Bechtel Runs London Underground
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Bechtel Runs London Underground

Bechtel | July 18, 2005
By John Altdorfer

The London Underground is the world’s oldest subway, and its age showed.

After years of underinvestment leading to a “fix and mend” maintenance approach, the tangle of tunnels and rails beneath the city needed a massive financial infusion and a commitment to a systemwide overhaul. The solution: a unique public-private partnership between the Underground and Tube Lines, a consortium created for the project.

Formed by three companies with extensive rail experience—Bechtel, British-based Jarvis, and Spanish-owned Amey—Tube Lines is responsible for upgrading the Jubilee, Northern, and Piccadilly lines, which account for nearly 40 percent of the Underground’s 358 kilometers (222 miles).

All three lines are storied sections of the Underground, which began serving Londoners 140 years ago.


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The Northern Line traces its roots to the City and South London Railway—the world’s first electric deep-level tube line—which opened in 1890. The Piccadilly Line opened in 1906. The Jubilee Line is the youngest part of the system, but serves stations that first opened more than a century ago.

“Basically, Tube Lines is responsible for rebuilding the Underground infrastructure,” says Bechtel’s Jim Haynes, who is director of projects for Tube Lines. The project, which began nearly two years ago, includes the modernization of 251 trains, 100 stations, 187 miles of track, 2,395 bridges and other structures, 227 escalators, and 71 elevators, as well as the installation of a new signaling system.

The Bechtel-led team will design and build more than 300 capital upgrade projects, while the operations team, led by Jarvis and Amey, has responsibility for maintenance.

Most of the work will be below ground, some of it way below. The Northern Line claims the maximum depth below ground level of any Underground line, reaching down as far as 67 meters. It also boasts the deepest station, Hampstead, at 58 meters below the surface.

The first seven-and-one-half-year phase of the 30-year contract includes work on 100 stations, including a rebuild at Wembley Park Station and a rail connection to the new Terminal 5 at Heathrow Airport. One of the first major projects was at the Canary Wharf Station, where six new entrances were added and capacity was increased by 40 percent. The work was completed under budget and more than two months ahead of schedule.

The extraordinary size of the modernization is reflected in Tube Lines’ investment. During the first seven and one-half years, the consortium plans to spend $1.3 billion on new signaling and trains, $1 billion on stations, and $600 million on tracks and civil works.

As London’s transportation lifeline, the Underground always occupies center stage. Yet, Tube Lines’ 2,600-employee workforce remains largely behind the scenes. To bring the venerable subway into the 21st century, contractors and crews must perform their work during a small window of opportunity when the trains stop running between 1 and 5 a.m.

“It’s like an invisible nighttime army,” says Tube Lines Health, Safety, Quality, and Environment Manager Steve Connell. “Every night workers must carry equipment into the tunnels after the system closes, do their work, and take everything out before the trains start running again in the morning. The public never really sees what’s going on. But doing the work takes a lot of preparation and planning.”

Compounding the challenge of a shortened work shift, crews must avoid causing any service delays. “From day one, we were in charge of maintaining and upgrading three existing railway lines that serve 1.8 million people every day,” says Tube Lines Chief Executive Terry Morgan. “Any delay, even a short one, is a big problem. We have to keep the trains running and stations open while we make improvements that will help the Underground meet a growing demand for travel.”

Nothing slows down a railway system faster than poorly functioning or broken signals. Over the next nine years, Tube Lines will install an advanced signaling system on all three lines.

“The signaling system will provide better service and a higher level of reliability than possible with existing systems,” says Bechtel Fellow and Train Systems Program Manager Siv Bhamra. To maximize speeds between stations, the system will automatically control the acceleration and braking of trains.

The new Tube Lines signaling system is based on Alcatel technology used in Vancouver, Hong Kong, and Kuala Lumpur. The new signaling eventually will allow trains to travel faster and more frequently. Plus, the improvements will permit trains on the Jubilee Line to run seven cars per train instead of the current six, further increasing the line’s capacity.

“The signaling system is the biggest single difference,” says Haynes. “It’s an area where Bechtel is providing a high level of leadership and expertise.”

With a contract heavy on incentives, Tube Lines understands that time is money. Meeting deadlines can produce bonuses, but delays result in costly penalties. Fortunately, the company and Underground are reaping dividends. “We’re already seeing improvements,” says Morgan. “During 2003, there were only seven days in the second quarter without system delays, and just 32 days for the entire year. We just finished the second quarter with 15 delay-free days. There were some bumps in the road in the beginning, but the performance trends are all positive now.”

Mike Adams, president of Bechtel Civil, says it’s important to note that the project is one of the most complex capital works programs in the world, unfolding in one of the busiest subway systems in the world.

“Already, people are starting to see cleaner stations and trains,” says Adams. “And the new signaling system will shorten journey times and allow trains to run more frequently. The changes won’t happen overnight. But when they do, passengers will notice the improvements for a long time.”

Globalist controlled company upgraded the signaling system in the Underground.

Bechtel | July 18, 2005

Tube Timing London’s famed Underground is a 358-kilometer network of crisscrossing track, with hundreds of trains running at the same time. Speed and safety are always paramount for the Tube’s operators.

In October, Bechtel, as part of the Tube Lines consortium that’s upgrading the Piccadilly, Northern, and Jubilee lines, announced successful testing of a new signaling system to replace existing equipment, some of which dates to World War II.

With the help of onboard antennas, each train’s position is constantly pinpointed by electronic monitors that tell trains when to go, stop, and slow down, in coordination with others. The system will allow the three Underground lines to run far more trains safely during peak hours, increasing capacity by more than 400,000 passengers per day.



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