diamond geezer

 Tuesday, June 23, 2015

How far will TfL go to avoid bad news? When it comes to the Night Tube, a lot further than you might think.

When the Night Tube begins in September, London's nightowls will gain a faster and more convenient way to travel around town. Every Saturday and Sunday morning a skeleton service will run through the small hours on five selected tube lines, delivering partygoers home and earlybirds to their place of work. Every Saturday and Sunday morning, that is, until the first time there's engineering works and this new-found freedom is cruelly snuffed out. You can imagine the social media moaning even now, I'm sure, not to mention the hell of being forced to take the rail replacement night bus.

But there's no immediate need to worry. I've been keeping a regular eye on TfL's regularly-updated list of 'Track closures six months ahead', and it turns out they've gone to extraordinary lengths to delay the first Night Tube closure for as long as possible. Here's how.

Let's start by looking at the engineering works scheduled on the London Underground before the Night Tube begins. For reporting purposes I've chosen to ignore the Overground and the DLR, because these won't be seeing overnight services any time before 2017 and 2021. I'm also ignoring the Waterloo and City line because it's barely significant in this context, and because no engineering works are currently planned. That leaves ten tube lines to consider. I've shuffled them so that the five Night Tube lines are in the bottom half of the table, and added a coloured blob if engineering works are pencilled in for a particular weekend.

JunJulyAugustSep
27 4 111825 1  8 152229 5 
Bakerloo
Circle
District
Ham & City
Metropolitan  
Piccadilly
Victoria
Central
Jubilee
Northern

Eight out of these ten London Underground lines have some kind of engineering works over the next eleven weeks. The District line has the most closures, with only two weekends when there isn't a break in service planned out west, out east or in the centre. The Hammersmith & City and Victoria lines will see four weekend closures, the latter in conjunction with a blockade between Walthamstow Central and Seven Sisters lasting for most of August. Only the Bakerloo and Northern lines get away with no engineering closures at all, while the Central line has just one, sneaked in on the last possible weekend before the Night Tube officially begins.

The Night Tube officially begins in the early hours of Saturday 12th September, and runs again in the early hours of Sunday 13th. If you check TfL's official list of track closures you'll see that absolutely no engineering works are scheduled on the London Underground that weekend, because TfL needs the media's focus to be on good news. Engineering works then start up again the following weekend, but what do you know, not on any of the lines on which the Night Tube runs.

SepOct
121926 3 1017
Bakerloo
Circle
District
Ham & City
Metropolitan  
Piccadilly
Victoria
Central
Jubilee
Northern

For the four weeks after the Night Tube's launch, the only track closures are on the Circle, District and Hammersmith & City lines. These aren't part of the Night Tube system (and won't be until their signalling is upgraded, for which read mid-2020s, if we're lucky). Then on the weekend of October 17th/18th there's the clearest possible signal of TfL's intent, as all five non-Night Tube lines have engineering works and all five Night Tube lines have none. This is no accident, this is deliberate scheduling to minimise negative publicity.

Except then, dammit, this happens.

Oct
24
Bakerloo
Circle
District
Ham & City
Metropolitan  
Piccadilly
Victoria
Central
Jubilee
Northern

Out of the blue, on Saturday October 24th, a rogue track closure pops up on the Piccadilly line. Is this the long awaited First Night Tube Closure? Well no, as it turns out, because these engineering works are taking place only between Acton Town and Uxbridge. All overnight Piccadilly line trains will be going to Heathrow, not to Rayners Lane, which means there can be a complete closure of the Uxbridge branch and the Night Tube won't be affected.

So let me redraw my table with the Piccadilly line split in two, and show you all the scheduled closures from the launch of the Night Tube to the weekend before Christmas.

SepOctNovDec
121926 3 10172431 7 142128 5 1219
Bakerloo
Circle
District
Ham & City
Metropolitan  
Piccadilly
Piccadilly
Victoria
Central
Jubilee
Northern

One more track closure is planned on the Uxbridge branch of the Piccadilly line, but that doesn't count, which means the Night Tube remains unaffected by engineering works from September through to December. There'll still be engineering work on various non-Night Tube lines, easing off as usual during the key festive shopping season, and elsewhere there's plenty of engineering work on the London Overground all the way to December 19th. But the Night Tube itself is entirely devoid of track closures all the way to Christmas... which is where TfL's next bit of scheduling deviousness comes in.

The first Friday night that the Night Tube won't run as normal is Christmas Day, a day when no tube trains run anyway. And the first Saturday night that the Night Tube won't run as normal is Boxing Day, a day with an abnormal service and (if past tradition continues) with earlier-than-usual last trains. Essentially TfL have ensured that the first weekend the Night Tube doesn't run as normal it's not their fault, it's Baby Jesus's.

In summary, once the Night Tube begins in September it'll run undisrupted all the way to Christmas. This avoids the need to temporarily close something that's only just opened, and kicks all those angry "How dare you take away my Night Tube?!" tweets into 2016. And the whole thing's been achieved by quite deliberately massaging TfL's programme of engineering work to create a massive Night-Tube-shaped hole later in the year. It appears these five Underground lines can survive without any track closures for four months purely for public relations reasons, which is an interesting set of corporate priorities.

Now it might be that TfL's list of 'six months ahead' track closures isn't yet complete, and that further engineering works will be back-announced to put paid to my theory. It also remains to be seen whether TfL will be able to persuade their drivers to run these extra trains on overnight shifts for a pittance of additional pay. But what is definitely true is that you won't be riding a rail replacement night bus any time soon. Rejoice, the Night Tube cometh.


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