Listening to David Waboso Keynote at Infrarail 2016

On the final day of Infrarail 2016, I attended David Waboso’s keynote presentation. David is known to almost all within the rail industry, as a passionate, enthusiastic and knowledgeable leader. For those outside of rail, he’s risen through the ranks at London Underground for a decade and currently has the role of Capital Programmes Director.

David’s portfolio includes completing the upgrade of the Victoria line, overseeing the ongoing delivery of the upgrade and resignalling of the sub-surface railway, the programme of works to rebuild several key London stations and plans for the ‘New Tube for London’. In a few months he’s heading off to Network Rail to take the lead role in developing the ‘Digital Railway’.

David started his twenty-minute presentation, to the full audience, at the same speed that Linford Christie burst out of the starting blocks. The pace continued for a while, but he must have slowed down to a Mo Farah speed to last the duration! Either way, his natural enthusiasm for all the projects that he has been involved in, had the audience eating out of the palm of his hands.

David continued by stating the need, explaining that however fast they improve the already world-leading tube service, demand was still outstripping supply.

He highlighted the Victoria line upgrade as being a case study for the future, and how that at the current 33 trains per hour (TPH) it was going well, and that next year it’ll be increased to 36tph. The audience particularly enjoyed it, when he spoke that they could run it at 40tph, but alas, the knock-on effects on the layers of the onion wouldn’t allow. What he meant by this was that you could run more trains alright, but you wouldn’t be able to get the people on and off them quick enough, and even if you could reduce the dwell, then you wouldn’t be able to get them off the platforms and out of the stations fast enough… unless… you invested an existentially larger amount to do so. So it was a case of diminishing returns.

I should add he also mentioned that the work they did do for the Victoria line increase capacity by 20%, and my dear friend Michael Milner could no doubt list a few other advancements too.

Track Renewals

David suggested it was a huge task just to keep standing still as the track life is 40 years, which means 2% of the London Underground network had to be renewed every year. This has to be done of course, without negatively affecting the normal operation of the service. Which means doing work either in Engineering Hours (between 00:30 and 05:00 every evening) or having weekend closures which are never popular with the public.

Cooling the tube

He reflected on what a huge project this had been and how personally proud of it he was, as he was given it ten years ago when he started at LU.

Power Upgrade

One of the questions after his presentation was focused on this subject. As well as the large power upgrade project that David has been involved in, he also alluded to the fact that London Underground was making this trains less power hungry, through lighter car bodies. Thus saving energy, reducing heat, and allowing you to run more trains per hour.

Lifts and escalators

Previously, every escalator and lift was a bespoke one-off item, and David was proud of the fact that they had made substantial cost savings through standardisation of these expensive items.

The Zone: how London Underground do it

David shared ‘The Zone’ with the audience, which is the philosophy that London Underground have been using for a few years for all projects. Safety is paramount, and he was happy that in the last 11 years that he’d been there, there had been no fatalities. Then he moved onto another aspect of ‘The Zone’ being reliability, and he spoke of how it was fundamental to what they do. “How we improve this lift/escalator? It may cost more in the short term to do it properly, but if it but avoids the issue of closing part of the railway in the peak on a Monday morning, then it’s worth doing.”

Further expansion

David explained that Crossrail, which is to be operated by TfL, as the Elisabeth line, will give a few short years of capacity increase on some existing lines, but then that will be swallowed up once again as demand increases. He suggested that London as a city would need a huge expansion like Crossrail every 20 years to keep up with demand, which is probably where Crossrail 2 will come in.