A PROPOSAL to join up suburban services east and west of London through existing metro tunnels, which has been put forward by Railtrack, owner of Britain’s national rail network, has caused the process of privatising London Underground’s physical assets to be put on hold for several weeks.

In March 1998, Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott announced a public-private partnership (PPP) deal under which, one, two or three companies would assume responsibility for maintaining and renewing LU’s infrastructure and trains under long term concessions. LU would continue to operate the network and collect revenue, paying agreed sums to the asset management companies over the 20 to 30 year life of their concessions.

The whole deal was supposed to be signed and sealed by March 31 2000, well before the transfer of responsibility for London Transport to a new Mayor of London to be elected in May.

However, a survey carried out by Construction News of 20 groups negotiating with a PPP team set up by the Department of the Environment, Transport & the Regions (DETR) and LT revealed that half the groups believed the scheme might never happen, and all believed it could be up to a year late.

Massive upgrade project

Railtrack is bidding for the Metropolitan, District and Circle lines, which were built through central London mostly by cut-and-cover to the main line loading gauge. London’s unique small diameter tube tunnels followed from 1890 onwards.

The company says it wants to acquire the sub-surface lines because it would use them to create high capacity through routes, similar in concept to the RER in Paris, and to the successful north-south Thameslink route across London that was opened in 1988.

Two distinct cross-London services are planned. The first would see Paddington and Liverpool Street joined by using the north side of the Circle line. It replaces the 1980s Crossrail plan for new high capacity bored tunnels joining the same termini which was postponed indefinitely in March 1996 because the £2·1bn cost was too high.

The second service, using the south side of the Circle, could see Fenchurch Street joined to Wimbledon, allowing through running between Southend and suburbs in South West London.

Use of the Circle line as a cheap substitute for Crossrail was earlier reviewed by consultants, at the government’s insistence. But the idea was rejected as impractical because of the many short stations and flat junctions, which limit capacity.

Railtrack proposes a massive construction programme that would see stations lengthened for 10 or even 12 car trains, moving block signalling permitting 36 trains/h, and elimination of flat junctions either by grade separation, or withdrawal of existing services as at Baker Street. Conversion to 25 kV overhead power has even been mooted.

At Paddington through running is no problem, but the former connection at Liverpool Street is long gone and costly tunnelling would be needed. Likewise, joining the sub-surface Circle to the London, Tilbury & Southend line on viaduct outside Fenchurch Street would be difficult.

London Transport is opposing the scheme on operational grounds, and because of the major disruption to the Underground that would be caused. Current rules governing the dimensions and safety features of underground stations would make the adaptation of existing structures extremely difficult and expensive, and the total bill is put at £5bn.

DETR is annoyed at the interruption to the PPP process, and is also worried by the impossibility of obtaining competitive bids for the sub-surface project since Railtrack owns all the connecting lines.

Railtrack points to the advantages, such as the ability to travel from Heathrow Airport to the City of London is just over 30min, which it argues would more than offset the loss of the Circle line and other long standing Underground services.

25 kV and BB21 to boost Dutch capacity

NETHERLANDS Transport Minister Tineke Netelenbos has approved the eventual conversion of the Dutch rail network from 1·5 kV DC to 25 kV, and the introduction of a new transmission-based train control system known as BB21 (Beheersen en Beveiligen in de 21e eeuw). At the end of last year she allocated 1bn guilders in the Transport Ministry’s long-term infrastructure programme for the development and installation of BB21 and 25 kV to boost capacity on selected routes.

Based on ERTMS/ETCS protocols, BB21 will increase line capacity on the busiest corridors through the use of moving block, avoiding the need for expensive quadrupling works. Adoption of European standards will also ensure interoperability, ending the need for locomotive changes on cross-border operations. For this reason the new equipment will initially be installed on international routes and TEN corridors. The introduction of BB21 will also eliminate the expensive task of immunising existing signalling against interference from 25 kV traction supplies.

The adoption of 25 kV is also being driven by interoperability and capacity enhancement requirements. By increasing the power available it will enable trains to accelerate faster and run at speeds over 200 km/h. As the DC power supply network currently limits the number of trains which can be accommodated on busy routes, Mrs Netelenbos has instructed Railned to install additional DC substations to relieve pressure as an interim measure (RG 8.97 p517).

The Ministry has allocated an initial 190m guilders for development of BB21 to an operational level by 2004, ready for installation on the Betuwe freight route and the HSL Zuid Amsterdam - Antwerpen high speed line, which are both due to open in 2005. The equipment will also be fitted to the HSL Oost corridor between Amsterdam, Utrecht and the German border, possibly avoiding the need to quadruple some parts of the Amsterdam - Utrecht line. A further 800m guilders will be required to fit BB21 to the rest of the national rail network between 2007 and 2010, including 300m guilders to fit on-train equipment. In a related safety improvement, the Ministry will be looking to eliminate as many level crossings as possible from the network.

The government had already decided to install 25 kV electrification on the two high-speed lines and the Betuwe route. Conversion of the entire network to 25 kV is costed at 3bn guilders. Mrs Netelenbos is expected to set out the formal conversion strategy in the next few months, but a staged process following the introduction of BB21 is anticipated.

NS has recently put into service substantial fleets of new rolling stock, and adaptation of these to dual-system operation is not considered cost-effective. Railned has therefore recommended to the Minister that conversion of the network to 25 kV should be phased to match the replacement of the existing trains by new equipment.

Meanwhile, the Transport Ministry is understood to be negotiating a private finance initiative for tracklaying, electrification and signalling of the Betuwe route, which is valued at 1·3bn guilders. The intention is that the contractor will recoup the cost of the investment from access charges over a 30 year period.

  • NS has put forward proposals for a new network of high-speed inter-city services making use of the HSL Zuid and HSL Oost corridors. Sharing tracks with 300 km/h international services, the domestic ICs would fan out from the new line to serve 27 key cities. Journey time savings of around 22% are envisaged, leading to a 40% increase in passenger numbers. Semi-fast and suburban trains would continue to use the existing lines, but NS has not indicated what would happen to regional stopping services. Local services on the Arnhem - Venlo corridor are to be replaced by buses from the next timetable change to release line capacity for freight trains pending completion of the Betuwe route.