Driverless, air conditioned, and shiny: London Underground unveils its new trains

Shiny. Image: PriestmanGoode.

Today, Mayor Boris Johnson unveiled designs for a new generation of London Underground trains. Transport for London plans to build 250 of the new trains to increase capacity in some of the busiest parts of the network: they’ll be introduced first on the Piccadilly line, then later on the Bakerloo, Central and Waterloo & City.

And, at first glance, they are very shiny indeed. This video rendering shows the new trains in action, complete with lingering piano music and shadowy commuters:

From the outside, the new trains look satisfyingly futuristic – but the changes they’ll offer passengers aren’t actually that dramatic. Here’s what Londoners need to know.

1.They'll be driverless. (Ish.)

The trains will have the capacity to run completely unaided and unstaffed, but TfL has said they'll use onboard operators when they launch. The firm produced two designs, and one, it’s worth noting, retains the driver’s cab – not something the Docklands Light Railway, which is more committed in its driverless-ness, bothers with.

2. They'll carry more people.

The trains will come equipped with "modernised" signal systems, and TfL says they'll enable "faster, more frequent and reliable services with fewer delays".

Overall, they estimate that the trains will generate at least a 25 per cent passenger capacity increase on each line:

According to TfL, the Piccadilly and Central lines will get 100 new trains apiece, with 40 on the Bakerloo and 10 for the Waterloo & City (which only has two stops, so doesn’t need quite so many).

3. They'll have air conditioning.

Until now, deeper-running lines (identifiable by their low-ceilinged trains and the long escalators you take to get to them) have been unable to operate air conditioning. So perhaps the most important feature of these new trains is that they’ll offer what TfL calls “air-cooling”.

In the rendering video above, cool air is shown wafting down from the carriage’s ceiling.  Let’s give them the benefit of the doubt and hope this doesn’t just mean “air vents”. 

4. They won’t look that different.

The cars themselves will actually look a lot like the old carriages, bar a few design tweaks. One cool but essentially useless change is a new, neon-style strip of lighting at the front of the train. Inside, carriages will feature LCD screens showing advertising and travel updates.

Most of the changes seem to focus on doors: the carriage doors will be wider, you’ll be able to walk from carriage to carriage while the train is moving, and, from the promotional video, it looks like TfL are planning to install glass platform barriers in more stations, a la the Jubilee line.

Overall, though, the dated upholstery patterns, inward facing seats and not-quite-high-enough ceilings are all as they were.

5. They'll be pricy.

TfL put a call out to companies interested in building the new trains earlier this year, and the advertisement indicated they’re expecting to pay between £1bn and £2.5bn for the 250 trains. So, potentially up to £10m each. That said, they’ll produce more savings – more passengers, less driver salaries – and are meant to last for around 40 years.

5. They won't actually be in use for ages.

Companies will bid for the chance to produce the trains next year; the contract will be awarded in 2016; and the first trains won’t be introduced to the network until 2022. So a good few years left to bake aboard the Piccadilly Line, then, wishing the adverts were moving.

Renderings: PriestmanGoode. 

 
 
 
 

Sadiq Khan and Grant Shapps clash over free bus travel for under 18s

A London bus at Victoria station. Image: Getty.

The latest front in the row between Transport for London (TfL) and national government over how to fund the capital’s transport system: free bus travel for the under 18s.

Two weeks ago, you’ll recall, TfL came perilously close to running out of money and was forced to ask for a bail out. The government agreed, but offered less money, and with more strings attached, than the agency wanted. At present, there are a range of fare discounts – some up to 100% – available to children depending on their age and which service they’re using, provided they have the right Oyster card. One of the government’s strings, the mayor’s office says, was to end all free TfL travel for the under 18s, Oyster or no Oyster.

The Department for Transport’s line on all this is that this is about maximising capacity. Many working-age people need to use buses to get to their jobs: they’re more likely to be able to do that, while also social distancing, if those buses aren’t already full of teenagers riding for free. (DfT cited the same motivation for banning the use of the Freedom Pass, which provides free travel for the retired, at peak times.)

But in an open letter to transport secretary Grant Shapps, the mayor, Sadiq Khan, wrote that TfL believed that 30% of children who currently received free travel had a statutory entitlement to it, because they attend schools more than a certain distance from their homes. If TfL doesn’t fund this travel, London’s boroughs must, which apart from loading costs onto local government means replacing an administrative system that already exists with one that doesn’t. 

Some Labour staffers also smell Tory ideological objections to free things for young people at work. To quote Khan’s letter:

“It is abundantly clear that losing free travel would hit the poorest Londoners hardest at a time when finances are stretched more than ever... I want to make sure that families who might not have a choice but to use public transport are not further disadvantaged.”

London’s deputy mayor for transport, Heidi Alexander, is set to meet government officials next week to discuss all this. In the mean time, you can read Khan’s letter here.

UPDATE: The original version of this piece noted that the full agreement between the mayor and DfT remained mysteriously unpublished. Shortly after this story went live, the agreement appeared. Here it is.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.