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Kenyon Confronts Sunday, 19 January, 2003, 17:03 GMT
Tube maintenance malpractice exposed
Graphic image of tube workers and train
A tube maintenance gang was infiltrated by the BBC
London Underground is wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers' money on maintenance staff who operate in a culture of malpractice and laziness, a BBC investigation has learned.

An undercover agent from Kenyon Confronts was sent to work with overnight maintenance gangs for five weeks to investigate claims they are poorly trained and lack motivation.

The undercover worker never had his references checked and at one point was left alone for 20 minutes in a tunnel under the Houses of Parliament, raising serious security concerns.

The investigation revealed gangs who skive, are under-trained, under-supervised, dangerous and even asleep on the job.

And the programme obtained a secret internal report into one bungled job which stated: "There is a little evidence of corporate ability to learn lessons from previous failures."

The report said that delays on the job in question cost almost a million pounds, that four maintenance workers were injured and that it was one of a number of projects that had over-run.

Curved rail

The job took place during Easter 2002 and required the closure of Baker Street tube station for five days.

During junction replacement work, straight rail was delivered to replace curved sections. The gangs had to bend the rails.

The work has not been well planned

Peter Ford, former London Underground chairman
When Paul Kenyon asked an insider how you can turn straight rail into curved, he replied "You can't. That's why they popped out".

"They didn't have the tools. A lot of the staff were brought in from agencies and were not experienced track workers," the informer told Paul Kenyon.

Bad planning

Peter Ford was Chairman of London Underground from 1994 to 1998. He told the programme that bad planning is often to blame.

Former chairman of London Underground, Peter Ford
Former LU chairman Peter Ford spoke of a waste of public money
"The work hasn't been well planned or some key materials or key individual doesn't turn up. Then they actually can't do the job and that's when they have a complete waste of time and money."

The maintenance gangs are expected to work quickly and efficiently during the night while the power is switched off.

But one foreman was secretly filmed advising men that the best way to avoid work was to "Keep a low profile and don't get seen."

On one occasion the infiltrated gang was asked to carry out work beneath London's Covent Garden station to fix a sleeper.

The job would normally be expected to take a group of workers one night shift.

But due to a lack of organization, breakdowns in communication, and laziness on the part of the workers, the job took six shifts - a huge waste of manpower at a significant cost to the taxpayer.


One maintenance worker was filmed picking up lost wallets and boasting that he used the credit cards abroad.

"I've found them with driving licenses and every credit card you ever wanted." he said.

The revelations come at a crucial turning point for London Underground as it is about to undergo part-privatisation under the auspices of a government backed Public Private Partnership.

Following the crashes at Potters Bar and Hatfield, the use of sub-contractors to repair and maintain tracks has been questioned, but it seems the policy will be continued under the new scheme.

In a statement to the BBC, London Underground admitted there had been lost working time, as staff familiarise themselves with new practices within their stringent safety procedures and continued:

"London Underground takes the safety of its customers and staff very seriously and would take immediate action if ever it were to find evidence of malpractice."

Kenyon Confronts: The Gravy Train will be broadcast on Wednesday, 22 January at 1930 GMT on BBC One

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15 Jan 03 | Kenyon Confronts
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