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London's Victoria line has a small problem
January 23, 2014 11:31 AM   Subscribe

The control room is full of quick setting concrete.

"No service between Warren Street and Brixton while we fix damage caused by Flooding at Victoria." according to the live travel news.
posted by pharm (89 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
That's one way to react to the funny signs on the Underground, I guess.
posted by fifteen schnitzengruben is my limit at 11:34 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


FILL THE GAP
posted by JauntyFedora at 11:38 AM on January 23 [69 favorites]


"The civil engineering team has poured fast-setting concrete into the Victoria Line signalling equipment room and shut everything down..."

The following was announced by the head of the Civil Engineering Team:

We have comrades in arms around the world who are languishing in prison. Transport for London enjoys rattling its saber to its own ends now it can rattle it for us. The following people are to be released from their captors...
posted by griphus at 11:38 AM on January 23 [32 favorites]


I would love some context. That's a lot of concrete, and as much as people like to "hurf durf government workers" or whatever, it's not a typical thing to just back up to a door and unload several yards of mix.

Did a form break? Did an overhead pour find a forgotten plug?

(This is why I do not, if I can avoid it, store anything within a foot of the floor if there is water nearby or the floor is a low spot. I would have thought an underground switching facility would keep stuff up high...)
posted by maxwelton at 11:39 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]


"Shovel ready"
posted by rustcrumb at 11:39 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


"You won’t believe why the Victoria Line is currently suspended"

For fuck's sake, enough with the Upworthy headlines!
posted by brundlefly at 11:40 AM on January 23 [42 favorites]


as much as people like to "hurf durf government workers" or whatever,

But this will certainly reinforce their opinion.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 11:44 AM on January 23 [18 favorites]


There was a problem earlier, but now the control room is all set.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:44 AM on January 23 [89 favorites]


Have Transport for London confirmed it yet? Do we have any concrete information?

Whoever's responsible for this, it truly was a pour decision.

Really has cemented my opinion of the quality of engineers there.
posted by sektah at 11:45 AM on January 23 [29 favorites]


as much as people like to "hurf durf government workers" or whatever, it's not a typical thing to just back up to a door and unload several yards of mix.
Yeah, sure it's not, Governor Christie.
posted by Flunkie at 11:46 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Well, the system is still working in the aggregate.
posted by Curious Artificer at 11:47 AM on January 23 [45 favorites]


Private contractors, per the Guarniad:

Tube workers clearing up at the scene said the contractors, VINCI BAM Nuttall, appeared to have poured concrete into a void in an escalator machine room that burst through into the signal equipment room
posted by Novus at 11:47 AM on January 23 [4 favorites]


Oops.
posted by Artw at 11:47 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]


VINCI BAM Nuttall is a really impressive name.
posted by moonmilk at 11:48 AM on January 23 [12 favorites]


The only mistake greater than giving that roadrunner an Oyster card was allowing that coyote to graduate from engineering school.
posted by Shepherd at 11:49 AM on January 23 [20 favorites]


Well, the system is still working in the aggregate.

Damn it! I was about to make an aggregate joke.
posted by brundlefly at 11:51 AM on January 23 [1 favorite]


All these puns are pretty hard-hearted. How can you sit there stone-faced while people are stuck fast in the tube? They must be petrified! Chalk it up to the flinty nature of the internet I guess.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:52 AM on January 23 [19 favorites]


I would love some context. That's a lot of concrete, and as much as people like to "hurf durf government workers" or whatever, it's not a typical thing to just back up to a door and unload several yards of mix.

Why would they "hurf durf government workers" when private contractors were the ones who fucked up?
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 11:52 AM on January 23 [6 favorites]


So is this actually a "blunder" or is this deliberate sabotage, with a "blundering idiots" cover story from management?
posted by fontophilic at 11:54 AM on January 23


Why would they "hurf durf government workers" when private contractors were the ones who fucked up?

Because, in the context of emails from That Uncle, anything even tangentially related to the government has as a source of the fuck-ups "lazy government workers" whatever the reality might be.
posted by maxwelton at 11:55 AM on January 23 [3 favorites]


As a Londoner who thought he's seen everything the TFL can throw at the commuter, all that's left is:

*slow clap*
posted by Static Vagabond at 11:57 AM on January 23 [9 favorites]


Victoria Line relegated to 13th from 3rd
posted by dmt at 11:58 AM on January 23 [5 favorites]


Oh bless!
posted by srboisvert at 11:58 AM on January 23


Damn it! I was about to make an aggregate joke.

You can always add to an aggregate joke.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 12:00 PM on January 23 [31 favorites]


So are the TFL control rooms automated? Because I'm wondering if some transport engineer was just down there making sure everything was working right and suddenly a wall bursts open and the room quickly floods with a 99.99/0.01 mixture of quick-setting concrete and terrified control room guy urine.
posted by griphus at 12:01 PM on January 23 [8 favorites]


You can always add to an aggregate joke.


Yeah, just toss it into the mix.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:01 PM on January 23 [18 favorites]


I hear police are looking for some hardened criminals.

In other news, Victoria Line has been renamed Blue Circle line....
posted by lordelphin at 12:03 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Ok, ok, folks are now rebarred from making concrete jokes in this thread.
posted by xedrik at 12:06 PM on January 23 [10 favorites]


Billy Beane has been called in to help find a way to fix the loss of such a key player in the Tube system. He claims they will be able to recreate the Victoria Line in the aggregate. Already he has made a number of controversial trades, such as sending 4 London cabs to New York in exchange for David Justice.
posted by humanfont at 12:07 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


This happened in new york last week but it was human feces and instead of the control room it was my bedroom.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 12:08 PM on January 23 [8 favorites]


Rachel Whiteread strikes again!
posted by Sys Rq at 12:10 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


Mind The Crap.

In other news, I'm over the moon that my tube options are now being cattle packed on the Northern Line or a non functioning Victoria Line.
posted by MuffinMan at 12:13 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I just learned a couple of weeks ago that cement is an ingredient in concrete, having gone 40+ years of my life believing that they were synonyms.
posted by Shepherd at 12:14 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]


They should look on the bright side. If they finish the job, the control room will become invulnerable to terrorist attack.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 12:17 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Rogue AI that developed in Tube switching equipment has been contained.
posted by hank at 12:19 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Reminds me of this Dutch commercial.
posted by Ms. Next at 12:20 PM on January 23 [4 favorites]


"Nice little transport control system you got there, be a shame if anything happened to it..."
posted by mosk at 12:20 PM on January 23 [5 favorites]


Fires happen, TFL. Things burn...
posted by Juffo-Wup at 12:21 PM on January 23


Tube workers clearing up at the scene said the contractors, VINCI BAM Nuttall, appeared to have poured concrete into a void in an escalator machine room that burst through into the signal equipment room

Even Apeldoorn bellen.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:27 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


So how do you clean this up? It seems like once the concrete sets, it would be really difficult to remove it all without destroying all the equipment. Is the equipment already a total loss, or could it be salvaged if you removed it from the concrete? Can you pump or haul the concrete out before it sets? Can you do anything to stop the concrete from setting, or to slow down that process, without making the damage worse?
posted by rustcrumb at 12:27 PM on January 23


I guess on the upside, it looks like they have relatively modern electrical equipment in there, so it won't be like it might in NYC where you would need to somehow source components that haven't been manufactured in living memory.
posted by feloniousmonk at 12:39 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


is "civil engineering" british for "construction worker"? because that doesn't look like an "engineering" failure.
posted by Dr. Twist at 12:39 PM on January 23


"So, Mr. Bond- I have quite enjoyed out little competition, but it is getting late and I have a rocket to catch. You will notice that the control room is now filling with rapid-hardening concrete. Game, set, and match, I would think."



"Krimenko, all you've done is harden my resholve."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:41 PM on January 23 [24 favorites]


The police have a suspect in custody.
posted by drezdn at 12:42 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


If it's this kind of concrete then I volunteer to help clean it up.
posted by moonmilk at 12:45 PM on January 23


Power and signalling was switched off for safety reasons. Passengers were initially told the closure was due to “flooding” at Victoria Station.

Technically correct, I suppose, and better than saying "we hired a bunch of morons who dumped concrete all over the controls" to unhappy passengers.
posted by immlass at 12:51 PM on January 23


For fuck's sake, enough with the Upworthy headlines!

But I'm still trying to pick my jaw up off the floor!
posted by Dr-Baa at 12:51 PM on January 23


But I'm still trying to pick my jaw up off the floor!


Be sure you don't lose it in all the concrete!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:54 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


I just learned a couple of weeks ago that cement is an ingredient in concrete, having gone 40+ years of my life believing that they were synonyms.

The only difference between cement and concrete is that concrete has aggregate like gravel or bluemetal. So it's pretty easy to make that distinction.
posted by Talez at 1:05 PM on January 23


"You won’t believe why the Victoria Line is currently suspended"

For fuck's sake, enough with the Upworthy headlines!

Indeed, but this is the first time that I have actually thought such a headline is justified. I'm...actually having trouble believing it.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 1:07 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


a girl i knew vaguely in high school (who betrayed no such future promise at the time) is now one of the world's leading experts in the composition and properties of concrete.

you could say that she rocks.
posted by bruce at 1:22 PM on January 23 [6 favorites]


Wait, for real!? I honestly thought this FPP was a plug for @TlfTravelAlerts . Once again, reality has outstripped parody.
posted by whuppy at 1:34 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


a girl i knew vaguely in high school (who betrayed no such future promise at the time) is now one of the world's leading experts in the composition and properties of concrete.

you could say that she rocks.


I don't know, she sounds very set in her ways.
posted by Dasein at 1:34 PM on January 23 [3 favorites]


For reals whuppy.
posted by pharm at 1:36 PM on January 23


Terrible form.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 1:37 PM on January 23 [5 favorites]


A through investigation should determine whos asphalt.

Help! These puns are stucco my head!
posted by dr_dank at 2:02 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


I saw similar thing happen at a TV studio in Los Angeles. Concrete was being poured in one area that unknowingly emptied into a main cable raceway. By the time the mistake was realized, the majority of cabling was entombed in concrete. With the risk of cable damage so high if they attempted to remove the concrete (by cutting & smashing it) it was decided to simply leave it in place and create a new pathway for future cabling.

No idea on how they will repair the station. They don't have the option of leaving it as is. My best guess is that they build out replacement hardware, demo the entire room except the cabling in/out and rebuild it from scratch. Nothing from under the concrete can be trusted going forward.
posted by Argyle at 2:03 PM on January 23


Well that's a particularly forceful way to constrain your opponents' play along the diagonal.
posted by Wolfdog at 2:08 PM on January 23 [11 favorites]


There's a hole in the machine room floor. Your boss says to patch it before someone gets hurt!
You are carrying: Shovel. Wellington Boots. Concrete.
] WEAR BOOTS
Safety is very important.
You are carrying: Shovel. Concrete. You are wearing: Wellington Boots
] FILL HOLE
I'm sorry, what do you want to fill it with?
You are carrying: Shovel. Concrete. You are wearing: Wellington Boots
] FILL HOLE WITH SHOVEL
But the shovel won't fit inside the hole!
You are carrying: Shovel. Concrete. You are wearing: Wellington Boots
] FILL HOLE WITH CONCRETE
How do you propose to do that?
You are carrying: Shovel. Concrete. You are wearing: Wellington Boots
] FILL HOLE WITH CONCRETE USING SHOVEL
You shovel some concrete into the hole but it isn't full.
You are carrying: Shovel. Concrete. You are wearing: Wellington Boots
] FILL HOLE WITH CONCRETE USING SHOVEL
You keep shovelling. You can hear noises coming from downstairs. It must be your boss, coming to congratulate you on a job well done.
You are carrying: Shovel. You are wearing: Wellington Boots
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:18 PM on January 23 [22 favorites]


To give a bit more context, VINCI BAM Nuttall are contractors for TfL working on the massive upgrade of Victoria Underground station, which is about as stupidly a difficult a project as you can get in London.

Basically right now a huge number of commuters come into Victoria mainline station every day then change onto the Underground there via a ticket hall and windy entrances and connecting tunnels that were never designed to take the sheer number of people they do. Temporary closures in order to let numbers below ground thin out a bit were a near daily occurrence when I used to commute into it every day (although luckily for me I normally got the bus) and that was about six years ago - it's just as bad (if not worse) now.

So there's a big project under way to massively rebuild much of the station below ground so it can hopefully handle both existing and future passenger numbers better.

Trouble is that this means building new tunnels, structures, rooms and everything else both around and between the existing station and tunnels. It also means doing so with as little disruption as possible to the already-overcrowded existing station... oh and with a little disruption to the massively busy bus station and surrounding streets and buildings above. The room for error in a lot of the work and drilling going on is mere millimetres.

Given all the above, I'm not entirely surprised something has gone wrong - although I wasn't expecting something quite so spectacular. TfL's incident report, when they eventually do one, should be a fascinating read. In part i'll be interested to see whether it'll actually turn out to be someone's fault - i.e. that BAM or some other party misjudged either the location of the affected signal room or the strength of the wall between that and the escalator void - or whether it'll be one of those cases where something unanticipated by all parties happened.

With tongue slightly in cheek, better this than them accidentally drilling into the river Tyburn or something.

I guess on the upside, it looks like they have relatively modern electrical equipment in there, so it won't be like it might in NYC where you would need to somehow source components that haven't been manufactured in living memory.

Until recently there were a couple of signal control switches on the Metropolitan line that were so old that when TfL needed to replace them they couldn't get any of the normal rail/signal maintenance companies to agree to do it for anything less than megabucks. In the end I think they hit on the bright idea of going to a theatre prop company and getting them to try and completely recreate them from a feckload of photographs and the original plans. Thankfully it worked. Think I've got a photo of one of them somewhere - will see if I can find it.
posted by garius at 2:19 PM on January 23 [24 favorites]


Until recently there were a couple of signal control switches on the Metropolitan line that were so old that when TfL needed to replace them they couldn't get any of the normal rail/signal maintenance companies to agree to do it for anything less than megabucks. In the end I think they hit on the bright idea of going to a theatre prop company and getting them to try and completely recreate them from a feckload of photographs and the original plans.

And replacing them with modern switches was out of the question?

Was this some kind of employee-morale thing, where one of the unwritten perks of the job was getting to throw a huge knife switch with aplomb like Dr. Frankenstein or something?
posted by acb at 2:22 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


The more huge Frankenstein knife switches in the world the better.
posted by Artw at 2:26 PM on January 23 [4 favorites]


The only difference between cement and concrete is that concrete has aggregate like gravel or bluemetal. So it's pretty easy to make that distinction.

That's kind of like saying the only difference between a chicken and chicken soup is the addition of water and vegetables. True, but they are still pretty different.

I'd be quite surprised if they were using true rapid-set concrete for a pour this size in the London Tube, they probably have a little longer than is implied to get it out. But still not that long...
posted by deadwax at 2:28 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


So how do you clean this up?

The best course would probably be to introduce concrete retardant chemicals before it fully sets, to make it brittle and powdery for easier removal. Not being an expert, I'm not sure whether there's enough time left to despoil "quick setting" concrete. One also has to wonder whether the same outfit that allowed this accident to happen would also be capeble of sourcing the chemicals and organizing a mitigation effort in time.
posted by ceribus peribus at 2:31 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


Imagine, years from now, what wonders archeologists will think of our civilization...
posted by Riton at 2:33 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


And replacing them with modern switches was out of the question?

Pretty much. It was a wierd electro-mechanical beast.

Found the picture of the one I saw. Looks like I was misremembering slightly - it was small-gauge (i.e the stuff you see at town fares) railway manufacturer Ride On Railways who managed to do it, not a prop company.

The one I got a photo of has a glass front because it was/is used as a training tool in West Ashfield, London Underground's fake station that they use for staff training.
posted by garius at 2:52 PM on January 23 [8 favorites]


Yes, but is is the wrong kind of concrete?
posted by Kreiger at 2:55 PM on January 23


Yes, but is is the wrong kind of concrete?

No, silly, they weren't building a station for DC's metro system.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 3:00 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


The latest I've heard is that they're still saying the line will reopen tomorrow. There's such a huge amount of infrastructure work going on in London at the moment - Crossrail alone is building 21km of tunnel and 9 new stations through the heart of the capital, it's a stupidly huge enterprise - that I have no doubt that you can get the experts and the stuff necessary to sort anything out that is sortable on-site in no time flat.

The signalling equipment itself is new, following a major upgrade that finished a couple of years ago. That was unusual, as the original gear from the mid-60s when the Victoria Line was built (pretty cool contemporary documentary) was actually capable of being run driverless from the off, but the unions didn't like that much - so one automatic train operations system was replaced by another. As far as I know, the drivers on the VL don't do very much but press the odd button...(they were doing rather less this evening.)
posted by Devonian at 3:01 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


acb: "Until recently there were a couple of signal control switches on the Metropolitan line that were so old that when TfL needed to replace them they couldn't get any of the normal rail/signal maintenance companies to agree to do it for anything less than megabucks. In the end I think they hit on the bright idea of going to a theatre prop company and getting them to try and completely recreate them from a feckload of photographs and the original plans.

And replacing them with modern switches was out of the question?

Was this some kind of employee-morale thing, where one of the unwritten perks of the job was getting to throw a huge knife switch with aplomb like Dr. Frankenstein or something?
"

[Puts railroad design cap on...] In order to replace the control hardware for a mass transit system that moves hundreds of thousands of passengers daily, the bar for safety must necessarily be very, very high.

Will those modern switches you want to use close exactly the same way, at exactly the same speed, with exactly the same electrical characteristics as the parts they replace? If not, is it possible that a millisecond change in switching time could potentially change one bit somewhere in the physically-gigantic computers that is the London railway system? (For the laymen: a signal control switch is a memory bit.) Is there the slightest chance that the new switch will sometimes switch when it receives 22 V, while the old switches required 25 V?

Remember, hundreds of thousands of lives are going to be affected by any oversight you might make in choosing this new switch. Some of them may be killed. Possibly hundreds at once.

That is why these switches are not just replaced with more modern equipment. Before anyone dares do that, a complete rework of the entire system's functioning must be analyzed to make sure no slight differences will ever change the way the logic operates. Not even by one (literal) bit.

Wanna change your lightbulbs for LED bulbs at home? Go right ahead. Wanna change the way a train decides to stop when it notices another train ahead of it, when it's going 70 kph? I want that decision triple-checked, with signoffs and a pile of engineering paperwork big enough to act as a train bufferpost.

Back to working on such paper....
posted by IAmBroom at 3:20 PM on January 23 [18 favorites]


Have they cured the problem yet?
posted by Annika Cicada at 4:31 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Come on you guys, cut 'em some slack. I'm sure whoever made this mistake is mortarfied.
posted by stenseng at 4:51 PM on January 23 [2 favorites]


[more inside] Well, yes: that is the problem.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:01 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


We have comrades in arms around the world who are languishing in prison. Transport for London enjoys rattling its saber to its own ends now it can rattle it for us. The following people are to be released from their captors...

What is magical about this is that until I got to the word 'languishing', I didn't immediately recognize it. When I got to that word, part of my brain recognized it, attached the correct person to the voice before my conscious mind got to that point. So out of nowhere my mind suddenly hears Alan Rickman reading those lines from that point on, and the joke came alive before my eyes. It was like some sort of close-up magic trick, but done from Brooklyn to Chicago.

Bravo, good man.
posted by chambers at 5:12 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


That's kind of like saying the only difference between a chicken and chicken soup is the addition of water and vegetables. True, but they are still pretty different.

It's more like the difference between chicken soup and chicken noodle soup is the addition of noodles.
posted by Talez at 5:59 PM on January 23


Yes, but is is the wrong kind of concrete?

No, silly, they weren't building a station for DC's metro system.


...or all of Montreal.
posted by Sys Rq at 6:49 PM on January 23 [1 favorite]


Tee hee
posted by andraste at 7:28 PM on January 23 [4 favorites]


In sympathy, Metro-North shut down completely for two hours after a computer failure.
posted by nicwolff at 9:17 PM on January 23


Apparently the Victoria line is open again; TFL are reporting good service on all lines. I would seriously love to know what their disaster recovery plan looked like - I guess from the speed of it they switched over to redundant signalling equipment somewhere.
posted by doop at 10:59 PM on January 23


Looks like it doop.
posted by pharm at 12:01 AM on January 24


Apparently concrete retardant chemicals were indeed deployed....
posted by runincircles at 12:13 AM on January 24


The Victoria Line opened as normal today - no delays.

That's impressive. But not as impressive as this picture of the control room post-cleanup.

Someone pointed out to me the other day that despite our general sense of self-abnegation and just blustering through, the British had got really rather good at managing large projects of late. Much more of this sort of competence, and I may have to move to France.
posted by Devonian at 2:13 AM on January 24 [5 favorites]


Britain and Germany seem to have swapped places recently. Britain got Crossrail, HS2 and the Olympics, and Germany got the Berlin-Brandenburg Airport fiasco.
posted by acb at 2:16 AM on January 24


Have to say I'm genuinely impressed with how quickly they sorted that out. Major kudos to TfL.

Someone pointed out to me the other day that despite our general sense of self-abnegation and just blustering through, the British had got really rather good at managing large projects of late. Much more of this sort of competence, and I may have to move to France.

The first National Audit Office report into Crossrail is out today and actually pretty much says the same thing - not only is it on time, but there's currently a 95% certainty that it's going to come in about £300m under the projected budget.
posted by garius at 2:29 AM on January 24 [2 favorites]


Apparently concrete retardant chemicals were indeed deployed....

Sugar! I was wondering what it would be. The best my googling efforts could find were a) a place selling an expensive concrete-dissolving spray for cleaning residue off of tools, and b) that vinegar is good for breaking down asphalt mishaps. Preventing the concrete from setting left them with a foot of mud to shovel out of there; looks like they did a great job.
posted by ceribus peribus at 7:31 AM on January 24


Britain's Torygraph: The science behind how ordinary table sugar can be used to slow down and even stop cement from setting hard
posted by Mister Bijou at 7:39 AM on January 24 [1 favorite]


Britain's Torygraph: The science behind how ordinary table sugar can be used to slow down and even stop cement from setting hard

Clearly not a chemist, historian, concrete expert, but is this why the Romans used to add blood to their concrete mix?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:15 AM on January 24


Kreiger: "Yes, but is is the wrong kind of concrete?"

This joke explained.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:07 PM on January 24 [3 favorites]


I missed this story entirely (despite living in London), but this explains why Han Solo popped up in my Facebook feed earlier today.
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 9:52 PM on January 24 [2 favorites]


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