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expect. It details developments on the two-thirds of the underground network where maintenance and upgrade work was once the responsibility of Metronet Rail, which collapsed in July 2007. Significant work areas have been postponed, while others are running late and projects have been extensively trimmed. None of these decisions has involved the inconvenience of a public debate between customer and contractor. The obvious answer to the mess is

some new kind of long-term contract, with outside contractors setting clear goals and clear spending streams promised. But, after years of rubbishing of the PPP by first Ken Livingstone then Boris Johnson, such an outcome remains vanishingly unlikely. The report should serve as a warning for

the UK’s mainline railways too. However much the new coalition might want to tear up some of its predecessor’s agreements with Network Rail, train operators, leasing companies or train suppliers, it underlines the risk of dismantling old contractual structures without putting new, equally secure ones in their place. The current work schedule on the

Metronet lines foresees a ‘bow wave’ of work

in the third PPP period, starting in April 2018, according to the arbiter’s office report. That scheduling sounds suspiciously like a pushing back of work so far into the future it can be forgotten about. The Bakerloo Line resignalling, a vital part of that line’s planned upgrade, has been put back. The Victoria Line upgrade has been delayed by late train deliveries and looks set to struggle to keep up with the timetable originally planned. The largest single contract to upgrade

the underground – the roughly £400m due to be spent on resignalling sub-surface lines such as the Metropolitan and District – remains unawarded at the time of writing. Such problems, meanwhile, can now

only be discovered with the kind of detailed probing and privileged access available to a reporter working for the PPP arbiter. While Transport for London, London Underground’s parent, was hyperventilating to journalists about the inexcusable delays to the Jubilee Line upgrade – likely to be delivered nine months late – it was saying virtually nothing about the delays to its own upgrade of the Victoria Line. Its insistence that it can bring the project back on track sounds suspiciously similar to the protestations that Tube Lines was making before the end of last year, when the Jubilee Line project delays became apparent. It is a fair assumption that, soon after

the Tube Lines sale is completed, the new government will abolish the PPP arbiter’s office altogether, removing the last truly independent source of information about what is going on inside the underground. The open, often combative, relationship between the PPP partners was one of the most effective means of ensuring work was completed on time and to budget. London Underground routinely

responds to such criticism by denouncing the contract’s structures and the former PPP contractors’ working methods. LU certainly inherited a dreadful situation when it took over the Metronet lines. Many believe that Metronet, owned by its own five largest contractors, was run for its contractors’ gain, rather than to maximise efficiency. Yet Tube Lines had a very different

record. One recent report by the PPP arbiter – whose findings LU rejects – found that Tube Lines remained far cheaper and more efficient per unit of work than the LU units now working on the former Metronet lines. Tube Lines is late in delivering

Stratford station in east London

‘The ultimate tragedy is that the long- term thinking the PPP was meant to promote will be forgotten’

the Jubilee Line upgrade and there may be knock-on effects on the Northern Line. But the delays have been on nothing like the heroic scale of most previous major LU projects – for example, the first stage of the Jubilee Line, named after the Queen’s 1977 Silver Jubilee, but not opened until 1979. LU claimed Tube Lines’ work over the

next seven and a half years should have cost only £4bn, rather than the £4.46bn the arbiter said it should. The evidence suggests that, if Tube Lines’ cost structures had been the same as on lines directly managed by LU, the costs might have been far higher. The ultimate tragedy is that the

long-term thinking the PPP was meant to promote will be forgotten. Long-term contracts, strong financial incentives and a clear future funding stream made Tube Lines, at least, install more expensive but more robust equipment. It knew it would recoup the savings when the equipment proved reliable and availability payments went up. Tube Lines spent £20m to replace faulty gearboxes on the Piccadilly Line’s 1973 Tube stock trains, after years of failed patch-and-mend maintenance by LU. The hand-to-mouth funding that will

now replace the PPP contracts will be numbingly familiar to anyone with a long association with the pre-PPP Underground. Long-term efficiency looks set to be sacrificed to short-term corner-cutting. Projects will be dragged out as their funding dries up then reappears. The only hope must be that the long-

term funding packages and planning horizons, still promised to the national rail network, are not soon undermined in a similar way.

ROBERT WRIGHT IS THE TRANSPORT CORRESPONDENT FOR THE FINANCIAL TIMES. HE IS THE SEAHORSE NEWS JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR, 2009:

robert.wright@ft.com

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