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Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Tube Lines must PROVE they have no other option

If someone offered to upgrade your shower, but said that you couldn’t use it for 82 weekends while the upgrade’s being done, would you say yes? Thank you, Gordon Brown, for creating the Public Private Partnership mess that governs London Underground. The Liberal Democrats advocated a bond issue instead, but Gordon knew better, of course. Hence the fiasco of the huge tranche of weekend and evening Northern Line closures announced this week by Tube Lines.

I have emailed senior managers at the Northern Line and Tube Lines asking to see Tube Lines’ “optioneering” document for its forthcoming work on the Northern Line. Such a document would list several options for carrying out the work, explaining the cost/benefit of each option and recommending one of them. It is standard practice to produce an optioneering document on projects like this. Tube Lines say they have no option but to close the Northern Line for so long. Well, prove it – release the optioneering document listing all the options that you considered before picking this one. Anything less is an insult to passengers. I fear that Tube Lines may have simply gone for the cheapest option for themselves, rather than weighting cost against other factors. These closures will grossly inconvenience passengers. Surely there is another way?
Here is my email to the General Manager of the Northern Line, with Tube Lines copied in:
Dear Pat Hansberry
I hope that you are well. I write regarding the latest news about the Northern Line, i.e. that it is to close on 82 weekends from March while the Tube Lines consortium carries out engineering works, in addition to a breathtaking 16 months of weekday early closures from July. The Standard reports that Tube Lines’ work is to install a new signalling system to allow trains to run more frequently. In other words, it’s an “upgrade”. Is such an upgrade really worth it, if it is going to involve so many closures? Why not instead maintain the current service, rather than upgrade it at the cost of so much inconvenience for passengers? People are not crying out for an upgrade; they are instead crying out for the existing service to run reliably (which it usually does, apart from when someone decides to close it for engineering work).
I appreciate that it is Gordon Brown, and not Transport for London, that created the Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement under which Tube Lines operates (the Liberal Democrats correctly advised Mr Brown to go for a bond issue rather than a PPP, but he wouldn’t listen). Having myself previously worked for a utility company, I know that Tube Lines will have produced an “optioneering” document setting the different ways in which to carry out this engineering work. The document will have set out each option and its costs/benefits, before recommending which one go to for. Assuming that this document was shared with London Underground, I would like to invite you to please put it in the public domain, starting by emailing me a copy. That way, passengers can judge for themselves whether Tube Lines really has no option but to institute so many closures, or whether they have simply gone for the option that cheapest for themselves, without balancing cost against other considerations.
I have copied in Tubelines, in the hope that their Chief Executive, Dean Finch, might also wish to reply.

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