Jarvis man hired to replace axed Metronet chief after Tube chaos

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The Independent Online

The private contractor responsible for two-thirds of the London Underground fired its chief executive yesterday and replaced him with a senior director from Jarvis, the controversial engineering group blamed for the Potters Bar train crash.

The private contractor responsible for two-thirds of the London Underground fired its chief executive yesterday and replaced him with a senior director from Jarvis, the controversial engineering group blamed for the Potters Bar train crash.

John Weight was ousted from the Metronet consortium after its shareholders lost patience with repeated engineering overruns and the slow delivery of its £7bn capital programme to improve the Tube. He is in line for a £345,000 pay-off.

Mr Weight has been replaced by Andrew Lezala, Jarvis's chief operating officer. Metronet stressed, however, that Mr Lezala joined Jarvis after the Potters Bar disaster in May 2002.

Metronet, which is responsible for nine of London Underground's 12 lines, has been criticised for overnight engineering delays which have caused severe disruption to services.

Keith Clarke, the chief executive of Atkins, who has taken over as Metronet's non-executive chairman, admitted that the consortium's engineering performance had been "unacceptable". But he also said that Atkins and its fellow shareholders had been unhappy with the pace at which its modernisation programme was being implemented.

He said that Metronet had decided to change the top management before a "major problem" affected its capital programme. Metronet, took over a number of deep Tube lines such as the Victoria and Bakerloo and the network's sub-surface lines, including the District and Circle in April 2003.

It was supposed to have begun refurbishment of more than 30 stations but has only started work on 17. It is also behind schedule on renewal of track on the sub-surface lines.

Rail unions and passenger groups voiced concern about the appointment of a former Jarvis director as Metronet's new chief executive. Bob Crow, the leader of the RMT union, described it as a "disastrous mistake" adding: "If Metronet now applies the Jarvis thinking and the Jarvis business techniques - which resulted in the crash at Potters Bar - it will be terrible for the Tube."

But Mr Clarke responded that Metronet was "lucky to have Mr Lezala. "We don't have any problem with hiring someone who was brought into Jarvis to rebuild its reputation," he added.

Mr Lezala said that his appointment at Jarvis not only post-dated Potters Bar but also the derailment outside Kings Cross station 16 months later caused by shoddy repairs on a stretch of track maintained by Jarvis. The derailment was the final straw which led Network Rail to strip Jarvis of its £150m maintenance contract.

Transport for London's managing director, Tim O'Toole, has voiced his "grave concern" about the performance of Metronet and the other London Underground contractor Tube Lines, which took over the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines.

The influential Commons Public Accounts Committee also questioned the part-privatisation of the Tube last month, saying that the exercise had already cost taxpayers £1bn. The MPs also warned that it could take more than 20 years before passengers could judge whether the move had led to improved services.

A spokesman for Metronet insisted its performance was getting better, saying that the reliability of Central Line trains had improved 200 per cent since a derailment at Chancery Lane shortly before Metronet took over closed the line for three months.

He also said Metronet was ahead of programme on track renewal for the deep Tube lines under its control.

Metronet has pledged to invest £17bn over the 30-year life of its contract, including £7bn in the first seven and a half years, at which point there is a break clause and the agreement can be renegotiated.

The consortium, whose other shareholders are Balfour Beatty, Bombardier, EDF Energy and RWE Thames Water, is responsible for 155 stations and 471 miles of track.

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