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Friday, April 17, 2009

Tube Boss's parting shots

Tim O'Toole, the London Underground's Managing Director, resigned in February and leaves at the end of April. Not sure what his real exit interview with LU will be like (if indeed he has one) but he gave an exclusive interview with the
Evening Standard today, where he warned that the Public Private Partnership to refurbish the Tube could collapse.

Tim O'Toole TfL Prss shot

"So many things about the PPP were wrong," he said. "Separating the track from the infrastructure was wrong.

"The theory was that these private companies would come in and introduce all this innovation but fundamentally we have not had the level of innovation that justifies the extra cost of the PPP
."

There is a massive gap of around £2 billion between the amount available to pay for the work up to 2017 and Tube Lines assessment of how much it needs. He also warned that the short term disruptions we're experiencing with the refurbs are likely to get worse & lead to more weekend closures as new signalling systems are introduced.

"The way the PPP was structured, it encouraged these closures," he continued. "In Madrid, they overlay a new signalling system and can turn it on and off during testing."

However he's hopeful that this might possibly improve in the future particularly when we see the new Piccadilly Line resignalling in the mid 2010's. He rightly acknowledges that weekend closure of the this line would be a nightmare "The Piccadilly is London's artery at weekends with Harrods, football, the airport and the West End. There must be an alternative way of doing it."

Tim O'Toole with staff

It's good to see The Standard acknowledging O'Toole's popularity with Tube staff. "You only have to travel on the Tube with him to see that the staff both recognise and respect him, as they all greet him. He was fortunate that due to the delay in handing over the Underground to Transport for London, he spent his first five months in London touring the system meeting staff and passengers. Some of his innovations, such as having boards with information on every line at each station are a result of that experience.

He is proudest of the way that he has managed to engage with the 13,000 staff (with another 7,000 having arrived recently from Metronet) and, though he does not say it, that has enabled him to go over the heads of the troublesome trade unions
."

I'm not sure that there's only been one strike in the six years he's run the Underground, as the Standard says. But his continual communication with staff must make confrontation hard & the many threats of strikes eventually end up with resolution.

He may be leaving too late to do anything about the latest dispute, but he'll clearly be missed (getting the Tube running after the 7th July bombs in 2005 was a highlight of his career) and it will take a special person to fill his shoes. Let's hope London Underground choose wisely, as it's a crucial time for the Tube & somehow that £2bn gap in funding will have to be resolved.


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