For most of July, the power to the lifts at Hampstead, the deepest lift underground station, repeatedly failed. The four lifts are well past their sell-by-date, but TubeLines have decided to operate them to their full life expectancy.
With no power to the lifts, all four were getting stuck in the shaft. The station had to be evacuated and closed while staff released trapped customers. With this occurring every day, several times a day, it was extremely stressful for staff and customers involved.
The initial response of local management and our PPP Tubelines colleagues was basically ‘keep the station open and carry on’. They refused requests for assurances on reliability, extra staff and a lift engineer on site.
They were eventually forced to do something by persistent staff and the number of station closures. But they merely issued ever-changing guidelines. The station must close if a lift engineer leaves the site, one rule said. This soon changed when this resulted in the station closing for ten hours one day. A TubeLines GSM would be on site, then an LU DSM. Nobody knew what was happening!
No action was taken by our PPP friends TubeLines or by the subcontractors. A bill was mounting to £1 million plus and noone would take responsibility. With the power problem either resulting from EDF (the main source), Emcor (middle source) or Otis (the final source), a game of pass the buck was going round and round.
Tubeworker is alarmed to think that ultimately this £1 million bill will be swallowed by LU. They say they can’t afford a decent pay rise and are offending us with a pay offer of just 1.5% this year and 0.5% next. Yet for LU, £1 million is obviously a chicken feed, routine cost. It puts our demand for a decent pay rise into perspective. Suddenly we don’t sound so greedy after all. Tubeworker would like to know in how many other places is LU routinely bailing out incompetent and money-motivated private subcontractors and helping them line their pockets? We should not feel guilty about demanding a decent pay rise when private companies are making a killing out of the service we provide.
Eventually, Hampstead got extra staff. A senior TubeLines engineer started to monitor the situation.
The frequent station closures were impacting on the community and local businesses. Hampstead’s local councilor got involved and contacted LUL senior management, who demanded answers from the Northern Line manager. Finally, senior managers decided action was needed.
TubeLines’ useful response was to disconnect the only backup power supply to the lifts, meaning that if the power failure recurred, staff would only be able to wind the lifts by hand to release customers, which can take hours. Staff refused to open the station in this unsafe manner, which broke even LU’s rules.
Senior managers met again and three and a half weeks into the problem, forced TubeLines to take some responsibility.
But what was Tubelines’ response? They have removed some fuses from the lifts. Very much patching up but not tackling the problem. Gremlins are now popping up across the station: the CCTV, fire control panel, computers, phone keep. All quite important bits of equipment to keep a station running!
Staff fear that the electricity will find its weakest point and something will go ‘bang!’. The station is not safe for staff and customers and should be closed until this problem is put right. When customers ask, ‘Are these lifts safe?’, staff cannot answer.
This story is a shining example of PPP at work, of how desire to save money for profit results in an appalling and unsafe service, of how LU is prepared to put the safety of its staff and passengers at risk to keep to their targets, and of how staff and passengers need to fight at every turn to for their own and customers’ safety.
As we go to print, no final solution has been found and electrical monitoring by Tubelines is still in progress.