Page15 - Metropolitan Line changes - eventually...

All Change - Eventually
by Tomo

Readers of the newsletter will be very aware that much of what made Chorleywood was influenced by the railway. When the Metropolitan and St John's Wood Railway was extended from Rickmansworth to Chesham in 1889 it was the signal for Chorleywood to develop and grow to the Chorleywood we know today.

The last major change on the Metropolitan Line was the electritication of the tracks north of Rickmansworth in early 1960s. along with the introduction of the "A-Stock" trains that are still running today.

Readers will be aware of the ongoing weekend closures of the Metropolitan line to facilitate various upgrades and improvements. Some of the improvements will be visible shortly but there are going to be drawbacks and compromises in the new service before we can enjoy all of the benefits.

New Trains

The Metropolitan Line (along with the Circle, Hammersmith and City. and the District lines) will be getting brand new trains. The new "S-Stock" is designed specifically for these lines, and comes with air conditioning. There will be walk through carriages like the Hong Kong or Singapore Metros, improved access for people with disabilities and on-board passenger information. The trains themselves will have the potential to be quicker (note the use of the word potential). But with all these benefits, there is a drawback; and for the longer distance commuters of the Metropolitan Line this will impact our service the most. The new trains will have 30% fewer seats, approximately 300 seats v. 450 on the current trains.

So where are the seats?

ln TfL's defence, it makes sense for them to have interchangeable rolling stock on some lines. However, the passengerjourney times on the Circle, H&C and District lines are much more geared to mass-transit short-hop and hence more standing room and fewer seats. They do recognise that their customers on the Met Line are typically travelling for half an hour or more. and the concession that was made was that the new trains combined with new signalling and more frequent peak-hour trains would mean that we will have the same number of seats per hour in the peak. So that's all right then?

The issue of making the trains fully wheelchair-accessible is also touted as a reason for the 3+2 seating to be reduced to 2 + 1. Whilst we Brits seem to have a propensity to implement EuroLaw, sometimes to the detriment of common sense, the author feels that whilst it's important for public transport to be as inclusive as possible, there could have been sensible compromises whereby parts of the new trains were fully wheelchair accessible, and other parts more seating-dense.

Anyway, the new train seating design was signed off by the previous London Mayor and the London Assembly, over which we, the fare paying customer outside the London Boroughs have no influence. Lucky us. The trains have been ordered; in fact the first ones are coming off the production line now. 

Lucky first?

The Metropolitan Line will be first to "benefit" from the new S-Stock. Once testing has been completed this Autumn we should see the new S-Stock introduced at the rate of one train every 2 weeks between 20l0 and 2012.

So new trains, running faster?

Well, the new trains bit is accurate. Running faster is not. In fact there's a significant problem with running faster and greater frequency. To allow the trains to run faster, the tracks, power supplies and the signalling all have to be replaced.

The good news is the track replacement is on schedule. And the power supply work is progressing well. But there are major issues with the signalling.

MetroNet, or MetroNot?

Readers may be aware that earlier this decade, the government thought it would be a good idea to get a private contractor to deliver all the infrastructure upgrades required on the tube network, through a PPP contract (Public Private Partnership) and MetroNet (a consortium of Atkins, Balfour Beatty, Bombardier, EDF Energy and Thames Water).

However the contract failed, and this resulted in TfL having to stomach what is reported to be a £400m loss and take the work back in-house. The consequence of all of this is that contracts and works that had not been let by the time MetroNet went into administration have been held up for a substantial period of time. And that includes the re-signalling of the
Metropolitan Line.

Signal failure ahead!

The signalling is crucial in allowing more trains to run per hour, increasing the line speed, and improved passing of information on the line. After all, we're the only bit of the tube network to still not have electronic passenger
information on the platforms .... The new signalling was always due to be delivered slightly later than the trains, but now it is not likely to be in place even by 2018

New Trains - Signals = 0.7 seats + upset passengers

So the signalling that is supposed to give us quicker journeys, a maximum line speed of 70mph instead of 50mph and 30% more trains per hour in the peak to make up for the 30% fewer seats will now be delivered 8 years after the new trains start to be introduced. 

New Interim Timetable

The bean counters at TfL have also worked out that the Metropolitan Line timetable is not working very well, probably something to do with the number of Customer Charter refunds we`re claiming, resulting in some timetable changes to be introduced this Winter. The main spin on the timetable is that it will improve performance. So does this mean that some
published journey times are increased to allow trains to be later?

A lot of the changes are focused on the Circle line which is threatening to no longer be a circle but to transform itself into a tea-cup looking arrangement on the map. But there will be some time changes. Our peak  service interval for a Met train should reduce from 17mins to 16mins.

Changes proposed for Chesham to transform the off-peak service, to no longer have a shuttle, will go ahead, The 4 off-peak Met trains to alternate between Chesham and Amersham termini will also go ahead but probably not until December 2010.

Station Improvements

MetroNet was also supposed to deliver station upgrades and refurbishments. All of these plans have been shelved, as has the majority  of the funding to make stations fully accessible. Chorleywood already has a relatively accessible station even with the slopes and steps around the station. Work is under way to put in a new footbridge at Amersham with  lifts. But works to make Baker Street and Harrow-on-the-Hill accessible are on indehnite hold. 

Commuter Calamity? 

There's no accurate calculation as to how the reduced seating will impact commuters from Chorleywood. Whilst we might be the coolest cucumbers in our new AirCon tube trains, we'll probably be standing up. Chiltern Railways trains are already full for Chorleywood in peak times, and Chiltern do not have any more carriages to strengthen their trains and they are very aware of the impending seat shortfall. Coupled with the M25 chaos road-based commuters are facing, can Chorleywood still be cited as the neighbourhood with the highest quality of life in England? Perhaps the answer is yes, but only if you don't want to leave!