Turn up on the site of the modernisation of Bounds Green tube station – boy did it need it! 1.30am had tested my ability to stay awake and my fear since returning from the Mayor’s Charity Ball is that I would fall asleep and miss the whole thing. However, my safety training had said that anyone going on site could not have any alcohol at all for 8 hours beforehand (24 in other situations) and so I had navigated the Mayor’s Ball without a drop – which at least meant I did manage to stay awake until the allotted time.
I did my safety training earlier in the week – very extensive with a test at the end. (I got 10 out of 10, thank goodness). Didn’t understand why I had to go through such rigorous briefing / training just for a visit beforehand, but now I understand – underneath Bounds Green tube seethes an anthill of activity with around 110 people (some nights more) from 15 different trades all plying their trade. I am kitted up with the regulation safety equipment and off we go.
Ashraf Al Ameria, the project manager for Tube Lines conducts my tour and as we progress past the scaffolding, the hammering, the sawing, the drilling and so on, I can see why I needed my training. I follow my leader very carefully so as not to get a) in the way b) hurt!
Ok, I didn’t agree with the hugely expensive PPP tube privatisation deal that brought in Tube Lines – and still don’t – but we now are where we are and Tube Lines, to their credit, does rather well by comparison with Metronet, whose series of engineering over-runs frequently make Londoners see red.
Tube Lines is rolling its program of renovation and modernisation of stations on with Wood Green and Highgate in the pipeline – hurrah!. Bounds Green is getting the full modernisation works at the moment. This means they don’t just paint over – they take out the old and put in the new. For the record, Ashraf gave me some stats: 100,000 new tiles, 350 lights, public help points, CCTV, speakers every few metres, new floors, new ceilings, new cabling, etc. etc etc.
But it is impossible to describe the scene adequately. Dozens and dozens of men in bright orange jackets just working away – a bit like Santa’s Elves but clearly not in a toy workshop, but rather a hostile working environment where there is quite a lot of danger and only a few hours of access (in the hours between the last and first tubes). What gets me is that – as the station is still in full use the rest of the time – they have to erect all of the scaffolding and get it in place (in various places) every night and be out with not a nut or a bolt left on the site a few hours later.
I checked with the Protection Safety Officer just how they know the electricity is off on the rails before they commence work. He showed me a device that flashes all the time when the juice is off but doesn’t when it is on. Also the lights in the tunnels only come on when the electricity is off – and they can’t put it back on until the Protection Officer signs the paper to say it can be switched back on at the end of the work shift. I was impressed with their safety measures and indeed with the whole operation.
I found the visit fascinating. I wouldn’t do their job for all the money in the world (apparently very few women work on these teams although some projects are managed by women). It is noisy, dirty, hard and at a ridiculous time of night for normal people. Everyone was friendly and smiled as I passed along and amongst them. I felt like a sore thumb, personally, and am grateful for the opportunity to see just what a specialised field this is and understanding a bit more about how it all works.
You can see a batch of photos from my visit on Flickr.