Down the Tube – The Battle for London’s Underground

Down the Tube Coverby Christian Wolmar

ISBN 978-1-908555-00-7

Published June 2011

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In 2010, without fanfare or much publicity, the PPP for the London Underground was quietly laid to rest. What had been touted as a 30 billion, 30 year scheme to revamp the Tube quietly collapsed when first one contractor, Metronet, and then the second,Tube Lines, pulled out of the deal. It had survived barely seven years, rather than 30.

This book, written in 2002, sets out the intrigues, political machinations and private sector influence that led to the creationof the disastrous PPP. After winning the 1997 election, Labour realised that the Underground desperately needed refurbishment. However, under the self-imposed spending constraints, there was no money available and privatisation, the Tories’ idea, was ruled out. The Public Private Partnership was the chosen solution. Originally supposed to be entirely financed by the private sector, it ended up costing 1 billion per year of taxpayers money and proved an extremely expensive way of carrying out improvements on the Tube.

This book is an important summary of a disastrous policy which has cost the taxpayer billions and delivered very little of what was promised. By examining the intricacies of the deal and analysing the convoluted process that led to such an expensive mistake, Christian Wolmar’s book has enormous relevance today. It highlights the fact that complex deals like the Underground PPP, unfathomable to most people, are not necessarily either the best way of building or maintaining infrastructure, nor good value for taxpayers. This is an intriguing tale which, at times, beggars belief given the arrogance and overconfidence of the PPP’s creators.

The book focuses, too, on the role of Gordon Brown, whose stubborness in the face of advice from experts and stakeholders, was responsible for pushing the PPP through despite almost unanimous evidence that it was unworkable.

Pricing and availability

Recommended price £4.99. Available on Amazon UK and Amazon US.

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‘leading transport commentator Christian Wolmar … has done a credible job of making a book about trains and rail bureaucracy interesting.’
The Politico

‘In this book, and in his rigorous efforts over the years, leading transport journalist and commentator Christian Wolmar has managed to make the transport debate just a little bit more accessible and, dare I say it, intelligent. As transport has become more politicised, it has shifted from being a boorish topic of conversation in pubs into a legitimate field of debate in polite society, and Wolmar’s latest offering ‘Down the Tube’ … should help bring Anoraks in from the cold. Transport, it seems, is now officially mainstream.’
Fabian Review

‘An admirably lucid exposition of an extraordinarily complicated concept’
Roger Ford, Modern Railways

‘Will entertain and enlighten’
Cynthia Hay, Capital magazine

‘There can be few more sobering or topical Christmas stocking fillers than Down the Tube’,
Alex Warner, Transit

‘This book should be compulsory reading for everyone forced to endure the near-Hades that is the London Underground during rush hour. Following on from Broken Rails, a meticulous account of recent events on the railways, Britain’s most astute transport observer now turns his hand to explaining what has gone wrong with the Tube.’
New Statesman

‘Among the book’s scoops is the revelation that Tony Blair, fearing that the PPP could finally blow up in Labour’s face in the 2001 election, secretly summoned Mr Kiley to Chequers that Easter for the first in a series of four meetings that not even his boss, the mayor, was allowed to know about… In fact, the first contract – to sell the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly lines – was only signed on New Year’s Eve with the news buried in true Jo Moore style. Just another minor adjunct to the skullduggery and spinning which the author unveils in a surprisingly pacy 225 pages.’
Matthew Tempest, The Guardian

‘It’s certainly better than ploughing through the 130 volumes of PPP contracts yourself – unless you are one of the City lawyers on £250 an hour, whose bills have thus far cost the taxpayer £400m … This is emphatically not a book aimed at anoraks and trainspotters.’
Matthew Tempest, The Guardian

‘With this and his last book on the catastrophic and lethal privatisation of British Rail, Wolmar has confirmed himself as the foremost expert on British public transport – forelorn, even Pyrrhic, post though that may be.’
Matthew Tempest, The Guardian