What next for the District Line

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St. Mark’s Church Hall, Wimbledon
Friday 11th October 2002
The Future of the District Line under privatisation.

Panel:

Paul Godier – Managing Director: London Underground (PG)
Jerry Gold – London Transport Users Committee (JG)
Elizabeth Howlett – GLA Member Merton / Wandsworth (EH)
Charles Nicholls – District Line Bid Director: Metronet Consortium (CN)
Chair: John Ellison

Chair: Before we discuss District Line, how does the Panel view the future of London Underground management itself when Mayor Livingstone takes over in April, given his recent support for militant strikers, his repeated criticism of his own management as “knuckleheads and his intense opposition to the PPP scheme?

EH: Ken Livingstone will put up fares by three times the rate of inflation, with over £5 Billion pounds for the staff and tie the hands of the private operator – I’m afraid for me that’s electioneering. Improvements could have started a year ago, but he bankrolled the unions and now they are helping him.

JG: It is not evident that a very substantial pay rise is necessary to recruit and retain London Underground drivers. They are paid the same if not more than main line drivers around London. It is worrying if the money involved is moved away from investment.

CN: My Company is shortly to enter into a contract with London Underground to serve its customers for the next 30 years. At some stage Transport for London (TfL) will take over the organisation and management of this contract. My Chief Executive has talked with Bob Kiley and Mayor Livingstone and we are sure he will get the job done.

PG: The advantage of being a knucklehead it that you are thick skinned. My job is to focus on you the customer. Two things. Industrial relations are a difficult balance between rewarding our staff and investing for the future. We believe that a very good level of pay for tube workers is a just case. We put forward a good settlement in the circumstances. But we are trying to break the annual cycle (of strikes). We don’t need third party involvement on every occasion. What the mayor has done is to undermine industrial relations, when we had moved towards consultation without strikes. The mayor and Bob Kiley (his Underground supremo) now believe that the battle is over and they are working with my management team to ensure an orderly hand-over. The job is awesome. But the prospect of a very real agreement is there to put in place customer service agreements so that we are world class in everything we do. I have offered my services to assist Bob Kiley. (He would not speculated on whether the offer would be accepted).

Floor Q1 David Marsh: What are the improvements for the PPP that London Underground Management envisage for the District Line and what is the timetable proposed for those changes?

CN: From Sept 24th next year there will be refurbishment of two trains at a time costing £70 until all trains are done. The first prototype for new trains appears in 2008 for Circle and Metropolitan Lines. The first new train will be in service in 2009, then a train will be delivered every 1½ weeks over the following six years. Within the first 15 years we will have replaced 95% of the track, and provided a completely new signalling system. The service will be devastatingly improved: more trains, smoother and faster – 15 years is a long time but you will have a new service.

Floor: The District Line is the last in the network to be replaced. Why not more sooner?

PG: We have had under investment, and something has to fall behind. I commute every day on the District Line: I know what problems you have. What you may not know is that Railtrack owned the branch down from Putney Bridge. We offered to take it over and have spent a lot on signalling and drainage improvements that are the big problems on this section of the line. The rolling stock, it is only 25 years old - their working life is at least 40 years.. First, the carriages will be gutted and refitted with in-car closed circuit TV. The PPP team will put a lot of effort in to improve services. The reward is for a reduction in customers delay. At off-peak there is not much incentive (for that), but at peak time there are big incentives for Metronet to minimise delays.

JG. I think that compared to the other lines, the District is pretty average. The rolling stock is middling in age, and the silver ones that go through to the City are the most reliable on the network, though this is not true for the Edgware Road and Circle stock. Charles Nicholls says that in the peak now they run trains every two minutes, 30 per hour. To carry the increased traffic, they need to carry the 40 per hour achieved in the 1950’s but this is not possible today. I hope they can achieve 36-37 per hour but there is no specific evidence of this in the PPP documentation.

David Marsh: Why not introduce quickly an integrated all-day fare – as off-peak Travel Cards’ provide – between SW Trains and the District Line thus relieving present ticketing problems at the Wimbledon interchange?

PG: All responsibility for setting fares was passed to TfL and the Mayor in summer 2000. You may have noticed the funny little yellow discs on the ticket gates. These represent a revolutionary step forward to electronic ticketing. All bus and underground staff are now using one of these – far preferable to sticking a ticket in the machine. For example, you put £10-50 on the card and every time you pass through a gate then it debits the fare and can reload automatically from your bank account. Thos will definitely be introduced some time next year, but we must await the results of the trial first.

Floor: The signalling on this section of the district line comes under control of Network rail. How can you improve the service here?

PG: We subcontract control back to Network rail as the signalling cannot be split for operational reasons, but it is run on the basis of how we want to run it. If they want to run diversionary trains then we accept these on their behalf.

CN: We are paid to deliver, the costs involved are some £9 Billion. If we deliver what we promise then we make £2 Billion and that is discounted. If we do not deliver than we incur a huge thumping great loss. We are replacing the signalling as quick as we can.

Floor: Will there be closure of the route: temporary closure and blockades?

CN: Our plans to replace the signalling and trains only involve closure at weekends and nights as submitted in our bid documents.

Floor: What provision for the rising water table, cf. the problems encountered at the new British Library, as industry is not now extracting ground water. How stable are the foundations?

PG: The risks apply mainly to the deep lines, but we are working with the Government and the water Utilities on what we can do. It is a major Metropolitan issue that will impact the basements of houses and office buildings, etc. We don’t want to take on the mantle for the whole of London.. It is not a major problem at the moment and I don’t think you need to worry about it.

Floor: The Mayor’s plan suggests that London’s population will grow by 700,000 over the next 15 years. 700,000 people in your capacity planning?

EH: 700,000 more people is equivalent to a city the size of Sheffield but this won’t happen if Crossrail 1 and 2 don’t come on stream. And the congestion charging will lead to an extra 15% on the LU at peak times: quite frightening..

JG: PPP is not intended to be a solution to the current congestion or fixing the future growth but it is about fixing the current problems. Better signalling and new trains will allow more trains to be run, and then 15-20% additional capacity will be unlocked. It will keep pace with the current plans but not roll back the high congestion currently faced.

Chair: Are we not really facing the results of a total failure to plan our transport services over the long term?

PG: Five years ago I would have thrown up my hands in despair, now we have the focus that TfL brings. They have the power and if they bring money to the table then with the institutional blockages broken, things can get done.

EH: £1.635 Billion is total TfL expenditure, of which £l Billion comes from Government, therefore, it is Government funding. The rest of the money comes from the fare box.

CN: Metronet is planning on increasing the service pattern on the busiest section of the District Line from 17 to 34 trains per hour, all of the way through the service. Over the last few years, the peaks have flattened out and demand is now throughout the day. We are also offering London Underground an option where we can put an extra car on each train on the Circle line, immediately increasing capacity by 17% and we will be having this discussion over the next few months.

Floor Q2 Tim Miles: Can the panel explain why the Government felt entitled to force privatisation onto London Underground against the clearly expressed wishes of those who used the service?

PG: I’m for fixing the tube and providing a decent service for London. This is not privatising the tube. All the services you see at the station are in the control of LU and my team. What we are putting in the private sector is the maintenance and the renewal of the infrastructure. In the past 60% of this work was done in the private sector – all we have done is package this up in one parcel.

JG: The reason it has gone through is that there has never been any debate on the issue, and the Government ignored even debate from their own back- benches, due to their massive majority. We will never know the alternative.

CN: The day after the contracts are signed, £3 Billion comes into our bank account and we can get on with it.

EH: In New York, only 50% comes from the bond with 50% from the New York taxpayer, our mayor can only raise charges, and is not allowed taxation.

Floor Q3 Peter Cargin: Would the panel not agree that the number of District Line trains gong to Wimbledon is appreciably lower than those to Richmond and Ealing and how do they suggest regulating that problem?

PG: How would this question have gone if I was in Richmond or Ealing? Half of the trains go to Wimbledon in the peak, i.e., seven to each branch. There are 16,000 users by West Kensington and 20,000 up from Wimbledon. To apportion trains according to relative demand, there should be more trains to Wimbledon. But with antiquated controls at Earls Court you need a simple and recurring pattern. If you set up a more complex solution, then you would not be able to maintain the service. At end of September we introduced a new timetable for the Sub-Surface lines and simplified it so that trains are not now terminated at Parsons Green when there are delays. Given that the depot is at Ealing for operational reasons at the end of the evening so more trains go there.

EH: Why would Wimbledon suffer reduced capacity when I see trains from Earl’s Court to Olympia with just six people?

Floor: What about people with some disability. It is very difficult for them to use the Underground system. Very few people with freedom passes can use the system easily. How can you make it more accessible to disabled?

Floor: Where in PPP is there the provision to cope with all these (extra) people and provide adequate air conditioning to cope with the inevitable overcrowding.

CN: Every single refurbished carriage will have two areas where either wheelchairs or pushchairs can be placed: with tip up seats. The ends of carriages will protrude offering better access to the platforms. There will be increased visibility of the doors and many other improvements to help all passengers.

JG: Air conditioning is horrendously expensive to achieve for deep tube lines. However, it should be possible on sub surface as they are close to the surface. The considered judgement of engineers is how effective would it be when the doors are opening every two minutes. Ironically, it is needed most when the trains are stopped and the power is down. And whilst back up batteries last for two hours in practice they fail much more quickly than that on networks where this provision exists.

CN: For London Underground we have offered it to provide it for District Line trains. However, it takes 15% of available power and then the trains go more slowly. Train frequencies would then drop below 34 per hour. It is a huge dilemma,

The Forum Floor voted on the six main priorities for the District Line which emerged from the debate, with all attendees given two votes.

Signalling / reliability of services: 43 votes
Increased frequency / new routings: 23 votes
Access for mobility impaired / disabled:14 votes
Refurbished / new trains: 4 votes
Better ticketing arrangements: 4 votes
Improved station facilities: 0 votes

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