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Working to a timetable

Rail Underground

Not all publicity is good publicity if you are late on an Underground project. Ruby Kitchin talks to Tube Lines about the importance of hitting deadlines.

Contractor Tube Lines has just completed 1300km of track renewals over three weekend possessions on the eastbound Piccadilly Line and will start replacing the westbound track next weekend. The process involves removing and replacing rails, sleepers and ballast between Boston Manor and Northfields.

Each 52-hour weekend possession costs £2M and has to be planned about nine months in advance. Overruns incur penalties upwards of £25,000 as well as a torrent of abuse from rush-hour commuters.

A military style operation is employed to try to ensure half hourly targets are met.

'If we haven't met a deadline, I hear it on the radio and read it in the newspapers, ' says Tube Lines senior project manager Amjad Bangash.

He admits that the last batch of engineering work on the Piccadilly Line overran by 26 minutes because of problems rewiring signalling cables.

'We're learning lessons all the time, but that was a hard lesson to learn at the last minute, ' says a wounded Bangash.

To meet output targets, the permanent way team constantly tries to improve efficiency. Tube Lines has convinced its subcontractors to invest in new and more reliable plant to increase productivity.

All timber sleepers are replaced by concrete ones with pre-drilled boltholes, making them quicker to fix and align. They are also installed in 18m long panels to save time.

With all the planning in the world, adverse weather can have the biggest effect on meeting a deadline.

'Rain slows the workers down, but snow and icy conditions are worse from a safety point of view, ' says Bangash.

Work on overground sections of the Jubilee, Piccadilly and Northern Lines can be carried out in weekend possessions, but underground work is still done during engineering hours. Progress on underground upgrades is slow because work is limited to bursts of three to four hours a night.

With only one engineering train stationed in Ruislip, the first activity of the night is to mobilise staff and plant to where it is needed. In some stations where there is only lift access, this can mean handling plant takes up half the time available in a night shift.

'We're looking into getting work done in blockades, but it's a political problem. We've got to prove [to LUL] that we can do the work and then set out the business case, ' says Bangash.

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