Tuesday 19 January 2016

Yesterday Alstom, Bombardier, CAF, Hitachi and Siemens were invited to tender their bids to build 250 new trains for the Piccadilly, Waterloo & City, Bakerloo and Central Lines for delivery in the early 2020s.  You would have thought that a step closer to the arrival of Boris’s much publicised “New Train for London” would have had LUL’s media team pulling out all the stops but it seems to have gone completely unnoticed apart from a couple of mentions in the railway press (and the Derby Telegraph).  Maybe the Standard etc. were far more interested in doors opening between stations on the Piccadilly.

The announcement is pretty much the same as last time; faster, more frequent, air cooled (hopefully better than Boris’s air cooled buses) with walk through carriages but as with the advert for part time TOps there is a link for FAQs which sheds a little more light on perhaps why this announcement has been allowed to slip under the radar.  As before it says that when the trains first arrive they will operate with the existing signal system – ATP for the Central, coloured light signals and trip cocks for the others – until all the old stock is replaced and the new control signalling systems has been installed.   It also repeats the earlier statement by one of the Browns that once all the old stock has been replaced and the new signal system is working they will be driven under ATO with a TOp in the cab until PEDs can be fitted which won’t be until the 2030s.

What is new is that the Bakerloo will not be getting PEDs “due to interoperation of services with national rail at the northern end of the line”.  If PEDs are essential for driverless operation then unless London Overground forsakes the line between Euston and Watford Junction the Bakerloo will need someone in the cab and the assumption is that the same holds for the Richmond branch of the District.

The FAQs also reveal that the reason the four lines currently operating with ATO can’t go driverless is simply that they would need significant upgrades along with PED doors.  Whether the ATO signalling system Thales are working on for the Sub Surface Lines will support driverless operation isn't mentioned but even if it does the District would still need TOps for the Network Rail bit.  They admit they are still considering just how driverless trains would be staffed but I wouldn't imagine a DLR-type person is going to be a lot of use stood in the middle of a train at 08:30 on a Monday morning in Zone 1.

Back in 2012 when Boris was running for mayor he gave the impression that driverless trains on the Tube were just around the corner, perhaps the lack of fanfare is to save him from having to explain that its going to take longer than he led the public to believe and that some lines cannot go driverless.

Meanwhile on the Night Tube front Unite has called off their strikes but TSSA has said they will join ASLEF and RMT.  The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.....

Saturday 16 January 2016

It’s quiet.  Too quiet.  Apart from a brief quote in the Standard from Our Man Finn describing yesterday’s talks as “useful” and that there will be more talks next week we’ve heard nothing so fingers crossed, no news is good news and we’re actually moving towards settling the Night Tube/pay deal.  There’s an interesting article by Finn in The Morning Star because obviously no other paper is interested in telling our side of the story.

Meanwhile the Heavy Overhaul is underway and the first evidence is……….the air vents.  If you’ve been on the Central Line you may have noticed that the air vents behind the seats have grown fins however this is not a homage to 1950s Cadillacs or Ford Zephyrs but to stop them being blocked when passengers leave their Metros behind.  What you probably won’t have noticed is unlike the old vents that were vertically straight these ones sort of zig-zag with a little shelf halfway down to catch anything small enough to fall through.

The real important bit of the Heavy Overhaul will be replacing the DC motors with AC which will eliminate flashovers and reduce the number of trains going out of service although as that will only reach the “Pre Tender” stage in June or July we’ll probably still be suffering from a shortage of serviceable trains for a few more years.  I suppose as this is the Heavy Overhaul this could be called the Great Pre Tender ……........or maybe not.

Monday 11 January 2016

On Friday while I was off Steve “Not Brown” Griffiths emailed us an update on Night Tube and it’s worth noting a few points.

“We have listened to your trade union representatives who have been very clear that your work-life balance is a priority. It is for this reason that we have recruited part-time staff on stations and are doing the same in train operations as it minimises the impact of Night Tube on existing employees”

Night Tube was initially announced back in November 2013, two years and two strikes to come to this decision can hardly be described as effective management from a bunch whose salaries make ours look like "chickenfeed".

“This recruitment will mean that our existing train operators will not have to work Night Tube shifts, unless they choose to do so. It also does not impact on our existing agreements with the unions.”

Now maybe I've misunderstood or maybe its poorly worded but that seems to suggest existing TOps who choose to work Night Tube don't necessarily have to become part-timers.  The existing agreement is that we run trains overnight on three “special events” a year which LU want to expand to seven so to say this doesn’t impact on existing agreements is utter nonsense.

“Since October 2014 we have held an extensive number of meetings with your trade unions and also involved the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS).  We believe that we have addressed all the points that have been raised and exhausted all reasonable negotiations.”

Despite the unions repeatedly offering to have “a period of concentrated discussions on the outstanding issues” (from Our Man Finn’s Facebook page) there haven’t been any meetings since November and the recruitment of part time drivers has gone ahead without any consultation.

Griffiths then goes onto the pay deal which includes “a £500 consolidated flat rate increase to recognise our transformation to a 24-hour passenger service operation – Night Tube” and a “£500 non-consolidated launch payment to all staff on Night Tube lines”.  Obviously accepting this pay offer would be accepting Night Tube, we still don’t have any guarantee that the recruitment of part timers will deliver the 180 extra TOps needed so we certainly aren’t about to agree to anything that includes Night Tube.

ASLEF’s Executive Committee will meet today with our reps recommending further strike action which BBC claims will be on 27th January, 15th and 17th February.   ASLEF aren’t opposed to Night Tube or part-time TOps but they aren’t going to accept anything without negotiation.  As Our Man Finn says on his Facebook page "we want to make sure that working conditions for both existing and new staff are protected" which includes all those potential part-time TOps.

Thursday 7 January 2016

It is often said that Boris doesn't do detail and he was certainly short of information on LBC's Nick Ferrari show on Tuesday.  He announced that recruitment of part time TOps for Night Tube had just opened even though the advert has been online for about three weeks and was due to close that evening.  He said there would be 300 new jobs which TfL later corrected to 180 and that there have been 4300 applications for the post with an unspecified number from existing TOps.  That probably isn’t going to be cause for celebration at 55 Broadway as the last time they tried to recruit directly from the public the response was significantly higher and it only produced about 30 TOps.

He didn't say when Night Tube would start which seems reasonable as in all probability they'll have to readvertise and also its going to take a while to train 180 new TOps.  The last 8 weeks of the 16 week course is done on a one-to-one basis with an IOp in the cab of a train with passengers on board, of the 450-odd TOps on the Central Line we've only got about 20 IOps and no doubt the other lines are similarly limited.  He didn’t know how much they’d be earning and jokingly suggested that Ferrari apply for the job.  While it is true that TfL will allow its employees to do other jobs they have to be approved and as Ferrari pointed out his show ran until 10:00 on a Friday morning which wouldn't give him the 12 hour rest period prior to the earliest booking on for Night Tube at 21:00.

Maybe whoever briefs Boris was still recovering from the Festive Season......

Saturday 2 January 2016

The closing date for the part time TOps job has moved to 11pm Tuesday 5 January so obviously the response to the offer has not been as high as expected.  In an interview with the FT published yesterday Mike “Brown” Brown was asked about the funding gap created by George Osborne’s spending review which over the next five years will leave TfL short of an estimated £2.8bn or £4bn depending on whether you believe him or the GLA transport committee.

He trumpets their grandiose plans to build homes and offices over depots and stations, what I like to think of as the “Railtrack” approach, predicting that this will raise £3.4bn over the next ten years.  He admits that some projects could be cancelled but they will try to find ways to make others cheaper which is bitterly amusing as LU’s track record of doing things cheaply is less than stellar.  One fine example is the current dog’s dinner they’ve made of resignalling the SSLs which Mike Brown knows all about as when Bombardier were awarded the contract in June 2011 he was managing director of LU.

On Night Tube he said “I am not going to just pour money to sort out disputes.  That may have historically been what has happened in this place but it’s not going to happen anymore because it can’t.  I don’t have the money”.  As TSSA revealed this time last year LU’s own estimation was that Night Tube will lose £19.6m in its first year of operation and isn’t expected to break even for 17 years.  If that estimate was calculated using the original plan with existing TOps working nights and accepting their first “final” pay offer then it’s safe to assume that figure has gone up a bit.

I know £19.6m isn’t much but if Mike Brown is looking at ways of saving money cancelling Night Tube would a good start, we can forget all the changes to life/work balance with bonuses for this or that and get on with sorting out a straight forward pay deal.  Telling Joanna Lumley she can pay for her own Garden Bridge would be another and selling the Cable Car as scrap metal would probably raise more money than it costs to run it.  Sadly we can’t do much about the Borisbus, we’ll be lumbered with those until they rust because nobody else is stupid enough to want a bus with three doors, two staircases and are so heavy they can’t legally be at full capacity.

I actually had the misfortune to get on one, a 73 going down Oxford Street, on my way from having a gander at the new TCR (impressed) to Marylebone Farmer’s Market (the only place I know where I can get Crispins which Old Mother shrugged swears make the best baked apple).  I went upstairs and can confirm the reports that the roof is very low, the windows are small and the general ambience is pretty gloomy compared to other top decks.  When I got to my stop I went down the rear stairs and it was only when the door opened that I noticed that this was one of the “new” NB4L with a normal “plug” door at the back instead of the sliding door, pole or rear platform.

Boris may have only four months left as mayor but we’ll be paying for his incompetence for many years to come.

Happy New Year, folks, vote Sadiq!