4G trial begins on the Tube, enabling mobile calls to made from Underground tunnels

Tube passengers will be able to make mobile calls in some Underground tunnels for the first time today.

A trial was launched offering 4G signals on the eastern section of the Jubilee line, between Westminster and Canning Town.

Transport for London aims introduce 4G across the entire line by the end of the year – with other Tube lines following.

The project means 4G will soon be available in all Jubilee line tunnels and platforms – starting to tackle the capital’s biggest “not spot”, where there is no reception for conventional voice calls across the deep-level Underground.

Customers of all four UK mobile network operators – EE, O2, Vodafone and 3 – will be able to access the system.

There will also be “enhanced” wifi connections at stations, replacing the Virgin Media deal that is coming to an end.

Connections for super-fast 5G have also been laid in the tunnels, as well as the Home Office’s Emergency Services Network (ESN) radio link.

TfL, which has paid £10m towards the 4G infrastructure, hopes to receive £25m in revenue over the first five years.

It is aiming for a “long-term revenue stream” that lasts 20 years, with the option of a further five to make a total of 25. Yesterday it predicted up to £500m in lost Tube and bus fares as a result of the coronavirus crisis.

The 4G signal will provide passengers with uninterrupted connections – allowing them to watch a video, download emails and view social media.

Ticket halls and corridors within stations are also covered by the pilot, except for London Bridge and Waterloo stations where the signal will only be available on the Jubilee line platforms.

TfL hopes to award a contract to deliver mobile coverage across the whole Underground network in the summer, so that other lines can begin to get mobile connectivity from 2021.

TfL is currently working in 53 stations, out of a total 127 stations which require works, to install the required cabling.

Fuller details of TfL’s 4G plans were included in its most recent finance committee papers.

Heidi Alexander, deputy mayor for transport, said: “Poor mobile connectivity is a major barrier to growth so I’m delighted that Tube passengers on the eastern section of the Jubilee line will be able to enjoy 4G access.

“This milestone will enable Londoners and visitors to get online while travelling through tunnels and platforms, doing everything from watching videos and messaging friends to catching up on emails.”

Shashi Verma, chief technology officer at TfL, said: “This has been very complex work to install the necessary equipment to allow our customers to be able to get phone reception within our tunnels while keeping the stations open and operational.”

Derek McManus, chief operating officer of O2, said: “It will also mean thousands of fans travelling to The O2… will now be able to share their experiences with friends and family, before and after a show.”

An edited version of this story appears in today’s Evening Standard.

Sadiq Khan was devastated when I told him I was quitting, reveals departing TfL chief

Down in the hole: Ross Lydall and Mike Brown survey the expansion work at Bank station

London’s transport chief today revealed that Sadiq Khan was “devastated” when he revealed he was leaving TfL.

Mike Brown, who stands down as transport commissioner on May 8 after five years, said he was privileged to have worked for the Mayor but said it would be good for TfL to have “fresh thinking” at the top.

Asked how Mr Khan reacted when he handed in his resignation, Mr Brown said: “He was devastated, he really was. I told him it was nothing to do with him.”

Mr Brown, who started working for London Transport in 1989, is leaving to become chairman of the £4bn redevelopment of the Houses of Parliament.

Today, in an interview with the Evening Standard, he warned that parts of the Tube were at risk of “serial decline” unless the Government helped to fund major upgrades.

Mr Brown said that a £1.5billion new fleet of 94 trains due on the Piccadilly line from 2023 would not be able to run any faster or more regularly than at present because there was no money to upgrade the “knackered” signalling system.

Bank station: a new southbound tunnel for the Northern line is being dug

A £656m upgrade of Bank station would not deliver its full potential on the Northern line because trains would still get stuck in a bottleneck at Camden Town, he added.

Mr Brown pleaded with Prime Minister Boris Johnson to ensure that any “levelling up” of spending with the North did not mean a “levelling down” for the capital.

“There are huge parts of the transport network that are still at real risk of serial decline,” he told the Standard.

“We have the two oldest fleets of trains now in the UK. The Piccadilly line trains were introduced in 1973, but they’re not quite as old as the Bakerloo line trains that were introduced in 1972.

“We will have, with no exception, the oldest two fleets of trains in the land. It’s quite remarkable that they’re still running, but it’s not sustainable.”

Installing digital signalling on the Piccadilly line would increase capacity by 60 per cent, he said. The cost is estimated at £2.45 billion.

Mr Brown said weekday passenger numbers on the Underground had doubled from 2.5m to five million since 2000 but “not one km of extra track” had been built.

There are no new projects in the pipeline once Bank station and the extension of the Northern line to Battersea power station are completed.

Holborn station was also desperately in need of expansion to cope with more passengers but no cash was available, he said.

Mr Brown was today in Goole, where Siemens is building a factory where the walk-through, air conditioned Piccadilly line trains will be built. He said this was a great example of how investment in London benefited the rest of the country.

He said the new trains would increase capacity by 12 per cent as they were slightly longer. But a new digital signalling system akin to the Victoria and Northern lines would increase total extra capacity to 60 per cent.

But he said: “I have no certainty of capital funding to enable that to happen.

“They will go exactly the same speed as just now. We will not be able to run any more frequency. It’s very much like a Ferrari on a country road.”

TfL’s finances have been badly hit by the loss of a £700m annual Government operating subsidy and the two-and-a-half year delay in opening Crossrail.

TfL will be deprived of about £1.35billion in lost fares due to Crossrail not opening under central London until summer next year [2021], as opposed to December 2018.

This is in addition to the £640m cost of Mayor Khan’s four-year partial fares freeze, though Mr Brown says that keeping TfL fares down has encouraged more people to travel.

There has been a decline in bus journeys. Tube journeys have been less badly affected but have failed to hit targets. However, income from Underground fares continues to rise as a consequence of the annual increase in Travelcards.

The overall impact on TfL’s finances is that it is not due to break even until 2022/23, a year later than planned.

Bank station: new access to the DLR is being created

Asked about the Mayor’s environmental policies, Mr Brown said electric cars were “not 100 per cent brilliant” because they emitted PM particulates form their brakes and tyres and because of concerns whether the electricity was from renewable sources.

“Private cars and inner London don’t really work together,” he said. “What you don’t want is hugely congested streets that are being used in an inefficient way.

“Single occupancy cars are very inefficient compared to the number of people you can get on buses or to give the space to cycleways or decent walking provision.”

He said the central London ultra low emission zone had been more successful than hoped, with about 70 per cent compliance in terms of vehicles meeting the exhaust emissions rules.

He predicted the Ulez expansion to the suburbs in October 2021 would also be a success. “I’m with the Mayor 100 per cent on this,” he said. “I think not tackling London’s toxic air is not acceptable.”

First interview with new London fire commissioner: ‘I’m here for the long term and will put Grenfell failings right’

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Andy Roe

Fire commissioner Andy Roe (picture by Jeremy Selwyn)

The new head of the London fire brigade today revealed he had apologised to bereaved victims of the Grenfell Tower disaster as he sought to regain their trust.

London fire commissioner Andy Roe also issued a plea to Londoners living in the 7,000 high-rise blocks in the capital to set aside any post-Grenfell doubts and continue to follow firefighters’ advice in the event of a blaze.

He was appointed by Mayor Sadiq Khan to speed the “transformation” of a brigade heavily criticised by the fire watchdog for being too slow to address the failures of Grenfell and requiring widespread improvement.

He met members of the Grenfell Next of Kin group earlier this week. In his first interview since starting the job on January 1, Mr Roe, 45, told the Standard: “I never ever want to be in the situation again where I have to sit across the table from so many bereaved families.

“I offered an apology. I felt that some of our institutional shortcomings… meant we had let my own people down, who were so brave that night, and we had let them down.”

He said he was committed to meeting everyone affected by Grenfell, which claimed 72 lives. He said: “I owe them that. As the London fire commissioner, I’m trusted to serve and protect those people.

“I can’t bring their families back. I will never be able to understand nor make better their pain. 

“The best I can do is show that we have listened, that they are respected, that their voice is heard, that I understand them and we are here to serve them and protect them and listen to what they say. 

“If anyone knows something about that fire and knows what needs to change, it is those people. We lost their trust.”

Andy Roe mural

Giant picture outside Andy Roe’s office at LFB HQ in Union St. The commissioner is pictured on the right.

It was Mr Roe who, 18 minutes after arriving on scene at Grenfell on the night of the disaster in June 2017, abandoned the “stay put” advice being given to residents and ordered 999 call-handlers to tell them to try to escape.

Last October, the first report from the Grenfell Tower inquiry said more lives could have been saved if “stay put” had been rescinded sooner by commanders already on the ground.

There are currently 283 tall buildings in London where “stay put” is suspended – meaning mass evacuation would be ordered immediately on fire breaking out – because of dangerous cladding or other safety issues.

Mr Roe said it was vital that residents in all high-rise blocks followed advice from firefighters in the event of a fire.

He revealed that firefighters last week had for the first time taken part in a mock exercise that required the emergency evacuation of dozens of “trapped” residents.

A disused nine-storey block in Southwark and dozens of volunteers were used to recreate a Grenfell-type scenario.

A thousand incident commanders are being taught how to determine if a building is “failing” like Grenfell – when fire spreads rapidly – or are correctly designed and able to withstand a blaze until it can be extinguished.

Call handlers are being retrained in what advice to give trapped residents. More mock exercises will be staged. The training will be completed by July 31.

Mr Roe said: “When my officers either say ‘stay put’ or ‘get out’, trust us and listen – that is an absolute priority to me. 

“I do accept that if you live in a high rise in London, because of Grenfell, you may not trust that advice at the moment. 

“But I could not put it more clearly: stay put is still the best advice for the vast majority of high-rise residents.”

Mr Roe said it was important to remember that fire risks in the capital extended beyond high-rise blocks. The LFB is part of a national group working to update the “stay put” policy.

Mr Roe replaced Dany Cotton, who was forced to retire last December, several months earlier than planned, after she lost the support of the Mayor and Grenfell survivors. He declined to comment on her departure.

He is one of six members of his extended family serving as London firefighters. The former Army officer and keen boxer lives in Bromley and considers himself a “working class London boy”.

Unlike Ms Cotton, who retired aged 50, he is not due to retire until he is 60. “I’m here for the long term,” he said. “I’m here to see the change through.”

An edited version of this interview appears in the Evening Standard.

MPs to plead with Government to fund bulk of £120m Hammersmith bridge repairs as first £25m starts to run out

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Hammersmith bridge before cyclists access was arranged

A bid to for Government funds to prevent repair work to Hammersmith bridge grinding to a halt is desperately needed, according to MPs.

The 133-year-old cast iron bridge was closed to vehicles in April last year after safety concerns about its structure.

Transport for London has provided £25m for initial surveys and for a temporary bridge for pedestrians and cyclists when the main bridge, which they can still access, has to be fully closed.

A Westminster Hall debate in Parliament tomorrow is expected to hear MPs urge the Government to underwrite the remainder of the bill, which could reach £120m in total.

The latest update on the bridge from Hammersmith and Fulham council is here.

Andy Slaughter, the Labour MP for Hammersmith, fears the repair work will soon have to stop unless more cash is found.

Hammersmith and Fulham council wants work to begin in earnest in Spring 2021. It is expected to take three years to complete. When finished, cars and single deck electric buses would be able to use the bridge.

Mr Slaughter said keeping the bridge closed to traffic permanently was “unrealistic” due to the disruption it caused to communities on either side of the Thames.

TfL said work to design the temporary bridge was progressing and that the main bridge would only be closed to cyclists and pedestrians when it was open.

Liverpool fan Sadiq Khan urges Londoners to re-elect him mayor: ‘I’m hoping it’s a great year for the Reds’

Labour mayor and Liverpool fan Sadiq Khan says he is “hoping it’s a great year for the Reds” as he urged Londoners to re-elect him in May.

Mr Khan said he needed more time to deliver “meaningful change” as he said he was proud of what he had achieved in his first term.

Speaking to the Evening Standard yesterday as he headed to Brussels to call for pro-Europe Londoners to be allowed “associate citizenship of the EU”, Mr Khan was asked whether the mayoral race was akin to the race for the Premier League title.

Liverpool are 25 points ahead and heading for their first championship in 30 years. A QMUL poll late last year put Mr Khan more than 20 points ahead of Tory rival Shaun Bailey.

Mr Khan told me: “If Jurgen [Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp] was here he would explain that actually nothing is won yet. You don’t take anything for granted. The most important thing is to focus on the prize and continue doing your best.

“That is what I intend to do as somebody who wants to achieve the summit like Liverpool will do and I’m hoping it’s a great year for the Reds, whether it’s the Labour mayor of London or Jurgen’s Red Army in Liverpool.”

With about 90 days until the May 7 election, and his rivals active on social media, was it approaching “squeaky bum time”?

Mr Khan said: “The most important poll is the one on May 7. Polls will say different things. They thing is that it is a two-horse race between me and Boris Johnson’s Tory candidate. Only one of us is going to be the Mayor.

“What I’m saying to those who support the Greens and those who support the Lib-Dems is lend me your vote on May 7 to endure that Boris Johnson’s guy doesn’t become the Mayor.”

(Mr Khan has been criticised by Green candidate Sian Berry for, in her view, misleading voters about the two votes they can cast for their first and second choice candidates.)

Asked how the current campaign compared to that four years ago, when his main rival was Tory Zac Goldsmith, he said: “A big difference is I don’t need to explain to every journalist what being a Muslim means, or the fact that being a Muslim doesn’t necessarily mean you are a terrorist or a terrorist sympathiser.

“It’s quite nice not to have to talk about my faith or my family or my previous career as a lawyer.”

Mr Khan then launched unprompted into a breathless rendition of his “greatest hits” as Mayor – with barely a moment’s hesitation, repetition or deviation.

He may never make it onto Just A Minute but prepare to hear more of the same as polling day approaches.

He said: “The key thing I’m focusing on over the next few weeks as the campaign begins is my delivery – I’m very proud of some of the things we have achieved in relation to air quality. The world’s first ultra low emission zone – we have reduced nitrogen dioxide by a third.

“I’m really proud of the fact we’ve got the Night Tube and Night Overground running. I’m really proud of the fact we have frozen TfL fares, when they rose by 42 per cent under the previous guy [Boris Johnson]. I’m really proud we have got the unlimited Hopper [bus fare].

“I’m really proud we started last year more council homes than 1994. In three years in a row we have broken the records for the most number of genuinely affordable homes begun, after ditching the dodgy definition.

“I’m really proud we have been tough on crime and tough on the causes. We have seen knife crime injuries in under 25s go down last year by 10 per cent. Homicides this year are going down. Moped crime is going down. Acid attacks are going down. We have invested huge sums in young Londoners and also the police.

“I’m really proud the progress we are making in standing up for London’s values, whether it’s against Donald Trump, Boris Johnson or anybody else.

“Progress has been made but you need much more time to bring meaningful change. I’m looking forward to Londoners allowing me to finish the job with re-electing me in term two.”

Sadiq announces £1,600 boost for London bus drivers if they stick to the road

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Sadiq Khan bus driver

Son of a bus driver: Sadiq Khan announces pay bonus for bus drivers

Bus drivers will receive a £1,000 bonus if they stay in the job for two years in a £34m bid to halt rising vacancy rates.

About 30 per cent of drivers quit in their first 24 months and bus operators find keeping staff increasingly challenging.

Mayor Sadiq Khan today announced the incentives, which includes a further £600 for drivers staying in the job for three years. About 20,000 drivers are likely to benefit.

Drivers who have already completed three years’ service when the scheme comes into effect from April will be entitled to £1,600 in a single payment. Part-time drivers will get pro-rata bonuses.

Mr Khan, whose dad drove the 44 bus, said: “I’m really proud to launch this new reward and retention initiative which… will help us to retain more experienced bus drivers and deliver a better service for passengers and drivers.”

The move is in addition to new London bus drivers being paid a minimum wage of £25,530 from April.

Bus companies claim that Brexit and the weak pound are making it more difficult to recruit drivers from abroad.

Unite regional officer John Murphy said: “This is an enormous step forward in tackling high dropout rates among London bus drivers.

“It is now even more important that London bus operators step up to the plate and take action to ensure workers aren’t permanently ‘sick and tired’ which is a huge factor in drivers leaving the profession.”

Diana Holland, Unite assistant general secretary, said: “Unite is seeking action like this across the country to end the ‘race to the bottom’ for bus workers.”

  • An edited version of this story appears in the Evening Standard.

Milk Tray Mayor: 1,000 Londoners in a day apply to sleep with Rory Stewart

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Rory Stewart on Kay Burley

More than 1,000 people have invited mayoral candidate Rory Stewart to sleep on their floor overnight to share their experiences of London.

Mr Stewart, a former soldier and diplomat, yesterday launched a come kip with me initiative to gain an insight into the lives of ordinary Londoners and what they would like changed.

Today the former Tory cabinet minister pledged to continue the initiative if elected on May 7.

“If I’m lucky enough to be Mayor I would try to do this every week… I would do a different borough, getting out from the desk at City Hall,” he told Sky News.

Mr Stewart, who promised to turn up with a sleeping bag and box of chocolates, said he would ensure the offers he accepted represented the diversity of London. Asked about needing a lot of chocolates, he told Sky’s Kay Burley: “It will be Milk Tray for you.”

He stayed with 500 families while working in Afghanistan. Last week he stayed with Lorraine Tabone, who runs Lola’s Homeless, to learn about the help she gives to homeless people in Newham.

“For me, there is all the difference in the world between someone saying there is a problem with knife crime or violence in Newham and staying with Lorraine and her taking me to the chicken shop where somebody was shot,” he said.

“Over the last few weeks and months I have been walking around London and staying with people. There is nothing like it – staying with somebody and seeing things through their eyes. You get an insight into someone’s life you can’t get just from knocking on the door.”

Lib-Dem Siobhan Benita: Vegan London can eat its way out of Brexit gloom

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Siobhan Benita jackfruit

Bit of a prickle: Siobhan Benita encounters a jackfruit in Chinatown

Promoting London’s restaurant and nightlife scene could help to avoid a post-Brexit economic downturn, a mayoral candidate has suggested.

Lib-Dem Siobhan Benita outlined plans to promote sustainable food and the booming vegan movement and to campaign for children to be taught how to cook in school.

Promising to be “mayor for business, for day and night”, Ms Benita said: “Now that we have left the EU, I wanted to do as much as I possibly can to make sure we champion the brilliant things that London is known for, to ensure we continue to be that global city that attracts business and is where tourists want to come.

“Two areas where we are really good and there is potential to grow are the night-time economy and our food scene.”

She observed Veganuary for the third successive year and has cut down on her consumption of meat and dairy. “I have not really eaten red meat since I was 12,” she said.

She promised a food manifesto and said she would like Londoners to “shift towards less meat consumption”.

She said: “I’ll be be encouraging restaurants and supermarkets to offer more vegan choices.

“As Mayor I would reward restaurants and catering businesses that are promoting healthy, sustainable food and practices.

“I’ll also be championing women chefs and taking action to combat kitchen harassment and sexism, which has been revealed as pressing issues in the food industry.”

  • An edited version of this story appeared in the Evening Standard.

On your bike: TfL gives 30 London boroughs £3.5m to build more cycle hubs, hangars and racks

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TfL cycle spaces

Lock in: Here’s where the extra hubs, hangars and racks will be

Almost 8,000 bike “parking” spaces are to be created across London to keep up with the increase in cycling.

Transport for London today announced that 30 boroughs would share almost £3.5m to build more secure cycle hubs, on-street hangars and traditional “Sheffield stand” racks over the coming months.

Locations include schools, town centres and residential streets. More cycle hubs – which require a key fob to gain access and cost about £30 a year – will be built in Waltham Forest, Islington and Hammersmith and Fulham.

A total of 480 spaces will be created at 24 schools in Bromley. Ninety cycle hangars, which cost about £20 a year to rent a space, will be built in Hackney, 70 in Haringey and 64 in Lewisham.

A total of 246 Sheffield stands will be erected in Greenwich, 200 in Islington and 193 in Lewisham. Full details are here: Cycle parking spaces overview

The funding is part of TfL’s Cycle Parking Implementation Plan, published last year, which showed that thousands of new parking spaces are needed to keep up with increased levels of cycling. TfL is working with councils, schools, universities and hospitals across the capital to ensure the number of cycle parking spaces can meet demand.

The plan sets out an aspiration to ensure that all stations outside Zone 1 have a minimum of 20 cycle parking spaces within 50m of the station and a minimum of 30 per cent spare capacity. Ten stations will be brought up to this new benchmark in the coming year.

Tom Bogdanowicz, of London Cycling Campaign, said: “Being unable to park a cycle near to their destination is a major deterrent to people cycling. It also sends exactly the wrong signal when car parking is more plentiful and convenient than cycle racks.”

But it comes after a spate of break-ins at cycle hangars across Waltham Forest, TfL’s first Mini Holland cycling and walking borough (see below). Cyclists have been advised to secure their bikes with two good locks while Cyclehoop, which installs the hangars, investigates.

Waltham Forest hangar breakins

Crossrail ‘will open in autumn 2021’, vows TfL commissioner (but no through-trains to Heathrow until December 2022)

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Queen Crossrail

A right royal mess: Crossrail bosses are keeping the Queen waiting

Crossrail is due to open in “autumn 2021”, the head of Transport for London revealed today.

TfL commissioner Mike Brown confirmed the latest date – which is almost three years later than first planned – in evidence to the London Assembly.

The autumn 2021 date relates to the opening of the central section of the line, which will run via twin tunnels under the West End and initially connect Paddington with Liverpool Street and Abbey Wood.

Through-trains to Heathrow airport are not due to start running until December 2022, though a Heathrow to Paddington service will start sooner.

Trains to and from Shenfield are due to run through the tunnel by May 2022, Mr Brown said. They currently run to and from Liverpool Street.

Today’s announcement confirms Crossrail’s most recent plans to open the central section in 2021. The Crossrail board meets on Thursday, when a more precise opening “window” is likely to be made public.

TfL had been at risk of being forced to pay damages to Canary Wharf Group if a Crossrail link between Canary Wharf and Heathrow were not completed by December 2021.

Mr Brown today revealed that a confidential deal had been struck with Canary Wharf Group that removed the risk of TfL facing a pay-out.

Crossrail is £3.4 billion over budget, taking its cost to £18.25 billion, after major problems completing stations and integrating new signalling systems on the tracks and trains.

The 73-mile line, which extends to Reading in the west and will be known as the Elizabeth line, was originally meant to have opened by the Queen in December 2018.