboratively with London Underground (LU).
The need for an upgrade
Transport for London engineering director George Clark spoke of the urgent need to address the demand on the line that was already carrying around 625,000 passengers a day with a peak of 27 trains per hour.
“When we looked at the growth forecasts for the Victoria Line, it was originally forecast to be around 200M passenger journeys a year by 2025. What we were finding is that we were nearly at the figure in 2012. It was a pretty difficult scenario and we were facing demand far in excess of what we expected.”
Already producing a lot of data from the control systems, the trains and the infrastructure, Siemens and LU were able to clearly identify margins where performance could be improved.
“We could get some real benefits from exploiting the rich data picture, and understanding what was possible and deliver far in excess what was delivered in the initial upgrade programme.”
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The initial upgrade programme was essentially the introduction of a new automatic Siemens signalling system which allows trains to run closer together, increasing capacity while still maintaining safe operation.
This included the introduction of automatic train protection and automatic train operation systems, with radio-based signalling. New train controls were used in conjunction with the existing signalling systems and the first of the new trains were running in 2009.
Following the London Olympic Games, in 2012, the old signalling system was removed, and new signals and platform equipment were installed. Within 15 months the Victoria Line’s capacity had been increased from 28 to 33 trains per hour in peak hours.
Working closely with Siemens, LU was able to look at the entire line, identifying pinch points including where stations were particularly busy, gradients in the track, acceleration and braking times, depot access and power usage, to meet the ultimate target of 36 trains per hour.
Siemens UK Transport for London key account manager Ian Jones put the programme’s success down to effective collaborative working.
“It is all very easy to have the best modelling systems in the world, the best people in the world, but the important thing was that we worked together in a collaborative way, and by doing that we achieved something one team on its own, or two teams working individually couldn’t have achieved. We pushed the system to the absolute edge.”
Jones explained how the desired reliability was reached by testing the system to breaking point.
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“Once you have broken the system, you can then see if it can occur in real life. If it can’t occur in real life, or there is a slim chance of it happening, then you have to fix it.”
“That was the whole concept. We were testing the system to scenarios where we would bust it, and that is how we achieved the reliability.”
Much of the testing was completed off the line, but when it was a necessity to test on the line, the collaborative working really came into its own.
This included sharing access with other contractors who were working on the line. This enabled more access to be made available than the contract originally deemed possible, even with the night Tube service starting during the upgrade programme.
Learning from the Victoria Line upgrade
Invited delegates split into break out discussions and were asked what could be learnt from the Victoria Line case study and how this success could be repeated across the rail industry, and how can the industry ensure reliability when trying to get more capacity out of railways?
Some at the masterclass asked whether human actions could ever be mitigated when it came to reliability. Sixty per cent of lost customer hours are down to people, and are not operations related. Causes of human induced delay include: passengers becoming ill or getting stuck in doors.
“We use a lot of data and simulations, but how close can those simulations be brought to reality?” they asked.
Another group agreed, adding that no one wants their live railway used a test bed. And that recognising the system requirements, and functionalities was a tried and tested way to establish confidence in the system.
To be confident in the reliability of the product, then the whole lifecycle must be considered, added one group.
“Not just in terms of the product delivery, everyone needs to be involved in the maintenance to gain confidence in the reliability. It’s not just the embedded reliability in the product, but everyone suitably engaged in terms of what the product has to offer,” said the group.
More than just trains
How can lessons from the Victoria Line upgrade be applied to future projects including those which are not metro projects?
Feedback from the masterclass suggests that it was less about trains, and more about moving people, and whether people rather than train movements should be measured. This would then challenge how passengers are channelled onto the platforms and into the right places, and thinking more about the whole journey, including integrated journey planning with other forms of transport.
“The whole railway system is key to moving forward,” said Clark. If we are saying that we have reached the absolute capability in terms of trains per hour, but those trains are half empty because of a flow of people in the stations that can’t get on the train, then actually it’s not serving the purpose.”
The rethinking of station layouts had to take place without overcrowding and clustering. Walk through trains were a factor as was passenger flow analysis. But it was recognised that analysing passenger flows was much harder in older stations.
Improved reliability also improves passenger behaviour. One example is when people are confident that another train is going to arrive shortly after a previous train has left. This is easier to achieve on London Underground’s high frequency network but could be more of step change on other railway systems where services are less frequent.
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