At Morson International Nicholas Wrobel (pictured) is the Programme Delivery Engineer for the current Transport for London (TfL) Subsurface Upgrade Programme (SUP) across a significant section of the London Underground.
Preceding this, Nicholas was the Chief Engineer on the Victoria Line Upgrade (VLU) programme (2005-2009), now recognised as one of the most reliable railways in the world.
In the past decade, Transport for London (TfL) has, via the subsidiary London Underground Limited (LUL), implemented some of the biggest upgrades and renewal projects that the iconic rail network has seen since its inception, 150 years ago.
Subsurface Upgrade Programme
Of those programmes, Nicholas Wrobel has played an integral part in both the successful Victoria Line Upgrade (VLU) which reached completion in 2010, and the present development of the SUP which is acknowledged as the most significant of the planned upgrades thus far.
‘The SUP is a very different programme from the VLU programme,’ explains Nicholas. ‘It’s bigger in terms of cost, and scale. The SUP is 45% of the whole network, covering the Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, Circle and District lines – four lines and a £4.2bn budget.
‘What’s interesting working on a really big programme – and it’s the biggest metro programme in the world at present – is the scale of the workforce involved. On this project, we have 650 working as the in-house team alone, and with that volume you inevitably experience more complex challenges.
‘Challenges such as communication within the workforce, but also the challenge of coordinating projects across all four lines – as opposed to the single line upgrade implemented on the Victoria line.’
The ambitious VLU, which involved the replacement of both signalling systems and rolling stock assets, resulted in achieving the ability to run higher capacity trains, at far higher frequencies. It achieved its target of delivering 32 trains per hour (tph), and currently boasts a signalling system that is comparable to the best in the world.
In contrast TfL outlines that the SUP will result in the renewal of core assets across the oldest parts of the Underground, and provide a 33 per cent increase in peak capacity across the programme. In addition to a mass renewal of the project’s life expired assets, the programme will also focus on harnessing the capability of modern technologies and systems to generate maximum benefit to the programme’s delivery outcome.
Nicholas comments: ‘It was decided that the SUP will separate its delivery of a new signalling system until later, in order to give the passengers the benefit of capacity early on, bringing the new trains on first.
‘This means that the passengers get the benefit of a new train that has more space, more effective air conditioning and heating systems, and is aesthetically more inviting. There have been some interesting challenges in terms of developing and reassessing the railway infrastructure in line with the new trains that will ultimately result in a smoother, faster, slicker service for all passengers across this network.
‘In 2016 we expect a big new system of development work to come into play, so although we won’t experience its impact until then, in the meantime all of the trains will be out and in service well before then. The complete fleet is out already on the Metropolitan line, and has been for over a year. It consists of both seven and eight car trains to accommodate the varying platforms across the four lines.
‘The day we put the first train in to service, people were hesitant to get on it because they thought it was a special train – we had to tell them that is was okay to hop on! We had huge confidence that it would work, and are delighted that it has been so successful.’
Nicholas continues: ‘Whilst the upgrades have been a huge success for LU, one of the ongoing problems is keeping up with the population growth of the city. So with the VLU, it was a target to increase capacity by basically introducing faster and closer trains.
I think 750,000 people use the tube every day – that’s a considerable number. However, during that time of conception to completion, the growth in the number of passengers has exceeded the 32% increase that this train upgrade delivered.’
That is why, Nicholas explains, he believes the new Deep Tube Programme (DTP) heralds an exciting opportunity to transform the remaining aspects of the network.
‘Everything is up for grabs with Deep Tube, it is quite exciting and will undoubtedly be quite costly. It has started already and is in the design feasibility and definition stage. That will mature in the next few years, where design and build can actually start.
‘It is a huge opportunity for TfL and London Underground to get all of the big problems on to the table, thrash them out, go through all of the options and then choose the best possible option with a real understanding of what that design will or will not do.’