Even more Tube closures as PPP melts down

More absolute stunners from the developing disaster that is the sole remaining PPP contractor, Tube Lines, emerged at yesterday’s Transport for London board meeting.

The Jubilee Line, currently being upgraded by Tube Lines, will be closed for dozens more weekends – with no end in sight – and Tube Lines’ upgrade of the Northern Line will also be delayed, according to Richard Parry, the Underground’s managing director.

Back in 2006, according to papers presented at the board meeting, Tube Lines originally predicted that it would need around 50 weekend or closures to upgrade the Jubilee. It has already had 120. But now there are going to be even more.

It was reported a few weeks ago that Tube Lines would need another ten weekend closures, or 20 days, in 2010 to get the work done. But yesterday, Parry said: “We are [now] expecting a volume of closures [in 2010] amounting to 56 days in total.” Even that, however, might not be it. “Just to be clear, that is not the full line,” he added. “We do not yet have a credible programme to get us to the end of the upgrade.”

Boris Johnson: “The awful reality is that even if we were to accede to [Tube Lines’] demands, and give them every single closure, there is no earthly way of knowing whether that would be enough to get the job done. The likelihood is that that wouldn’t be enough – is that right?”

Parry: “This programme is really just the first half of the programme. The second half of the programme to August is still being finalised.”

Parry also said that the Northern Line, Tube Lines’ next big upgrade, was “slipping as a result of the delays to the Jubilee… There is certainly a concern on our part that we are going to see very significant demands for access [closures] on both the Northern and subsequently the Piccadilly Line upgrades.”

One board member asked: “We’re in danger of being held to ransom on the Northern Line as we are being on the Jubilee?”

Parry: “I guess you’ve said it… We can’t force them to apply a different methodology for delivering the Northern Line.”

Part of the problem appears to be that the software that is supposed to control the new signalling doesn’t work. London Underground hasn’t got direct oversight of it – it’s a matter between the contractor, Thales, and Tube Lines. LU even sent people to Thales in Toronto to look over the shoulders of the software geeks in an (apparently vain) attempt to fathom what’s going on. “We have attempted to try to audit the arrangement with Thales and the nature of the payments,” said Parry. “I have to say that as of today we don’t feel satisfied that we’ve had visibility of that, and that is a matter of some concern to us.”

Tube Lines blames TfL for some of the overrun. But there’s some fascinating stuff on its finances, too, to which I will return. Various people – including, to their shame, some members of the London Assembly – see Tube Lines as the part of the PPP that works. But the only thing you can really say about it is that it’s slightly less dreadful than Metronet: not an especially high bar to vault. And even that is looking doubtful now.

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