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Tube upgrade finally set to go

News analysis London Underground

After years of delay and negotiation, contractors are poised to embark on the 30 year, £16bn upgrade of the London Underground. Nina Lovelace exclusively previews the engineering challenges.

WITHIN THE next few weeks the government is expected to hand the whole of London Underground's (LUL) track and trains to private contractors ahead of the 30 year, £16bn upgrade programme. Later this month, the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines should transfer to the Tubelines consortium of Amey, Jarvis and Bechtel-Halcrow.

This is likely to be followed early next year by the transfer of the Metropolitan, District, and Circle lines - the sub-surface lines (SSL) - plus the Bakerloo, Waterloo & City, Central and Victoria lines (BCV) to the Metronet consortium. Metronet is made up of Atkins, Balfour Beatty, Thames Water, Bombardier and Seeboard.

Initially the 3M passengers who use the Tube each day will notice little change to their travelling experience other than the fact that trains and stations will be cleaner. 'We're taking over a running concern which is running quite well.

But we mustn't let standards lapse, ' says Metronet operations director Ben Harding.

But in the early stages of the public private partnership (PPP) contracts the two consortia will devote huge effort to planning the massive asset improvement that will transform the condition and operation of the Tube.

Once the Tubelines and Metronet contracts are signed, subcontractors will start beavering away in design offices on a long-term station refurbishment and modernisation programme.

By the end of the first seven and a half years - the point at which contracts can theoretically be terminated if performance is not up to scratch - almost all the stations will have new CCTV systems, help points, lighting, and digital information boards.

Others will also have new escalators, floors and tiling.

'By the end of year seven point five, we will have refurbished or modernised every one of our 150 stations bar two, ' says Harding.

Plans to refurbish and modernise Tubelines' stations are already well developed and some work has begun on site, under agreements where responsibility for work already under way will transfer to the private sector once the PPP contracts are signed (see box).

Maintenance managers will also immediately seek organisational efficiencies to improve the rate of fault finding and fixing throughout the system. Both teams aim to streamline LUL's current remote monitoring systems, which inform line fault control centres about problems with track, signalling and structures.

Currently, different technologies are used on different lines.

Both Metronet and Tubelines also want to bring all reporting centres into a single fault control centre. Metronet hopes that centralised track control will bring about a 95% improvement in fault clearance by 2004.

In parallel, both will invest in even more remote fault sensor equipment, such as machines that can monitor track condition to replace the job of staff looking at the line. This will minimise the occurrence of broken rails, it is promised.

'As we improve efficiency and bring in new kit, the cost of maintenance will come down, ' says Harding.

Tubelines aims to install a new real time monitoring system into rolling stock called Dashboard, developed by Jarvis. Tubelines operations director Steve Peat is quick to point out however that any new technology will be thoroughly tried and tested. 'It's not about falling in love with technology, it's about reliability, ' he says.

This is essential both in bringing instant improvements to the service, but also to help both consortiums form detailed asset registers within the first 18 months of the contract.

Peat explains that although the consortium will be inheriting LUL's already reasonable understanding of its asset state, it is far from user-friendly. 'LUL currently has 127 different asset registers for the JNP lines, at various stages of maturity, ' he says.

Instead Tubelines and Metronet will both set up their own contract specific asset registers.

Getting to grips with maintenance and forming an asset register is also crucial to ensure efficient capital investment, adds Harding. 'We've got to get our section ready to spend capital money faster and more effectively than at the moment.'

Harding says overall capital spend on the whole LUL system was previously £300M a year.

'Within four years we'll be spending £400M on each of the BCV lines and on the sub surface lines, ' he says.

Investing in new trains, track and signalling systems will bring big and instant gains in the lines' reliability and capability.

In many cases, however, the consortia do not need to wait for the formation of the asset register to know which track and train replacements are a priority.

Ordering new rolling stock is a day one priority for Metronet due to its adoption of the oldest subsurface lines. 'The whole SSL line is an enormous challenge, ' says Harding. 'We will have changed the entire SSL fleet by 2012 - about 1,362 vehicles. The consortium also has a contract ready to go for 47 new eight car trains for the Victoria line with Bombardier.

Tubelines' rolling stock priority is ordering new cars for the 59 Jubilee line trains, to extend each train to seven cars long and to plan for complete replacement of the Piccadilly trains. Northern Line trains are already well maintained via a contract with Alstom which will continue under Tubelines.

Investing in new signalling will also bring key gains in reliability and capability. The Victoria line will have a completely new higher capacity 'distance to go' signalling system installed by Metronet by 2008. Work to upgrade the Waterloo & City line's signalling system is expected to start soon after PPP contracts are signed.

It will be designed, tested and installed by 2006 and should improve the service by 20%.

Tubelines anticipates delivering full track and signal upgrades on the Jubilee line by 2009, the Northern line by 2011 and the Piccadilly by 2014. Tubelines is likely to install moving block signalling.

Track improvements will also be a priority within the first seven and a half years.

Metronet and Tubelines both aim to replace or refurbish 50% of the whole track on JNP and BCV respectively. This work will include installing new ballast and drainage to stop or slow the recurring flooding problems that plague the LUL lines. 'Bits of the substrate date back to the 1870s, ' says Harding. 'They didn't realise the importance of good drainage in those days.'

Metronet and Tubelines must also fully investigate the true state of all of LUL's tunnel linings, embankments, cuttings and bridges for input into the asset register. Assets whose true state is unknown are called 'grey' assets. The condition of all grey assets must be known by the end of the first period.

During the investigations, anything found to be potentially dangerous will be immediately made good, whereas the rest will be prioritised according to their condition.

Metronet's Harding does not think the work will include much new tunnel building, however, due to the stability of the tunnel shape. 'There may be some relining, but by and large the tunnel structure is fairly sound, ' he says. Instead much of the work will be repairing embankments. 'Remember - half the Underground is actually above ground, ' he says.

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