Rail (UK)

Lead­ing Lon­don

-

Against a back­drop of COVID, Lon­don’s new Trans­port Com­mis­sioner dis­cusses a dif­fi­cult first few weeks at the helm.

… says Lon­don’s new Trans­port Com­mis­sioner ANDY BY­FORD. Mov­ing home from New York as lock­down started to bite, he had lit­tle idea just how big that chal­lenge would be. He talks to PAUL CLIFTON about his hopes and fears - and how he wants to open Cross­rail ear­lier than planned

Andy By­ford once left a com­fort­able life as an ex­ec­u­tive on South­ern Rail­way. A decade work­ing in Aus­tralia, and then Canada and New York, has given him a rep­u­ta­tion for turn­ing around fail­ing trans­port sys­tems and in­ject­ing new vigour into them. The Amer­i­cans nick­named him ‘Train Daddy’.

Now he is back home. But Trans­port for Lon­don wasn’t ex­actly fail­ing. It’s a worldlead­ing oper­a­tion, al­beit one fac­ing sig­nif­i­cant dif­fi­cul­ties - not least a po­lit­i­cal bat­tle over its fi­nances.

In RAIL 918, By­ford re­vealed how TfL’s lat­est six-month agree­ment with Govern­ment was signed with just 14 min­utes to spare. The deal was signed at 2346 on the night the money ran out.

“That’s no way to run a £10 bil­lion or­gan­i­sa­tion,” he says.

“I un­der­stand the coun­try is in dire straits and has a £ 2 tril­lion na­tional debt. In the short term, we are re­liant on Govern­ment fund­ing. But Trans­port for Lon­don has to be seen as part of the so­lu­tion, not part of the prob­lem. We have to move to a longer-term foot­ing.”

By­ford ( 55) is an un­usu­ally clear com­mu­ni­ca­tor. It’s an es­sen­tial skill in a role that is fun­da­men­tally po­lit­i­cal.

He speaks rapidly, with clar­ity and with ob­vi­ous en­thu­si­asm. No time is wasted on idle chit-chat. Even though he cov­ers a lot of ground quickly in his con­ver­sa­tion, he doesn’t flut­ter from one thought to the next, as so many peo­ple do when as­sem­bling a com­plex an­swer to a dif­fi­cult ques­tion.

What’s more, he ac­tu­ally tries to an­swer a straight ques­tion with a straight an­swer. He fin­ishes one idea, then starts the next - there is a sense that he has thought about every­thing he in­tended to say be­fore the in­ter­view started. The only slight hes­i­tancy comes when dis­cussing his own mo­ti­va­tion.

“I’m very com­fort­able with a hard bar­gain,” he says. “I’d love to have a five-year set­tle­ment… or ten. If we get it, I ex­pect to be held ac­count­able for the out­puts. Leave the in­puts to me.

“The na­ture of public trans­port is that things take at least that long to scope, plan and ex­e­cute. To have ring-fenced fund­ing that can’t be taken away when there’s a change of po­lit­i­cal wind is im­mensely ben­e­fi­cial. It gives more lever­age and a bet­ter price, be­cause the sup­pli­ers can fac­tor in less risk.

“We have to set­tle minds, whether col­leagues, con­trac­tors, cus­tomers or unions. We have to pro­vide seren­ity, how­ever stressed we are. We have worked crazily long hours and it has been gru­elling, ex­haust­ing. My pitch is for a proper deal, not brinkman­ship, that is pre­dictable, af­ford­able, sus­tain­able and long-term.

“I def­i­nitely do not like the cur­rent model. We have 72% of our in­come from fares.

That can work in good times. But COVID has ex­posed that we had all our eggs in one bas­ket, dan­ger­ously over-re­liant on one source of fund­ing that is sub­ject to the whims of the econ­omy… or viruses.

“No other ma­jor city funds its trans­port this way. In New York, fares were 38% of in­come. We need a sen­si­ble dis­cus­sion with Govern­ment, and we need a trust­ing re­la­tion­ship with all lev­els of Govern­ment.

“Re­plac­ing train fleets, re­plac­ing sig­nalling, whole­sale ma­jor up­grades… that is bil­lions of pounds.”

In­evitably, By­ford comes up against north­ern politi­cians who have a ‘lev­el­ling up’ agenda, and who point out that Lon­don­ers re­ceive

We have 72% of our in­come from fares. That can work in good times. But COVID has ex­posed that we had all our eggs in one bas­ket, dan­ger­ously over-re­liant on one source of fund­ing that is sub­ject to the whims of the econ­omy… or viruses.

vastly more trans­port money per per­son than ev­ery other part of the coun­try.

“Govern­ment wants an in­fra­struc­ture-led re­cov­ery. We can do that,” he re­sponds.

“Govern­ment wants a green re­cov­ery. With our push for the big­gest elec­tric bus fleet in the UK, we can lead on that.

“Lev­el­ling up doesn’t mean you have to stop spend­ing in Lon­don. Of ev­ery £1 we spend at TfL, 55p is spent across the re­gions in our sup­ply chain. Lon­don is the back­bone of the UK econ­omy. But it can­not func­tion with­out a top-class trans­port sys­tem. We would be crazy to let it slip.

“I am clear about my role as a public ser­vant. I ad­vise. I speak truth to power. I pro­vide frank and fear­less ad­vice, even when that ad­vice is not wel­come. I will tell politi­cians about road user charg­ing, or fur­ther metro-isa­tion (is that a word?) of the Over­ground net­work, bring­ing lines into TfL.

“But ul­ti­mately, we ad­vise… and politi­cians de­cide. They are elected - that is their job. I en­tirely ac­cept that they might not choose to fol­low the ad­vice I give.”

Pri­or­i­ties… and Cross­rail

With a lim­ited bud­get and a time­frame that is far shorter than he would like, By­ford has al­ready been forced into tough choices.

Cross­rail 2 has been kicked into the long grass. Net­work Rail Chair­man Sir Peter

Hendy CBE, a pre­vi­ous holder of By­ford’s post in Lon­don, has sug­gested that it could be off the books for ten to 15 years. A planned ex­ten­sion to the Bak­er­loo Line will also have to wait for sun­nier days far in the fu­ture.

By­ford ex­plains: “My first task is to main­tain a good state of re­pair. At­tend to the ba­sics. The un­sexy stuff - the tracks, the drains, things that don’t in­volve a rib­bon-cut­ting.

“Then we have to get the El­iz­a­beth Line open, get the Bank new plat­form done, get the North­ern Line ex­ten­sion fin­ished, get Bark­ing River­side ex­ten­sion fin­ished, buy new trains for the Dock­lands Light Rail­way, get new trains for the Pic­cadilly Line and get that res­ig­nalled (it would be crazy not to res­ig­nal), and elec­trify the bus fleet.

“Cross­rail 2 and the Bak­er­loo ex­ten­sion are cer­tainly not dead. They are ab­so­lutely not can­celled. They are moth­balled. They are be­ing safe­guarded. They will hap­pen one day. There is a busi­ness case for those projects. But if it’s a choice with fi­nite fund­ing between those and more press­ing is­sues, they must wait un­til the case is more com­pelling.”

Once fi­nances are sta­bilised, get­ting Cross­rail fin­ished is By­ford’s most ob­vi­ous task. Late and over bud­get, it is caus­ing un­wanted head­lines and fric­tion between the Lon­don Mayor and the Depart­ment for Trans­port that both sides would rather live with­out.

“It was a show­stop­per for me in my job in­ter­view,” By­ford ex­plains.

“I ma­jored on it, borne out of per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence in Toronto. It had to trans­fer to my di­rect con­trol al­most from Day One.

“It’s about how to drive a big project across the line. I saw what had hap­pened be­fore - my pre­de­ces­sor, Mike Brown, was left woe­fully ex­posed by not hav­ing con­trol or vis­i­bil­ity of the project. Some­thing he thought was open­ing in three months was sud­denly

I have in­her­ited a re­ally good team. But in Lon­don we have to lead TfL through COVID, re­build the cus­tomer base, re­build the fi­nances, re­build the morale. And we have to deal with all the drama around

Cross­rail. I like to be busy.

We have been us­ing hospi­tal-grade dis­in­fec­tants. We have moved clean­ing to be very high vis­i­bil­ity, so cus­tomers can see us do­ing it. It is all about per­cep­tion and trust.

head­ing three years into the dis­tance. How can that hap­pen?

“You need ab­so­lute clar­ity of gov­er­nance, so Cross­rail CEO Mark Wild now re­ports di­rectly to me. He no longer has two mas­ters - his board and TfL. It means he gets timely, clear di­rec­tion, and he gets quick de­ci­sions.

“He was suf­fo­cated by the pre­vi­ous regime. He spent more time pre­par­ing for the next pre­sen­ta­tion to his mas­ters than on de­liv­er­ing, so I am lib­er­at­ing him of that. I’ll deal with the com­mit­tees and the pol­i­tics, leav­ing Mark to go and de­liver.

“I want that project done. I have an in­ter­nal date in mind. But we are still work­ing to the pub­licly de­clared tar­get of no later than the first half of 2022 and no more than an ad­di­tional £1.1bn.

“I want to bring that date for­ward. You only get one shot at this, and if I pluck a date from the air, you will judge me by it. So, un­til I am cer­tain, I’m stick­ing with the pre­vi­ous date. But I am ab­so­lutely aim­ing to do bet­ter than that, both on sched­ule and on bud­get.

“We have com­pletely re­ju­ve­nated the project. Ev­ery­one is gal­vanised. We will get it open - and open means open. It doesn’t mean a stag­gered phased open­ing. It doesn’t mean by­pass­ing sta­tions. The lag­gards are Bond Street and Whitechape­l - the crit­i­cal path in­cludes sta­tion com­ple­tion.

“We have just brought in the world’s ex­pert at com­plet­ing sta­tions. He’s a guy I worked with in Toronto, Mike Dun­ham. We brought him out of re­tire­ment. He is awe­some. He’s a slow-talk­ing Texan, and he will blow peo­ple’s minds. And I am bring­ing in another guy from Toronto, Keith Si­b­ley, to help co-or­di­nate the re­main­ing com­plex­i­ties.”

After COVID

“It has cer­tainly been the most sur­real in­tro­duc­tion to any job that I have ever done. TfL was com­pletely flipped on its head. Tube travel re­duced by 95%, bus travel down 85%. Down to lev­els we had not seen for a hun­dred years. The place was a ghost town.

“The first job was to keep ev­ery­one safe.

That in­cluded halt­ing all non safety-crit­i­cal con­struc­tion. We had to shel­ter staff. For that, we needed to shut a num­ber of sta­tions. We sus­pended the Water­loo & City Line so that we could keep the Cen­tral Line go­ing with enough driv­ers. We sus­pended the Night

Tube, and that re­mains the case.

“But we are in a bet­ter place now. We demon­strated to key work­ers that we were there for them. We had to deal with the new busi­ness-as-usual. We had to de­liver a clean, safe tran­sit sys­tem that was a con­trolled en­vi­ron­ment.

“To pro­vide so­cial dis­tanc­ing we had to up the timetable. Con­tro­ver­sial stuff, be­cause with re­duced ca­pac­ity we had to pro­vide min­i­mal head­ways and as many trains as pos­si­ble. The Tube is run­ning at 95%, TfL

Rail at 100%, Lon­don Over­ground 96%, Dock­lands Light Rail­way 84%, trams 100%. And buses are 100%, now made ex­po­nen­tially more dif­fi­cult by mov­ing all the school­child­ren around.

We have just done a sec­ond wave of in­de­pen­dent tests with Im­pe­rial Col­lege, and not a sin­gle trace of the virus was found any­where. I am very proud of that.

“From a low point we reached rid­er­ship of 32% of nor­mal, with buses on 55%. But into the sec­ond lock­down that is clearly soft­en­ing.”

By­ford says the aim was a net­work cleaner than it had ever been. TfL was the first to use the sani­tiser Zoono, sub­se­quently widely adopted across the rail net­work.

“We have been us­ing hospi­tal-grade dis­in­fec­tants. We have moved clean­ing to be very high vis­i­bil­ity, so cus­tomers can see us do­ing it. It is all about per­cep­tion and trust.

“We have added a thou­sand sani­tiser dis­tri­bu­tion points. We tri­alled a new ul­tra­vi­o­let sys­tem that runs un­der the handrail of an es­ca­la­tor, killing the virus. We are rolling that out at more than 100 sta­tions.

“We have sent out over 100 mil­lion cus­tomer emails. We have re­sponded to half a mil­lion cus­tomer phone calls. We have a new jour­ney plan­ning app. Over 100,000 peo­ple with­out face cov­er­ings have been stopped, and with Bri­tish Trans­port Po­lice we have is­sued 500 penalty no­tices.

“We have just done a sec­ond wave of in­de­pen­dent tests with Im­pe­rial Col­lege, and not a sin­gle trace of the virus was found any­where. I am very proud of that.”

Trans­port for Lon­don has mod­elled dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios for re­cov­er­ing from the pan­demic. They range from a rapid re­turn to pre­vi­ously packed trains, to a fu­ture in which com­mut­ing is greatly re­duced, with cen­tral of­fices only partly oc­cu­pied and the eco­nomic heart of the city chang­ing.

“I think an 80% re­turn is achiev­able, but not in the short term,” By­ford muses.

“I think that is at least two years away. Ob­vi­ously, this is not an ex­act science. What will ma­jor em­ploy­ers do? Will they be pas­sive and just hope em­ploy­ees come back? Or will they see an op­por­tu­nity to cut their real es­tate costs and keep peo­ple at home?

“We are watch­ing what re­tail and com­mer­cial places are do­ing. We need to un­der­stand what the ef­fect on leisure traf­fic will be.”

Tak­ing the job

Surely be­ing Trans­port Com­mis­sioner for Lon­don is the job from hell? Caught between the Mayor and cen­tral Govern­ment, tasked with de­liv­er­ing the im­pos­si­ble on a shrink­ing bud­get, while some­how main­tain­ing morale among 27,000 staff. In­her­it­ing projects not of your own mak­ing, dur­ing the worst eco­nomic down­turn in gen­er­a­tions, caused by fac­tors over which you have no con­trol.

“I en­joy re­ally big chal­lenges. I’ve made it my niche to go into tough sit­u­a­tions.

Toronto Tran­sit Com­mis­sion had real is­sues. Cus­tomer sat­is­fac­tion was aw­ful. At the time, the com­pany was com­pletely de­mor­alised. There were all sorts of pol­i­tics in it. My boss was re­moved in a coup three months after my ar­rival. I stood in and my learn­ing curve went through the roof. Over five years, we went from be­ing a laugh­ing stock to win­ning awards.

“Then to New York. Again, a tough gig. The sys­tem was fall­ing apart. But in two years we turned around sub­way per­for­mance and we got a vote for a $ 32bn im­prove­ment.

“This job isn’t a turn­around, and I have in­her­ited a re­ally good team. But in Lon­don we have to lead TfL through COVID, re­build the cus­tomer base, re­build the fi­nances, re­build the morale. And we have to deal with all the drama around Cross­rail. I like to be busy.”

It’s a re­turn to home turf for By­ford. He joined Lon­don Un­der­ground as a grad­u­ate trainee in 1989, work­ing his way up to gen­eral man­ager on the Bak­er­loo, Cen­tral and Vic­to­ria Lines be­fore head­ing to direc­tor roles at South East­ern Trains and South­ern.

“I am third-gen­er­a­tion Lon­don Trans­port,” he says, al­though he ac­tu­ally grew up in Ply­mouth, has a Ply­mouth Ar­gyle sea­son ticket, and still keeps a flat there.

“My dad worked for LT and my grandad drove a bus for 40 years. After I got here, in the first lock­down, my mum sud­denly passed. It was the week of my fi­nal in­ter­view with the Mayor. It is serendip­ity that I am here when my dad re­ally needs me. I’ve been away for ten years in Aus­tralia, Canada and the US, but I am grate­ful to be here. I could see this be­ing my last public ser­vice job.”

It’s a role that bal­ances be­ing a politi­cian while still be­ing a trans­port pro­fes­sional.

“In Toronto, the bias was to­wards be­ing a trans­port man­ager. I spent most of my time do­ing that. In New York, I learned the dark arts of pol­i­tics, and spent a lot of time do­ing that.

“Here, too, I spend a lot of time work­ing with politi­cians - that is the role of the Com­mis­sioner. I am not a mi­cro-man­ager, and I have top-class lead­ers. I man­age the way I would like to be man­aged my­self. Tell me the out­puts and I will deal with the in­puts. Leave me alone and let me get on with it - I trust my peo­ple.

“It’s a chal­lenge when you give your best ad­vice and then find it isn’t what politi­cians want. That can be frus­trat­ing. But I am pretty per­sua­sive, and I’ve learned how elected of­fi­cials think. I know how to press their but­tons.

“I know what is im­por­tant to Sadiq [Khan, Lon­don Mayor], and I know how to ex­plain things to him in a way that max­imises our chances of get­ting the right thing. If he chooses not to take my ad­vice, that is ab­so­lutely his pre­rog­a­tive. But he gave me the job, and I in­tend to pay him back by de­liv­er­ing what he needs.”

‘Train Daddy’

By­ford talks the talk, and he does it well.

But the nick­name ‘Train Daddy’, which he ac­quired in New York, doesn’t trans­late smoothly to our cul­ture on this side of the At­lantic. It’s not our style. Ex­ec­u­tives in suits don’t have en­dear­ing nick­names, and they cer­tainly don’t fea­ture on ban­ners on trains.

“It came from some­one I don’t know, in Brook­lyn, who was sym­pa­thetic to the po­lit­i­cal pres­sures on me at the time. He started putting stick­ers of me on lamp posts - bizarrely, wear­ing lip­stick. And then su­per­im­pos­ing my face on the front of a train, say­ing: ‘Train Daddy loves you very much.’

“It re­ally took off. Peo­ple would lit­er­ally come up to me in the street in New York say­ing: ‘Hey, Train Daddy, how’s it goin’?’

“I am quite en­joy­ing the anonymity of Lon­don so far…”

Given the high-pro­file task ahead of him, that isn’t go­ing to last for long.

My first task is to main­tain a good state of re­pair. At­tend to the ba­sics. Then we have to get the El­iz­a­beth Line open, the Bank new plat­form done, the North­ern Line ex­ten­sion fin­ished, Bark­ing River­side ex­ten­sion fin­ished, buy new trains for the Dock­lands Light Rail­way, get new trains for the Pic­cadilly Line and get that res­ig­nalled, and elec­trify the bus fleet.

 ?? JACK BOSKETT. ?? A hand­ful of pas­sen­gers pop­u­late an S-Stock train at Padding­ton on July 19. Lon­don Un­der­ground is run­ning around 95% of its planned ser­vices, but pas­sen­ger num­bers re­main at be­low half the usual fig­ure.
JACK BOSKETT. A hand­ful of pas­sen­gers pop­u­late an S-Stock train at Padding­ton on July 19. Lon­don Un­der­ground is run­ning around 95% of its planned ser­vices, but pas­sen­ger num­bers re­main at be­low half the usual fig­ure.
 ??  ?? TRANS­PORT FOR LON­DON.
TRANS­PORT FOR LON­DON.
 ?? CROSS­RAIL LTD. ?? One of the key de­mands from Andy By­ford, be­fore tak­ing up his role as Lon­don Trans­port
Com­mis­sioner, was for con­trol of the Cross­rail project to trans­fer to TfL. By­ford is work­ing to the pub­licly de­clared tar­get of no later than the first half of 2022, but wants to bring that date for­ward. On Oc­to­ber 15, a TfL Rail Class 345s stands at Far­ring­don dur­ing test­ing of the cen­tral sec­tion.
CROSS­RAIL LTD. One of the key de­mands from Andy By­ford, be­fore tak­ing up his role as Lon­don Trans­port Com­mis­sioner, was for con­trol of the Cross­rail project to trans­fer to TfL. By­ford is work­ing to the pub­licly de­clared tar­get of no later than the first half of 2022, but wants to bring that date for­ward. On Oc­to­ber 15, a TfL Rail Class 345s stands at Far­ring­don dur­ing test­ing of the cen­tral sec­tion.
 ??  ??
 ?? BOSKETT. JACK ?? Con­stant re­minders of the cur­rent pan­demic can be found across Lon­don Un­der­ground sta­tions, such as these mark­ers on the plat­form at Padding­ton. By­ford tells RAIL that a sec­ond wave of in­de­pen­dent tests has re­vealed that not a sin­gle trace of the virus was found any­where.
BOSKETT. JACK Con­stant re­minders of the cur­rent pan­demic can be found across Lon­don Un­der­ground sta­tions, such as these mark­ers on the plat­form at Padding­ton. By­ford tells RAIL that a sec­ond wave of in­de­pen­dent tests has re­vealed that not a sin­gle trace of the virus was found any­where.
 ?? ALAMY. ?? New Com­mis­sioner of Trans­port for Lon­don Andy By­ford (right) speaks on July 2 with HRH Prince Charles, Mayor of Lon­don Sadiq Khan and Mike Brown MVO CBE (out­go­ing Com­mis­sioner), be­fore meet­ing key work­ers who per­formed vi­tal roles dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­demic.
ALAMY. New Com­mis­sioner of Trans­port for Lon­don Andy By­ford (right) speaks on July 2 with HRH Prince Charles, Mayor of Lon­don Sadiq Khan and Mike Brown MVO CBE (out­go­ing Com­mis­sioner), be­fore meet­ing key work­ers who per­formed vi­tal roles dur­ing the COVID-19 pan­demic.
 ??  ??
 ?? JACK BOSKETT. ?? Three pas­sen­gers and a pi­geon wait at Not­ting Hill Gate on July 19, as a District Line S-Stock train ar­rives, bound for Edg­ware Road. The huge drop in pas­sen­ger num­bers has re­quired two Govern­ment bailouts, with the first ex­pir­ing in late Oc­to­ber, and the sec­ond at the end of March 2021.
JACK BOSKETT. Three pas­sen­gers and a pi­geon wait at Not­ting Hill Gate on July 19, as a District Line S-Stock train ar­rives, bound for Edg­ware Road. The huge drop in pas­sen­ger num­bers has re­quired two Govern­ment bailouts, with the first ex­pir­ing in late Oc­to­ber, and the sec­ond at the end of March 2021.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK