New Trains, Buses and Complaints: A Look at the TfL Board Papers

With the Olympics and Paralympics over, September brings something of a return to normal for London’s Transport network. On the Underground, this means the unfortunate (but sadly necessary) return to weekend closures. In the corporate offices of TfL, however, it means it is time for a Board Meeting – along with the Commissioner’s Report and its accompanying appendices, which are always well worth digging into.

This September’s Board Meeting was no different, with the Commissioner’s Report itself providing some interesting background on both current operations and future plans, and also including for the first time a breakdown of the complaints received across the TfL Network. It makes interesting reading, and thus as well as our normal sweep through the content of the Papers we have included the breakdown tables in full below.

In addition, the Papers this month include a report that will be of particular use to those interested in the rollout of the New Bus for London (NBfL) and its future. A short summary of happenings here can be found below, but the NBfL is a topic to which we will return – in full – imminently, as part of our sweep through surface transport that began with Pedantic’s recent posts on the Tramlink. In the meantime, the NBfL information below will hopefully help provide some immediate detail and context to the debate that has already begun once more in both the media and the Assembly about the bus’ effectiveness and TfL’s future plans.

On the Underground

Something which has slipped somewhat under the radar, but which the Commissioner’s Report confirms, is the end of the PFI contract for the operation on London Underground’s electrical power network.

Powerlink had originally been setup to run this in 1998 under a 30 year PFI deal, but this will now come to an end in August 2013, with operations once more returning in-house. The “split,” so to speak, appears to be relatively amicable and, perhaps more importantly, doesn’t carry the kind of financial overheads that Metronet’s collapse or indeed Tube Lines’ takeover carried. The contract included a 15 year break clause which TfL have decided to make use of, something the Report indicates will result in significant savings in the long term.

[Editor’s Note: Thanks to Londonchap for additional information on this – JB]

On the Sub-Surface network, the Board Papers confirm that the Metropolitan Line officially ran its first full S8 Stock Service (57 trains in total) on Friday 20 July. This service pattern is now the norm, and according to the included Investment Programme Report (IPR) the Metropolitan Line rollout will officially complete next month. With the Olympics and Paralympics now out of the way, the rollout of the S7 Stock onto the Hammersmith & City/Circle has also resumed, augmenting the limited runs out of Moorgate that had already begun. According to the IPR, the S7s are still on schedule to begin official timetabled services on December 9th.

On the Tube, the (somewhat forgotten) upgrade of Heathrow Terminals 1, 2, 3 Station was also completed within this reporting period, with two larger lifts, additional gates and a reworked ticket office all now reported complete.

With regards to the planned Northern Line Extension to Battersea, the Papers indicate that the current plan is to progress the scheme to a point whereby a Transport & Works Act Order could be submitted by April next year. This would lead to a design freeze in October 2013 and a largescale public consultation in November that year. Discussion is currently ongoing with SP Setia, the new site owners, over the full nature of the scheme.

The Overground

The Overground set a new passenger record this year on the 16th April, with nearly 472,000 passengers recorded that day. Overall, the line’s Public Performance Measure continues to put almost all the other TOCs to shame, hitting 96.4% during this reporting period.

In addition to the above, the Commissioners Report confirms that down south the ELLX2 is now effectively complete, and is ready to be officially opened with the December Timetable change. Breaking away briefly from the Papers themselves, this also seems a good opportunity to highlight the incredibly useful comment that ELL Driver 2 recently added to our last post on the subject of the ELLX2. It really helps paint a good picture of the operating characteristics of the Line and so it is repeated, in full, below:

Through the core section – notably Dalston Junction to Surrey Quays there are some quite severe gradients and some extremely short platforms with short distances between stations. Braking to stop accurately at the stop board (which is sometimes ‘off’ the platform) on either an uphill or a downhill gradient requires a more considered and careful approach. On the Southern sections if you overrun the stop board by 6 feet it doesn’t particularly matter. If you do so on some of the core stations (such as Rotherhithe on the up) you will have the passenger doors beyond the barrier and it really will be an overrun (with all the associated delays and inconvenience. I am aware that even experienced drivers who come over to the ELL speak about the ‘intensity’ of the route and the concentration required.

The linespeed between H&I and NXG is no greater than 40mph at any point but there are about 14 speed changes (one direction) compared to just two between NXG and say Norwood Junction (these being at either end – the rest of this section being 60 mph on the slow). On the core drivers pretty much take it up to linespeed – especially at peak times otherwise you will fall behind. Safety of course comes first, so this doesn’t mean notch 4 and shut off at 40, it will more than likely mean shutting off a few mph sooner and letting it role up to linespeed. We know where to do this to avoid having to brake to avoid overspeed. If we were braking constantly the longitudinal seating and large numbers of standing passengers would soon account for complaints about jarred necks! As someone mentioned already, we tend to use brake step 2 and ease down to 1 for reasons of comfort as well as for control of the unit on those short platforms. Step 3 is held in reserve for times such as low adhesion (it is surprising just how slippery certain sections get in light drizzle – such as at Hoxton or on the flyover past the depot). It’s also used on the odd occasion where a driver was a second or two late with their braking point (that’s all it takes). The emergency brake is obviously there for just that – an emergency.

At rush the timetabled dwell times at Dalston Junction and Canada Water are necessary. Without them there would be no separation of services (it is not much fun for drivers or passengers to constantly be running on restrictive aspects). The same applies to the Southern section to a degree. The morning rush on the up normally makes for more of a struggle to keep to time as people force doors, trains take longer to load and before you know it you are a couple of minutes down and you know the dwell times are already taken care of further up the route. On the down, I tend to agree that on most occasions the timetable is generous between Honor Oak Park and Anerley. This is partly why drivers rarely take up full power as it is better for passengers to feel like they are on the move (allbeit not at full line speed) than push it to 60 and then dwell for 2 minutes at each station. We generally all adjust our acceleration and braking techniques to take these factors into account. Of course if we constantly hit linespeed and delayed braking we would get ahead of the timetable – a no-no for those expecting to catch a train at a given time.

Generally speaking the turnaround times at West Croydon, Highbury & Islington and New Cross are reasonably genreous if things are running to schedule, but if they were made tighter there would certainly be delays. Running a high intensity metro service requires there to be some built-in measures to get back on timetable. Crystal Palace only has about a 6 minute turnaround, which if you were to get in 2 mins late is beginning to push it. Remember that drivers ideally need that small break otherwise the intensity of the service would be quite exhausting – but there are times when of course it is a straight turnaround and go.

On the door delays, we are DOO on the ELL. Again, safety comes first and to reduce the chance of wrong side door release we move the TBC from brake step 1 to 3, switch the DDS to neutral and then release the doors after a brief pause. It does make for a short delay but in my view it is preferable to my experiences on the tube when on many occasions the doors have been opening before the train has been fully stopped. I respect tube drivers but I have to say that the approach speeds into stations (perhaps some of these are automated?) and the ‘relaxed’ door operating procedures would never form part of mainline driver training these days.

Returning to the Board Papers themselves, these confirm that the Overground has now returned to its non-Olympic timetable. Something they don’t highlight, however, is that this does seem to have brought about a slight change to both the NLL and ELL timetables.

Notably, it seems that the ELL now features two extra Surrey Quays – Dalston Junction services – presumably PIXC busters – at 0804 and 0849 respectively, which don’t appear on the official timetable. On the NLL, it seems that some off-peak Clapham Junction – Willesden Junction workings have now been extended to Stratford, and finally that more eastbound evening services from both Richmond and Clapham Junction have been timetabled in.

On the DLR

It seems that all is largely quiet, for now at least, on the DLR, but it too set a new passenger record.This was on the 3rd August, with 501,000 passenger journeys made. Overall, largely thanks to the Olympic and Paralympic effect, traffic was 24% higher this reporting period than it was at the same time last year.

On Yer Bike

The Papers confirm that TfL have now completed their junction review programme and have identified 100 junctions on the TfL London Route Network which will now be redesigned and improved before the end of 2013. Improvements will include widening junctions and the addition of “early start” signals (as seen at Bow Roundabout) where appropriate.

On the Cycle Scheme, the Papers confirm that this too saw record usage in the summer, with a new all-time record number of single-day hires being achieved on the 10th August on which day 47,102 trips were made. Overall, new memberships are currently averaging out at about 700 per week.

Something that is also worth highlighting here is the new “Hire Leisure Routes” section on the TfL website, which the report confirms was put together by our friends over at London Cyclist.

On a less pleasant note, the Commissioner’s Report confirms that prosectutions and convictions have now been completed for those involved in a serious fraud incident on the Cycle Network two years ago. In December 2010 Serco discovered that several employees had been involved in a cash refund fraud scheme that had seen “refunds” totalling £46,700 allocated to a number of accounts.

The resulting TfL/Transport Police investigation resulted in the arrest of 11 people – including 3 former Serco employees – of which 9 were subsequently charged. All appeared in court in June this year and were convicted, receiving a variety of sentences.

On the Buses

Before looking at the NBfL, it is worth highlighting that the report confirms that over 300 diesel-electric hybrid buses are now in service across the bus network. It also confirms that a further 178 standard hybrid buses are now on order, funded by a DfT grant. This is an increase on the planned 70 additional buses that the DfT had initially agreed to finance, which TfL have negotiated upwards.

Moving on to the subject of the NBfL itself, the Commissioner’s Report confirms that TfL now plan to order 600 units of the NBfL from Wrightbus. The New Bus For London Rollout document within the Papers provides a more detailed overview of the “wheres” and “whyfores” of this deal which can largely be summarised as follows:

  • The unique design of the bus means that they must be considered as restricted to usage in London for their full economic life.
  • The above means that the normal strategy of relying on Bus Operators to source the buses themselves (either through purchase or lease) is not practical – because the buses aren’t standard and are restricted to London, TfL would have to carry the book cost of the buses. TfL will thus purchase the buses themselves and the Operators will run them.
  • Wrightbus have indicated that if the Mayor’s Manifesto promise of 600 new buses by April 2016 is to be met, then a provisional order will need to be placed by the end of September.
  • This would result in the first full route conversion being possible by April 2013 with approximately 30 buses in service by that point

For the purposes of this article, the above represents a reasonable summary of the status of the NBfL. We will, however, look at both the bus and rollout in far more detail in a future piece.

On the Roads

The Board Papers contain an interesting summary of Operation Kansas, a joint initiative between TfL, the VOSA and the Police. Between March and June 2012, the Operation looked to crack down on illegal luxury or novelty cars on the streets of London. Overall, the Operation seems to have met with some success, with 24 vehicles impounded and 186 prohibitions or Fixed Penalty Notices issued.

The TfL Complaints Report

Finally, reproduced below are the key tables from the new TfL Complaints report. This can be found at the end of the Commissioners Report, and it makes interesting reading. When looking at these tables, it is always worth looking at the total number of complaints made at the top before looking at the percentage breakdowns. The reasons for this should be reasonably obvious – the smaller the sample size, the less should be read into any seemingly large percentage blocks of complaints.

Cycle Hire Complaints

Cycle Hire Complaints

Congestion Charge Complaints

Congestion Charge Complaints

DLR Complaints

DLR Complaints

London Buses Complaints

London Buses Complaints

London Overground Complaints

London Overground Complaints

London Underground

London Underground Complaints

Oyster Complaints

Oyster Complaints

Tramlink Complaints

Tramlink Complaints

Train Operating Company (TOC) Complaints

Train Operating Company (TOC) Complaints

TOC Complaints By Category

TOC Complaints By Category

Written by John Bull