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Transport / Mass transit

This is why London's Night Tube probably won't start on 12 September as planned

Last week, a strike by staff shut London’s tube network down for over 24 hours. The cause of the industrial action is a dispute over the introduction of the new “Night Tube” services, due to be introduced on 12 September.

That industrial action is still not resolved, and two more 24 hour strikes are due later this month – one beginning on the evening of 25 August, the next two days later. In effect, this would disrupt the network for the better part of a week.

But never mind that now. Let’s look to the future. The Night Tube is due to begin exactly one month from today. What actually happens if no deal is reached?

Here’s what a TfL spokeswoman said when we asked:

“We are operationally ready to [begin services on 12 September], but it cannot be at any cost. We’ve put our offer to the unions’ leadership, but they’ve yet to put it their members. We’re not looking to increase anything – that is the offer, and we think that’s more than fair.”

Okay. So, if the offer gets rejected, does that mean no Night Tube?

“We’re fairly hopeful that a deal will be reached. We’re still around the table. But we cannot introduce on the 12th at any cost.”

Right, well, we’ll call that answer “diplomatic”.

So – what about the other side of the table? There are four unions involved in negotiations – ASLEF, TSSA, Unite and the RMT. We put the same question to a spokesman for the latter. Will the Night Tube go ahead as planned?

“That’d be an operation decision, that’s one for TfL. But could I foresee the Night Tube being operational if no agreement is reached with staff unions? No.”

So for TfL to make the Night Tube happen, the unions absolutely have to agree to a deal?

“It’s difficult to see how they could do it without one. They might try. Bearing in mind their operation is overseen by a complete nutter, anything’s possible, isn’t it?”

Then, just to be absolutely clear who he’s talking about here, he continued:

“You’ve got somebody who’s made up this policy on the hoof without understanding how the railway runs – this is water cannons on an epic scale.

“So it is possible they will instruct officials to run Night Tube services from 12 September regardless of whether they’ve got staffing issues, safety issues or engineering issues sorted.”

It’s possible. But the spokesman’s tone suggested that “possible” is a very long way from “likely”. And others on the union side are rather firmer on the fact that no deal means no Night Tube.

The latest round of strikes might – might! – not happen. ASLEF, the union that represents most train drivers, now says it won’t be involved, apparently because progress has been made in negotiations.

A key part of that seems to be the fact that there are whispers coming from within London Underground that the introduction will be pushed back, and the Night Tube won’t begin on 12 September after all.

That said, the TfL spokeswoman denied all knowledge of this.

Watch this space.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.
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