Last month I queried what was going on with station closures on the District line, and how much of this might be down to staffing issues. Andy from the Calling All Stations blog took this one step further and put in a FoI request to TfL.
Thanks for the tip-off, Andy. TfL have duly responded with a spreadsheet detailing every shortage-related closure in 2016, complete with dates, timings and a long list of excuses. Kindly they've also totted up the total disruption time for every station, which allows me to present...
London's Top 10 most-closed tube stations due to non-availability of staff in 2016
1) Temple(District and Circle lines) 25 closures - 3430 minutes
By some distance Temple was the most disrupted tube station due to staff shortage last year, being closed for a total of 57 hours and 10 minutes, which is the equivalent of three working days. Its woes really kicked in on Wednesday 23rd November, before which there were only four closures and after which there were twenty-one. What's more these were significant closures, almost all of them over an hour in length, and most of them nearer two hours or more. The worst day was Saturday 17th December when the station closed at lunchtime and stayed closed until the end of service, 11½ hours later. Usually TfL's reason is simply "Non-Availability of Staff", this particularly at the start or end of the day, but on eight occasions the closure was due to "Operational Reasons". Specifically staff from Temple were shuffled to either neighbouring Blackfriars or more-distant Aldgate East to keep these more important stations open. Temple, it seems, is a low-priority station which can be sacrificed when necessary, and very much has been.
2) Holland Park(Central line) 17 closures - 2793 minutes
And here's another. Holland Park's problems were almost all concentrated in the second and third weeks of December, and were almost all over two hours in duration. One particular closure, thanks to Night Tube, lasted thirteen consecutive hours from 6.30pm on a Saturday evening to 7.30am on Sunday morning. Again "Operational Reasons" were to blame for most of the closures, with booked-on staff redeployed to either Notting Hill Gate or Shepherd's Bush - in one case both - to ensure these more important stations remained open.
3) Blackhorse Road(Victoria line) 9 closures - 1803 minutes
All thirty hours of closures at Blackhorse Road are due to other stations on the Victoria line being understaffed. Six closures helped to keep Walthamstow Central open, and others supported Highbury & Islington, Seven Sisters and Tottenham Hale. One of the issues on the Victoria line is that all the stations north of King's Cross are interchanges, so shutting any of them inconveniences passengers on other lines. At present, however, the Overground through Blackhorse Road is closed for an upgrade, making this an easy target when there aren't enough employees to cope with unforeseen circumstances.
4) Queensway(Central line) 7 closures - 1586 minutes
Queensway was doing pretty well until the week before Christmas, when staff started to be shuffled off to keep Notting Hill Gate open (we heard something very similar at Holland Park). Christmas Eve was by far the worst day, with not enough staff over breakfast, then a total closure from 2.30pm making thirteen hours altogether. And you might be thinking so what, it's only Christmas Eve, who was really inconvenienced, but this is a tube network that's supposed to function, and used to, and seems to have hit some sort of crisis at the end of last year.
5) Bow Road(District and Hammersmith & City line) 12 closures - 1285 minutes
My local station appears at number five, which as a regular user comes as no surprise. It had occasional problems with unavailability of staff before December, then in the two weeks before Christmas entered some kind of rapid staffing decline. In particular there were six occasions when the station didn't open at 5.15am as it should have done, kicking into action up to 2½ hours later when sufficient staff turned up, and five occasions when someone's shift finished around 10.30pm and the station remained closed for the rest of the evening. It was even worse than that in January, but these figures only cover 2016, else I suspect Bow Road would be rather higher on the list.
6) Manor House(Piccadilly line) 8 closures - 849 minutes 7) Chancery Lane(Central line) 7 closures - 797 minutes 8) Bond Street(Central and Jubilee lines) 7 closures - 761 minutes 9) Goodge Street(Northern line) 13 closures - 739 minutes 10) Tufnell Park(Northern line) 4 closures - 704 minutes
And so the list continues, now down to 'less than one working day per year' lost to lack of staff. Manor House's total includes a member of staff being taken ill with chest pains while on duty. Bond Street's interesting because almost all the closures are at the very start of the day, as if somebody kept getting into work late. Goodge Street was repeatedly closed so that stations either side could be kept open. And again, the majority of the closures that contributed to these totals took place in December.
One other station stands out in TfL's overall list, and that's Canary Wharf. Although 'only' closed for 325 minutes over the course of last year, it has the second highest number of closures overall, which is seventeen. With one exception each of these closures is at the beginning of the day, just after 5am, as some member of staff fails to make it in on time. The 'reason' column in TfL's spreadsheet repeatedly mentions a staff taxi being late, and occasionally the closure of the Blackwall Tunnel, suggesting that some key employee lives south of the river. But the delays in opening the station are generally less than half an hour in duration, and peak in the summer, which is definitely atypical for the rest of the list.
Before we finish, let's churn out some more statistics regarding the 360 staff-related Full Station Closures in the 2016 list.
• 91 different tube stations were affected by staff-shortage closures in 2016. 87 of these are underground, and therefore have strict fire safety rules regarding minimum numbers of staff.
• 179 stations had no staff-shortage closures in 2016. Almost all of these are above ground, which means the gates can be left open and the station left unstaffed as necessary... which at some stations is quite often.
• Almost two-thirds of 2016's staff-shortage closures began first thing in the morning, that's between half past four and six o'clock. This suggests employees are having trouble getting into work, which is perhaps not surprising given that the tubes are shut, or perhaps staff are simply oversleeping. Whatever, there were more than 200 occasions last year when early-bird passengers will have turned up at a tube station to find it closed.
• By contrast, only about 50 of last year's closures were at the very end of the day, with stations shutting down and not reopening. Temple, Holland Park and Bow Road account for half of these.
• The shortest staff-shortage closure was 2 minutes, at Hyde Park Corner, at the start of service on 24th August.
• One-third of closures lasted over an hour, 15% over two hours, 5% over three hours, and three over ten hours.
• The average length of a closure was 67 minutes.
• Almost three-quarters of staff-shortage closures were because of "Non-Availability of Staff".
• 20% of closures were for "Operational Reasons", generally staff being sent to other stations which would otherwise have been forced to close.
• 5% of closures were specifically due to issues with staff taxis running late.
• There were only 6 staff-shortage closures in January 2016, and only 8 in February. Monthly totals increased to a bit of a peak in the summer, hitting 35 in August, before falling back. November wasn't great, with 34, but December was a disaster with 149. That's 41% of the entire year's total in a single month!
• TfL's 'Fit for the Future' reorganisation, which cut back staffing numbers at stations, was introduced in April. There was no obvious uptick in closures at the time, but the staffing system was now much more reliant on overtime.
• The RMT union called an overtime ban for station staff on 23rd November. The number of station closures rose considerably from this point onwards.
• The RMT called additional action from 15th December, asking members to refuse to train staff sent to cover from other stations. The number of station closures duly leapt in the immediate run-up to Christmas.
And finally here's the table the Evening Standard headline writers will like the best...
The five worst tube lines for staff-related station closures in 2016
1) District line(7240 minutes) 2) Central line(7196 minutes) 3) Circle line(5410 minutes) 4) Piccadilly line(3630 minutes) 5) Victoria line(3477 minutes)
Before anyone gets too excited, I should point out that this league table is terribly misleading. Almost half the District line's total is explained by Temple, and two thirds of the Circle's. Meanwhile Holland Park and Queensway contributed over 60% of the Central line's appalling-looking total. The surprise might be the Victoria line, which managed to have staff-related closures at 14 of its 16 stations. At the other end of the table obviously the Waterloo & City line had the least disruption, but the Metropolitan was next with only 369 minutes, because most of it is above ground.
Take all of this with a pinch of salt, because you can prove anything with statistics, and 2016 was a wholly atypical year. But what's for sure is that December saw an unholy station-staffing debacle on the Underground, with 150 station closures in just one month. The RMT's overtime ban was the trigger, suggesting it was only overtime holding TfL's staffing reorganisation together, and this all too easily fell apart. A pledge to reinstate hundreds of jobs will hopefully solve the problem... the travelling public can only hope.