Rail Industry Focus

07.03.16

A series of firsts for the Victoria line

Source: RTM Feb/Mar 16

David Waboso, capital programmes director at London Underground, reminisces about the 13 years’ worth of works that made Victoria Line one of the most reliable in the capital, and previews what its future could look like. Luana Salles reports.

The history of the 1968 Victoria Line has always been marked by a series of firsts: it was the first new deep Tube line to be built since the early 1900s, the first railway in the world to have automatic train operation, and the first to have automatic train protection. 

It comes as no surprise, then, that this carried on throughout the 13 years’ worth of works that have taken place across the line since 2002, during which Victoria first broke a historical paradigm that said you could not achieve higher reliability, satisfaction and capacity all at once. 

David Waboso, London Underground’s (LU’s) capital programmes director, told RTM: “The previous paradigm is when you’re doing a lot of this upgrade work, you have a lot of disruption, and reliability goes down and customer satisfaction goes down. But we talked about the challenges and we realised we couldn’t just repeat that paradigm, because that wouldn’t work given the numbers of people using the system.” 

Shattering this tradition, he said, was the “most incredible achievement” and already a big enough reason to celebrate alongside Siemens, the major contractor for the extensive works carried out on the line. 

World-class reliability 

Historically one of the busiest lines on the Underground, Victoria used to operate just 27 trains per hour (TPH) back in 2008. This has now grown to 34 TPH and is expected to hit 36 TPH next year, placing it amongst the highest-frequency stations in Europe, said Waboso. 

The speed at which Victoria’s train frequency evolved is extremely telling of the extent of works carried out along its 21km route, which stretches from Walthamstow Central to Brixton. This included both a complete renewal of its signalling and a full replacement of its 1967 rolling stock, as well as new signalling equipment rooms, service control centre and depot upgrade – all while ensuring its hundreds of thousands of daily passengers could keep moving. 

Part of this meant Siemens had to bring in the new signalling system on overlay mode, which effectively allowed it to read old signalling and still run old stock while new trains were being rolled out. 

“Once you get rid of all the old trains, you get rid of all the old signalling and replace that, and we did that in a series of weekend closures. The biggest challenge was doing all that work whilst seeing the Victoria Line get busier and busier and busier,” said Waboso. “And, of course, we had to make sure the systems, when they came in, were highly reliable – because what you can’t afford to do on this network with the numbers who use it is bring in systems that destroy the reliability. 

“That historically has been the case, so we’re really, really proud of the fact that now this is one of the most reliable lines that we have. It’s operating at truly world-class levels of reliability.” 

Walthamstow Closure

Off-site testing 

Another ‘first’ for Victoria was ensuring all its systems were tested off-site before they were implemented, meaning LU and Siemens invested “very heavily” in test rigs. Bringing in subcontractors to help get all their testing requirements right, the two companies were able to test all the scenarios they were likely to come across on the line – “so that when stuff was actually introduced on the railway, it worked out of the box”. 

“That was something that hadn’t been done previously in this environment,” the LU programmes director noted. “That requirement to not have any disruption – because the [line] was so heavily used – and therefore looking at how you tested it, and the kind of people you brought in who could give you a different perspective, was a big change. But we did it quite successfully.” 

The first new Bombardier-built train was rolled out in 2009 after signalling was renewed, alongside a new control centre – both of which helped bring the line’s frequency to 30 TPH, and then 33 TPH, in iterations throughout the upgrade. Most recently, works to rebuild the Walthamstow Central crossover in August, replacing the concrete foundations and track, allowed for an uplift to 34 TPH. 

One team philosophy 

While the entire Victoria Line project was pioneering in its own respect, perhaps the most innovative technique adopted was LU’s and Siemens’ ‘one team philosophy’, used throughout all 13 years of renewals, replacements and rebuilds. 

Waboso explained: “A ‘one team philosophy’ means you get all the problems and challenges on the table together as a one team, and you solve them and help each other – as opposed to sort of adversarial contracting, where people blame each other and look for reasons why they failed. 

“It involved co-location: we were all in the same building. It involved joint governance: we had a programme board which had the contractors and LU in the same place. And it involved us making sure that we had transparency: there was no secrecy and when there were problems – you inevitably do have them in these very challenging upgrades – we were able to solve them. And we felt it was genuine, genuine one team collaboration. That’s how we were able to get the project done.” 

The base contracts themselves were originally signed in 2002 and thus were inherently old-fashioned, lacking any specific collaboration clause. But they soon recognised that contracts alone would not deliver the job, Waboso said, pushing them to overlay a collaboration structure on top of them. 

“In our case we did that through the integrated programme project team, with a project board which had the chief execs from all the different companies, and we were able to help each other and make sure we delivered the project,” he added. 

“This continued into the August works [last year]. When we finished the first section of the upgrade – when we delivered the trains and signalling – we had to do this other challenge [at the crossover], and we just got the team back together with the same ethos. It worked very, very well – so well it finished two days early.” 

A look into the future 

Now that the crossover has been finalised, allowing for more frequency up to Walthamstow and back, and the final signalling modifications are in place, LU expects to take the Victoria Line TPH figure to 36 by spring 2017. 

Asked about what’s in store for the line’s future, Waboso said that, while his team is currently aiming for 36, he wouldn’t rule out looking into a 40 TPH frequency because “London keeps growing and growing”. 

The LU programmes boss, who has previously called the capital “the heartbeat” of the UK economy, said: “We move nearly five million people a day now. When I first came here 10 years ago, the numbers were [around] 3.5 million. 

“If I could deliver 40, I’m sure people would bite my hand off to do that – and I have challenged the industry to say ‘what is the sound barrier? How far can we go?’ But I think once you get beyond 36, you have to look at a system solution. You can’t just rely on the signalling system.” 

This would require looking in more depth into station dwell times, customer behaviour, and all other constituent bits of what makes the Underground system so complex. Yet he noted: “I think once we get to 36, that will settle in and then we’ll see what else can do around timetable uplifts and respond to customer demand, as we always do.” 

But for now, he said, the mammoth overhaul of the line is already enough reason to celebrate. “It’s now one of the most reliable lines we’ve got, it’s operating at a very high frequency – one of the highest frequencies in Europe – and we’re really pleased with it and what it has delivered. It’s our view that this is what digital railway means in practice. It’s a good way of seeing what it can look like.”

Tell us what you think – have your say below or email opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

Comments

Ben   23/03/2016 at 15:13

The team was far, far bigger than London Underground, Siemens with a tiny bit of Bombardier helping out by providing the trains. Hundeds of firms and many thousands of people all made key contributions. The 'One Team' concept described here seems a little at odds with the 'Heads on Sticks' style recorded in the BBC's 2012 documentary.

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