Victoria Line – 50 years of resilience (so far)

Author/Speaker: Conor O'Flaherty
Ian Jones and Mark Glover
Day: Introduction Day
Session: Modelling and Modernisation

When London Underground’s Victoria Line opened in 1968 it was seen as a space-age transport solution, with a fleet of sleek silver trains, and ‘computers’ driving each train from station to station safely, smoothly, reliably. 50 years later, the Victoria Line is still a world leader in terms of performance and reliability, with the highest service frequency of any line in London. With 15 of the 16 stations being interchanges, the railway is a major artery, and its resilience is critical to London’s smooth running.

The cameras rolled when Queen Elizabeth officially opened the line and again upon completion in 1971, but then the publicity stopped! From 1971 to 2009 the ‘Vic Line’ rarely hit the headlines, it just worked. Significant effort was invested in keeping the 1960s technology working, for example the autodriver boxes were changed twice. Obsolescence became an issue, but the dedicated and skilled staff kept the railway running.

In the early 21st Century London Underground, Siemens and Bombardier worked together to upgrade the signalling and control systems as a new train fleet was introduced. The teams implemented a staged migration, overlaying the new system on top of the 1960s equipment, allowing old trains to use the old system and new trains to use new technology until the completion of fleet replacement.

The team created an integration rig that allowed full off-site testing of train carried and trackside systems. Lessons learnt in assembling the integration rigs were carried through into installing equipment in the constrained spaces available without impacting existing systems. Extensive systems engineering was built into the project, along with approaches like ‘testing to destruction’ of subsystems and software elements. The system was designed for availability, and reliability growth was monitored closely.

Since the successful upgrade in 2012 further investment has seen the performance of the system increase again with the VLU2 programme allowing the current 36tph timetable to be introduced. Timetable delivery depends on the automatic train regulation system element of the control centre to exploit built-in resilience, automatically responding to minor service disruption, and providing control technology to allow operators to recover from major service perturbation quickly and safely. Accurate, timely information is provided to passengers, and the complex line/station management systems allow optimum operation. This is particularly relevant with 39 trains in service and only 32 platforms since any service disruption will cause trains to stop between stations.

What the next 50 years will bring for the Victoria Line remains to be seen. There are aspirations for further increases to capacity, with barriers to this increase related to moving people through stations rather than simply running more trains. Cybersecurity of the network needs to be maintained, and emerging challenges identified and dealt with. Maintaining the operation of the railway in the future will require further development of the already highly functional condition monitoring and management systems, and a continuing commitment to obsolescence management to ensure that the Victoria Line is still resilient and World Class in 2068.