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UCL Home  /  Geography  /  News & Events  /  News  /  News Archive  /  July 2016  /  Transport network vulnerability in London

Transport network vulnerability in London

Mirco Musolesi in novel study of station closures

Transport network vulnerability in London

On 12th July, the Evening Standard featured an article, “London Underground's Tube network 'would collapse if just six key stations had to shut'”, based on a recent Royal Society Open Science paper co-authored by Dr Mirco Musolesi (UCL Geography), with Dr Matthew Williams (previously postdoctoral research associate in Musolesi’s lab, now at Exeter University).

The paper, “Spatio-temporal networks: reachability, centrality and robustness”, developed recent advances in spatial and temporal network analysis, especially their robustness and resilience to any type of failure. The disruption of the London underground was a case study, as occurred on 23 January 2014 when the Victoria line was partly shut because of a “wet concrete” flooding at Victoria station. The performance of the network was consequently “reduced” to 89% by the closure of 6 key stations.

In theory, if 6 random stations were to be closed, the disruption would reduce the network’s performance to 94%. If the 6 most critical stations in the network were closed, however, its performance would be reduced to 32%. These stations are Baker Street, Earl’s Court, Notting Hill, Euston, Rayners Lane and West Ham.

The paper also compares the London underground network with the mass transit systems of New York and Paris, as well as other types of spatio-temporal network, including biological and social networks. In general, biological networks are very robust, probably because they are consequences of evolution. Flight networks are also robust because flights can be re-routed and optimised to ensure redundancy. The London Underground, however, is not robust because of the costs and other constraints on new lines and its evolution as a “patchwork” of earlier lines managed by different companies.

The novelty of the work is that it does not study the disruption of networks only in terms of connectivity, but also in terms of delay, a fundamental dimension for systems such as the London Underground (as Londoners and visitors know very well!).

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Mirco Musolesi


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