Manchester's new man in charge

Source: Rail Technology Magazine April/May 2013

Dr Jon Lamonte, the former head of Tube Lines, has recently taken over as chief executive of Transport for Greater Manchester, responsible for the city’s growing Metrolink light rail network and also dealing with train and bus operators alongside its highways role. RTM went to meet him.

Transport’s not an end in itself”, says Dr Jon Lamonte. “It’s designed to make social differences, to enable social change and economic change. If there’s a difference between London and Manchester, it’s that here, with a smaller number of people and on a smaller budget, we’re making a disproportionate difference to the local and regional economy.”

He should know, having been CEO of Tube Lines, with an annual turnover of £600-700m and 2,800 employees, with responsibility for London’s Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines. Before that, he’d had senior Royal Air Force and Ministry of Defence roles.

The new boss of Transport for Greater Manchester (TfGM), who took over in January 2013, has a different challenge now, more about influence than control. TfGM has fewer staff than his previous organisation – around 670-680 permanent employees, with another 100 or so from its delivery partner, Parsons Brinckerhoff, working with TfGM.

When RTM met Lamonte at TfGM’s headquarters at Piccadilly Place, Manchester, he said: “Fundamentally, an awful lot of what we do is outsourced – whether it be RATP Dev, or the 40 or so bus operators, or the main rail suppliers in Northern and First TransPennine Express.”

RATP Dev is part of the French state-owned operator that runs most of Paris’s public transport, which in August 2011 bought Metrolink from previous operator Stagecoach and will now run the system until July 2017, via its own subsidiary MRDL.

Tram operations, drivers and passenger service representatives are all the responsibility of MRDL, though it does not have a formal role in the ongoing expansion of the network via the programme of line extensions, station openings and new line creation. That is TfGM’s role, with the work done by the M-Pact Thales consortium of Laing O’Rourke and VolkerRail (civils and rail infrastructure) and Thales (electrical engineering). Thales, in a separate guise, is also responsible for the signalling.

Lamonte said: “MRDL are critical to that, because they’ve got to operate the system that we give them. Ultimately, you don’t get an extension until you’ve got trained drivers, you’ve trained people in the control room and MRDL is happy that the safety case is right.

“Just over a month ago we rolled out the line extension to Rochdale, and the extension to Droylsden: MRDL have been absolutely involved in that and how we do it.”

That’s a direct contractual relationship, of course, giving Lamonte and his team real levers to pull. In the case of the rail operators (and the bus operators), it’s a tougher job.

“Our leverage over some of these people is diffi cult. It’s a job around infl uence, but fundamentally it comes back to needing to co-operate and be collaborative to produce something customers want. We’re trying, in the shift from what was GMPTE to TfGM, to be a far more customer-focused organisation, constantly remembering who we’re here to serve.

“It’s about using public opinion and political infl uence. We’ve just got FirstGroup to change a lot their fares structure, for example.”

Tube Lines experience

Lamonte told us his experiences at Tube Lines – and with the military before that – have a real bearing on his new role with TfGM.

“It’s been a continuum, building on substantial projects. When I arrived at Tube Lines, the Jubilee line was in a right mess, blasted all over the Evening Standard every night.

“It was about getting all the parties together: the signalling contractor, LU as the operators, and ourselves as the maintenance and upgrade folk, to just try to have a one-team approach. Of course, that worked well, because ultimately at the Olympics, when the system was put to the test, the Jubilee line fared incredibly well.

“We took maintenance of the fl eet in-house from Alstom, we pushed up the availability considerably, and did it in a more cost-effective way.

“That shouldn’t decry from the efforts the contractor was making on the Northern line, where they’ve done a great job, but on the Jubilee line we did our own thing.

“There was also the initiative putting blue lights onto our emergency response vehicles, and having the British Transport Police working with us [see RTM June/July 2012 for more on this initiative].

“So, there are some themes around cooperation and collaboration, there’s a theme around service delivery and getting the best for customers, there’s a theme around getting projects on time, to budget and trying to ensure it’s what they customer wants. Those themes lend themselves, absolutely, to my role here.”

Metrolink extension

Getting projects on time is a big issue with the Metrolink extension, parts of which have suffered embarrassing delays in recent years, for a number of reasons. A key one has been delays to the signalling system, after Thales was contracted in 2008 to provide the new tram management system. Problems installing the new system contributed to the delays in opening the south Manchester to Oldham line, and knocked the Rochdale and Droylsden openings off their original schedule. Acrimony, court battles and financial demands between Thales and TfGM have since been splashed all over the local paper.

In a judgement at the High Court earlier this year, Mr Justice Akenhead said: “TfGM is broadly of the view that delays and other problems have been caused by the failure of Thales to provide an effective design and deliver a working and safe system…this project has been subjected to very substantial delays with many of the sections of work being already late, compared with original contractual completion requirements. In terms of milestones, no more than about one-third are said to have been completed. Something has obviously gone seriously wrong.”

Upcoming line openings

In the wake of these problems, we asked Lamonte how confi dent passengers should be that upcoming line extension openings to East Didsbury, Rochdale town centre and Ashton will happen on time.

He told us: “I think passengers can be far more confi dent that we are on top of the roll-out of lines. When we say a line is going to open, we make sure it does. We said we’d have Droylsden and Rochdale open on February 11 and 28, and we did.”

Even these openings weren’t trouble-free, however – a signal failure on the evening of February 28 meant Rochdale services had to be suspended on their fi rst day from 6.45pm to 8pm. Such failures are all too common, some Metrolink customers would say.

“It’s true to say there have been incidents along the way,” Lamonte said. “For example, there’s a road junction near Oldham that four cars so far have decided to stick themselves across the track – there’s only so much you can do! And equally, United Utilities have let us down with the odd power failure along the way on some of the other lines. I wouldn’t say that there is a trend in any of that; it’s simply that there are a lot of small problems that sometimes cause us service difficulties.”

An improving picture

RATP Dev is contracted to provide a certain level of service, so is answerable when there are failings that are within its control. Lamonte said: “I’ve had the French director of RATP Dev in; he’s done a very good piece of analysis on what some of those failings were and what can be done about them.

“[Retiring Metrolink director] Philip Purdy, who is just about to return to Australia, spent about a month with MRDL looking at how we can improve the service for customers.

“They’ve negotiated a new communications lead, to try to improve the communications messages and the responses, so we’re getting information far more quickly out to customers. It’s available on the website and is up-todate. They’ve brought in a new head of HR, to make sure that they have the right resources in place, and they’re bringing in more senior management to improve it. So I’m far more confident in that.

“To say there aren’t challenges wouldn’t be true. We still have the signalling system issues; we’re not fully operating our tram management system yet; there are some significant bits of work to do over the next few months. But that is the key to unlocking the fully functioning system we all want to see.

“We’re hoping to see the East Didsbury extension open early this summer, Rochdale and Oldham town centres at the back end of this year, and the extension to Ashton, then we can get on with the airport line, and I’m hoping we can get Government go-ahead for a Trafford line.”

The problems with the tram management system also mean that most of the network’s passenger information displays don’t show any information at all, leaving passengers to rely on occasional tannoy announcements when there are problems, unless they have a smartphone with internet access.

“We’re absolutely trying to get those passenger information displays to work,” Lamonte said. “It is part of the overall tram management system that we’re contracted to Thales for. Part of that is to get those displays up and running, and we’ll make every effort to do that.”

Revenue and ridership

There are no passenger counts, so ridership calculations are based on season ticket and ticket machine sales, plus concessionary journey statistics where those are available.

The latest public figures, for December 2012, suggest 1,408,000 ticket machine sales across the network, and 420,000 season ticket sales.

The latest public report from the Metrolink director to the TfGM committee says: “Patronage including estimated concessions in December of 2.3 million was 9,000 below budget but was 227,000 ahead of December 2011…We are consistently achieving above the forecasted patronage.”

Lamonte said: “There are some surprising things for me. I get the stats every week, and have been out there myself on the trams to see for myself. Even in off-peak hours, ridership is incredibly high.

“We know that. If we could run more trams along the line to Rochdale, through Oldham, we’d fill them up in the peak; people are having to wait at Oldham. We’re almost a victim of our own success.

“On the Droylsden route, as I look at the number of tickets that are sold, it’s pretty steady – but just look at the difference it makes on match days, for the Etihad stadium.” Manchester City players and manager Roberto Mancini have recorded voice-over announcements for trams on that route. “It’s a small thing I know, but it makes a real difference, and that’s a real success,” Lamonte said.

“[Metrolink is] operating to budget. We made budgetary assumptions some time ago, and it’s at least meeting our revenue assumptions, if not exceeding them.

“RATP Dev are absolutely clear that they want to make a success of the Manchester operation.

“We’ve had a number of operators – Serco, Stagecoach – but RATP are doing their very best to do the best job, and they are gearing up for a much larger operation, building up to 94 trams.”

He continued: “Traditionally, this network was just a couple of lines – but this is now a substantial operation and getting to a London Underground-type operation. We’re not at LU’s numbers, but we’re ramping up.”

Smart ticketing

TfGM has a deal with Atos to deliver an ITSOcompliant smart ticketing solution to be rolled out next year, which Lamonte ensured us is about “far more than just a smartcard”.

“It’s more about changing the relationship with the customer. It changes us from being an analogue service to a digital service, and includes contactless bank cards. The back office function, the customer relationship management system, change us from being a few people on the end of a phone line or travel line to a proper contact centre.

“We’re starting with Metrolink, because that’s the easiest bit for us to do, and we’re in conversation with bus operators, because multi-modal multi-ticket operation is the way forward. We’re starting discussions with the rail operators.

“I lead for pteg on smart ticketing. We’ve got ‘islands’ of smart ticketing around the country – the question for the DfT, who’ve put some investment into this, is how do we join all these islands up?

“We’re looking at the barriers to making that work. How do we start joining this up? Because the answer might not be an expensive gated solution at every railway station.

“We may be able to do something a little bit different.

“We’re on a journey that changes us fundamentally, and we’re doing a lot of work with the other PTEs plus Bristol, Leicester and Nottingham, to look at joining these things up.”

Rail franchising

Also on the agenda for TfGM this year is rail franchise devolution, which has been disrupted by the West Coast Main Line crisis and subsequent Laidlaw and Brown reviews.

Although Brown basically endorsed devolution, the DfT is still officially making up its mind – even though transport minister Norman Baker said at a meeting in Manchester nearly a year ago: “The move towards devolution and localism is not a fad, not a sound bite or a headline. It is absolutely serious, and as far as I’m concerned, a one-way street.”

The most likely path is a merger of the Northern lesser extent, of an executive body made up of participating councils and passenger transport executives from across the north of England.

We asked Lamonte why TfGM was so keen on the idea, and he said: “To be clear, it’s not simply TfGM’s idea. The cities of the north think it’s a good idea, and have joined with all the other transport authorities that represent the rural regions. Why? Because if you want better and more efficient services and frankly services that are more responsive to local needs, the only way to do that, it seems to us, is to be involved in franchising. That was the fl avour of the City Deals – we’re one of the ‘wave one’ City Deal cities, and it’s part of the Government’s agenda on devolution more and Transpennine franchises, which would then become the responsibility, to a greater or widely, supported by Heseltine.”

“It’s absolutely consistent with the philosophical point that decisions made locally are better decisions, and the evidence of where that’s happened – with TfL, or with Merseyrail, or in Scotland – shows that they are the top operators. Obviously, I’ve got personal experience with London Overground, and it just shows you what you can do. We think we can give customers a better service, and when we talk to the TOCs, they recognise it as well. They’d like to see some local accountability and local involvement.

“Obviously West Coast Main Line altered the scene for franchising as far as the DfT is concerned. We were very conscious of the Brown review and the comments made in there.

“We’ve been consistently pushing the case and are keen to show that devolution works, fi nancially as well as in outcomes for customers. We’re with the DfT regularly, talking to officials about how it could work, and we think it’s significant that the Northern and TPE franchises are coming up at the same time in February 2016 now, which gives us a chance to demonstrate that we have the capacity, we have the expertise, to do this job and do it well.”

Over-dominant cities?

There have been concerns raised in rural areas that the needs of cities and conurbations like South Yorkshire and West Yorkshire – the authorities that, with TfGM, seem set to have the biggest role on any future ‘Rail in the North’ executive – could have a disproportionate say over the proposed new franchise.

But Lamonte said: “It absolutely is not about West Yorkshire, South Yorkshire and Manchester making this up between them. It’s a partnership of 33 authorities. The political gathering that was held on February 4 in Leeds reaffirmed that.

The outcomes have to be the best for everyone: better local services, because that drives economic growth and also meets social needs in some of those rural areas.

“Rolling stock improvements simply have to be addressed, and we have to ensure that improves life for everyone. What you’ve got is a series of too many old fleets fl oating around in the north. Sooner or later, the bullet’s got to be bitten, to improve rolling stock. Once you’ve started that, wherever those services operate, you get a better system.”


Explaining how the system would work, Lamonte said: “The prospectus we’ve circulated on devolved franchising has seats at the table for local and rural bodies. We’d need them to aggregate – if you have every single person with a seat at the table, it would be diffi cult to make decisions. But there are opportunities for groups of local areas to come together, and the north east is doing exactly that.”

But the key question, both between the DfT and the most eager authorities, and between the different authorities, remains one of financial risk. This has an extra dimension in the north, since Northern is a heavily subsidised franchise, with many little-used services that are nevertheless vital for those who do use them.

Lamonte said: “It could involve them [smaller authorities] taking on some of the fi nancial risk. We recognise that for the city-regions, we are going to have to take substantial amounts of the fi nancial risk, but there are risk-sharing opportunities and we’re absolutely open to discussing that.”

Electrification and infrastructure

Lamonte continued: “We also want to include Network Rail in all this. We want better stations, better amenities, better track improvements. It’s about getting the Northern Hub – which is not just a Manchester hub. “It’s about improving services right the way through, and getting electrifi cation – which by the way we want more of.

“It’s only by getting all of these in one place, through a devolved franchise operation, that you can start to get the economies, get the synergies, and improve the services for everyone.”

Settling in

Lamonte did not know Manchester until he moved to the city for the TfGM job. “I’d been to visit Chadderton and Woodford in my previous life in the air force, but had never been here. Everyone told me it would be cold and rainy, but – as we look out on a glorious day today – it’s hardly rained in the three months I’ve been here!

“There are lots of urban myths about Manchester. But I think it’s a very friendly place, people are incredibly dedicated to what we’re trying to do. The ambition to change things is absolutely amazing, and I see that across the 10 districts, in a way that any city would envy. You can see why Greater Manchester is the envy of other places around the country and rightly so. It’s great to be here.”

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