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TfL keeps schtum on underground radio plans

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Transport for London (TfL) has declined to shed any light on its timetable for implementing a digital radio network, despite criticisms in a report into the 7 July bombings.

London Assembly published the 7 July Review Committee report on 5 June 2006. It calls for TfL to speed up the process of installing a comprehensive digital radio network, dubbed the 'Connect' project. This will enable station, train and line control staff to communicate from surface to underground.

"Given the importance of communications in the minutes following any sort of emergency on a Tube train, we consider that the timeframe for the roll out of the new radio system must be significantly reduced from the current projection of 20 years," the report says.

TfL plans to upgrade the radio networks by the end of 2007 to enable emergency staff to use airwave radios from surface to underground and has had a longer term plan, covering 20 years, to connect drivers to line control staff.

London Assembly scrutiny manager Janet Hughes told Government Computing News: "Allowing the driver to communicate with the line control staff is crucial. They are the ones who need to inform the emergency services. If this had been in place during the 7 July bombings emergency staff would have been able to react."

In response, TfL declined to answer questions and issued an ambiguous statement about its plans.

"As the Assembly is aware, TfL is investing nearly £2bn over 20 years in a modern and comprehensive radio network for the Tube known as Connect," it said.

"This is being rolled out, line by line, this year and next. It will enable communication between all members of operational London Underground staff."

An upgrading of the Underground's radio systems was recommended 18 years ago after the Kings Cross fire, says the report.

"Since then, there has been a failure by successive governments to take the necessary actions to install underground communications for the transport and emergency services," it says.

"As a result, individual emergency service personnel at the affected tube stations and at Tavistock Square could not communicate effectively, in some cases with each other and in other cases with their control rooms."

The British Transport Police were the only ones able to communicate by radio underground when three bombs killed and injured hundreds of citizens on 7 July 2005.

The report said there was an overreliance, particularly by London Ambulance Service's on mobile phones while the network quickly became congested.

Other key recommendations from the committee include:

  • Transport for London (TfL) should conduct a feasibility study now of installing personal role radios and other available technologies to enable communications for emergency and transport services in underground stations and tunnels;
  • the Metropolitan Police Service, London Fire Brigade and London Ambulance Service should provide the committee with an update on the roll out of digital radio systems within their services so it can monitor progress towards full implementation of TETRA based radio communications across London's emergency services.

This article was originally published at Kablenet.

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