Former London Underground (LU) boss Tim O’Toole was this week still deciding whether to take on the politically charged role of Tube Lines chief executive having been offered the job by Tube Lines in early March.
Although Tube Lines was unable to comment on the specific reasons for his delayed decision, chairman David Begg confirmed that O’Toole would only take up the role if he had the confirmed support of senior figures at LU.
“Tube Lines has agreed a contract with Tim O’Toole to take on the role of Tube Lines chief executive,” said Begg. “Our intention in proposing to make this appointment is to be constructive and to improve relations with our client LU, however, we will not take it forward if his appointment is not welcomed by them.”
LU this week said that there had been no formal talks between O’Toole or Tube Lines and LU over the appointment and stressed that it was a matter for Tube Lines to resolve.
“Tube Lines is a private company. It is up them to appoint a chief executive,” said an LU spokesman. “Tube Lines has not made any approach to LU to seek our approval for this appointment.”
“Tube Lines is a private company and has not made any approach to LU to seek our approval for this appointment”
London Underground spokesperson
However, having led LU for six years, O’Toole is very well connected in the capital. NCE understands that he has been informally discussing the role with many key players to understand whether he would be able to rebuild the critical relationship between LU and Tube Lines.
The relationship between Tube Lines and LU has been under strain throughout the life of the PPP deal to upgrade the Underground network.
For six of these years O’Toole was at the helm of LU. But this escalated after problems emerged on the Jubilee Line signalling upgrade project, which is now expected to be completed a year later than planned.
LU and Tube Lines have since waged a very public battle over the cost of work on the network and specifically about how much time the contractor is allowed to close lines to carry out work on the Jubilee and Northern Lines.
PPP Arbiter Chris Bolt’s recent decision to cap Tube Lines spending at £4.46bn over the next seven years - more than the £4bn demanded by LU but less than wanted by Tube Lines - has reignited the row.
Hard line approach
Bolt’s decision effectively urges Tube Lines to adopt a very hard contractual line and claim against LU for all additional work required to carry out the upgrade.
Placing O’Toole back at the heart of the Underground upgrade could, according to many in the industry, be crucial to getting the relationship back on track.
“We have, so far, been very encouraged by the widespread messages of support for Tim’s appointment from important stakeholders with an interest in the Tube and who share our objective of focusing on getting on with the job of delivering a better Tube for London,” said Begg.
Winning the support of the London mayor Boris Johnson is crucial, not least since he has made it clear that he is unhappy with the current PPP contract and would prefer to see the work carried out in house by LU.
A spokesperson for Johnson also pointed out that they were unaware of any discussions between the mayor and O’Toole over the appointment and added: “The mayor has the highest regard for Tim O’Toole, but this is purely a matter for Tube Lines.”