An update is required on the Underground, where various chickens are coming home to roost and the fickle finger of fate is chucking spanners in the works. To recap our recent posts on the subject, we’re aware that:
- There’s a shortfall in funds available that has meant the reduction of tube lines to be upgraded to just the Piccadilly, leaving the Bakerloo to soldier on indefinitely with stock approaching bus pass age and the Central Line to do God knows what God knows when
- The new CityFlo650 signalling selected by TfL as its standard for the SSL and Piccadilly Line ATO is running late and requiring more cash than expected
- The ideologically driven promise by Boris that no new cabbed trains would be ordered is a big millstone given the pressures on existing lines which can’t use cabless stock at present. In particular, what the hell will run on the Northern once the resignalling is complete and the Battersea extension in service? The proposed cabless Piccadilly trains will use CityFlo650, not the Northern/Jubilee/DLR SELTRAC system, a new build of existing stock would be fine from the signalling point of view but has cabs and the design’s nearly two decades old.
London Reconnections has a bloody good stab at untangling this here, first on the death of the Deep Tube Programme:
The Tube Improvement Plan was an incredibly expensive project. One figure mentioned was £13 billion – roughly equivalent to the cost of Crossrail, a major new railway with new tunnels under London. The heart of the problem, therefore, seems to have been money.
That this should be the case is not really a surprise. We had already seen Mike Brown, head of London Underground, expressing great concern to the GLA transport committee that the money for the complete project was not yet assured. As political points were made and attempted on the subject of automation, he bluntly and correctly pointed out that talk of driverless trains was irrelevant if you hadn’t got the money for the both the trains and the necessary supporting line upgrades
then on the inevitability of backtracking on cabless trains:
As we shall see in a subsequent article, when we look at the Piccadilly and NTfL in more detail, it is highly likely that for the next 40 or so years tube trains will be delivered with a cab – even if it is one designed to be easily converted into passenger space
Modern Railways (November 2013) reports that it is estimated that 16 new [Jubilee Line] trains will be required.
Modern Railways (November 2013) suggests that a further five trains will be needed for the opening of the [Northern Line] Battersea Extension which is currently planned for 2020
2020 is too early for any cabless design to be available, given that the priority is the Piccadilly replacement, so London’s newest tube line will be opening with clones of mid-90s cabbed trains.
Meanwhile, Modern Railways has picked up the SSL signalling delay in their January 2014 issue:
Demonstration of the ATC system at the Old Dalby test track was not achieved by the August 2013 ‘key date’ in the contract with Bombardier, says the report. Following LU review and challenge Bombardier acknowledged that this would not be achieved until at least June 2015, the LU report says. It adds that LU believes this could lead to a similar delay in contract completion, taking it beyond the DfT target date of 2018.
The report itself sounds the following warning of what might happen if Bombardier can’t get Old Dalby back on track:
This would also lead to significant LU exposure in excess of SUP funding. A range of options are being considered to maintain delivery of the upgrade by 2018
One of the odder elements of the Bombardier deal is that 86 Piccadilly Line 73TS trains are included in it:
The upgrade will deliver a new signalling system for 310km of track and 113 SSR stations, equipment installation for 191 S Stock trains, 86 Piccadilly line trains, 49 engineering trains and six heritage trains; one integrated service control centre and back-up facility; seven signalling equipment rooms; and 36 major track layout changes.
The work will be complete by 2018.
This is because after 2018 the Piccadilly west of Barons Court will have to share the CityFlo650 equipped lines with the District and Metropolitan Lines, while the Piccadilly’s new stock is now delayed until 2023 or so. Fitting 86 trains with a whole signalling system for five years use sounds extraordinarily wasteful, and every month CityFlo650 is delayed makes this odder still.
Finally there’s a political wildcard in the mix – here in Chiswick there’s long been agitation for a permanent all-day Turnham Green stop on the Piccadilly Line, which is currently impossible due to signal spacing being optimised for through running. LU’s position has always been that this is only possible after a signalling upgrade, but the Conservatives (facing a strong challenge to the MP Mary Macleod in 2015) recently conjured a promise from Boris for an all day stop. That this was released via the Tories and embargoed until Boris announced it at MQTs two weeks ago does rather smell of spin and on closer examination there’s a lot of wiggle room:
The Mayor’s announcement came during this morning’s Question Time at City Hall. Key announcements today were:
1. A 24-hour tube service, including Turnham Green, at weekends from 2015.
2. A new fleet of District Line trains in 2016.
3. Faster and more frequent services due to signalling upgrades from 2018.
4. Stopping throughout the day at Turnham Green as soon as the line has been upgraded.
The first was the smokescreen for cutting a thousand jobs and deskilling much of the Underground staffing, already announced. The second’s been known about since 2004, the third is also a re-announcement but the timing is already doubtful due to the Old Dalby problems and in any case planned completion date is 31/12/2018 which is a bit cheeky really. The fourth deliberately leaves open the question of what ‘upgrade’ actually means – new trains, new signalling, partial resignalling as part of the Subsurface Upgrade Project? Could be any time between 2019 or 2023 really. In 2007 LU promised exactly the same thing in 2014, the original PPP date for Piccadilly resignalling with SELTRAC and requipment with God knows what train.
For the record, current key dates at risk on SUP are:
- ATC Signalling – Test Track Demonstration Complete – originally 23/12/2014, now 18/6/2015
- ATC Signalling – System Design Specification Complete – originally 3/11/2013, now 5/2/2014
- ATC Signalling – Completion of integration testing at Old Dalby – originally 11/3/2014, now 8/5/2014
It came to my attention a few months ago that a book was in preparation about the Vanity Lardbus (now apparently no longer the ‘New Bus For London’ but the ‘New Routemaster’, which is hardly any better – not only is it certainly not a Routemaster, it’s not really new either). Fine, I thought, some rosy eyed bus nut/mate of Leon Daniels/both will be writing a TfL-approved hagiography which will only be worth reading to laugh at the way the various problems are spun (see Buses magazine for examples). This was only reinforced when Autocar’s serially incorrect ‘journalist’ Hilton ‘newsed1′ Holloway tweeted to brag his involvement:
OK, here’s the book on the New Bus 4 London. I wrote some of it. Me and Rolf Schepp’s design entry is also featured. http://www.capitaltransport.com/
I was wrong, it’s far from a whitewash job. TfL seemingly started off assuming hagiography but belatedly realised that it was going to be warts and all, and a row has broken out – the presence of Christian Wolmar, no friend of Boris, Labour mayoral hopeful and someone who, unlike Hilton, really does understand transport might have given them a clue.
Adam Bienkov of politics.co.uk has covered this today, Christmas having interrupted attempts to get to the bottom of it myself, although I know the rough outline of the story:
The manufacturers of Boris Johnson’s multimillion pound new London bus threatened to prevent publication of a book criticising the design and construction of the vehicles.
Solicitors acting on behalf of Wright Bus complained that the book “suggests that there are problems with the design and manufacture of the vehicles.”
They took particular issue with one excerpt in the book claiming the buses were “reported to be falling short in their fuel consumption and emission figures, in some cases worryingly.”
Since both the build quality and fuel consumption have been covered on this blog and extensively in the press during the summer sauna season without m’learned friends getting involved, this sounds dubious and it seems Capital Transport, the publishers, have replied along the lines of Arkell v. Pressdram and publication has gone ahead, albeit delayed from the original Christmas rush date of 5/12/2013 for unrelated reasons. Besides, if the book is reporting the fuel consumption figures accurately why would Wrights think legal threats would carry any weight at all?
Reading Adam’s piece TfL are trying to claim, for whatever reason, that they had nothing to do with trying to stop publication and it’s all Wrightbus. Yeah, right, the bus is a joint enterprise here, and it just doesn’t stack up that a book TfL were aware of and were initially keen to help with (presumably including facilitating talks between the author and Wrights) before they realised it would be objective could be subject to legal heaviness without them being aware of it – TfL own the intellectual property that could be damaged here, after all. They seem perfectly well aware and keen for us to be aware of the following, after all:
We also gave the author access to official documents, photographs and designs as well as interviews with officials and other parties involved in the project.
“Unfortunately there were disagreements between the author and publisher and their partnership was terminated. The dissolution of the agreement involved correspondence between solicitors.”
This strikes me as a straightforward piece of deflection, not least because the book’s publisher is currently advertising the book for online sales at £19.95 with the following addendum that they seem equally keen for us to be aware of:
Transport for London have told the London Transport Museum not to sell this book. It is however available from most London branches of Waterstones* and many other London bookshops including the Ian Allan Bookshop at Waterloo. Or from us of course!
So why are TfL apparently blocking it from sale at their own bookshop (and therefore denying themselves revenue) if the only disagreement was between the author and publisher? Something smells heavily of fish in this and I’m by no means certain the entire truth has come out. I notice one of the participants here is subject to the Freedom of Information Act.
* It wasn’t in the Brighton branch of Waterstones, otherwise I’d have bought it when in there earlier today…
Next week (the 17th December, in fact) it’s the end of the road for some young hopefuls, as Sir Howard Davies does the fourth week of XFactor thing of finally putting the mad, briefly entertaining nonsense acts out of their misery. Yes, it seems the M25 maglev and the four runway airport up the road from David Cameron will be sobbing off into obscurity. What else will be joining them, I wonder?
Today’s Telegraph has a couple of interesting articles by Natalie Thomas and Kamal Ahmed (a long time Heathrow expansion supporter and probably something of a Voice of Osborne on this) on the forthcoming Davies Commission statement. For a paper not normally noted for criticising its star columnist, the general tone ‘advises’ Boris to take a decision he’s probably already realised he has to make, to abandon his cherished hub airport in the Thames Estuary:
Sir Howard must whittle down the options on runway expansion in the South East to a reasonable number.
As we reveal today, even Daniel Moylan, the Mayor’s aviation adviser, believes the Thames option is most at risk, a position some close to Boris say he agrees with. In private discussions with his officials, the Mayor has suggested that a new hub at Stansted, his fall-back option, probably has a better chance of victory.
This is noteworthy not least because the Stansted option Boris submitted to Davies, which I’ve read, is laughable, including such aviation firsts as coaxial runways (the existing 10000ft Stansted strip is retained as a ‘low cost airline airport’ with one of the four new runways covering most of Essex sited immediately beyond it, which would be operationally rather challenging. I concluded at the time that an unworkably bizarre Stansted scheme was put in to make the Estuary scheme look better, so if Moylan and Boris are indicating publicly that it’s got more chance things are presumably looking fairly bad for their cherished idea. Interestingly, Moylan’s actual statement, as reported by Insight, was:
Cllr Daniel Moylan stated that the progress of the Airports Commission so far, and its likely desire to find a compromise solution which could garner widespread support, suggests that it will rule out the Thames estuary solution. He went on to suggest that the easiest conclusion for the Commission would be to recommend Heathrow but this would be difficult to sell to Labour and the Conservatives. The logical conclusion was therefore a second runway at Gatwick.
[Insight, whose Aviation Debate was held on 19/11/2013, rings a bell, too - I recall a role in Boris's election campaign in 2008, to their continuing benefit. Speaking, apart from Moylan, was a bloke from Heathrow, a bloke from Stansted and Spelthorne MP Kwasi 'Crazy' Kwarteng, a fervent Osbornite Heathrow expansionist from the Free Enterprise Group, two elected Tories and two representatives of the airport industry. Balance is obviously not in their dictionary].
The other indication that this is an invitation to withdraw to prepared positions is the phrase:
Boris is right.
which offers the chance of an absurdly positive spin on wasting five years and millions of pounds investigating a bad idea. Boris knows a lot of his cheerleaders, particularly here in west London, will be disappointed if he does give up the Estuary idea, so soothing words and a ready made alternative to hand makes some sense. It also gets Kent’s Conservatives, who are adamantly opposed to the Hoo location, a chance to bury the hatchet. That this is at the cost of riling up Essex matters less as they’re probably going to get riled up anyway if (as Moylan seems to realise now) Davies goes for Gatwick and/or Stansted in the end anyway. It won’t just be Boris getting it in the neck.
So we’ve got someone fairly closely aligned to Heathrow, the airlines and the hard right around Osborne inviting Boris to take his flag down before it gets shot down. They wouldn’t be doing that if they weren’t fairly sure the shooting was about to start:
By proposing Heathrow’s closure, and the loss of 76,000 direct and 114,000 indirect jobs at a very cautious estimate, Boris has given his opponents a particularly lethal stick with which to beat him.
That’s the ammo being brought out of storage.
[Sir Howard Davies] has rightly said the UK needs more runway capacity. George Osborne agrees. Pigeon steps maybe, but at last we are inching towards a decision on the right way forward. Unfortunately, the Boris option is not it.
That’s the sound of the safety catch being taken off.
From a few weeks back:
London Mayor Boris Johnson in Hong Kong promoting a new Routemaster bus he hopes to sell to the Chinese
Did he sell any? No.
Vivien Chan, KMB corporate affairs director, says: “While KMB has no intention of introducing the New Bus for London to Hong Kong in view of the lack of an air-conditioning, necessary given Hong Kong’s climate, and the open design of the rear door, which does not meet the operating situation in Hong Kong, we have incorporated some of the environment-friendly features as well as the ergonomic seat design on newer buses in our fleet.”
What’s that, Evening Standard?
Hong Kong and other major Chinese cities could buy hundreds of new Routemaster buses, Boris Johnson said today.
Travelling around Hong Kong on a specially imported bus, the Mayor said: “The Chinese desperately need low-emission buses. We should be out here.”
The odd thing is that we *are* out there, but Boris is presumably not aware of the long standing deals under which the UK’s leading bus exporter ADL has sold large numbers of big, air conditioned double deckers to Hong Kong.
Turnover and profits have risen sharply for bus manufacturer Alexander Dennis Limited (ADL), following strong sales growth in international markets.
The Falkirk-based firm reported turnover climbed from £357m to £481m last year, while pre-tax profits grew by 56% to £24.2m.
ADL performed particularly well in its key overseas markets of North America, Australasia and Asia Pacific.
Should have done some research really. They might have found out why the bus market, apart from the bits distorted by Boris’s tax funded vanity projects, isn’t going for heavyweight vanity projects:
ADL stated: “Customers are increasingly focusing on fuel economy and reliability of their fleets and, as a leading provider of lightweight fuel-efficient vehicles, this is an area in which we have been investing heavily over the past few years and we will continue to do so to maintain our market position.”
It’s be very interested to see what they come out with in 2014…
It does have to be asked now. Here, from Datastore data, is the pattern for the four years of BCH so far:
Red is the current year; we’re awaiting October’s data at present so it only goes up to 30th September. Allocation into period/weeks as per my cable car data is done by me, painstakingly, to try and fathom some patterns out of the daily data.
We can see the first two years followed much the same pattern with a peak around Period 6-7, which is late summer (surprisingly it seems to be more end August/beginning September, suggesting some correlation with the usual August dip in other modes). Then a rapid tail off to a low point around the end of Period 10, which unsurprisingly is Christmas/New Year. After that it bumps along fairly flat until the weather improves – the sharp rise in March 2011-12 was partly due to a period of extremely good weather around then, particularly the last week of the month.
Maximum temperatures exceeded 20 °C in places between 24th and 29th (22.8 °C at St James’s Park and Heathrow, both Greater London, on 28th), with some local March records being broken
For comparison March 2013 shows a marked decline in hires, and the weather record shows why:
A band of rain and snow affected the south-east early on 27th, later giving way to widespread showers, some falling as snow.
March 2011, in the middle of the two, was, not surprisingly, about average for temperatures.
The other major change in the period of the graph was the eastern extension in early March 2012, which came just before the good weather and is the other explanation for the big spike at the end of the year.
Given that it’s only really safe to compare this year (red) with last year (deep blue) – ignoring the Olympic spike in the middle it does look as if the two years aren’t showing much of a rise in usage. Remember that P10 2012-13 saw the doubling of prices and it does look as if that might be depressing numbers a bit – this year saw a heatwave for several weeks over the summer but numbers didn’t reach the 250k+ seen in May-June 2012, well before the Olympics, peaking at about 235k a week in mid to late July 2013.
We also have another statistic to consider; the cost. TfL have finally accepted that the scheme will always require subsidy and will never cover its costs:
Operating costs in 2012/13 were £24m, of which about £5m was covered by Barclays’ sponsorship and £8m by user charges, leaving an £11.1m shortfall.
So user charges cover barely 33% of the cost of running the scheme, Barclays barely cover 30% of the remaining 16m leaving the rest of us on the hook for more than twice what the bankers whom Boris is always praising chip in. He should be thanking us, about twice as often. Still, we can now estimate the subsidy per ride; 2012-13, Olympics included, saw 9.3m hires, so for each bum on a saddle we have the following:
- Cost to provide saddle: £2.60
- From Barclays: £0.53
- From the user: £0.86
- From TfL’s increasingly strained revenue subsidy: £1.20
For comparison, the bus subsidy, which is reducing as Osborne slashes the revenue grant that pays for that £1.20 per bum per saddle, is about 17p according to Sir Peter Hendy’s evidence to Parliament recently, down from 25p when Boris was first elected. By any standards cycle hire is extremely poor value for money in comparison, yet is getting expanded while the bus network, which is how London gets to work and which is increasingly overcrowded (particularly in south east London where there are zero plans to expand anything), stagnates, with money that could go into expansion going into the vanity lardbus. What’s the big plan, Boris? The London Assembly have already produced their report.
P.S. noted Hammersmith and Fulham libertorian Harry Phibbs told me 2011 that the cycle hire scheme was going to make a profit ‘in a couple of years’.
He hasn’t got back to me about how that’s going yet.
One silver lining if the much vaunted Docklands white elephant is knocked over by a ship or a high wind or Godzilla is that there won’t be that many people inconvenienced, judging by the flatulent sound of air escaping from the PR puffball over the past few weeks. It’s not long since TfL were boldly announcing that the thing had met its targets, without mentioning that they were extremely lowballed – the most recent Commissioners report [PDF] finally fesses up:
Passenger demand in period 6 was second highest this year, as seasonal demand peaked over the summer holidays. EAL passenger journeys were below budget. An improved operational readiness plan is being prepared to allow access to the EAL for mobility scooter users later this year, this project includes subtle cabin modifications and specialised staff training
That’s it. The 25/9 1st quarter operational performance report [PDF] suggests the target for Q1 2013/14 was 0.4m riders, an average of only 31k a week – the real figure for the first 13 weeks was 450k, which suggests that TfL internally don’t expect it do do much over 35k in an average week even in late spring/early summer. It also makes the only comment I’ve seen on how the fare income is stacking up:
Both Tramlink and Emirates Air Line showed lower than budgeted income.
Oh dear – what’s worse is that the newt fancier’s train set, London Overground, is bailing Boris out on this with much stronger income than expected:
This strong Overground performance has led to an increase of £12m in the full-year forecast, partially offset by a £4m reduction in Tramlink and Emirates Air Line Income.
Just think what £65m could have bought in the way of Overground extensions, new trains and so on, taking people places they actually want to go.
Now, luckily, thanks to Caroline Pidgeon AM, we have weekly ridership statistics to chew on. This year’s ridership parcelled up into Periods:
- (first three weeks out of four) 78,677
So what the Commissioner meant was ‘Period 6 was the start of a fairly rapid fall-off in ridership from what was a considerably lower Period 5 summer peak ridership than last year’s 534,218, but at least we have the Olympics to blame for that one’. We’re now well beyond the Olympic effect from last year and in a position to make year-on-year comparisons, particularly given that last week (Period 8 Week 3) was half term in both years. Here’s the year comparator:
From which we can see that since the end of the summer ridership is essentially flat, running mostly about 40% below last year but half term week was a whopping 62% down (from 70k to 27k), as the wind and rain presumably put people off. Monday’s storm naturally led to the ride being closed, too, which won’t have helped. All this limping along comes despite the cable car’s being the subject of great heaves from TfL to try and attract riders involving publicity campaigns, ticket giveaways and so on, curiously not involving the only thing which might help; abandoning the dreadful idea of non-Oyster ticketing at a much higher rate than the parallel tube/DLR. We’re even seeing all Boris’s pet modes (river/cycle hire/dangleway) vigorously cross-promoting each other on Twitter, like three little boys standing on each others shoulders to pretend to be all grown up. Rather sad.
The next few weeks are crucial, though, as post half term November into December was when a real decline set in that halved the weekly numebrs and didn’t reverse until spring. If we continue being 40% below last year we’re hardly going to have anyone riding come mid-December; it’s not like hanging about over Docklands mudflats is a great Christmas tradition. It’s not exactly Hamleys up there. The nadir was the week ending 15/12 when we had 20,060 last year. We might struggle to reach much over 10k this year at this rate.
One other sign that TfL are beginning to give up on the idea – the recent milestone of 3 million rides went completely unmarked, although they have added it to a slightly revamped web page. Woo. Normally they wheel Boris out for a peppy line or two in a press release if more than four people share a cabin, so that, like Boris shying away from the in-service Lard Bus, is telling. Don’t Embarrass The Boss is still Rule One at City Hall. Perhaps this is why:
- First million rides: 11 weeks (June-September 2012, including first summer)
- Second million rides: 30 weeks (September 2012-April 2013, including first winter)
- Third million rides: 27 weeks (April-October 2013, including second summer)
Next up in ‘Bashing TfL With Their Own Data’ – cycle hire.
It comes to something when Boris, who as we’ve seen has trouble reporting the real world correctly is now making up his own facts about literature. Via Tom Phillips, who was the first to write down what to many of us seemed rather a bizarre set of comments by Boris and concluded, bluntly that Boris is ‘simply wrong’, comes this gem:
And who according to JK Rowling, the author of the Harry Potter novels, was Harry Potter’s first girlfriend? Who is the first person he kisses? That’s right, Cho Chang – who is a Chinese overseas student at Hogwarts school.
Except she isn’t Chinese or an overseas student, the character is clearly written as British, and is played in the films by Scottish actress Katie Leung, who’s from the mystic Oriental town of Motherwell, Lanarkshire. Her father is from Hong Kong. So whether Boris has seen the films or read the books or can’t tell the difference between a Scottish and a Chinese accent or just made it all up as usual, he’s barking wrong here. He could have read this from his own paper, for a start:
Our only clue is this: in an interview with Katie in Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post, the young actress said she had a great advantage when auditioning, because JK Rowling had specified Cho had to be unknown and have a Scottish accent.
Still, ‘Classic Boris’, as Paul Waugh put it in his tweet. Yep, making up his own facts is classic Boris all right, quite apart from the problematic comparison between what Boris presumably wants for UK-China relations (big sacks of money, basically), and what actually happens between Harry and Cho (not much, and then they end up with different partners). A better literary analogy might be famous Londoner Moll Flanders…
Who was Born in Newgate, and during a Life of continu’d Variety for Threescore Years, besides her Childhood, was Twelve Year a Whore…
Yes, that makes a bit more sense.
P.S. Paul Waugh wrote the original Evening Standard bendy bus/cyclist piece where Great Boris Lie #3 started, so perhaps he’s learned by now that when Boris makes the journalists chortle it’s probably outrageous bullshit. We can only hope.
Last week, a passenger on a New Bus For London vehicle on route 24 sustained a life-threatening head injury after falling out of the open rear door.
Until the exact circumstances are known, it is pointless to surmise how and why this incident occurred. Another passenger on the New Bus For London on the same route suffered broken bones in her hand after falling on the stairs.
The first incident was widely reported by online media and the story has prompted a wave of vitriolic and unpleasant comments on some newspapers’ websites, accusing the woman of being clumsy and careless or claiming that the commenters themselves had travelled on “these buses” for decades and never injured themselves or even heard of any other passenger having an accident whilst using them.
Firstly, “these buses” are not Routemasters, or RTs, or any form of pre-1960s vehicle. The New Bus For London cannot be compared with a Routemaster. Secondly, what short and inaccurate memories some of these people have. I would refer readers to my previous Boriswatch posts which quote then-Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport, Patrick McLoughlin (currently Secretary of State for Transport):
I am aware that some people still prefer to use the old Routemaster buses with their open platform entry, but buses with doors are much safer. The chances of a passenger having a serious accident getting on or off a bus are roughly 11 times greater on an open-platform bus.
Open platform buses mean more passenger deaths. The passenger fatality rate on Routemasters is more than double that of other London buses.
The layout and dimensions of the rear platform of the Routemaster and the area which is also referred to as the rear platform on the New Bus For London are very different.
The rear staircase of the New Bus For London, unlike that of the Routemaster, has pointless decorative extensions of its treads which both take up precious floor space and also serve as trip hazards.
Width of the conductor’s “cubby hole” on the Routemaster is 70cm. Width of the passenger assistant’s “cubby hole” on the New Bus For London is 59cm, measured from the outer corner of the step up to the adjacent seat:
Width of the aisle at this point on the New Bus For London is only 51cm. The width of the aisle on the lower deck of the Routemaster is 62.5cm.
The most worrying difference between the Routemaster and the New Bus For London is the proximity of the bottom step of the rear staircase to the open back door:
Modern double-decker buses do not feature staircases directly opposite exit doors. An obvious reason for this is that if you trip on the stairs you could fall out of the vehicle through the door. The New Bus For London not only has a staircase directly opposite an open door, the bottom step of the stairs is 20cm closer to the edge of the open platform than that of a Routemaster.
The “open platform” of the New Bus For London, unlike that of the Routemaster, is cramped and cluttered. The adjacent aisle is much narrower on the new bus and passengers have to squeeze past the passenger assistant, who takes up valuable space.
Boarding and alighting from a Routemaster is not a comparable experience to using the New Bus For London and it is my opinion that the new vehicle is less user-friendly and potentially more hazardous for passengers.
It’s hardly a secret that Boris has managed to con the Government into sending his overweight, costly, unsafe and ludicrously ugly buses on a World Tour – the first two vehicles, LT1 and LT2 are actually on loan to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. They’ve now been joined by LT3, which was shipped out over the summer, doubtless to the relief of Arriva who have to put up with the remaining five prototypes on the 38. The FCO is very bullish about the whole thing:
Unfortunately things didn’t quite go to plan on the excellence front, as they couldn’t start it to get it off the boat.
Reportedly this all took some hours to sort out after which the bus, which was holding up a delivery of trucks which presumably worked fine, was parked at the docks. They seem to have had trouble finding mechanics capable of dealing with an unreliable bespoke London bus on the other side of Asia. Funny, that.
The curious thing is this – Hong Kong is a valid target for a UK bus export drive for the simple reason that it’s got a high demand for buses due to space constraints and also that they drive on the left, so even the completely asymmetric and non-LHD convertible New Bus for London might stand a chance. Unfortunately they also demand working air conditioning to cope with the heat and, well, that’s not a strong point of the Roastmaster, to be honest.
Also Hong Kong likes to go large with its vehicles, liking behemoths with over 100 seats and three axles. An 11.3m bus with a substandard capacity is therefore not likely to be a serious rival.
So, who is supplying the Hong Kong bus market if the best and brightest at TfL, Heatherwick and Wrightbus can’t produce a suitable vehicle. Well, Alexander-Dennis for one, Britain’s other volume double decker producer:
The first is a ground-breaking, three-axle double deck for export markets that is lighter, more fuel efficient, easier to maintain – and can carry 135 passengers.The new generation Enviro500 has secured orders for over 530 vehicles from Hong Kong’s leading bus operators.
I suspect that, before investing in 530 of them, the Hong Kong bus operators made double sure that they’d actually start and be able to cool their passengers and indeed carry enough of them to be worthwhile.
Quite where this leaves the NB4L tour is puzzling, as Hong Kong already appears to know what it wants and be quite willing to go to the UK’s private sector suppliers to get it. All the FCO seem to be doing is using public money to push a rival product into ADL’s successful export market. Furthermore it’s a rival which is considerably less suitable and with obvious flaws, which as you might expect has annoyed ADL. At last week’s Bus and Coach Expo in Birmingham and while announcing what, if it comes off, would be a considerable technical advance on the NBfL, the CEO made another not very veiled comment that is open to interpretation:
In revealing what he describes as a “virtual electric” bus, he said: “As with previous ADL technology advancements, the ‘virtual electric’ will do what it says on the tin. Yes, we will fine tune it in co-operation with operators – but we will not be selling them lame ducks they later regret buying. Too often the advancement of technology in the British bus sector is hampered, and dragged back, by ill-conceived products that are brought to market too early, well before they are proven or anywhere near the reliability levels required.”
He continues: “If I am honest, too often politicians are also drawn into supporting sexy solutions that grab headlines, solutions that fail to deliver in the long-term. The crux of the electric vehicle debate is that battery technology – at this stage – is simply not up to the demands expected in our sector.”
Whatever can he mean? NBfL? Quaylink? Early Wrightbus hybrids with van engines? Original *cough* ADL hybrid? Leon Daniels’ Wrightbus Streetcar ftr bendy buses? In truth, Robertson is asserting that ADL’s baby-steps evolution-not-revolution is the most likely option for developing a viable long-term system, which is fair enough – they do reliable, not sexy, which is one reason people with a real need to move passengers around go for them.
This business is not about producing the most glamorous Ferrari of the bus world. It is about practical, fit-for-purpose vehicles that deliver what they promise. Yes, we want them to look smart and stylish but, along with this, they need to be built using modern manufacturing processes. These are the fundamentals that enable built consistency across all products and in all locations – and will raise the bar still further on quality, while keeping costs in check
Given the NBfL’s combination of high costs and low build quality, witnessed not just in the breakdowns but also the poor finishing noted by Helen on most NB4L journeys, who can say he’s wrong?
Latest Q1 2013-14 TfL operations, finance and projects report is an interesting read with an interesting and rather slick new presentation. The embarrassing bit’s buried in the middle, though, in the section on Underground major projects:
- SUP: The work to immunise London Underground (LU) and Network Rail (NR) track circuits is now being progressed to an agreed schedule and is forecast to complete in early 2014, but is on the critical path for the scheduled achievement of the Department for Transport (DfT) milestone to complete roll out of new trains on the District line by 2016. Various recovery options are being considered to improve confidence in achieving this milestone.
- SUP Automatic Train Control (ATC): Progress to date on the new signalling system shows that there remain significant challenges to deliver the capacity uplift associated with this by 2018, within the overall programme funding. The programme team is engaged in discussion at a senior level with the signalling contractor to review the current status and expedite the technical solution and the delivery strategy in order to maintain the integrity of the required benefits and the overall completion date of 2018.
- The Bombardier SUP ATC schedule forecast for system demonstration at the Old Dalby test track is now December 2014, which is later than planned. Discussions with Bombardier are ongoing to reach an agreed position on the scope of work required and the schedule for this.
SUP is the Sub Surface Upgrade Programme, the resignalling and general fettling of the Metropolitan, Hammersmith and City, Circle and District Lines to enable about a 33% uplift in capacity by running trains under automatic control. Naturally this needs a new signalling system, Bombardier’s CityFlo650 (originally used on tough things like airport metros and without much in the way of a track record on complex urban lines – two lines in Madrid and one in Shenzhen use it). Heaven forbid that the advertising as:
A new generation for driverless automated transit systems
might have had something to do with it. One problem with a system designed for driverless trains is this:
The system is used for automatic running of trains on segregated tracks.
which LU’s SSL lines definitely aren’t, bits are shared with the Piccadilly, Jubilee, Chiltern Railways and the London Overground, which complicates things. Finally the trains weren’t built for automated operation, they have cabs and were intended to work with Westinghouse’s system as fitted to the Victoria Line – Ruislip Depot’s been specially equipped to retrofit nearly new trains with a signalling system they weren’t originally designed to use.
With all of that, it’s clearly a big step up for the system to cope with the demands of the SUP and it’s thus a worry that demonstration of the ATC test track is not just ‘later than planned’, it’s now exactly a year later than planned, in December 2014 rather than at the end of this year. That’s a big slip at this stage of a project, and that we’re so close to the original go-live date before I’ve noticed it is interesting. The mention of programme funding also suggests that it’s suffering cost escalations, which TfL has been very good at avoiding in recent years, so it’s not surprising they’re getting the big guns out – the original contract cost is a whopping £354m. Let’s try and see if there were any warning signs:
In November 2012 there was a first whiff:
Following receipt of Bombardier’s detailed signalling supply schedule, plans are now being developed for testing the ATC system and it’s component parts, including installation of the system on the test track at Old Dalby. This approach to demonstrate the functionality and reliability of the system removes risk from the live operational railway. Bombardier has slipped against their latest agreed schedule but following elevation, a recovery plan to the end of the year has been agreed that holds all sectional completion and DfT milestone dates. The causes of delay were lack of resources and leadership, both of which have been addressed, and there is still high confidence in the chosen technical solution.
Back in March’s TfL Budget they were talking 2013/14, so presumably that had been resolved. By May 2013, though, there was this little rumble:
- There are some emerging differences between what Bombardier stated at the SSR Upgrade ATC tender and what is being delivered. It is believed these are all manageable within the overall cost, schedule and performance envelope, but is being closely monitored by the team
- Continued progress to implement technical solutions required for SSR Upgrade signalling immunisation (to ensure legacy track circuits and Network Rail systems are not susceptible to electrical interference from S Stock trains)on sections of the District line
This has now become ‘challenges’ in meeting the schedule ‘within the overall project funding’, which is not reassuring . The Q1 report actually contradicts itself on the subject of scheduled dates for the test track, page 45 saying December 2014 (as above) and page 51 saying January 2015, although given that the December date is given on page 47 as 23/12/2014 it’s moot how much testing you’d actually get done over Christmas and New Year.
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