LU 2014: what we learned, what we changed and what we achieved

Safety, diversity and innovation have all been key themes in a busy year for the people keeping London’s Underground running, says David Waboso. Coming next, the challenge of the night Tube.

It sounds incredibly clichéd, but it really is hard to believe that another year is coming to a close. It’s been a busy year for London Underground and our capital delivery team. As I reflect on what we’ve achieved this year and the challenges that still lie ahead, there are a few key themes that have emerged for me.

Safety must always be our number one priority.

Two very tragic accidents earlier this year hit too close to home and served as a harsh reminder that we must never get complacent.

To this end, we hosted a safety conference with our suppliers in June where we looked at clever initiatives to improve safety and discussed how they could be rolled out in different projects. One example is the ‘Green Man Crossing’ at Victoria station, where, through our contractors Taylor Woodrow and BAM Nuttall, life-size cut outs of people holding signs saying ‘please wait for the green man’ have been installed.

This has helped us safely move thousands of people through a very busy project site safely.

At another of our project sites, Vauxhall, our contractor Bechtel has been running a programme called ‘Stretch and Flex’ to give all staff a gentle warm up in the morning – reducing injuries and bringing the team together.

We must always be looking at new ways to ensure our people get home safe and healthy every day.

We have a continued need for skilled, young people, as well as greater diversity in the infrastructure space.

We are doing a great deal of work to encourage young people into engineering, project management and other capital delivery roles through a number of initiatives: grad schemes and internships, apprenticeships, work experience, secondments, educational partnerships and employability programmes. We work with a number of partners on these various schemes, including other transport organisations, our supply chain and educational institutes.

Since April 2009, Transport for London has created over 5,000 apprenticeship roles along with our supply chain. In September, we welcomed 86 new apprentices who are already supporting us to keep this great city moving and we are committed to creating more opportunities. And I’m pleased to say that we will be offering over 100 new apprenticeship roles for 2015. Our apprentices work in a wide range of roles which including Finance, Project Management, Track Renewal and our LU engineering apprentices.

We also run a fantastic grad scheme – offering placements in over 30 areas of our business, including several engineering disciplines and project management. Our graduates work on a number of placements related to their scheme over two years, giving them a broad grounding in their selected area and a good understanding of what drives our business and how we deliver.

"We’ve had the greatest ever number of graduate opportunities in this year’s intake, with a total of 161 new graduate and undergraduate roles on offer. We now have in excess of 280 graduates on our schemes."

Many of my team are also involved in a great programme run by the London Transport Museum called ‘Inspire Engineering’. Engineering ‘ambassadors’ volunteer their time to visit schools and assist in special open days to encourage young people into careers in engineering. I was also recently involved in a very creative initiative run by an organisation called Class of Your Own which is looking to encourage people into careers in design and construction. Teams from schools across the UK were encouraged to design a hotel in an Underground station – using software that our designers use. I was absolutely floored by the quality of the two final entries, and selecting one school’s design was extremely difficult.

Yet much more needs to be done to fill the potential skills shortage. When we look at the number of women entering the industry, the numbers are particularly stark. Just 7% of engineering graduates are women!

This year, we are celebrating 100 years since women first started taking up roles in transport during the Great War. We’ve launched, alongside a number of industry partners, a programme called 100 Years of Women in Transport to not only celebrate the achievements of women over the last 100 years, but also to support women currently in industry and to encourage more young women into the field. We simply must do more in this regard.

Delivering our projects effectively and efficiently has never been more important.

In the run up to the general elections in May, we are starting to make the case to the different parties that we need sustained investment in public transport. With the population of London expected to exceed 10 million by 2031 and passenger journeys on our network expected to increase by 25% over that same timeframe, we are desperately in need of more capacity and a modern, efficient rail network. We have done much to increase our efficiency to record levels over the last year.

In April, we launched our new STAKE delivery model which sees us engage directly with smaller companies to deliver works to modernise 70 stations. This new model will drive up the quality of the finished job and reduce costs. Alongside the Innovative Contractor Engagement approach we used to contract the work to upgrade Bank station, it’s another example of how we’re working with suppliers to provide more value.

This year, we completed major escalator refurbishment at Embankment, which required major structural works at the station and thus necessitated non-stopping of the Bakerloo and Northern lines. However, we made efficient use of this time by completing a load of improvement works at the station at the same time – repainting and retiling, installation of new communications equipment and more. We did much of this work while the station was operational – for example, retiling the Northern and Bakerloo line platforms as trains passed through. This is something we hadn’t done before, but effective new methods of working have allowed us to achieve more in less time.

"Lighter doors offer the potential to install larger doors onto the rolling stock thereby reducing passenger boarding and alighting times, reducing train dwell time at stations and journey times" 

Following our cancellation of the signalling contract for the sub-surface upgrade programme, it’s been a very interesting year working toward an acceptable solution with a different supplier. We’ve been very open and honest about the lessons learnt from this and are taking time to ensure we don’t repeat the past.

Our Track Partnership with Balfour Beatty, who are replacing and renewing ballasted track across our network have also been able to achieve far more than ever before through efficient new methods of working and the use of new equipment. During the three week block closure of the Uxbridge branch of the Piccadilly and Metropolitan lines this summer, the team were able to carry out far more track and drainage replacement, and other work necessary to maintain a safe and reliable railway, than ever before. And as London is busier and busier at weekends, we’ve had to innovate to do more track renewals at night, reducing our need for weekend closures.

But because money is tight and further efficiencies are always needed, we must do everything we can to ensure that we are making the most of every pound spent. I believe that innovation will be key to this – making use not only of innovative new technologies, but also of innovative methods of working.

In February, TfL officially launched its Technology Innovations Portal. The Portal allows users to submit innovative technological ideas and solutions that meet one of our key challenges. This helps get good ideas directly in front of our domain experts and accountable managers. We’ve had hundreds of ideas come through the Portal already.

One of the really exciting initiatives we’re working on is the introduction of aerospace materials to rail. Leading a consortium, we’ve developed a commercially feasible, lightweight train door using state-of-the-art composite materials and manufacturing processes. Lighter doors offer the potential to install larger doors onto the rolling stock thereby reducing passenger boarding and alighting times, reducing train dwell time at stations and journey times experienced by passengers and as a result would increase the capacity of a line. It’s this sort of innovative thinking that’s going to be necessary for us to make the Tube network fit for the future.

Customer expectations continue to rise.

Over the past few years, we’ve significantly increased the reliability of our network – delays are down 40% from 2007 levels and we’re decreasing delays by a further 30% by the end of next year. The Victoria, Jubilee and now Northern lines have been re-signalled, resulting in faster, more frequent journeys. But as our performance and service increase, so too do customer expectations.

We’ve made a number of commitments to our customers: to further improve capacity and reliability, to ensure all Tube stations are staffed while services are operating, to make journeys easier for our customers and to deliver improvements with the best possible value for money. But the commitment that people are perhaps most excited about is that we will introduce a new 24-hour Tube service at weekends. Launching in September next year, we’ll run services through the night on core sections of five lines – the Piccadilly, Victoria, Central, Jubilee and Northern lines.

Of course, Night Tube poses a big challenge to my team! As we try to carry out more works, more efficiently during the few hours a night when Tube services aren’t operating (thus decreasing the need for closures), it will be hard for us to lose two nights to 24-hour running. So, more efficiency and new methods of working required! But I do believe that Night Tube greatly enhances our customer service offering and will help grow and support London’s night time economy.

It’s been a busy and interesting year, there’s no question. We’ve delivered a lot, yet have much work still to do. So as I sign off my final column of the year, I’d like to wish you and your families a very happy holiday season and all the best for a productive, healthy 2015.

David Waboso is capital programmes director for London Underground