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The Jubilee Line & the trains that can't reverse?

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Tom Edwards Tom Edwards | 11:59 UK time, Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Closed tube station. Reuters

It may have settled down for now, but if you're a Jubilee Line commuter you can, I'm afraid, expect more problems as the new systems bed in and gremlins are ironed out.

I was stuck in the mess last Friday and it was ugly. Even with the unprecendented refund given to commuters at Canary Wharf, there were a lot of angry people.

It's all due to glitches in the new signalling system. The signalling and the train systems sometimes don't communicate and when that happens the whole system has to be rebooted.

You can imagine the response the IT helpdesk gets when they tell control : "Turn it off and back on again."

For a more detailed techincal analysis try this excellent website.

But let's not forget why we're putting up with this Jubilee Line upgrade which is now reaching its final stages.

Capacity will increase by a third as trains will be able to run closer together with automatic driving.

Transport for London took over what was already a flawed signalling upgrade from Tube Lines and they believe the system is improving.

If you believe them, they inherited a number of mistakes that included a lack of testing on the systems. However they did know what they were getting themselves into - and if they didn't - perhaps they should have.

Here is just one crazy bonkers example I've discovered about the "new" Jubilee Line.

The new signalling system doesn't allow trains to switch lines and go against the flow or "reverse" up the adjacent line, for example to clear an obstruction.

That means there is a huge lack of resilience in this new system if something goes wrong.

Failed trains (which inevitably you will get as the system beds in) can get blocked in on one part of the track and can't be put into sidings.

One LU manager said to me:

"Tubelines deleted the ability to run both ways on each track from the signalling system when they specified it, despite LU's objections. So when something goes wrong now, you can't run trains around an obstruction. If we could have done that on Friday, we'd have saved a lot of hassle for people."

So who' s paying for TfL to try to "sort" this upgrade out?

Probably all of us in taxes and higher fares and efficiencies in other services. (TfL will also say they have saved millions on lawyers fees buying out Tube Lines)

So we can probably chalk this up as another victory for the scandal that was the PPP and add it to the hundreds of millions of pounds that were wasted.

Of course, the sobering thought is we have at least 10 more years of tube upgrades.

The hope is they will be done much quicker and better than the Jubilee.

The more worrying wider picture for Transport for London is that it seems many of the travelling public have already lost faith in these upgrades just as the benefits start to materialise.

And that is an issue they have to address quickly.

Update 1400:

Just had the TfL press department on the phone. They want to clarify the reversing train issue. The Jubilee line trains can still be put into reverse manually if you override the automatic system.

So, technically you can reverse back into a platform if the safety checks are carried out and the driver switches from one end of the train to the other. (Is that still reversing??)

The real problem arises when you try to reverse the train onto an adjacent track to clear the line for example. Then the computer says no.

The point still being it still seems rather ridiculous and inflexible....and the client, LU, didn't get the system it wanted.


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