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Wednesday 1 January 2014

Boris Silent On Underground Debacle

London’s occasional Mayor Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson loves to collect the plaudits for anything going well. His expertise in populist promises is unsurpassed. But he can’t be arsed with keeping watch over mere detail: this leads him to make pledges he can’t keep, and to lose track of how the critical decisions, meaning the spending of serious money, are made. The Underground is a case in point.
Getting upgraded: a Metropolitan Line S-stock train

So although the Victoria Line has had its signalling renewed, and the Northern Line upgrade is going reasonably well, the much-trailed introduction of Automatic Train Operation (ATO) on the Sub-Surface Lines (SSLs) has not merely hit problems, but has just seen supplier Bombardier pull out, leaving Transport for London (TfL) with a bill for a sum not unadjacent to £80 million.

Bozza is, to no surprise at all, schtum on this small matter, as are his cheerleaders at the Evening Standard (aka London Daily Bozza). Fortunately, the Maily Telegraph has pitched the figures, although the idea that SSL signalling upgrades – to include ATO – can still be brought in by the original target date, now that any new supplier has two years less to do the work, appears distinctly fanciful.

What went wrong? The resignalling was originally to be done by Westinghouse, who have supplied the Victoria Line upgrade. But when the former Metronet Public Private Partnership (PPP) collapsed, it was retendered. Bombardier made great play of their installations elsewhere, notably on the Madrid Metro, but one look at that system shows that it is nowhere near as complex as the SSLs.

Bombardier’s CityFlo 650 system has been installed on Madrid’s Line 1 and Line 6, the former being a simple self-contained end-to-end route from Pinar de Chamartín in the north of the city to Valdecarros in the south. The 6 is a self-contained circular route. The SSLs, on the other hand, are four lines which share tracks with one another, and at their extremes with three other lines.

And the excuse made by Bombardier – “its signalling system was incompatible with the Underground's creaking infrastructure” – is shown to be baloney when you consider that the central part of Madrid’s Line 1 is the city’s oldest line, dating from 1919. What has happened is that CityFlo 650 can manage simple end-to-end and circular routes, but not the complexity of the SSLs.

Why TfL and Bombardier didn’t twig earlier that the requirement was of a magnitude more difficult than that in Madrid – as well as having to work with systems on the Jubilee, Central and Piccadilly tube lines – is baffling. And why the message is still being put out that the 2018 target date will still be met is real Ron Hopeful stuff. Meanwhile, Bozza will carry on lying low and pretend it’s not happening.

That, folks, is what defines a real hands-on Mayor. No surprise there, then.

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