Interviews

06.07.17

Victoria Line: pinnacle of excellence in railway engineering

Source: RTM Jun/Jul 17

Following the May timetable change, the Victoria Line has been running 36 trains per hour during the peaks. Mark Wild, managing director of London Underground (LU), discusses the lessons learned throughout the project.

Since the end of May, passengers on the Victoria Line have been benefitting from a substantial increase in capacity during the morning and evening peak. 

After the introduction of a new timetable, LU has been running 36 trains per hour during the peak periods on the line. This equates to a train every 100 seconds during the rush hour. 

Back in December 2016, RTM reported that TfL was gearing up for the capacity increase in the spring. At the time, it was noted that preparatory signalling work at Brixton and fan and air chilling system upgrades had been completed. However, signalling work at Northumberland Park depot and Walthamstow and substation ventilation works still needed to be finished. 

The final work was carried out by LU and Siemens engineers in April to prepare the line for the capacity expansion. This included a full line closure on Easter Sunday and the Bank Holiday Monday. 

“The work over the Easter Bank Holiday was, particularly, to change the signalling system,” said Mark Wild, managing director of LU. “As you know, people talk about digital railways but the Victoria Line is one of the most advanced railway signalling systems in the world. 

“There are computers on every train, so the computer systems had to be changed and all the software in the servers had to be changed. Also, on the track itself, how the train works out where it is, and how you manage to get more trains closer together, is to change some of the trackside positioning devices. You can really only do those changes over a long period of time, 27 hours or so, when the railway was shut. 

“It is not like us to shut the railway for a long period of time, but unfortunately by fitting new trackside equipment and changing all the software on the trains and changing the software in the servers, that is what we had to do. It was the culmination of a huge amount of work over the past two years. But we’ve not had any problems at all, it has been completely seamless.” 

Following LU’s completed upgrade of the Victoria Line in 2012, which saw the introduction of the state-of-the-art Siemens signalling system and a brand-new fleet of trains, the organisation has continuously been increasing the number of trains running on the route. “It is now our highest-performing line actually,” reflected Wild, adding that “the occasional problem we get is to do with the rails, nothing to do with the computer system. It is highly reliable”. 

Rob Morris, director of operations at Siemens Rail Automation, said that following the initial work on the project back in 2012, “we are delighted to have completed the programme and to have contributed to the safe delivery of a truly world-class service for London”. 

NorthumberlandParkVLU-21 edit

Off-site testing and simulation 

Wild said the key to the project’s success has been the constant testing and simulation of the signalling system off site. 

“One thing the engineers did is they spent a lot of time preparing both at the factory in Chippenham, Wiltshire, where all the software is built,” he noted. “So, before we got anywhere near the railway, it had been tested relentlessly on simulation rigs and off site.” 

As well as increasing capacity on the Victoria Line, which means an extra 3,000 passengers are able to travel every hour during the busiest times of the day, LU has plans to introduce 36 trains an hour on the Jubilee Line from 2021. It also aims to deliver a 33% increase in capacity on the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines, commonly known as the Four Lines Modernisation (4LM) project, by 2023. 

Asked whether LU could increase the running to more than 36 trains per hour, Wild said: “If you talk about the physics, electronics and the safety headway, 36 is at the absolute limit of where you can get to. 

“The other big dominant factor is our dwell time. We still have capacity in our dwell time, but while we are in an era where we don’t have platform edge doors on the Victoria Line and are reliant on our brilliant platform dispatch people and drivers, it becomes a constraint. 

“If we could reduce the dwell time you could potentially get more, but the reality is that at 36 trains per hour you are at ‘peak Tube’, which means that it is probably the best you are going to get.”

Wild conceded that platform edge doors are being introduced along the Elizabeth Line, but added that they are “quite expensive to fit” and it is “rather disruptive to the railway”. 

“There is also competition for our funding and where you put your money,” he said. “At the moment, there are no real plans on the Victoria Line to put platform edge doors in. We manage it perfectly with the platform teams. It does come down to the affordability of platform edge doors though. At some point in the future it is something we might look at. One thing that we’d like to get to is a low-cost solution for platform edge doors, and that is one thing our engineers and innovation people look at all the time. But, at the moment, there are no plans to introduce them.” 

The focus at 36 trains per hour, he noted, was how to run that confidently and seamlessly, maintaining the headway between trains. 

The big change with the Victoria Line, which will feed into the work on the Jubilee Line and 4LM programme, is to do as much off-site simulation as possible, reflected Wild.

“We have the Jubilee and Northern lines with the Thales product, both performing well. And the Victoria Line working with Siemens. I’d lump all three of our advanced signalling lines together. The big lesson is to do as much software integration off site as possible,” he said. 

He added that for 4LM, LU has adopted the same methodology it used on the Victoria Line: “putting a lot of effort at the front end to get the outcomes right for the timetable, the crewing, the rostering and making sure the software development happens away from the railway”. 

The Victoria Line is the pinnacle of excellence in railway engineering, stated Wild, adding: “It just goes to show that doing work off site in a factory, whether it is software or prefabrication, is the way to go. Using a railway’s time is expensive, in terms of disruption to passengers, but it also introduces safety risks. This is an absolute model and benchmark of how a modern railway should be.”

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