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Time to get tough

Comment

Not quite kicking them when they're down, but close.

It is, of course, London Underground boss Tim O'Toole's job to demand the best possible performance from his suppliers, but even so the language used in his latest PPP performance report can only be described as uncompromisingly tough.

'In short performance is not good enough and is less than what was promised, ' he says.

'The Infracos and their shareholders are earning significant sums through the PPP, but the volume of real work out on the railway is not consistent with the payments being made.' Although he accepts that there has been some progress over the two years since the PPP deals came into force, he talks of 'worrying trends' and 'inconsistent' delivery that is nowhere near his own expectations or those of the public.

'Users of the Tube -have had to deal with continuing delays and interruptions to journeys on the system, ' he points out.

Effective maintenance systems are needed now to prepare the system for the 'bow-wave' of renewal work promised.

He is clearly right to worry.

Engineering overruns have increased by 35% since the first year and now average one a week across the system. The programme and asset management registers are not yet complete; nor are proper cost management processes in place.

On many lines there is still under-investment in maintenance, leaving the underground vulnerable to routine signalling and trackwork failure. New infrastructure to renew and upgrade the underground is in most cases years away and what has been achieved has largely been late or over budget.

In short it's a mess. Metronet is on its third chief executive in two years and, by all accounts, is struggling against its own management and corporate structure. Tubelines has performed better, but has still failed to deliver in line with its own expectations.

All this we know, of course.

The PPP has been probed over the last year by the National Audit Offi the Public Accounts Committee and by the Transport Select Committee and all have voiced criticisms of and concerns about the structure of the PPP.

But we are where we are. The contracts are out there to be delivered and London Underground is working hard convert the theory into real improvement for London commuters.

It has to. Unless the government takes some pretty radical action the PPP will remain intact and unaltered at least until the periodic review in five years.

The infracos, for their part, also appear committed to driving through improvements.

Yet aside from the tough talk by O'Toole, this week's LUL report does highlight how difficult and expensive it is turning out to be to really inject new life into this elderly infrastructure.

But there have been huge successes for Tubelines and for Metronet. The latter has achieved a 20% reduction in track and civils failures on the Bakerloo line, while London Underground has praised Tubelines improvements on the Jubilee and Piccadilly lines.

Without question a challenge as complex as the Tube can only be met with outstanding engineering and project management. London Underground must continue to put pressure on its private sector contractors to deliver to expectation.

But primarily it must ensure that everyone's focus remains on management of the engineering, not management of the contracts.

Antony Oliver is editor of NCE

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