AS YOU travel to work, did you notice how roomy Stratford station is looking? Or that certain trains seem longer than before? Or, if you use the Jubilee Line, that more trains are running every hour? It’s all part of the way in which London’s transport system is being steadily geared up ahead of next summer’s Olympic Games.
The Olympic Delivery Authority’s transport mastermind, Hugh Sumner, is passionate about what has been achieved. “The great thing for London is that those things that might have dribbled out over many years have been accelerated and they’re here now, they’re in use, serving Londoners and serving Londoners proud.”
The £6.5bn transport legacy of the Games is more or less all up and running, from high-speed bullet trains that, rebranded as the “Javelin” shuttle, will carry crowds from St Pancras to Stratford International in seven minutes, to improvements on the East London Line and 50 per cent longer trains on the Docklands Light Railway (DLR). At Stratford International, the station’s capacity has been trebled, with the rebuilt concourse completed in January. A DLR extension to Woolwich Arsenal has been delivered, and one to Stratford International is due to open in the next few weeks.
Still, Sumner isn’t complacent that these improvements, which London will keep for the long term, will make the extra traffic of the Games disappear. “In simple terms, zone – let’s call it zone one-and-a-half – is going to be very very busy during Games time. Similarly the road systems between Earl’s Court and the Blackwall tunnel. The sheer scale is stupendous. You’re talking about 26 world championships all occurring at the same time in the same place, with cultural events that could double that. Even though we’ve done all this work, the reality is that London is going to be very busy – we’re hosting the world.”
But he does see the inevitable congestion as manageable: “By everyone doing things differently, we’re going to have a crackerjack summer. The challenge in the next 12 months is to give spectators and businesses knowledge and understanding so they can have a really good summer next year.”
He points out that the advanced state of planning already means that those with Olympic tickets (which include a nine-zone travelcard for the day) can go online, plan their journeys and book their transport.
And Sumner is delighted with the response from City firms to Transport for London’s Site-Specific Advice programme, although he acknowledges there is still further to go. “The trick for us is to work with everybody to ensure that it’s sport on the front page, not transport. We’re working a lot with the freight industry on replenishment issues – it’s probably not a good idea to run out of beer in the middle of a Games.”
In the end, his advice is simple: “Start thinking now, because your entire supply chain is going to have to be thought through. What’s your leave policy next year? What are you going to do when your people are all volunteers and they haven’t bothered telling you?” Government departments, he says, are planning to reduce their travel footprint by 50 per cent, and are carrying out practice runs in the near future. Just as his task for the next six months is to run load-testing on the transport infrastructure, firms need to take the initiative and test their alternative travel plans well in advance.
Sumner seems surprisingly calm given the pressure that he will be under if things go wrong. He says, “I recognise the gravity and the magnitude of what we’ve embarked on.” He smiles, “but we do big quite well as a nation – think of the Royal Wedding.”
Sumner’s vision of an Olympic Games centred on public transport, walking and cycling looks well on track. But to enjoy it, be sure to start your own planning now.
CV | HUGH SUMNER
Family: Married, with one teenage son
Lives: Parsons Green
Education: Bachelor of Civil Engineering and MBA, Cranfield
Career: Hugh was previously managing director of an infrastructure company and before that led the team that operated and maintained London Underground.
Favourite sports: Rugby, tennis, cricket
Sporting heroes: Jonathan Edwards, the Athens 2004 4x100m Team GB relay team