An underground success

The business

London Underground dates back to 1863, when the world’s first underground railway opened in the capital. Today, the company handles more than three million passenger journeys a day, serving 275 stations with more than 408km of track.

Under a 2003 Public Private Partnership, London Underground is responsible for the operation of trains and staffing Tube stations, while private sector consortia Tube Lines and Metronet handle the maintenance and renewal of infrastructure, including trains (rolling stock), tracks, tunnels, signals and stations.

The challenge

Passenger demand on the Jubilee Line has sky-rocketed in recent years. Huge growth in people working at financial centre Canary Wharf, coupled with the construction of Wembley Stadium, put pressure on the service – particularly during peak times.

As part of a £10bn investment programme by parent company Transport for London, Tube Lines was due to deliver a full Jubilee Line upgrade in 2009, increasing capacity by 45%. However, in 2003, this upgrade was brought forward by three years.

Dubbed the 7th Car Project, London Underground needed to add an extra car to each of its 59 trains and upgrade Jubilee Line infrastructure to cope with this. For everything to run smoothly and to the shorter deadline, it was essential to implement a detailed change programme, culminating in a five-day line closure between Christmas and New Year in 2005-06.

The solution

London Underground immediately placed the rolling stock order with rail infrastructure company Alstom, after which there was no turning back.

“We planned and re-planned and rehearsed to the nth degree,” says London Underground’s commercial manager, Steve Fleming.

To ensure things ran smoothly, London Underground designed a number of workshops and table-top exercises based on key stages of the project. For example, it built a scale model of Stratford Market depot out of Lego to rehearse the logistics of the carriage extension work. Engineers and labourers fine-tuned their performance until each train took between four and six hours to complete.

London Underground also held a series of simulations and trial runs to see how the upgrade would operate over the Christmas closure period. A mock-up of the Jubilee Line network was created on a lake in Horsham by training company Blakeston and Barnes, which used boats for trains and floating ‘platforms’ on which about 88 employees practised every step of the changeover.

For the first time, employees from all parts of the project were brought together, including senior management, engineers and Tube Lines’ subcontractors.

Attendees took on a number of roles to give them an understanding of what other parts of the team would be doing during the closure. Station staff practised carriage conversions, and managers rehearsed passenger door upgrades.

The trainers deliberately introduced a set of challenges to test employee reactions. Attendees learned what to do, for example, if a station supervisor does not admit a contractor to the station, or a train is not where it is supposed to be, or there has been a failure in communications.

“The point was to try out different alternatives during the simulation,” says John Jarman, programme manager at Tube Lines. “It gave everyone the opportunity to get to know each other, so relationships were developed before we got to the crunch and it tested behaviours between staff.”

The outcome

While London Underground and Tube Lines had considered the project in meticulous detail, inevitably, not everything went to plan. During trial runs of the upgraded trains – two round trips of the Jubilee Line each – it discovered that staffing levels at various ‘pinch points’ were insufficient, requiring additional resources when service was resumed.

There were also a number of technical glitches with the software systems that drive the trains, which had to be tested and retested during the closure period.

However, staff were prepared to deal with these challenges, says Fleming. “All the exercises, rehearsals, and planning built the relationships and the confidence of the workers, so that everyone knew that the problems would be resolved, and as efficiently as possible,” he says.

Not even some last-minute changes could throw a spanner in the works, which included an 11th-hour decision to upgrade the Metropolitan Line service at Jubilee Line station Willesden Green, so that passengers could continue to use the service during the closure period.

The project went so well that work during the closure period was completed in just three of the five allocated days, enabling the Jubilee Line to meet London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s objective to be open all night over New Year.

Employee perspective

John Jarman, programme manager at Tube Lines, had overall responsibility for delivering the 7th Car Project. He was in charge of a team of about 50 people, including engineers, procurement, and site supervisors of implementation/construction.

Jarman admits that working with London Underground was challenging at times.

“Tube Lines was a new company, and London Underground was undergoing an evolution process,” he says. “We were trying to get them to understand we were very keen on delivering the work on time and to budget, but also that they were part of the overall team to make it work.

“We had to make sure in the early days that we were very upfront and clear in our objectives, and clear that if there were any problems, both organisations could resolve the challenges together.”

One such challenge reared its head the day after the rolling stock contract was issued. Infrastructure company Alstom had shut down its Birmingham plant and moved to Barcelona, so both London Underground and Tube Lines had to rethink how they could manage their relationship with their main supplier. The solution was to send an employee out to Spain to supervise the work.

It was also difficult to generate staff buy-in, says Jarman. “The conversion had to be co-ordinated over the Christmas holiday period, when most employees want to have a break.”

He advised early on in the project that staff would have to sacrifice their Christmas holiday.

“This was always difficult for family reasons,” he explains. “So we had a roster with standbys, and standbys of standbys.”

But in the end, they weren’t needed. During the closure period, Tube Lines managed to get a 100% turnout of the original roster.

“Everyone felt a responsibility to fellow colleagues to make sure that it worked,” Jarman concludes.

Guide to helping staff through a major upgrade programme in 5 steps

1 Ensure robust relationships – that all points of view are heard

2 Maintain stable teams for the duration of the project

3 Have shared objectives – make sure everyone knows what they need to do and when

4 Keep documentation as simple as possible

5 Plan, re-plan, and plan again. Workshops are invaluable.

If I could do it again…

London Underground and Tube Lines were trailblazers in this scale of upgrade, so had little to base their experience on.

“This sort of closure hadn’t happened in this way before,” says Steve Fleming, commercial manager at London Underground. “We were applying existing rules and processes to something that was out of the ordinary.”

As a result, the various processes around the closure generated plenty of paperwork, which, Fleming says, will be handled better in future.

John Jarman, programme manager at Tube Lines, says that he would have spent more face-to-face time with his counterpart at London Underground to save time travelling to meetings and chasing people on the phone.

“Issues would come up during the day,” he says, “and it would have been easier to chat face-to-face.”

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