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Not down the Tube?

London Underground - What is really going on underground? Ruby Kitching sees evidence of light at the end of the tunnel.

At first sight, London Underground's (LUL) 2005-06 report into Metronet's and Tube Lines' performance as public private partners appears similar to last year's effort.

Between them, the infrastructure contractors (infracos), have only achieved top marks in providing enough trains to service the system and keeping stations clean. However, they have fallen short of providing a reliable service, rectifying faults and reducing engineering overruns. The report also says that they are still failing to get the 'basics' right and that their successes are let down by failings elsewhere on the network.

'This lack of consistency is a source of great frustration, ' says the report.

Tube Line's Northern Line woes have been turned around to some extent by sending managers in to supervise train maintenance in the depots and the promise of investing an extra £75M. 'Nothing other than hard work will get us there, ' says Tube Lines CEO Terry Morgan.

Metronet's station renewal programme is 24 weeks behind programme with little scope of clawing back lost time. It has only completed six out of 148 station upgrades.

LUL managing director Tim O'Toole believes that Metronet's management structure is to blame (News last week). 'At every stage of the process - design, planning, co-ordination, assurance and delivery - the tale is long and involved, ' he says.

But NCE understands that Metronet has struggled to settle the scope of every station upgrade with LUL. This has led to delays in projects starting on site and throughout the course of the project.

Scoping issues could be as mundane as determining if every single tile in the station should be replaced or just those that are broken. Sources have also told NCE that handing stations back to LUL is problematic. Initially the programme required a number of stations to be handed back at the same time, which was difficult to coordinate. This is now being staggered to make handover easier to manage.

The delays have earned Metronet fines but LUL plans to penalise the contractor further under a Corrective Action Notice (CAN). However, Metronet is not going to take this lying down and has said it will reject the CAN and enter adjudication to resolve the issue.

To further improve its performance Metronet has tweaked its management processes to introduce more direct control over the supply chain.

But O'Toole believes it is too little too late. He wants to see more direct control and greater investment in new plant to get jobs done faster.

'Yes it has brought in new people and management practices, but it's still using old LUL plant and not bringing in new technology quickly enough, ' says O'Toole.

'It has also been slow to challenge our standards - we want them to force change and come up with better ways of doing things, instead of just complaining, ' he adds.

Tube Lines is just about to buy new rail grinders to improve track performance and Metronet is only just bringing new track-laying trains on line this summer.

However, it is not all doom and gloom. Tube Lines' Piccadilly Line has increased train capacity by 40% after replacing overheating axle boxes. And adding an extra carriage on every Jubilee Line fleet ahead of time has proved that Tube Lines can meet expectations. Its station and track renewal programme are also on course.

Metronet is ahead of programme in upgrading the Victoria Line et and refurbishing District Line trains.

But with the infracos still making a total of £84M prot per year, it could be said that there is little incentive for them to work harder. 'A business delivering its objectives makes money, ' says Morgan in answer.

And O'Toole agrees. 'If the infracos make money, they invest in more improvements - all to the benet of the Tube.

'That is when it is as good as it gets, ' he says.

Tick better than benchmark X worse than benchmark.

The infracos share the job of maintaining and upgrading the Tube network with Tube Lines responsible for the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines, Metronet BCV responsible for the Bakerloo, Central and Victoria lines, Metronet SSL for the remaining lines.

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