LONDON’S CHANGING UNDERGROUND:

AN INSIDER’S VIEW

Mr Harold Lewis, Author & Consultant, on 8 April 2003

Mr Lewis has been working with Transport for London on the Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangements for financing the London Underground. He gave a brief account of the history of the system, described the PPP, and outlined the future developments.

The London Underground (LU) grew from a number of separate private companies, the first of which opened a line from Paddington to Farringdon Street in 1863 using steam locomotives and wooden carriages. This is why some stations on the Central Line have roof sections open to the sky to vent the fumes. In 1890 electrified lines were introduced on the City & South London line between Stockwell and King William Street. These trains at first had no windows but they were inserted quite quickly to allow passengers to see what station they had arrived at, instead of the guard shouting out the name. The Central London Railway opened in 1900; the Bakerloo to Hampstead line in 1907.

In 1933 the London Passenger Transport Board took over control of the whole system. It was extended by the Victoria line in 1968; the Piccadilly line extension to Heathrow Airport in 1977; the Jubilee Line in 1979 with its extension in 1993.

Until the Kings Cross fire occurred in 1987 the emphasis had been on service to passengers on a limited income using ‘patch and mend’ maintenance. The fire caused the emphasis to be changed to safety with the introduction of standards for the track and trains with limits and targets for maintenance – limits on the allowable deterioration of quality before replacement and targets for number of failures, regularity, etc. – but the annual budget did not increase.

The accumulated problems caused by lack of investment resulted in the introduction of the Private Public Partnership in which the annual Government grant was supplemented by investments from private companies. The objective was to improve the current maintenance procedures, up-grade the lines, signalling and stations, and renew the infrastructure over a 30 year period. The slogan was " The best and quickest line to improvement". The operation of the system, fares, ticketing and management remained with London Underground Ltd., a public company (later transferred to Transport for London). The income from tickets is £2.4 billion per year and they also get an annual Government grant.

Two consortia, Metronet and Tube Line, were appointed to run different parts of the system. Metronet for the Bakerloo, Victoria, Central and all the other sub-surface lines; Tube Lines for the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly. They agreed to invest for 7½ years initially with a possible extension to 30 years and would receive a payment from Transport for London based on the number of trains run and number of passengers carried, with penalties for delays (£13,000 per minute on the Central Line for example).

Metronet raised £7 billion and Tube Lines £3½ billion for expenditure in the 7½ year period.

Besides the improved maintenance of the track, these consortia will be responsible for stations, including lifts and escalators, signalling and re-building.

Future extension of the system is likely to be limited to the long-discussed new Cross Rail line, which will run, as the first line in 1863 did from Paddington to Farringdon Street (and then beyond), to relieve the Central Line which carries more passengers a day than all the Network Rail trains over the whole of the UK outside London.

Discussion

This was mostly concerned with the merits of PPP as a method of financing a public service. Many of the audience considered it an expensive way, which would just postpone the payment by the public whilst increasing the amount they eventually paid. They were not convinced that maintenance would be much improved since the same sub-contractors would be involved in doing the work.

It was noted that the Jubilee Line extension provided a design of station with platform-edge doors (to protect waiting passengers from the gale of wind produced by the faster trains approaching the station, and to prevent attempted suicides); with modern elevators and architecture and with central control by computer of all trains. These features cannot easily be transferred to existing lines when stations are improved.

Donald Lovell