March 24 2016

What TFL are doing today to make the underground future fit

London’s population is expected to grow from 8.4 million today to an estimated 10 million by 2031. Naturally, as the amount of people living in the capital swells, resources feel the strain.

The city’s transport rail system, for example, sees its passenger levels grow every year with residents and commuters travelling across London in ever increasing numbers on the Tube, Docklands Light Railway, Overground and Trams.

Transport for London has introduced its vision of the future, a strategy that aims to meet growing demand and accommodate the additional 1.8 million inhabitants living in the city in just 15 years’ time.

Needless to say, London’s travel facilities provide a valuable contribution to the UK economy, supporting the transport network in London and creating metro jobs around the country.

Protecting its legacy is a paramount concern and the strategy looks to transform the service, delivering a world-class, modern underground network fit for the future.

We speak to transport experts Railnews, the industry’s newspaper for more than five decades, to discover how Transport for London is investing in opportunities tomorrow.

Metro recruitment

Investing in the future

Investment in transport can take on many guises, whether it involves laying new track, improving routes or introducing stations, the goal is to make it easier for passengers to access this service or help address existing issues in the network. Overarching this, well thought-through investment can bring about economic and social benefits – as Transport for London (TFL) is hoping to do with its vision for the underground Fit for the Future.

Identifying issues during the London 2012 Olympic Games, a period where an influx of visitors to the capital were using the Tube and mimicking the impact that population growth is likely to have, TFL were able to use these findings to build a comprehensive view of what the future might look like on the underground.

Mike Brown, Managing Director of London Underground and Rail Transport for London said: “We want to provide a world class service – a very high standard of services across the entire Tube system.”

TFL has plans to expand the Northern and Metropolitan lines and the Overground service are making the network bigger every year. Likewise, the Crossrail service being the largest building project in the UK at present, will make travel between East and West London quicker and more convenient.

But with an extra 1.8 million passengers by 2031 using the network over an extended period of time, how realistic is TFL’s vision?

“Technically, perfectly so,” answers Sim Harris, Managing Editor at Railnews.  

“The question, as always, will be finance, but I suspect Crossrail 2 will go ahead – it will be a valuable relief for existing Underground lines on that alignment, just as Crossrail 1 will be. The Northern Line and Metropolitan Line extensions are also funded, as is subsurface resignalling.”

As will all investment opportunities, TFL earmarked contributions from fares, advertising and property as well as Government grants and funding for its modernisation plans. Each year, it spends over £1 billion creating jobs and innovating its transport system in London. Regular funding has also allowed TFL to support 14,500 jobs outside of the capital.

Millennium Bridge in London

Plans on track

The underground of tomorrow requires modern signalling, track, stations and trains as TFL attempts to “Get the most out of our transport system.”

In the strategy, TFL explained: “With more customers using our services than ever before, it’s vital that we get the most out of the infrastructure we already have. We’re making a number of line improvements, upgrading some of our busiest stations and, in 2015, we’ll be launching our first Night Tube services.

“We want our passengers to take more trips on more trains, travelling on modernised lines with new signals.”

Modernisation is vital as the number of people travelling via rail through London is only set to grow, by 2030 this figure could be as high 230 million passengers.

So far, The Jubilee, Northern, Overground and Victoria lines have been modernised and an improvement has already been seen. On the Jubilee line, for instance, new signalling has allowed TFL to run more frequent trains carrying 12,500 extra passengers an hour, on a service that’s estimated to be 50 times more reliable. TFL has also replaced 100 kilometres of tracks and additional routes on the Northern and Metropolitan lines will bring the Tube to new parts of London. The planned Northern line extension could support 25,000 new jobs as commuting around the city becomes increasingly feasible.

Crossrail, comprising 40 kilometres of tunnels, will add 10 per cent to London’s public rail transport capacity and could be equivalent to 230 million journeys a year by 2030. The line will be integrated with London Underground, connecting the City with Canary Wharf, the West End and Heathrow Airport as well as the residential areas to the East and West of London.

Passenger volume is the crux of TFL’s strategy, as numbers grow and the underground is relied upon to support people living and working in the capital. An easier and reliable transport service, would have positive consequences for the economy, with housing being built to accommodate workers and more people given better access to jobs and businesses in London.

In order to make its vision a reality, TFL has plans to prioritise safety and reliability on the tube network, maximise capacity and grow the network. Ambitious plans but Harris responds:

“There is nothing new about this. These have been the priorities for TfL and its predecessors for many decades, and they have been very successful – the safety record of the London Underground is extremely high. Capacity is certainly an issue as demand grows, but the opening of Crossrail 1 in 2018 will help with east-west flows.

“Capacity can be increased to some extent on existing lines by more sophisticated signalling, which allows trains to travel more closely while maintaining safety. This has already been achieved on the Northern and Victoria Lines, and a contract for the complete replacement of signalling on the subsurface lines has been signed.”

Asides from construction, the network is being continuously updated, again improving service frequency and reliability as well as enhancing accessibility and comfort with additions such as Wi-Fi at every station and air-conditioned trains.

Baker Street tube station on the London Underground

Linking skills to the network

TFL has taken advantage of the talent at hand, employing a tactic of transferring workers and their skills and knowledge from project to project. Modernising the Northern line, for example, TFL was able to deliver improvement quickly and cost effectively having an experienced team already in place.

As Harris explains, however: “The economy of London depends on the Underground – consider the effects of even a single 24-hour strike. Job opportunities of some kinds maybe – but there are some trends which suggest a smaller workforce in future rather than a larger one. 

“Future job opportunities are more likely to require higher qualifications. The large lower-skill workforce will inevitably continue to contract (this is a general trend in many industries, of course).”  

TFL’s plans for the future will, of course, require qualified construction workers but in order to build a network that can withstand tomorrow’s challenges, it will need to put experienced strategists and developers in place to guide projects and assess the impact of each scheme to the transport network overall. Being able to predict how London’s population spurt will affect things like congestion and crowding, can help TFL ensure a service that continues to adapt and stay one step ahead.

Fortunately, persistent funding and a number of projects still in the pipeline, can almost guarantee that TFL’s modernisation plans will continue to support jobs and develop new opportunities for the foreseeable future.

Discover employment opportunities in the sector by visiting our metro recruitment page.

Stay up to date

Keep up to date with our latest news and analysis by subscribing to our regular newsletter

To find out about how we process your data, please read our privacy policy.