London Transport Research and Development 1945-70

During the period 1945-70, a team of professional actuaries, statisticians and medical doctors undertook pioneering research and development work at London Transport’s headquarters in the iconic 55 Broadway, Westminster building. This team comprised nine individuals who worked at London Transport during this period: F.A.A. Menzler; F.H. Spratling; F.J. Lloyd; K.G. Murden; C.J. Cornwall; L.G. Norman; P.A.B. Raffle; J.E. Ager; and K.G. Buffin. Under the leadership of Menzler, who was President of the Institute of Actuaries 1950-52, this team ventured into the “wider fields” beyond traditional actuarial practice. They undertook several research and development projects that contributed to the efficiency of London’s public transport system, including development of a database for 100,000 London Transport workers; research into health and sickness experience of various classes of London Transport workers; study of travel patterns of the London population; planning for development of new lines on the London Transport Underground system; optimization of scheduling for bus and Underground services consistent with passenger flows and travel times. Much of the credit for these projects goes to Menzler who, as Director of Research and Development at London Transport, had the vision and conviction to apply traditional actuarial and statistical methodology to the challenges of managing a large undertaking and preparing for future development. These challenges included staff administration, operational efficiency, and infrastructure development.

Early in his career, Menzler wrote a paper for the Institute of Actuaries The Future of the Actuarial Profession that was a significant influence on the Institute, fostering research, publicity for the profession, appointment of a permanent committee to maintain liaison with other bodies and monitor legislation and political activities. He encouraged the profession to expand its horizons into statistics, finance, investment, demography, operational research and business management. In 1950 his Presidential Address to the Institute of Actuaries The Actuary in the National Economy set out his view of the future role for actuaries providing advice relating to important public policy issues. In 1954 Spratling delivered a paper The Wider Field that began with an acknowledgement of the work of Menzler and extended the discussion of the scope of the wider field to embrace a range of topics including finance and investment and general business enterprise management, including human resource management. One of Spratling’s major contributions to human resource management was the development of London Transport’s Central Record of Staff Statistics (CRSS). Spratling and Lloyd presented a paper in 1951 Personnel Statistics and Sickness Absence Statistics that demonstrated a particular application of the CRSS in monitoring the incidence of absence from work. Spratling and Norman published the major results of the sickness absence statistics for the period 1949-52 in a 1956 book Health in Industry. The key statistical measures of sickness absence presented in the book included: sickness rates; inception rates; average length of spell, with separate statistics for short spells of one to three days duration, and longer spells of from four or more days. The analysis covered seven different staff categories and presented results according to five-year age groups and by cause, as defined by broad diagnostic groups utilizing World Health Organization groupings. Ager and Raffle subsequently extended this work to later periods of observation and published a 1973 paper Patterns in Sickness Absence: Experience of London Transport Staff over Two Decades. In 1966 Lloyd presented a paper to the Royal Statistical Society Statistical Background for the Planning and Extension to Existing Underground Railway Networks. The paper was a landmark contribution to research and development at London Transport and was instrumental in the planning of the Victoria Line in the London Underground system. The statistical methodology in the paper addressed estimates of number of passengers expected to travel on London Transport facilities and studied passenger volumes at seven key London Underground stations with respect to originating, transferring and ending passenger traffic flow and station platform utilization rates. The economic impact of demographic trends and employment conditions detailed in Lloyd’s paper were important considerations for infrastructure planning and development in connection with the new Victoria Line that began operations in 1968. It was the first entirely new line in London for fifty years and was designed to relieve congestion on other lines; it is used by 200 million passengers each year. 

Building on the work and vision of Menzler, Spratling and others, it is appropriate to reflect on how the actuary/statistician/economist of the future might best serve a useful role in public policy. In observing how public policy is formulated in Washington, it is noteworthy that influential “think tanks” such as Brookings Institution, Urban Institute, Economic Policy Institute and others are primarily staffed by PhD economists, but rarely by actuary/statistician/economists. There are many policy areas, such as social security, healthcare provision and financing, employment conditions, infrastructure development, climate change, environmental protection, population and immigration issues, finance and investment, fiscal policy and other areas where actuaries and statisticians and economists can make significant contributions.

Ken Buffin, Editor