Outrage at plans to shut Northern Line for 20 months02.02.10
The proposed closures — the majority hitting the bulk of the line north of Kennington — are in addition to 16 months of early weekday closures from July that will mean the last Northern line trains leave central London at 10pm.
Critics of the public private partnership system of funding Tube upgrades — imposed by Gordon Brown when Chancellor — said it was another example of allowing a private firm to place profits above passengers.
The Mayor said the firm had a record of “hideous delay and disruption” on the Jubilee line and told it to think again before inflicting similar misery on the Northern line which is used for 206million journeys a year.
He told the Evening Standard: “The programme suggested is intolerable and there has to be a better way. I cannot possibly ask Londoners to put up with this pain unless Tube Lines can convince that every single closure is unavoidable and their overall plan will work.”
But Tube Lines chief executive Dean Finch told a City Hall meeting today: “We can't upgrade the Northern line without closures. I wish that were the case, but it's not.”
Tube Lines has secured agreement for 16 weekend closures from next month but the remaining 66 are disputed. It says it initially asked for 46 but had to increase this to 82 because Transport for London refused to allow the line's southern section, from Stockwell to Morden, to close early during the week as there are few alternative routes.
TfL bosses fear Tube Lines will be unable even to complete the work — installing a new signalling system to allow trains to run more frequently — by the January 2012 deadline.
Richard Parry, interim managing director of London Underground, told the London Assembly's transport committee: “I don't think that Tube Lines can give us any confidence that this is a programme that will last only two years.
"I'm very concerned about the scale of the closures. We think it's unnecessary disruption in terms of the number and the scale ... it is well beyond what is needed.”
Experts believe the battle over the cost of upgrading the Tube is at the heart of the current row.
TfL only wants to pay £4billion for the next seven and a half years of improvements to the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines, but Tube Lines wants £5.7billion. An independent arbiter has suggested the final bill should be around £4.4billion.
Christian Wolmar, who has written books on the PPP and the history of the Tube, said: “The whole way the PPP was designed was to prevent TfL having day-to-day management of these contracts.
“TfL feel they are totally trapped and can't force Tube Lines into a reasonable regime of closures. Every closure saves them money and costs passengers time and hassle. There is a permanent battleground there.”
He added: “I think they [Tube Lines] are completely out of order. When I was a kid I used the Underground the whole time and there were occasional weekend closures on one line.
“Of course, the upgrade work needs to be done but basically this is down to Tube Lines trying to save money. They are trying to make it as cheap as possible, irrespective of how much inconvenience it causes to passengers.”
According to TfL, the proposals submitted by Tube Lines include two full line closures this year and 19 next year. TfL says that under the PPP 30-year contract to modernise the Underground, it cannot refuse demands for line closures for maintenance or it would face legal penalties — placing the bill on the fare payer.