News, Transport

Londoners have LEDs to thank for the arrival of the 24-hour Tube. Here’s why

Unlike their fluorescent predecessors, LED tubes can be wiped clean with a pole from the platform without the risk of breakage, making maintenance cheaper and quicker to carry out | Photo: Shae Gilbert

Most Londoners are excited about the prospect of 24-hour service on the Tube on Fridays and Saturdays, starting this September. But for the engineers at London Underground, it presents a new problem: how do you carry out maintenance work if the trains don’t stop running?

‘The 24-hour Tube will have a significant impact on maintenance, particularly on some of our central London stations,’ said Bob Benn, head of stations engineering at Transport for London. ‘It means we are going to have to concentrate our maintenance on Sunday to Thursday evenings. We have to re-plan a lot of our maintenance activities to fit everything into those five days.’

Speaking at the Lighting for Rail conference last week, Benn suggested that LED lighting could be part of a solution to the problem:

‘When we consider the use of new lighting technology, a significant factor for us is how much maintenance we need to do, said Benn. ‘From a business case point of view that’s one of the advantages of things like LED, in terms of lamp life and how much we need to access the fittings. It’s not just all about energy saving, we look at the whole-life cost.’

Back in 2013 when the Tube was already two-and-a-half years into an LED tube retrofit programme, former lighting boss Shae Gilbert told Lux that ‘the reduced maintenance burden… puts London Underground in a good position if it decides to extend traffic hours in future’.

Now, more LED lights are being installed – including retrofit tubes and new luminaires in redeveloped stations – and those extended hours are about to become a reality.

Benn said the London Underground is in the middle of a £5.5 billion investment programme, which will include lighting upgrades at some of London’s busiest stations. Tottenham Court Road, Victoria, Green Park and Bank stations are all being expanded with new escalators and larger ticket halls, to cope with increasing passenger numbers. A further phase of station and line improvements is also planned.

‘It means there will be significant opportunities to change the lighting technology and also change the total ambience of the station and the environment,’ he said.