Use your skills to give us extra capacity and reap rewards Underground boss tells suppliers

London Underground’s director of capital projects David Waboso is overseeing  a £1.3bn a year investment programme which will deliver a 30% upgrade in Tube capacity. To add value to this programme, the businesses employed with him need to understand how the Underground works, he says

Q. What is driving the investment?

A. London’s population is forecast to grow over 20% to 10M by 2030 so capacity is the big issue for us.  Current investment means that by 2018 the Tube will be carrying 20 to 30% more passengers than the current 4M a day – and that is without the extra 10% that will be created overnight by Crossrail when it opens. The Underground carried 2.5M people a day 20 years ago so we will have more than doubled our passenger numbers. 

Q. What are your priorities this year?

A. Safety is the number one, clearly, of our workforce and the public. Our safety record is in the better half of good benchmarked against other operators but I want zero harm. We also need to let the signalling contract for the Sub-Surface lines and continue expansion of the stations at Bond Street, Victoria and Tottenham Court Road. We are investing in new, longer, higher capacity trains; new automatic signalling systems will allow our trains to travel at increased frequencies; and with the bigger stations will be able to handle all the extra people. We are also getting started on the Northern Line Extension to Battersea in south London and Metropolital Line to Croxley to the north west of the capital.

Q. Can you learn from what you have done before to make the work more efficient?

A. Absolutely. Our intention on the Northern Line signalling upgrade for instance is that our passengers shouldn’t notice any impact from what we are doing until we finish and increase the train frequency later this year. This is despite the fact that the work we carry out on the signalling and trains and control systems is hugely intrusive. We can only have that ambition because we have had consistent, sustainable investment in the network. We have treated the Northern Line as an extension of the work we did on the Jubilee Line using the same system, same contractor, same acceptance processes and as a result the upgrade team are really humming. The Northern Line is ahead of schedule within budget, and there have been fewer closures and excellent performance. In early January we turned on the whole central section between Euston and Oval and no one noticed; there were no problems.

Q. Can you keep your teams together in the future? 

A. We aim to keep momentum and efficiency going.  For signalling, next up are the Sub-Surface lines and then the Piccadilly Line. We recently broke the signalling contract with Bombardier for the Sub-Surface because it could not deliver to the timescale we required. We tried to make it work for as long as we could but we looked at the schedule and had to accept it wasn’t going to work. We are out to tender again and hope to award a new contract mid year and stick with the original timetable so the work is complete by 2018. Having to retender was gutting and genuinely sad but it has sent out a strong message to our supply chain as to what we expect.

Q. Your approach to your supply chain has changed with the introduction of the Innovative Contractor Engagement (ICE) contract. How is that progressing?

A. The ICE contracts are a very good way of delivering change. Its first try out was at Bank which is highly complex job and we needed to extract from the contractors some really clever ideas on delivery. ICE involves us explaining to contractors the things that matter to us – capacity, reliability, frequency, accessibility, hours of service and minimised disruption to passengers. The more people we move the more revenue we get and we are prepared to share some of that for the right solution. Effectively we share our business case. What we want in return is the innovation and ability that contractors have in overcoming problems and their fleetness of foot - the tricks of the trade they would have traditionally used to benefit themselves at the expense of the client – working in our favour from the start. But contractors will only do that if there is skin in the game so incentives like a 50% share of any savings from their ingenuity are part of the deal from the beginning. Infrastructure UK is adapting ICE and adopting something similar.

Q. How can consultants add more value?

A. Well, the consultants working as part of the contracting ICE bid teams have a lot of opportunity to introduce innovation and share in the rewards. But we would welcome a debate about a different way of working and how we can bring more value from consultancy . Driving down fees is not the necessarily the answer; we want value. There are very innovative people within consultancies and if, for example, they could come up with an idea of how I could get an extra three trains an hour on a particular line, then we’d be prepared to pay for that. But we would need to facilitate a way of making this happen.

Q. What about new technology?

The marriage of traditional engineering and information management is a real issue; they used to be separate disciplines but it is important that they aren’t any longer. And there is huge opportunity. The barriers for entry have gone. Where traditionally you would need a software house you can write an app yourself. A couple of my team on the Victoria line have just produced one that monitors voltages at signals; when they drop we know there might be a problem and we can send out a technician before there is a signal failure. I want to know how we can do more of that; in the same way that the high-tech companies give people the freedom and space to come up with new ideas and get on and introduce them. I’m so pleased about the Victoria line app. Obviously we need to prove it is safe but we are hoping to roll it out in March.

Q. Any investment issues ahead?

A. We are looking at the uplift in land values created by transport investment and how you tap into that to fund future investment. No answers yet. 

David will be writing a regular column for Infrastructure Intelligence, starting next month.

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