In 2011, Sweden introduced a gender equality initiative that required municipalities to re-evaluate all their policies and activities through a gender lens. In the Swedish town of Karlskoga, one government official joked that at least snow clearing would likely be spared scrutiny by the ‘gender people’. Instead it got the ‘gender people’ thinking: was snow-clearing sexist?
As studies soon showed, the practice of clearing roads before footpaths, disproportionately disadvantages women – who are more likely to walk – over men – who are more likely to drive. In Sweden, once aware of the gendered impact of the sequence of snow clearing, Karlskoga switched to prioritising pedestrian and public transport users. After all, they reasoned, changing the order of snow clearing would not cost more and it was easier to drive through three inches of snow than to push a pram, wheelchair or bike.
It also became clear that making this change in snow clearing priority would actually save Karlskoga money. It would leave fewer injured and the cost of pedestrian accidents – in terms of both healthcare costs and lost productivity – due to icy conditions was about twice the road maintenance cost. In the end, Karlskoga wasn’t the only one to spot the link. In Stockholm, accidents have halved since the city started clearing its 200km of joint cycle and pedestrian lanes of snow.
Karlskoga’s original snow-clearing schedule did not set out to deliberately disadvantage women. Like many of the examples in Caroline Criado Perez’s book Invisible Women: Exposing the Data Bias in a World Designed for Men the gender bias in its design stems from a gender data gap. The absence of data on women and awareness of this data gap leads to data-based decisions that disadvantage women. Without acknowledgement of a data set’s incompleteness, decision-making based on that data is inherently biased.
As Criado Perez explains, decisions such as the snow-clearing schedule in Karlskoga did not set out to deliberately exclude or disadvantage women. ‘They just didn’t think about them. They didn’t think to consider if women’s needs might be different. And so this data gap was a result of not involving women in planning’.
Criado Perez offers much food for thought on the hidden gender bias in transport decision making. Often this bias stems from the lack of data we collect on women at all. For example, by not collecting data on women’s travel patterns, or only on commuting, the data tells an incomplete story.
Men’s ‘standard’ travel pattern
Let’s start with the basics. Men are most likely to have a fairly simple travel pattern: commute to and from work, in and out of town. If a household owns a car, it is the men that predominantly use it. Women by comparison are more likely than men to walk and take public transport. In France, two-thirds of public transport users are women, in US cities Philadelphia and Chicago they are 64% and 62% respectively. In London, women are making about 8% more trips per weekday than men.
So, to summarise men have the simpler travel pattern and access to the most direct mode of travel: the car. Yet, although the transport system is designed for a stereotypical commuting man, it is actually women who are using the system more.
The impact of trip-chaining
Women’s travel patterns, by comparison, are more complicated. So complicated in fact that they are often not considered or catered for at all in transport planning. ‘On the whole, engineers focus mainly on ‘mobility related to employment’, Criado Perez summarises. However, women’s travel demands are not limited to commuting. Women do three quarters of the world’s unpaid care work. This caring commitment affects their travel needs and patterns.
To meet the myriad of caring commitments and household responsibilities, women ‘trip-chain’. That is, tie together small trips into a larger journey plan. This is a typical travel pattern observed in women across the world.
An average journey plan for women might, for example, include dropping off the children at nursery and school before picking up a family member’s prescription from the pharmacy and heading to work. On the way home she might do the grocery shopping and pick up an elderly relative from a doctor’s appointment before finally heading home.
In London, women are three times more likely than men to drop off children at school. Overall, women are 25% more likely to trip-chain – 39% more likely if they have a child under nine living with them. Across Europe, the burden of school drop offs and pick ups mainly falls on women. Women in dual-worker families are twice as likely as men to drop off or pick up children on their commute.
An EU report on satisfaction with urban transport, exemplifies how ingrained the male bias in transport planning is. It refers to male travel patterns as ‘standard’ whilst bemoaning the failure of European public transport networks to adequately serve female users. The terminology used in transport planning is another manifestation of the male bias in the sector. For example, the term ‘compulsory mobility’ is used to refer ‘all trips made for employment and educational purposes’ but excludes care trips. Since women are bearing the lion’s share of the caregiving burden, not including care trips in the term ‘compulsory mobility’ trivialises the importance of care trips and devalues transport planning for them. It reinforces not valuing, and therefore not catering, for women’s travel patterns.
The intentional omission of shorter walking and other ‘non-motorised’ trips when collecting travel data is another example of the gender data gap in transport. These short trips are ‘not considered to be relevant for infrastructure policy’ Prof Inés Sánchez de Madariaga, an urban planning professor at Madrid’s Technical University, tells Criado Perez.
As women generally walk more than men, this omission disadvantages women disproportionately. Short walks form an integral part of women’s trip chaining. Women also walk further and longer distances. This is partly to fulfil their caregiving responsibilities, but also because on the whole women are poorer. ‘[T]he assumption that shorter walking trips are irrelevant to infrastructure policy is little short of an assumption that women are irrelevant to infrastructure policy’ Criado Perez rightly summarises.
The male-dominated transport sector
Women make up only a fifth of transport sector employees across Europe – with the UK below the European average. This gender imbalance fuels the bias in transport planning towards typically male modes and patterns of travel. ‘They have a bias from their personal experience’ Sánchez de Madariaga explains to Criado Perez. Since there are more men in the transport planning profession than women, this personal experience bias is skewed towards improving the male experience of travel. On the whole, this means transport planning that is focused on ‘mobility related to employment’, specifically increasing capacity during peak travel hours.
In 2014, the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women found a male bias in the planning, provision and design of transport systems. This was found to stem from gender imbalances in employees: women were not equally represented at any seniority level or within transport modes, and in particular not in decision-making positions. As a result, women’s experience of travel was not being considered.
A 2004 UK Department of Transport study found stark differences in the perception of danger between men and women after dark. It found three out of five women felt unsafe walking around multi-storey car parks, waiting on a railway station platform, and walking from a bus stop or station. Half of women surveyed felt unsafe travelling on a train, waiting at a bus stop and walking to the bus stop. The figures for men surveyed were broadly at least half the percentages of women. A quarter of all men felt unsafe waiting on a railway station platform. A fifth of men felt unsafe walking to the bus stop, waiting at the bus stop and travelling on the train. Research by the UK government indicates that 10% more passengers would use public transport if passengers, especially women, felt safer.
Women adopt strategies to avoid feeling unsafe. Studies from Finland, Sweden, the United States, Canada, Taiwan and the United Kingdom confirm that women’s perception of danger affects how they travel. This might involve taking a longer, indirect route or only travelling with others. Some women have gone as far as to leave their jobs to avoid the rush hour trip to work. Crime surveys and empirical studies from across the globe have found ‘that the majority of women are fearful of the potential violence against them when in public spaces’ urban planning professor Anastaisa Loukaitou-Sideris explains. Women and men also respond differently to environmental conditions. Crime data from the United States and Sweden found that women tend to be ‘more sensitive than men to signs of danger, social disorder, graffiti, and unkempt and abandoned buildings’ Loukaitou-Sideris tells Criado Perez.
As Criado Perez points out in her book, the blame is often placed on the women, instead of planners who have created unsafe spaces. Women needn’t be scared, official statistics suggest, as it is men who are more likely to be victims of crime in public spaces and on public transport. This ‘has lead to the conclusion that women’s fear of crime is irrational and more of a problem than crime itself’ Loukaitou-Sideris points out. However, it is the official statistics that are not telling the whole story. Again it is an incomplete story riddled with the gender data gap.
‘The invisibility of the threatening behaviour women face in public is compounded by the reality that men don’t do this to women who are accompanied by other men’ Perez notes in her book. A recent survey in Sao Paulo found that while two-thirds of women have been victims of sexual harassment and violence while in transit, and half while on public transport, only 18% of men had experienced it. This ‘see no evil, hear no evil’ attitude, leads to men dismissing women’s tales of their experiences with a: ‘Well I’ve never seen it’.
The threat of sexual advances
When women navigate public spaces they are threading a careful paths across a minefield of threatening behaviour. On one end of the scale it is the daily behaviour from men towards women that make women feel uncomfortable: ranging from catcalling, calling out sexual slurs and asking for women’s names. Individually each of these incidents are not criminal but each chips away at women’s confidence and feeling of safety. The sum of these incidents is greater than its parts. Women have to be alert all the time as they are being watched, and men’s behaviour towards them can quickly escalate from a ‘smile, love’ to a ‘fuck you bitch’ – or worse, being followed home and even being assaulted.
A 2016 study found 90% of French women had been victims of sexual harassment on public transport. A Washington Metro survey found that women were three times more likely than men to face harassment on public transport. ‘Sexual crime against women in transit (cases of staring, touching, groping, ejaculation, exposing genitalia and full rape) is a highly under-reported offence’ urban planning professor Vania Ceccato concludes in the afterword of a 2017 special issue of the academic journal Crime Prevention and Community Safety entitled ‘Women’s Victimisation and Safety in Transit’.
A 2016 survey of sexual harassment in Washington DC found that over three-quarters of those who were harassed never reported the incident. The Mexican government agency Inmujeres found similar levels of underreporting. In New York City, the reporting rate was even lower, only 4% reported sexual harassment and only 14% reported sexual assaults on the subway system. In London, a 2017 survey found that ‘around 90% of people who experience unwanted sexual behaviour would not report it’. An Institute for Transportation and Development survey of women using the metro in Baku in Azerbaijan found that none of the women who had been sexually harassed on the metro reported the incident to responsible authorities. Research on Sao Paulo metro suggests that sexual harassment peaks during rush hour – with perpetrators taking advantage or crowded conditions. The prevalence of underreporting means official police data is not showing the whole story.
The vast majority of these incidents go unreported. Because, who would you report them to? Will I be listened to? This unreported nature then exasperates the data gap and delays these threats to women’s safety being acted upon. Nor is unreporting the only issue. Sexual harassment is also ‘often not included in crime statistics’. A 2014 survey by the Australia Institute found that 87% of women had experienced verbal and physical street harassment, but that data ‘concerning the extent or form of incidences were not collected’.
Women are not reporting sexual harassment for a variety of reasons. Some of these are societal and include stigma and shame. They also include worries about being blamed or disbelieved. To address these reasons there needs to be shift within society.
There are some reasons for these problems that transport authorities can fix on their own. Some cases are not being reported for practical reasons, such as not knowing what is classified as sexual harassment or assault and to whom to report incidents. When police in Nottingham started recording all incidents of misogynistic behaviour – from indecent exposure to groping and upskirting – as a hate crime (or where not strictly criminal, as a hate incident), reports shot up. This was not because men had suddenly begun offending more. It was because women had more confidence that the authorities would take them seriously.
Mismatch: what makes women feel safer
Women’s safety on public transport is a poorly explored area of study. In London, 61% of women reported that concerns of crime and anti-social behaviour impacted how often they used public transport. When exploring the literature on the topic, urban planning professor Anastasia Loukaitou-Sideris found another gaping gender data gap: only three recent academic papers appeared to exist. Two from the 1990s, neither of which looked at the security needs of women travelling, and one from 2005 which primarily focused on US transit agencies’ responses to terrorism.
Loukaitou-Sideris conducted her own research. However, she encountered significant push back from the male-dominated workforce. ‘Safety and security issues and concerns are non-gender specific’, one male security manager insisted. ‘You’re assuming the work is less safe for females’ a male chief operating officer responded. This sentiment is widespread. Of over 130 public transport agencies Loukaitou-Sideris surveyed, only a third felt that they should do something to improve women’s safety on public transport. Only three agencies – just 2% – had done anything about it.
There is a significant mismatch between safety and the security needs of female public transport users, and the interventions the public transport agencies adopt, Loukaitou-Sideris found. Of the public transport systems she surveyed, 80% had CCTV, 76% had panic alarms and 73% had a public address systems on their buses. The vast majority neither had, nor planned, to have security measures at bus stops. This is in diametric opposition to what women want. Women are more likely to feel scared waiting at the bus stop in the dark than on the bus. And this is not just a perceived lack of safety. A study by Loukaitou-Sideris and her colleagues at the Mineta Transportation Institute found that people were three times more likely to be a victim of a crime at or near a public transport than on the bus, tram or train.
Overwhelmingly, public transport agencies opt for a technological solution over staffing the network: opting for CCTV over station staff or conductors. There is little available data on the impact of CCTV on harassment. However, numerous studies have found that women are sceptical of its impact and use. A concern women express about CCTV is that video-surveillance does not help victims of crime at the time. Women overwhelmingly prefer the presence of staff on the public transport network – that way help is close by. Criado Perez suggests that ‘men prefer technological solutions to the presence of guards […] because the types of crime they are more likely to experience are less potentially violating’. Women’s safety on public transport is important, as it shapes their travel behaviour: how many trips they make and by what mode. They will opt for private transport if public transport options are perceived as unsafe.
Where staffing the public transport network is vetoed on cost grounds – although employing staff is arguably worth the expense if it increases usage of the public transport network – other simple interventions can address women’s safety concerns. One such intervention is providing accurate real-time information on when the next bus is going come, via an app or digital timetable display.
Here in London, this seems hardly a radical solution. We are more likely to come across a bus stop with a ‘dot matrix’ displaying a countdown of bus arrival times, than not. Incoming bus information, for nearly every stop, is also available both online and by SMS. It’s a simple intervention, but one that means not having to wait ages in the dark for a bus.
Other bus stop design features that improve women’s safety on public transport are transparent bus shelters and better lighting at stops and stations along streets. The exact location of the bus stop can make all the different to the travel experience: ‘sometimes even moving the bus stops a few feet up or down the block if it is in front of a well-used establishment’ can make all the difference according to Loukaitou-Sideris. Request stops are another low-cost solution that could transform the night bus travel experience for women: the bus would stop anywhere along the route when the ‘bus stop’ button is pressed. Request stops would reduce the distance women need to walk from bus stops and could contribute to women using night buses. In London, women make up the majority of bus users overall, but are the minority of night bus users. Interventions to improve women’s safety at bus stops could encourage women to use night buses more.
Loukaitou-Sideris’s research found that there were hotspots of gender-based crime at specific bus stops on the public transport systems she investigated. By focusing on safety interventions at these hotspots, problem areas could be targeted and costs kept low. However, this requires public transport authorities to collect data and to address the gender gap in it, something that the evidence suggests they have, so far, been unwilling to do. ‘[T]he first step for transit authorities […] is to accept that they have a problem’, Criado Perez concludes, before any targeted actions to address women’s safety are attempted.
Tweaking the system for the better
How might we bridge the gender data gap Criado Perez’s book Invisible Women highlights so well? How can we create better decision-making processes that are not gender biased and implement interventions that do not disadvantage women? ‘[W]e need more women in leadership positions, bringing their perspectives and experiences into the decision-making processes, greater consultation with women during policy making, and better analysis of the differentiated gendered needs within cities’ UCL researchers Tiffany Lam and Ellie Cosgrave conclude in their Women4Climate: Gender Inclusive Action in Cities report.
The report includes concrete recommendations on how to bring about positive change. To increase the diversity of those in leadership positions and support women in career progression, cities should invest in mentoring programmes. To improve consultations and policy appraisal, a gender lens should be applied to any options under consideration. Consultations should be designed to actively seek engagement with women and capture their views. Policy makers should assess the gendered impacts of public spending, in particular the impacts of large infrastructure investments. Adopting women’s safety audits that capture women’s travel around the city and the obstacles to travelling would inform where to target interventions.
And last but not least, Lam and Cosgrave call for the collection of gender-disaggregated data. It, as Criado Perez makes the point in her book, is key to tackling the unconscious bias in data-driven policy making.
Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men is published by Penguin (ISBN: 9781784741723). It is available from all good bookshops.
At London Reconnections we don’t want to appear to always be bringing bad or disappointing, news but events over the past year meant that we rarely have good things to write about. It makes a welcome change, therefore, to update readers with the success of the implementation of the first stage of Automatic Train Operation (ATO) of the Sub-surface Railway (SSR) and to look forward beyond it.
A much needed upgrade
New lines are always more exciting than upgrades to existing lines. On the Underground, the primary objective of any upgrade is nearly always to provide a capacity increase. This is certainly one of the main objectives of the SSR upgrade which is formally referred to as Four Lines Modernisation (4LM) and encompasses the Metropolitan, District, Hammersmith & City and Circle lines (also known as the Sub-surface Railway or SSR).
A major part of the upgrade of the Sub-surface Railway is the replacement of rolling stock. This phase has already been completed. Much needed as the new rolling stock was, it didn’t do that much to increase capacity. The significantly longer trains (an extra carriage length) on the Circle and Hammersmith & City lines certainly help. The extra standing space inside the carriages also helps – albeit at the price of a reduced number of seats per carriage.
The signalling factor
Another objective of the upgrade is to replace the old, unreliable signalling. But it makes no sense these days to replace signalling on a like-for-like basis. Whilst you are replacing the signalling you might as improve it, where there are quantifiable benefits in doing so.
To get the full benefit of the substantial increase in capacity on the SSR you really need automatic train operation. Normally there is the additional cost of the extra trains required but as the fleet size of the SSR stock (S Stock) was calculated assuming ATO would be introduced, there is no need to buy additional rolling stock in order to increase capacity. The stock is already there sitting in the depots.
No one said it was easy
ATO on the SSR is not easy. Although it has been applied to other lines, these have a limited number of junctions. Providing efficient, capacity-increasing ATO on a complex network with a central ring and many flat junctions off it (some in close proximity to each other) is a challenge. One for which there is probably no precedent anywhere in the world.
The implementation has also been made harder (but more beneficial) by using radio waves for all train-track communication. This dispenses with the additional wiring laid between the rails – as featured on the Northern and Jubilee lines.
A much delayed upgrade
The history of ATO on the SSR has not been good, as long term readers will recall. The original tender for ATO was issued under the government-mandated Public-Private Partnership (PPP) scheme. On this, London Underground had no say. The collapse of PPP led to London Underground cancelling it whilst they reassessed the situation and decided what they wanted from such a scheme.
The second ATO contract went to Bombardier to install what was believed to be a mature reliable product. It soon became apparent, as is often the case, that the conditions on the London Underground were more demanding than in many other apparently similar situations in the world. It then became apparent that it was going to be a struggle for Bombardier to get its product to work in London.
Frustrated, the TfL board cancelled the contract, but not before around £100 million had been spent on it – money that it turned out was largely wasted as the next supplier had to start from the beginning again.
It does seem that a lot of the problems with the Bombardier contract were down to an unfortunate period in Bombardier’s ATO development. At the time, Bombardier were buying both various fledgling and also some more mature ATO systems but neither consolidating them nor deciding which ones to support in future. As a result they had a multitude of different systems all touted by their Canadian sales team who were probably not up to speed on fully understanding the capabilities and limitations of each offering. There is, therefore, the suggestion that not only did they not fully understand London Underground’s requirements, but that they may not have put forward the best technical solution utilising the most appropriate Bombardier ATO offering.
Once the second contract was cancelled it was immediately obvious that there was a major problem. For all the bold talk from TfL about getting value for money with a competitive bid, one of only two potential contenders with a proven capability to deliver, Siemens, just wasn’t interested. Siemens were busy with other projects – ATO and ETCS on Thameslink and CBTC on Crossrail, for example. Realistically, this left only Thales. Thales had converted the Jubilee line to ATO, but not without major problems and, rather more successfully, had also converted the somewhat more complex Northern line to ATO.
The third contract
So Thales were the only game in town and they knew it. Whilst it could have been worse for London Underground, this meant that Thales weren’t going to be pushed aggressively on keeping costs down. Nor were they going to be tied down to a tight timetable. The TfL board were hoping that the 2018 target could still be met. Thales made it clear this was very much not the case. They won the bid but would only commit to a project completion of 2023.
Although we are led to understand there was considerable frustration in London Underground at the reluctance of Thales to commit to an earlier date, it is likely that it was unreasonable to expect otherwise. Thales had a huge work commitment in both Singapore and Hong Kong and it probably just wasn’t possible to promise earlier completion dates for London Underground. Whilst competition on cost might have been nice, at the same time the lack of pressure on Thales likely meant that the timetable they proposed ended up being far more realistic – and achievable – than is sometimes the case with contracts on this scale. A subject to which we will shortly return.
It is also probably worth noting that both Singapore and Hong Kong had train crashes caused by ATO – the one in Singapore was when the trains involved were in passenger service. This serves as a sober reminder, if one were necessary, that ATO systems really do need to be comprehensively tested before they are implemented.
A further potential problem was the aforementioned belief that the failure of the second contract was partly down to the suppliers at Bombardier (a Canadian company) being out of touch with what was required in London. Although Thales is a French company, its train automation division was based in Toronto in … Canada. No doubt Thales realised that a lot of effort would have to be put in to ensure that the previously perceived problem didn’t bedevil the revised offering.
The New York factor
When you have only one supplier capable of doing the job, you are usually not in a good position. In this particular case, however, it seems to have worked out well for London Underground. In fact Thales really wanted the contract and was anxious to co-operate fully and do a good job. That is not to say they didn’t make sure this was a profitable contract for them but in reality, they could have demanded a lot more. To understand why they didn’t you have to look across the pond to New York.
New York currently does not have any ATO, but has 14 lines that would benefit enormously from it. It is known that the head of New York’s transportation system, Andy Byford, is keen to introduce it. The New York Subway is quite complex. Like London Underground, some of it is even four-track and the lines are not fully segregated from each other.
Furthermore, for historical reasons dating back to the start of the 20th century when the Underground really developed, its power supply setup is almost identical to that of the New York Subway. So basically, if it works in London it will probably work in New York.
The New York Subway has many problems but the principal one is lack of capacity. In terms of asset status, the system is roughly equivalent to London Underground in the 1980s. As it was described in the pub at LR Drinks, imagine what could be achieved if you apply modern day ATO to a network akin to London Underground in the 1980s.
Another potentially attractive factor for Thales is New York is less than 600km away from Thales Rail Signalling Solutions at Toronto – practically on their doorstep by world standards.
Effectively, ATO on SSR in London is the shop window display to entice New York to provide a lot of work for Thales. In this particular instance, even more so than normal, the Underground and the Subway are truly sister systems. Something the current political leadership in New York would do well to note.
The stakes for Thales were already high but with the planned congestion charge to be introduced in New York “by 2021” the stakes have got higher still. One of the reasons for introducing the charge is to provide around $1 billion annually – most of it to be spent on the New York subway. For the first time ever, a realistic means of paying for ATO on the New York subway has been identified and looks like being implemented.
Thales – but really a triumvirate
Whilst Thales is the headline name, the task of implementing ATO on the SSR is really mainly down to three companies.
Most obviously, Thales itself. They have to provide and install the equipment on the track and in the central control office.
Less obvious, but also important, is Bombardier who originally supplied the trains (and lost that second contract). They have to modify the trains to work with the supplied Thales equipment. This is not a small task. It is not helped by the fact that one is limited by how many trains one can work on at one time – either due to factory capacity limitations or due to a certain number of trains being required to maintain the existing service level.
Also easily forgotten in the ATO upgrade is London Underground itself. Before Thales can install equipment on the Underground, London Underground has to make the space available and, sometimes, provide the buildings in which the equipment will be housed. They also have to re-write operating procedures, retrain staff such as drivers and controllers and also recruit and train the extra drivers needed to run a more intense service.
In addition to this, it is important to note that other organisations are also involved. These include the operators of the railway test track in Melton Mowbray, the railway regulator and even Crossrail, who must ensure the SSR upgrade does not affect Crossrail and vice versa.
The two challenges to Thales
For Thales the contract really boils down to two major tasks. One task is to physically install the equipment across the network. The other task is to get it working. Clearly the two are related. Equipment can’t work if it hasn’t been installed. But also, you don’t want to install equipment until you are confident it works – or at least the hardware works.
For Thales, or any signal automation supplier, there is clearly a balancing act to be found. The obvious thing to do is to install equipment on one part of the line and get it working, before continuing to the next stage. Unfortunately, if this was rigidly done, rollout would be very slow indeed. So there has to a vanguard phase on an implementation programme and a follow-up phase that subsequently implements ATO in separate sections of the SSR network.
Thales gets the 2018 curse
Along with many other railway projects in London, things didn’t quite go right for Thales in 2018. The first section of ATO was due to go live in May but was put back to June. This had to be called off at an early stage as trains were taking longer to travel through the migration area than expected. This was a considerable issue as, on leaving the migration area which was closed to passengers, the trains went into public service along the next section of track. With the weekend train service collapsing on the SSR, the planned introduction was aborted early on.
From then on, dates got planned and inevitably these planned dates leaked out to become known in railway circles. Then reports would come in that the planned implementation had been put back again. Various reasons were suggested for this. One of the plausible ones was that there was little point in rushing and, with not all the trains converted, there was a risk of disruption if a non-converted train was pathed over the ATO section of track. Another one was that weekend testing on future phases was still continuing and feedback from them could be used to increase the probability of a second attempt at introduction being successful.
Two decisions were made. An obvious one was that more testing was required before the first section could be cut over to ATO mode. The other big decision was that the pace of equipment installation would continue as planned, but that implementation section by section would be held back until all were satisfied the system was fully working.
Delaying actual implementation did have the advantage that it helped resolve the issue where one had to be careful only to send ATO-equipped trains into an ATO area. This would become even more critical early on as stage 2 (of a total of 14 stages for the complete SSR) required every single S8 (Metropolitan line) train to be ATO-fitted.
In fact, continuing to install the equipment had other potential advantages. A testing programme on the newly installed areas meant drivers still operated under ATO (but not in passenger service) which would help avoid having to retrain them through lack of continuing experience. It also meant that testing could continue ensuring that the future ATO areas could handle the capacity necessary for future plans.
The crucial test
So it was then that the date was fixed for implementation of the first section. Because it belatedly decided to phase-in the smallest length of line practical for the first phase, the originally-planned first phase got split in two, with the first section to go live given the title ‘Signal Migration Area 0.5’. This took place on the weekend of 16th/17th March 2019. Our report of this is online, but there are other reports available on the internet. All seem to agree it went well, but not perfectly, with a few little minor niggles to be fixed over the coming months.
There was probably a massive sigh of relief when everything worked. To be clear, it was expected to work and earlier, comprehensive testing had gone well a couple of weekends previously. Nevertheless there is no proof better than actually having a live implementation.
Benefits sooner than originally planned
The plan was always to introduce a new, more frequent timetable once the entire route of both the Circle and Hammersmith & City lines was complete. This was planned for April 2021. This improvement has now been brought forward and it is now intended to introduce a new timetable prior to full completion of the Hammersmith & City line, but after the Circle line is complete. The date given by the latest Programmes & Investment committee documents is March 2020. The Hammersmith & City line will by then be largely complete, but trains between Stepney Green and Barking will still be operated manually.
Never trust …
We feel a need to issue a caveat here. Roger Ford of Modern Railways has famously said that you should never trust a date based on the seasons. At London Reconnections we should say never trust a date quoted in Programmes & Investment committee documentation unless independently verified. Dates are often hopelessly optimistic and we are led to understand that March 2020 is an aspiration not a committed date. The desire is to implement this new timetable as soon as possible with 2021 still the ‘official’ target and the date quoted in the most recent press release.
Why change the plan?
The obvious question to ask is: why the change? Of course, this would appear from a passenger perspective to be a good thing, but maybe it is not. The obvious reason to bring ATO forward is to increase capacity on the SSR to make up for the fact that Crossrail is not yet open. Crossrail was, of course, intended to relieve the lines as they are today. It is hard to imagine any other explanation. So, perhaps, in a way this really isn’t good news after all as it could be construed as indicative of just how much Crossrail is expected to be delayed.
Signal migration areas are at the eastern end of the District line parallel to the electrified lines from Fenchurch Street
There is another potential benefit in opening early. All the stages that need to be covered are unlikely to be at risk of 25kV interference from other nearby lines. For the next stage (Stepney Green – Barking) this is no longer true. So it makes a lot of sense to implement improvements prior to attempting to cut-over the first section of the SSR that runs parallel to a 25kV railway. That means that early benefits are no longer dependent on getting ATO working in an area with 25kV overhead cables nearby.
The need to plan for more drivers now
Unfortunately, we are not privy to the proposed timetable. We presume it must be known, or at least the intended frequencies it contains are, as this will determine the number of drivers required. With the implementation due in less than a year, London Underground need to be thinking now about advertising for the extra drivers. Things will probably get more complicated than one might initially think as some drivers like ATO and some don’t. So as well as newly trained drivers, London Underground probably needs to sort out all the requested driver moves to a different depot.
What are the March 2020 benefits?
As we don’t know the exact frequencies that will be operated we will have to rely on speculation. We will make two main assumptions. One is that the off-peak will be much as it is today. This seems to be sufficient to handle the current demand and why make things difficult?
The other main assumption concerns peak frequency. We are presuming a substantial uplift. The current service is roughly based on the 6tph Hammersmith & City and Circle line frequency. This could go up to 7tph but this is always messy. It is far more likely that it will go up to 7.5tph. This would then mean that in sections where the original Circle line shares the line with other services, one could expect 30tph in total. These are the Gloucester Road – Tower Hill section of the District line and the Baker Street – Liverpool St section of the Metropolitan line. This is only slightly short of the intended ultimate frequency of 32tph.
One unknown is how many trains will run between Aldgate East and Barking. We don’t know quite what the old (current) signalling can handle. Nor do we know if the power supply is sufficiently upgraded for 30tph. It may well be that some peak-hour District line trains terminate at Tower Hill.
We have assumed 15tph on the District line beyond Barking to Upminster. In reality this is unlikely and it is probable that, as now, some will terminate at Dagenham East to leave approximately 12tph going all the way to Upminster.
We also do not know how many trains will run north of Baker Street but we will assume that, in terms of frequencies, the Metropolitan line is unchanged.
It is also assumed that there is not a problem implementing a slightly more frequent service between Gunnersbury and Richmond where the District line shares track with London Overground. As both services terminate at Richmond, it is presumed that any minor adjustments necessary can be easily made and achieved by varying the arrival and departure times at Richmond. It is our understanding that the National Rail timetable was adjusted between Richmond and Gunnersbury as long ago as May 2018 to take into account the need for flexibility and to adjust to revised planned frequencies on both the SSR and London Overground.
These assumptions lead to this expected level of service from March 2020.
Expected frequencies on the SSR, March 2020
If our assumptions are correct, in simple terms and in brief the benefits are:
Approximately 10% increase in capacity between Gloucester Road and Tower Hill and between Baker Street and Liverpool St as a result of a more frequent service
Trains every four minutes instead of every five minutes on the Hammersmith branch, between High Street Kensington and Edgware Road and between Edgware Road and Baker Street
A slight peak improvement from Ealing Broadway with 7.5tph (up from 6tph)
A possible slight disadvantage is that marginly more Wimbledon trains go to Edgware Road instead of via Victoria in order to provide an even service to both routes.
Critical Future Dates
Signal Migration Areas 1 -5
As far as can be ascertained, the critical dates are as follows
Stage 2: Latimer Road, Paddington (District and Circle) and Finchley Road to Euston Square.
This is a larger area than originally intended. There now seems little point in opening Latimer Road – Paddington separately, given the amount of testing that has taken place and the confidence now present in the new signalling. As they want to identify and fix all problems that can be identified and fixed on the first section, this is not expected to happen until July.
Note that this stage takes in the first of many critical junctions. In this case it is Baker Street junction where the Metropolitan line joins and leaves the Circle line.
The lookahead dates of planned closures on the Underground suggest that July 20th-21st is the most likely date but the sections of line closures don’t quite correspond with what would be expected
Stage 3: Euston Square – Stepney Green and Monument
This becomes a more challenging migration with the complex Aldgate triange being converted. This involves three flat junctions in close proximity to each other. It also involves platform 2 at Tower Hill becoming a through platform although normally, for operational purposes, it will be used in the same manner as today with trains arriving from the west and departing westwards.
This is rumoured to go live in early September which makes a lot of sense. It is not too soon after stage 2 and is before the Underground gets busier again as school term time returns and family no longer go on holiday.
Stage 4: Monument – Sloane Square
This is a relatively simple section of plain track with just a trailing crossover at Charing Cross to complicate things very slightly. It probably only exists as a separate stage because the two migration areas either side are already very large. It obviously has to take place after stage 3. Because TfL do not allow planned engineering work to close the Underground in December prior to Christmas we can be fairly certain this will be some time in late October or November.
Stage 5: Sloane Square, Fulham Broadway and Barons Court to Paddington (District and Circle).
This is another large area and challenging migration area..