"It takes a huge amount of effort and investment -- both time and resources -- to do what we do, so we need to ensure that we're efficiently sharing some of the best practices back into the industry, so we all collectively benefit."
Tracing it's origins back to 1863, Transport for London is one of the world's most respected operators. Formed in 2000 to take care of London's 156-year-old London Underground system, TfL is internationally renowned for both its comprehensive operations network as for its constant innovation in the industry.
Ahead of SmartTransit LA, we sat down with Frank Ibe, Head of Line Operations & Performance for the Bakerloo and Victoria Lines, for an in-depth interview about his job, the sector, and TfL's latest projects.
Frank will be a speaker in SmartTransit LA on October 28-30th. where he will talk about predictive maintenance and Victoria Line operations in a series of presentations relevant to industry experts and decision makers alike. Join us at LA for the full topic, and read some of his best insights below, after the break.
First off, a bit of background: How did you started your current career path, and what does your position as Head of Bakerloo and Victoria Line Operations entails?
I started in the railway industry in the mid 90’s. As with many people of that time, it was only supposed to be a short term career move -- one year, max -- but I really enjoyed it. 25 years later, I’m still here, and still loving being a part of a huge industry that is so essential in getting people mobile.
I have worked through the grades from station staff, supervisory roles, and duty management -- both in trains and stations -- to group and middle management, all the way through to different senior management roles. Along the way, I enhanced my learning with management and safety diplomas as well as an MBA, which have all been very useful in all aspects of my recent leadership roles.
In my current position as Head of Line operations, I have accountability for all aspects of Train and Service Control Operations on two of TfL's London Underground (LU) Lines. The Victoria Line -- currently the most intense trains service frequency of any railway in Europe -- is one of them, delivering 36 trains per hour (TPH) during peak times, and an average of a train every 100 seconds throughout the day. I also manage the operations of London’s most iconic line, the Bakerloo Line, which happens to be the oldest of the tube stock line. My key role is to work with very professional and capable teams to deliver reliable, safe, and customer-focused line operations on both lines, whilst ensuring high levels of engagement with customers, staff, and trade unions.
How has the rail industry changed since you started working in it?
I think the rail industry is finally getting the recognition it deserves as a premium form of public transport. The rail industry plays a critical part in the economy with direct correlation with jobs, housing, regeneration, and city/town growth; of course it still has it’s many challenges, but from a speed, efficiency, and safety perspective, it is by far the leading form of inner-city transport.
Technology investment has also significantly improved signalling and maintenance, with more of a customer-focused ethos at the front end which was not apparent in my early years. But the biggest shift, both in metros and heavy rail, is the relentless focus on reliability and the use of strategies, framework, and techniques to continuously improve.
What industry challenges do you identify as the most pressing ones, and how is TfL tackling them?
The most important challenge is consistently maintaining high standards of safety. The London Underground network alone moves 5 million customers each day, and we have a relentless focus on safety through several proactive measures, active monitoring, and in-depth investigations to learn lessons. This has never been so important.
We also benchmark ourselves by looking at "best practices" within the industry and review external investigations to ensure we are up-to-date within this area. This is not only for public confidence, but to ensure that our staff and customers go home safely every day.
Also, like most organisations and industries in the UK, we in TfL have cost pressures, and becoming more efficient with available resources is very important for an industry such as ours, so that we can continue to invest and improve or service offering to customers. These are our biggest challenges, in my view.
What will you be talking about at SmartTransit?
The importance of predictive maintenance, and the Victoria Line: a modern miracle of transport, vital for a busy metropolitan city.
Is there any topic you’re interested in learning more about? What trends in the industry currently interest you the most?
The next phase of CBTC and further digitalisation of our railways, as well as how we can really enhance current technological advances within the rail industry.
TfL is an industry leader – what are the pros and cons of being a company that so many others look up to?
The pros: it definitely drives innovation. We have so many highly capable and skilled individuals behind the scenes, and the customer facing end of the organisation, who are continuously coming up with ideas on how to improve safety systems, operational processes, methods of working, the customer experience, and reliability challenges.
The cons: it takes a huge amount of effort and investment -- both time and resources -- to do what we do, so we need to ensure that we're efficiently sharing some of the best practices back into the industry, so we all collectively benefit. This is something that TfL consulting -- a new consulting arm of Transport for London -- is very keen to do.
What were the most noteworthy challenges you guys solved or are in the process of solving?
The Olympic games are one of our greatest achievements, as it was a complex logistical challenge which we planned and delivered extremely well. More recently, the upgrades to the stations, signalling systems, and trains -- while the network is still operational -- are worthy of note. We visualise each milestone and address those known (and unknown) issues that arise, capturing any learning that may arise from it for the next phase.
What's the biggest professional challenge you've ever faced?
Leading significant changes to the way stations in the London Underground were managed, under a major transformation programme that changed the way customers paid for their travel and how stations were staffed. At the time, my line -- the Central Line -- was the pioneer, so as the vanguard, there was a lot of pressure to get it right for the rest of the network.
Are there any past projects in your life you're proud of? Are there any upcoming ones you're excited about?
Successfully implementing Night Tube operations on the Central Line in 2016, one of the first two Night Tube LU lines. In 2010, I also led a major improvement programme on real-time customer information in the LU, working with external organisations and TfL’s internal Information Management team, to ensure the strategy is sustainable – the changes borne from it are still relevant and in place today.
I’m particularly excited about a new timetable we're putting together for the Victoria line, which once in place, will probably make it the most intense frequency rail service in the world! Equally, I would like to be around for the proposed Bakerloo line extension project to Lewisham and possibly Hayes.
Finally, a question we ask all our interviewees: what's your favourite rail journey in the world, and why?
I’ve been on many rail journeys -- wherever we travel on holidays, I tend to always take a trip on the local train or metro. My favourite has to be when we travelled to Sri Lanka in January 2019. While touring around this beautiful country, we took the train from the bustling town of Kandy to Nuwara, a small town high in the tea plantation mountains. It was magical - not the most comfortable I’ve had, but no other form of transport could have given us the majestic views and the fantastic experience we had with locals on the four-hour journey in that 1979 class M6 Diesel-electric locomotive.
To meet Frank and other fantastic speakers, decision makers, and experts, join us at SmartTransit LA 2019, on October 28-30th!