Three-way partnership between Alstom, Tube Lines and LU is continuing to deliver improvements.

Back in 2009, the triumvirate of partnership of Alstom, Tube Lines and London Underground collected four industry awards for their joint success in improving services on the Northern Line. Once dubbed “the Misery Line” by Londoners, it’s now the Tube network’s best-performing line. And despite the challenge of running trains every two minutes on historic infrastructure, and carrying around 960,000 passengers every day, its performance is continuing to improve.

Passengers are enjoying a much improved service, but the imperative behind this ongoing improvement is about more than customer service. Usage of the line continues to grow and it’s increasingly important that the line operates as efficiently as it possibly can. Alstom, which built and maintains the Northern Line’s 106 six-car trains, Tube Lines, which maintains the track, and LU, the service operator, have come together and plotted how to make a much improved railway even better – and they have achieved it.

Not surprisingly, the partners are keen to talk about this success and they organised a tour this month of Alstom’s train care centre at Golders Green in north London, which has played a key role in this performance. Speaking at this event, Jon Lamonte, who took charge of Tube Lines in March, explained the need for close co-operation between all of the parties in order to meet the aspirational levels of service.

“When we talk about performance, it’s not just about fleet,” he said. “It’s about the track, it’s about signalling, it’s about the stations, it’s about the station staff, the drivers and everybody else, and if everybody pulls together, that’s the only time that you can reach these aspirational levels.

“So it is truly a joint performance and it’s a massive difference from where we were in the 2006 timescale when press reporting was so bad about us, and rightly so.”

Lamonte says that there is a strong focus on where delays have an impact on passengers. Lost Customer Hours (LCH) is the currency for which the three partners understand delays and the impact on the line.

The contract between Alstom and Tube Lines has been amended so that the performance of both companies is measured in terms of LCH. Previously, Alstom had been winning bonuses while Tube Lines was incurring penalties. Martin Higson, Alstom’s customer director TfL, said that the switch to LCH is an acknowledgement that there can be a varying impact of a failure of a train.

“You can actually have a lost customer hour performance which is quite poor, because you’re failing every time at five o’clock on a Friday, but train reliability in terms of ‘mean distance between failure’ can actually be quite good,” he said. “It’s a whole change of mindset in the way that we manage maintenance.”

For example, a failed northbound train at Charing Cross will result in LCH of 352 at 6am, but this rises to 3,001 if the train has failed at 5pm. The result, said Higson, is a change in culture from “find and fix” to “predict and prevent”.

This has in turn resulted in a greatly increased mean distance between failures. In mid-2007, the 10-year-old Northern Line fleet was managing 7,000 kilometres between failures (measured as something that halts the train for more than two minutes). By the end of 2009, the year that the Northern Line partners were being lauded at rail industry award ceremonies, that had doubled. But the improvement has continued, reaching around 28,000 in the latest distance – a quadrupling of the distance between failures in four years.
The switch to “predict and prevent” has had a big impact on door-related failures, for example. There are four million door opening activities (opening or shutting) on the Northern Line every week. There used to be 30-40 door failures a week, but during the last two four-week periods, there has been just one. That’s one failure in 32 million.

Partnership working has been central to such achievements. Some Tube Lines staff are now located at Golders Green, where they work alongside their colleagues at Alstom. And data is shared freely between the two and, importantly, it is trusted.

An example of this is Alstom’s TRVA (Train Remote View Application) software. It enables the train maintenance team to identify problems when trains are out in service – the system is a relation of the Traintracer system used by Alstom to monitor Virgin West Coast’s Pendolino fleet. Faults which might cause a train to fail can be identified by Alstom and the information is then passed to LU’s train control staff. Even if the train is running smoothly, it might fail in an hour’s time – and why take the chance when a replacement is ready to enter service?

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