Dust-cleaning London tube train delayed until 2017

The introduction of a London tube train specially designed to remove dust has been delayed until 2017 or later in order to allow for the removal of asbestos-containing material from the Undergound rail network, according to information obtained by campaign group Clean Air in London (CAL).

The Tunnel Cleaning Train includes a carriage with large vacuum nozzles that clean the tube tunnel as the train passes through. It had previously been slated for introduction on the Underground network in late 2013 in order to combat metal dust levels.

Transport for London has dust on the tube is "highly unlikely" to be dangerous to health

Transport for London has dust on the tube is “highly unlikely” to be dangerous to health

However, in March 2014 CAL lodged a Freedom of Information request to find why the project had seemingly been delayed, to which Transport for London (TfL) responded, citing ‘supplier issues’ and ‘enabling works’ to remove asbestos, which could cost in the region of £2-5 million.

Setting a new estimated date of 2017 or later for the train to be introduced, TfL said that the main reason for the delay was because it needed to remove asbestos-containing material on the Underground network which could be disturbed by the tube cleaning train, potentially releasing harmful asbestos fibres into the atmosphere.

Historically, TfL has recorded the location of asbestos-containing materials but has removed them “only when necessary”.

But TfL said unless “certain classes” of asbestos-containing material (ACM) are removed from the Undergound, the tube cleaning train (TCT) would be “inoperable across 98% of the London Underground network”, meaning the tube cleaning project would be “no longer viable”.

The TfL response states: “ACM removal or encapsulation in the track bed is believed to be feasible, and would allow the TCT to clean the track bed over across roughly 66 percent of the network.”

Initial estimates for this removal work, TfL states, suggest that it would cost in the region of £2-5 million and could take up to 18 months, although more detailed surveys are set to be carried out to determine the extent of the work needed.

The remaining 34% of the network where cleaning would be prohibited, TfL explains, would be those where there is “asbestos noise shelf and contaminated ballast”, which are predominantly on the Central, Jubilee and Northern Lines – although work is also being undertaken to enable the TCT to operate in more areas.

TfL states: “A decision regarding the future of the Tunnel Cleaning Train project will be made once the cost and timescales associated with this ACM mitigation project are known. The first phase of the work to price the mitigation of ACMs is underway now.”

Tube dust

TfL previously carried out research on the likely health effects of tunnel dust on staff with the help of the Institute of Occupational Medicine in 2003, after which it concluded that dust levels were ‘highly unlikely’ to cause serious damage to human health.

In addition, it said that monitoring of tube dust has shown that levels are below limits set by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

However, Clean Air in London, which previously called for more research into the health effects of tube dust in February 2013 (see airqualitynews.com story), believes that tube dust is “not safe” and that the London Mayor is “relying on health advice which is hopelessly out of date”.

CAL director Simon Birkett is therefore calling on the Mayor, Boris Johnson, to bring forward plans for the tube cleaning train.

He said: “CAL urges the Mayor to accelerate plans for the tube cleaning train and the asbestos removal or encapsulation and consider urgently, in parallel, other options to protect people such as better ventilation and filtration in passenger area.”

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F. Ackroyd

I find the above report quite mystifying as it has been known, to underground buffs like myself, that for years London Underground made use of what its night crews called the ‘asbestos train’ – said to resemble a vacuum-operated snowplough which moved through the tunnels at around 3 mph in the early hours of the morning cleaning asbestos from the tunnel walls – it was known that by the early 1980s LU were to have introduced a new Swedish-designed brake pad on its trains that did not use asbestos. The source reference for this information can be found in a… Read more »