Friday, June 29, 2007

Tubular Bills

I have been meaning to write a post about the state of the London Underground system for some time, but, fortunately, the excellent John Band has written precisely what I wanted to. Although he's used fewer swearwords, obviously.
The thing which really annoys me, though, is when people blame Ken Livingstone, Tim O’Toole, Metronet or Tubelines for the system failures.

Between 1945 and 2000, with the exception of the absolutely-necessary-to-avoid-gridlock Victoria Line, the half-arsed-compromise Jubilee Line, and the Thatcher’s-Docklands-project-must-succeed Jubilee extension, there was no investment in the Underground system. None.

Central government skimped on the money for essential maintenance, and didn’t make any money available for capital projects such as major line or signalling upgrades. London was a declining city and the train was a declining transport mode - cars and suburbs were the way forward.

So anyone who blames the people in charge of the Tube for its state today is simply wrong. Ken, the current government, LUL’s current management and the infracos are the first people since the days of the London Passenger Transport Board in the 1930s to embark on a serious programme of upgrades to the underground. This isn’t necessarily because they’re all wonderful people, just that people have suddenly noticed that London is growing again and the private car is not a viable means of transport within London.

Quite correct, of course, which is why anyone who thinks that central government should run anything, even an infrastructure monopoly, is an idiot. The vast Tube investment is partly due, as John says, to the fact that cars are not viable, but also because the system had got to such a point of decrepitude that money absolutely had to be put in to stop the whole thing grinding to a halt.

And as Metronet have found, the state of disrepair had been heavily underestimated; the result is that most programmes are severely behind schedule as more urgent repairs are uncovered. Although none of this makes any difference to my irritation at this weekend's closure of the southern section of the Victoria Line, naturally: thank fuck there is a good bus service (especially as this is going on for at least the next six months [PDF])...

Oh, and it is also worth noting that much of the above is also true for the rest of the country's rail network.


Mark Wadsworth said...

In the FT today it said that the government broadly accepted that Crossrail was well worth the investment, which appears to be the case, but they were dragging their heels because they are worried about debt:GDP going over 40%.

Well, apart from the fact that true debt is over 100% of GDP once you factor in unfunded civil service pensions and so on, this seems a shit way to run the country.

Y'see, local land value taxation should be used to finance this, it shouldn't be any concern of the government, that is the best way of calculating whether something is or was worthwhile.

Katy Newton said...

This isn’t necessarily because they’re all wonderful people

Understatement of decade as applied to Ken. Imagine how much more money he could plug into the Underground if he spent less time throwing parties for visiting apologists for totalitarian regimes and stuff. Still, credit where credit is due.

Roger Thornhill said...

This is a tricky one as when the tubes were first built they did not make money and competition did rather make for some awkward interchanges. I do think the original LCC LTPB did alot of good. Alas, the vision cannot persist inside a state body for long, I fear. Wrong DNA.

Crossrail is an example of such utter nonsensical, non-decision making. It is a no-brainer. London business will benefit enormously. What makes me fume is the fact that they spend far too long on the project. If you think about it, the entire project should be completed in the time it takes to survey, dig and finish one station and one section of track between it and the next. You hire n cutters if that is what it takes and have n gangs of people building n stations simultaneously. The result is the work is done quicker and the benefit realised sooner.

It cannot take 5 years to do one section. No way.

The original Docklands railway (in truth a Tram), cost £77m...

I would also think we should seriously consider having the various N-S mainline stations interconnected, so trains do not sit loafing about in platforms reversing, but pass through and then can be reversed away from the scrum, or even sent round a loop on the periphery. What of the land needed for such a loop? Oh, how about building new housing over that loop and have stations conveniently placed there so people can use said trains? Imagine...

Ed said...

Agree with the above comment 100%. So much land in Central London is used to store trains it's ridiculous! On the Victora embankment there is a train shed where there could be flats and offices etc. etc.!

flashgordonnz said...

Name for n-s crossrail: through rail? Thameslink (pardon)