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. 

 
 
 
 

It’s not all cool bridges and very real concerns: In defence of Teesside

Just one of the many interesting bridges you’ll find in Teesside. Image: Stephen Jorgensen-Murray.

The latest entry in our ‘In Defence Of’ series...

I have to start this with a disclaimer: I’m not writing this from anywhere in Teesside. I’m writing this from Germany, where I live and work. Some of you may remember being told by Norman Tebbit, that instead of complaining that we can’t find jobs, we should get on our bikes (or, more recently, by IDS to get on a bus), and I did. I’m paid well here, to do a job that doesn’t really exist in Teesside. And yet, every time I go home to visit my family, I almost wish I’d stayed.

This isn’t going to be a very straightforward take – I’m hoping to pay my respects to Stockton, Middlesbrough and Hartlepool as well as my native Billingham – but Teesside isn’t a very straightforward place. What county is it in? Cleveland, Stockton-on-Tees, Durham or North Yorkshire depending on how old you are and where you’re standing. I always had great fun ordering online and trying to guess which of the unfamiliar options on the dropdown menu would get my parcel to me.

But regardless of where you draw the lines, Teesside is still there.

Our accent is similarly hard to pin down: Geordie, Mackem, Yorkshire, even Scouse, depending on who’s imitating us. I’ve been pegged as Irish, American and South African by determined people in the past. Our slang is stolen from Scotland, Northumberland, Newcastle and Yorkshire, and, not satisfied, some words are purely our own. Hoy, shan, howay, dinner nanny. We have as many words for classless people as the Romans did for murder.

But regardless of how it sounds to you, Teesside still talks.


On a map of the UK, Teesside sits as an isolated blob of civilisation between the Dales and the sea. Half-urban, half-rural, half-seaside, half-inland, half industrial estate and half nature reserve. A Labour heartland with a Tory mayor. Places that sprang up fully formed in the ICI rush of the 1950s, but that still have Viking place names.

We’ve been portrayed in fiction by Richard Milward, in song by Maximo Park, in statistics by Lady Florence Bell and in cinema by Sir Ridley Scott (our chemical works and power plants inspired the look of Blade Runner). More recently, we’re being portrayed in documentary in The Mighty Redcar, and in the media as an area of left-behind, white working class racists who all voted Leave. But while most of the area is whiter than the average, Middlesbrough mirrors the UK average for racial diversity and has been assigned to resettle more refugees than any other town in the UK – and more than its cut-back council can look after.

And when you look at the numbers, the proportion of the population of Teesside who voted to leave the EU is much less than many other areas. (And yes, of course I voted Remain from my now slightly more precarious home in Frankfurt, joining 100,000 other Teesside Remainers.)

We’re pitied for the loss of the Teesside steelworks and derided for blaming the EU for it (when of course it was our own government’s sabotaging of EU attempts to block Chinese steel dumping that drove that knife in). Even the people who profess to be on our side take our angry, uneducated racism as fact, baking it into the premises of their arguments, which consist of addressing our “racist but real concerns”, and how to reach us.

But whether you understand us or not, whether you miss the point or not, we’ll continue to exist, long after we’ve been forgotten again.

Billingham town centre. One of the first pedestrianised town centres in the UK. Image: Stephen Jorgensen-Murray.

Still, while we’re in the spotlight, why not see what we have to offer? Come to see our rather wonderful collection of interesting bridges. See where the first public steam train ran, from Stockton to Darlington. Visit Mima, the modern art gallery in Middlesbrough and the 1960s utopia of Billingham’s pedestrianised town centre. Feel slightly uncomfortable around all the things that are named for Captain Cook (though the replica of the Endeavour at Stockton riverside is impressive regardless on your thoughts on its captain – and it’s the best you’ll see until they work out whether they’ve found the real one yet). Wander Middlesbrough’s thriving student/hipster district on Linthorpe RoadD – despite being a punchline during my youth, Teesside University has become a respected institution. Visit Billingham’s Folklore Festival in August, where as schoolchildren we’d watch troupes of folk dancers from across the world open-mouthed, and get their autographs afterwards as though they were celebrities.

Fried chicken, white sauce and cheese make the Teesside parmo. Perfect. Image: Stephen Jorgensen-Murray.

Try a parmo. Try the Billingham Catholic Club’s real ale, and stay for the bingo, which is called by a man with the most acrobatic mental arithmetic skills I’ve ever seen. Try a lemon top ice cream from Pacitto’s in Redcar and wonder why no one else has ever done this before. Lemon sorbet and vanilla ice cream! Together at last!

While you’re at the beach, take a ride on the Saltburn Cliff Lift, the oldest operating water-balance cliff lift in the UK. Pretend Saltburn is sort of in Teesside while you’re enjoying the view. Look out on beaches black with sea coal, washed up from undersea seams and nearby coal mines. Visit the golf course by Seaton Carew to catch a glimpse of a curlew or two, and watch the young seagulls pick up golf balls to crack them open by dropping them from a great height. Visit Seal Sands, whose owners can be observed lazing on the estuary banks whenever the tide is out. Or visit Saltholme, the RSPB nature reserve, where you can see avocets, Britain’s weirdest-looking and most beloved seabird.

Nature coexists with industry on Teesside. Image: Stephen Jorgensen-Murray.

Go white water rafting, bell boating or paddleboarding at the Tees Barrage, where there are so many seals that they’ve had to put up guards to keep them out of the way. The Tees used to be too polluted even to support salmon and trout, and now we have too many of one of Britain’s largest native mammals. The return of the seals to the Tees was the first documented case of seals returning to an industrial area. You’d be surprised at how well nature can thrive in the shadow of industry, colonising the quiet fields and marshy ponds on private land that are never disturbed, haunted by sika deer and shelducks, redshanks, knots, stonechats.

Teesside has plenty to offer. What it doesn’t have is the jobs to keep its younger generations from having to get on their bikes and leave. We aren’t aliens, or Jacob Rees-Mogg’s army of goblin henchbrexiteers. We’re just like you, but with more seals and fewer employment opportunities.