ON MAY 21-24 the International Union of Public Transport will hold its 54th Congress. Host city for this event will be London, where delegates will have the opportunity to see at first hand what private operation can do for rail commuter services. They will also be able to explore London’s historic metro that includes the world’s first underground railway. Quite what they will make of the 498 km network, now carrying 927 million people a year on 12 lines, will be interesting to hear. Suffice it to say that a recent visitor from the Far East found that on every day during his week’s stay in London his travel was disrupted by various problems on the Underground.

No-one disputes that major investment is essential to keep ageing metros going. Washington, which completed its 166 km network in January after 31 continuous years of construction (RG 1.01 p29), plans to go straight into a timely renewals programme to update cars, escalators and infrastructure on its earliest lines. In Paris, there is concern that the 370 km metro, which carried a record 1240 million passengers last year, is becoming increasingly unreliable, and a long-planned order for hundreds of replacement cars is now overdue.

New York’s extensive subway has enjoyed several major tranches of investment in the last decade, and we report further large car orders placed by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority on p146. Port Authority of New York & New Jersey proposed a $9bn capital improvement plan on January 10, including $1·8bn for PATH, which connects Manhattan with cities and rail hubs in New Jersey. This will pay for 245 new EMU cars, automatic train control with shorter headways, and a range of other improvements. Interestingly, traffic on PATH has risen by 25% in the last five years.

The cost of bringing the metro infrastructure up to modern standards in this year’s UITP host city is thought to be around £8bn over 15 years. Only time will tell how long it will actually take, but we can be pretty certain that visitors from, say, Singapore, Tokyo or München will be pretty horrified at what they find. It was therefore disheartening to learn on February 16 that the negotiations were on the verge of collapse, just as a compromise formula between the government’s planned Public-Private Partnership and the funding plan using bonds favoured by London Mayor Ken Livingstone looked within reach (p146).

The problem centred on the Treasury’s refusal to allow the public sector to retain a controlling interest in the three Infrastructure Companies that have been set up. The consortia still to be selected for the 30-year concessions to manage the infrastructure and trains would then fund these companies. This was rejected by Bob Kiley, appointed by the Mayor of London as Commissioner for Transport, who believes that ’unified management control’ of the Underground is essential. We doubt whether many UITP delegates would disagree.