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US lawyer's dream job is directing the London underground

On ' diabolical' PPP contracts: "No bank is going to get you home at night, so where do you want to put that money?"

Tim OToole, Managing Director of the London Undergroundby Dan Milmo, The Guardian

October 31 2008 — When he was approached to run the London Underground, Tim O'Toole was offered some encouragement by a former executive: "Don't take a job like that unless you are prepared for a public and humiliating dismissal."

The 53-year-old American took the role of managing director and, almost six years on, is undaunted by the pitfalls.

He has just had an "extraordinarily bad" morning on the network but is bemused by suggestions that running one of the world's most complicated, ancient and busy bits of transport infrastructure is a hellish way to earn a living. "I don't view this as a job or career. I feel like I have already done that. This has been the most wonderful experience. People say I must have the worst job in London. It's the best job in the world."

At its peak, the tube carries more than 3 million people a day on 11 lines, sometimes using infrastructure dating back to 1863. O'Toole has to ensure that ageing equipment does not crumble under the pressure of ever-growing numbers of passengers, while overseeing a £30bn improvement programme. He has compared it to performing a knee operation on someone who is playing tennis.

Renowned for his devotion to being a public servant, O'Toole conducts a different kind of surgery when he gets the tube to work every morning, his London Underground name badge always on display.

"People tell me 'oh Christ the things you must get told'. You think passengers would really let you have it, but that has never happened to me. Everybody wants to tell you some bad experience but by the time they get to the end of the anecdote they say, 'You know it works most of the time.'"

But not all of the time. This interview takes place next to the London Underground operations centre, where staff are watching the network return to normal after equipment failures on the Jubilee and Victoria lines made tens of thousands of commuters late for work.

"In the old days this was a standard morning," says O'Toole, adding that these kinds of glitches have been reduced by about 40 percent compared with four years ago . . .

To read further. . .

Links and sources
  US lawyer driving the turnaround on the tube, by Dan Milmo, The Guardian, October 31 2008

Posted: November 11, 2008

  Public services
  Front lines

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