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Interview with Isabel Dedring

“Periods of austerity force you to do things more efficiently”

London's Tube: In 2012, 1.2 billion passengers were transported on these tracks.

Isabel Dedring, London's Deputy Mayor for transport, speaks about London infrastructure and the challenge of adapting the world's oldest metro system to the needs of a modern metropolis.

Past, present, future – Siemens and London's transportation system are connected by more than 150 years of shared history. As early as in 1891, did the city order two of London’s first electric locomotives from Siemens. Since then, the city’s population has more than doubled; by 2031 it is expected to pass the 9 million mark. With such high growth come challenges for a city’s infrastructure. In particular London’s metro system which currently transports 1.2 billion passengers per year, has to be adapted to these new demands. This is Isabel Dedring’s (41) area of expertise. In this interview, she speaks about London’s transportation strategy.

How do you commute to your office near Tower Bridge?

I use the Tube every day. I used to cycle regularly but I haven't managed to get back on my bike since I had my second kid.

What are the priorities for public transport in London over the next twenty years?

The biggest priorities for us are increasing capacity and improving reliability, while ensuring a customer-focused approach in thinking about journeys.

How do you plan to get there?

First, by upgrading the existing network. This means new trains, new signalling systems, replaced track. But interestingly, delivering capacity and reliability is not just about capital investments in existing stations, track and rolling stock. You can also get both capacity and reliability from how intelligently and efficiently you operate the system. IT can play an important role here, along with organisational culture. Beyond that we are also building new rail links. For example the extension of the Northern Line to Battersea. And Crossrail, a West-East link that will take a lot of strain from the Tube system. In total the upgrades and new rail links will increase London's rail capacity by over 50 percent. This is particularly necessary given that the latest UK census shows that the rate of growth of London’s population is far outstripping projections.

What role does information technology play in running and improving the system?

A big role. For example, the Transport for London website is one of the 10 most visited websites in the UK and we have 250,000 followers on Twitter. Increasingly, we want a two way discussion with customers rather than just informing them. In the past it has been more like broadcasting: We were sending out messages but not receiving any. We told people ‘this train is not working because the signal is being fixed’. Nowadays we have more and more people telling us where they currently are, where they want to go and where they face problems. Obviously we need to make sense out of all the data we gather that way. In this area integrated, state of the art rail and traffic control systems make a contribution to this.

Does the increasing fiscal frugality reduce scope for future investment into public transport?

Yes and no. Obviously having a lot of money to invest is a good thing. But periods of austerity force you to find new and more efficient ways of doing things. High levels of funding mean you do not have to question everything. One thing we are doing going forward is also looking at new, third party sources of funding from the private sector. For example, the new cable car across the Thames in East London was primarily funded through sponsorship funds.

The Transport for London's new business plan sees billion investments into the road network. Why?

The road often seems to be the "unloved sibling" of rail. However, twice as many people in London use the bus as the underground. You have a large suburban area in London and a city with a comparatively low population density. When you go to the suburban area of "Outer London", you are still in London but you can see fields with horses in them. In those areas high volume rail routes are simply not going to work. So we cannot ignore the reality that with good reason many journeys in London are done on roads. A lot of this new funding will go into the improvement of the intelligence of the road traffic system. We already have several thousand automated traffic signals that respond to the volume of traffic on the road network. We want more of that and need to manage the information they produce more effectively, to allow more precise traffic predictions and recommendations to drivers.

There is already plenty of Siemens technology behind London’s tube, public busses, road signaling, and the Congestion Charge System.

In particular London’s metro system could offer many opportunities for Siemens in the future: It is one of the longest metro track networks worldwide and it will expand even further. By 2018 a new line – Crossrail – will connect London’s East to the West. 21 kilometers of new tunnels will be constructed; this makes Crossrail Europe’s largest current construction project. As recently as November 2012 Siemens received the order for the new line’s signaling and control equipment. Several other tenders for the project are still open.

Isabel Dedring (41) is London’s Deputy Mayor for Transport. She faces the challenge of overseeing the upgrade of the oldest metro system in the world, the London Tube. It currently transports 1.2 billion passengers per year. Dedring has degrees, including in law, from Harvard University and is a qualified lawyer in the US. In the past she has worked for international consulting firms.