Change management mars TfL signalling system upgrade

The signal system modernisation will allow the transport authority to run more trains at peak times, but drivers are struggling to get to grips with the system

UK | United Kingdom  >  London  >  Underground / rail / train / subway
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Tube drivers across some of London's busiest underground lines are struggling to adapt to a new signalling system from the vendor Thales, causing major delays across the network.

Transport for London (TfL) is in the middle of an upgrade to the signalling system – called the Four Lines Modernisation Project across the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines, which carry 1.3 million passengers a day.

The new system will allow trains to run closer together, increasing train frequency from 28 to 32 per hour when the project is slated to complete in 2021.

"The new, state-of-the-art, control centre for all four lines at Hammersmith has also been completed and is now operational," TfL said in a press release. "The centre brings together operations and asset teams under one roof in order to ensure a smoother and more integrated service and more accurate, up-to-date customer information. It will replace some of the oldest equipment on the Underground network, including a signal box at Edgware Road that was built in 1926."

Driver familiarisation

The rollout hasn't be totally smooth sailing however. As is so often the case, a lack of sufficient change management preparation and training has negatively impacted a technology change project, with commuters on the Metropolitan Line facing major disruption for more than a week now as drivers waited for instructions on how to engage with the new system.

A spokesperson for TfL told Computerworld that the issue with the new system was not technical but rather "driver familiarisation" as staff worked through the kinks related to operating a new system.

Stuart Harvey, director of major projects for TfL, said: “We apologise for the disruption that some Metropolitan line customers have experienced this week. We introduced a new signalling system this weekend as part of the upgrade to the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines.

"The new system has been operating well, but as part of our commitment to safety, drivers must be accompanied through the new section by an instructor while it beds in. This has had some impact on the service which is why we pre-warned customers of potential delays. Our staff are working hard to minimise this as much as possible and customers who have experienced delays will be refunded automatically.”

During testing in May last year staff used the new system on six out-of-service trains under the new signalling system between Hammersmith and Latimer Road, according to a Thales press release.

"Tube staff have undergone extensive classroom and simulator training in order to be able to operate the new system, with this weekend their first chance to use those skills on the network," it added.

It is unclear at this point which exact elements of the new systems are causing the issues for staff. Thales did not respond to Computerworld's request for comment.

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