Simon Williams of London Underground Limited proved to be a master of his brief when he gave a detailed account of the latest developments on the Central Line to Members of Epping Forest District Council`s Scrutiny Committee on Thursday 7 June 2007.
In a very detailed and wide ranging presentation available to view online via the Council webcast facility, Mr Williams covered the upgrade and refurbishment of local Central Line stations and services including the extension of station opening times and staffing hours. He reported that since January, many of the local stations had become part of the travel zone 4 meaning lower prices for many travellers.
As more travellers switch to alternatives such as Oyster Cards, the provision of traditional ticket offices was being reduced but Mr Williams emphasised that all stations would be staffed while open. He outlined many of the improvements to stations such as Epping, Chigwell, Loughton, Theydon Bois, Roding Valley and Epping. Work was continuing at Loughton and Debden.
Refurbishment at Grange Hill is scheduled to take place in 2008.
Mr Williams described many enhancements and investments to the track and infrastructure of the Central Line in the period leading up to the London Olympics of 2012. He acknowledged that some of the network investment works would also cause periods of short-term disruption to some rail users.
However, while many improvements had been made or were planned, Mr Williams also had to answer a number of concerns. Delays and uncertainties about the upgrade of Buckhurst Hill Station which is not likely to receive significant attention before 2011 prompted Councillor Mrs Ann Haigh to enquire what might be done in terms of staff visibility, ticket facilities and access arrangements. Councillor Stallan appealed on behalf of rail user at Epping for the retention of the station kiosk in any future changes to the station, while several councillors asked questions about parking provision for commuters.
Original plans for the extension of the existing car park capacity had been shelved but a feasibility study was underway intot he scope for use of the builders yard at Epping Station.
Councillor Lesley Wagland emphasised the need not only to staff stations such as Chigwell where service hours were recently extended, but to ensure a higher level of staff visibility to reassure late night travellers.
Crime prevention in the form of CCTV cameras for stations and car parks featured in the improvements outlined by Mr Williams along with staffing of stations during open hours.
Councillor David Bateman and Councillor Doug Kelly put a number of strategic questions to Mr Williams. They asked what consideration was being given to the potential for extension of the Central Line, either out to Ongar on the existing privately owned track bed or for more ambitious projects such as extending the line to Stansted.
Mr Williams said that on the current population increase projections for the East of England Plan, LUL did not believe a business case could be made for repurchase of the Epping Ongar Line. Extension to Stansted would be prohibitive for a number of reasons including journey time.
Generating significant additional passenger numbers from within the district or further a field would also have implications on the Central Line capacity in central London. Mr Williams said that at peak times Central Line trains were running at approximate two minute intervals and while there might be some further scope to increase capacity this was limited. Councillor Mrs Wagland came back on these points as a commuter who frequently struggled in overcrowded trains.
Many of the decisions relating to congestion lay within the strategic remit of the Mayor of London. Mr Williams said that beyond improvements to the Central Line itself, Cross Rail and other solutions such as enhancements to the bus network were part of the Mayor`s thinking.
Allowing for a degree of investment to the rail network essential to the success of the Olympics in 2012, Councillor Heather Harding sought information on the impact of the recently publicised Metronet funding problems. Mr Williams was unable to provide a full response but speculated on the balance between the public purse and private enterprise in meeting some of the funding gap.
Councillor Ken Angold-Stephens, chairing Overview and Scrutiny in the absence of Councillor Richard Morgan drew the questions session to a close with thanks to Mr Williams for his very detailed presentation and responses.
Councillor Angold-Stephens said: Simon Williams certainly did his homework. Even though he had advanced notice there were many supplementary questions. While there are a number of welcome improvements to London Underground, there are also still issues of real concern to us. However, Mr Williams had a very good grasp of the subject and I think Members appreciated the manner in which he was able to reply.