Monday, October 24, 2005

Trouble on the Northern Line

SERVICES on the London Underground Northern Line have been seriously disrupted throughout last week after drivers from both Aslef and the RMT refused to operate the trains because of faulty emergency breaking systems.
RMT welcomed a decision by London Underground not to discipline or stop the pay of staff who are refusing to operate or undertake duties that could endanger the safety of passengers and staff.
But the crisis has led to renewed calls for a major overhaul of the contracts of private companies involved in the maintenance and running of the system.
The crisis arose after the emergency breaking system on the Northern Lines trains malfunctioned on five occasions.
The Northern Line operates under a public private partnership, involving the consortium Tube Lines, that was imposed by the Blair government against the wishes of the unions and the people of London.
Tube Lines also has a separate private finance initiative maintenance deal with the train company Alstom. It is supposed to maintain the brakes on the trains.
But the deals are so complicated that it is almost impossible to establish a clear picture of the structure of command and accountability. Currently the various private companies involved are all blaming each other for the faulty brakes.
JKC Henderson, a former manager of the Northern line in the 1960s, commented: “The peak period service required 100 trains, which is considerably more than many complete urban transport systems.
“Responsibility for the operations of the trains and the signalling and the maintenance of the trains, track and signalling came under a unified management and worked very well as a team.
“Of course we had bad days, but we were rarely running more than two or three minutes late at the end of a peak period.
“The present muddles which resulted from the splitting up of these responsibilities were inevitable and have affected the main line railways in a similar way.
“I understand that very few, if any, people with relevant experiences were included in the committees responsible for the present organisation, which were dominated by the Treasury.”
Bob Kiley, who is London Mayor Ken Livingstone’s appointed commissioner of transport for London, plans to use the current crisis to renegotiate the deals with the private sector and bring more control back into the public sector.
He said: “I think the lines of authority have to be clean and clear and they are not at the moment.”