That was quick – a few hours after us pointing out the evident difficulties being experienced with Bombardier’s CityFlo650 contract awarded in 2011 in terms of dates missed and extra costs incurred, the last day of 2013 sees the news quietly snuck out that TfL have terminated the deal.  The Telegraph has the most coverage so far:

The company, which is employing around 100 engineers in London on the project to upgrade the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines, said its signalling system was incompatible with the Underground’s creaking infrastructure, more than two years after the contract was first awarded.

Transport for London (TfL) will now seek new bids for the contract, insisting that the planned upgrade will still be delivered to its time schedule of 2018. However, a spokesman admitted that the cost of the project may potentially rise.

This is the second time this has happened, after the original Metronet plans were scrapped as ‘unfit for purpose’ and retendered after the end of the PPP on the SSL lines.

Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, said: ‘The signing of this contract means that we can now proceed with one of the most important elements of the Tube upgrade programme.

‘The Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines are the oldest in the Capital, making up a large chunk of the Tube network and moving a million Londoners every day.

‘This new contract will deliver the minimum amount of closures while delivering the improvements all Londoners are desperate to see.’

Needless to say this should be hugely embarrassing – CityFlo650 was hailed as being the silver bullet that could be installed over the top of the existing signalling with minimum disruption while as recently as 21st December 2013 TfL were sticking to the 2018 date in the Turnham Green story, when surely they must have known.

CityFlo650’s use in Madrid was pointed to repeatedly, possibly because at that point the system was only really used on a serious metro in that city, with most of the other installations being undemanding airport people movers.

At the time many people were puzzled as to why TfL would plump for a fourth ATO system alongside the (obsolete) Central Line Westinghouse system, the more modern Westinghouse DTG system working successfully on the Victoria Line and SELTRAC as used on the DLR, Jubilee and currently being installed without too much trouble on the Northern Line.  Those fears of unnecessary complication and cost seem to have been partly justified by today’s news.

The question now is ‘what next?’.  Even the obvious answer of a quick retender and selection of SELTRAC and a seamless move of the design and development teams from Northern to SSL after December 2014 is going to involve a delay of at least two years, I reckon, given that two years work is effectively being burned today.  That means early 2021 for SSL resignalling and capacity upgrade, with consequent knock on effects on District Line capacity (no upgrades), existing signalling (keep patching it) and system reliability. Presumably the S7 train fleet will be rather underutilised.

On the other hand, removing the unnecessary extra ATC system has positive benefits

  • the new tube stock can be specified for SELTRAC and operate universally on Jubilee/Northern/Piccadilly and in future Central and Bakerloo.  
  • You only have one set of spares and one set of knowledge to maintain in LU
  • You don’t need to fit 86 sets of CityFlo650 kit to 40 year old Piccadilly Line trains for five years use (given the delay you’d probably just combine SSL and Piccadilly resignalling and stock replacement into one megaproject).

In hindsight the whole 2011 decision looks badly flawed, and it’ll be interesting if anyone is held to account.

[Updated 12:05 with the Telegraph link and quote]

More details are emerging – the contract has been ended by mutual agreement and Bombardier still expect to be paid for work completed (the Hammersmith control centre, presumably).

The RG link also indicates that a new OJEU notice will be required, rather than simply appointing someone to finish Bombardier’s work, so this is a ground-up restart of the project with a different system.  None of which makes the ‘no change to 2018′ line credible in the slightest.

[Updated 12:41 with extra links]

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