More headaches for the Victoria line

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[from BBC website]

More headaches for the Victoria line

The early closure of the Victoria Line at 10pm four nights a week which is due to stop in November could be re-introduced again next year.

by Tom Edwards
BBC London transport correspondent

London Underground says closing the line early is the best way to complete a £900m upgrade. It says the work is essential to increase capacity and test signalling and track. New larger trains are due to be gradually introduced from 2009.

It’s one of London’s busiest tube lines but four nights a week it shuts at 10pm. Why? Our transport correspondent Tom Edwards has been given access to what goes on when the line shuts.

If like me you’ve turned up at Oxford Circus at 10.10pm and realised the Victoria Line’s shut – you know how frustrating it is. And many commuters I speak to don’t know why it’s happening.

While the gates are shut upstairs – down below there are deserted platforms and there are just two trains running. For the first time we were allowed to see the future of the Victoria line working.

On board these trains are engineers tapping away on keyboards and reading monitors. The ride is bumpy as the driver tries out the brakes – it’s deliberate I’m told.

Here they’re testing these two pre-production trains.

What makes the project tricky from an engineering point of view is they’re installing new signalling systems, new track AND new trains as part of the £900m upgrade.

And the old system and old trains have to be able to operate first thing in the morning when the line opens for those of us getting into work.

Transport for London says closing the line at 10pm gives them much more time to do the work.

Davd Waboso, Director of Engineering, London Underground, says: “Because this is an automatic railway we can’t use the new trains until we install new signalling and new computer equipment and to do that requires an extensive amount of testing on the railway. We’ve testing the trains in derby but there is an amount you have to do on a real railway.

“And the way to do that with the minimum impact – although we do understand it’s a slight inconvenience for our customers and we thank them for that – but shutting it down Monday to Thursday a bit early that doubles the amount of time we can have on the railway.”

When it opened 40 years ago the Victoria line was the first automated train system in the world – the drivers don’t actually control the speed. It currently carries 165 million passengers a year. But by 2025 it’s expected 213 million a year will use the Victoria Line. And it’s these huge increases in passenger numbers that are going to be an issue right across the network.

The new trains are larger and they are quicker. LU say that means they can get more people in the carriages and the journey times will be shorter. It means London Underground will be able to run 33 trains an hour at peak compared to 28 at the moment.

The new Victoria line trains will also feature in-carriage CCTV, wheelchair access and better ventilation.
It’s claimed they will also offer a smoother, more comfortable ride

Simulators are now being used to train drivers on how to drive the new trains.

David Waboso says: “I think it will be a new experience for our customers. You’ll see the new trains, you’ll hopefully be able to get to work quicker, more reliably and we can move more people which we need to do because the demand for our service keeps going up. So we’ve got to do this just to stand still really.”

There’s a lot at stake here. These techniques – although not necessarily the early closures – will be used on far larger upgrades on other lines in particular the upgrade of the subsurface lines like the Metropolitan, District, Circle and Hammersmith and City.

You can expect to see the new trains on the Victoria Line gradually come into service early next year if all goes to plan. The closures will be suspended over Christmas but could be reintroduced next year.

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