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. 

 
 
 
 

What would an extended Glasgow Subway look like?

West Street station. Image: Finlay McWalter/Wikimedia Commons.

There are many notable things about Glasgow’s historic Subway.

It is the third oldest in the world. It is the only one in the UK that runs entirely underground. It runs on a rare 4ft gauge. For reasons passing human understanding, it shuts at teatime on a Sunday.

But more significantly, it’s the only metro system never to have been expanded since its original development. A couple of stations have come and gone in the 122 years since the Subway opened (and promptly shut again following a serious accident before the first day was out). But Glasgow’s Subway has remained a frustratingly closed loop. Indeed, while a Scottish newspaper recently estimated there have been more than 50 proposed new stations for Glasgow's iconic Subway since it first opened, all we’ve had are a couple of replacements for closed stops. 

The original route map. Image: SPT.

It’s not for a lack of trying, or at the least discussion. Glasgow’s SNP-led council pledged a major expansion of the Subway as part of their election pledge last year, for example, vowing to find the funding to take the network beyond the existing route.

All this sounds very familiar, of course. A decade ago, with the 2014 Commonwealth Games in mind, operators SPT began looking into a near-£3bn expansion of the Subway into the East End of the city, primarily to serve the new Velodrome complex and Celtic Park.

In the end, the plans — like so many discussed for expanding the Subway – failed to materialised, despite then SPT chairman Alistair Watson claiming at the time: “We will deliver the East End extension for 2014. I am being unequivocal about that.”

As detailed previously on CityMetric, that extension would have seen seven new stations being opened along a second, eastern-centric loop, crossing over with the original Subway at two city centre sites. Had that gone ahead, we would by now have had a new route looking something like this:

The 2007 proposals for an eastern circle. Image: Iain Hepburn.

St Mungo’s would have been close to Glasgow Cathedral. Onslow, presumably located on or near Onslow Drive, would have principally served Dennistoun, as would have a link-up with the existing Duke St overground station.

Gorbals, benefiting from the ongoing redevelopment and residential expansion that’s all but erased it’s No Mean City reputation, would have gained a station, while Newhall would have been next to Glasgow Green. Dalmarnock station would, like Duke Street, become an interchange with Scotrail’s services, while crucially Celtic Park would have gained the final stop, serving both the football stadium, the nearby Emirates Arena and velodrome, and the Forge shopping centre.


Those plans, though, were drawn up more than a decade ago. And if the SNP administration is serious about looking again at the expansion of the Subway, then there’s more than a few changes needing made to those plans.

For starters, one stop at the far end of the loop serving Celtic, the new sports arenas and the Forge feels a bit like underselling the area, particularly with so much new residential development nearby.

Two feels more realistic: one serving the Forge and the rest of Dennistoun, and the other sited on London Road to serve the mass volumes of football and sports traffic. And if Ibrox can have a stop, then it seems churlish not to give the other of the Old Firm clubs their own named halt.

That’s another thing. The naming of the proposed stations is… arbitrary, to say the least. You’d struggle to find many Glaswegians who’d immediately identify where Newhall or Onslow were, off the top of their head. 

The former, especially, seems like there’s a more natural alternative name, Glasgow Green; while the latter, with a second Forge stop also serving Dennistoun, would perhaps benefit from named for the nearby Alexandra Place and park.

(Actually, if we’re renaming stations from their unlikely original choices, let’s say goodbye Hillhead and a big hiya to Byres Road on the original Subway while we’re at it…)

So, what would a realistic, 2017-developed version of that original 2007 proposal give us? Probably something like this:

Better. Image: Iain Hepburn.

One glaring issue with the original 2007 study was the crossover with the… let’s call it the Western Subway. The original proposal had St Enoch and Buchanan St as the crossover points, meaning that, if you wanted to go out east from, say, the Shields Road park and ride, you had to go into town and double back. 

Using Bridge Street as a third interchange feels a more realistic, and sensible, approach to alleviating city centre crowding and making the journey convenient for folk travelling directly from west to east.

There’s a good case to be made for another south east of the river station, depending on where the Gorbals stop is sited. But these are austere times and with the cost of the expansion now likely more than £5bn at current rates, an expanded Bridge Street would do much of that legwork.

Putting all that together, you’d end up with something looking like this:

 

Ooooh. Image: Iain Hepburn.

Ahead of last year’s election, SNP councillor Kenny McLean vowed the party “[would] look at possible extension of the Subway and consider innovative funding methods, such as City Bonds, to fund this work. The subway is over 120 years old. It is high time that we look to connect communities in the north and east of Glasgow.”

Whether Glasgow could raise the £5bn it would probably need to make the 2007 proposal, or an updated variation of it remains, to be seen. And this still doesn’t solve how many places are left off the system. While a line all the way out to Glasgow Airport is unrealistic – after all, an overground rail service to the airport from Paisley has failed to materialise after 30 years of discussion and planning – there’s plenty of places in the city not well served by the Subway, from Maryhill in the north to Hampden in the south, or the riverside developments that have seen flats replace factories and new media hubs, museums and hotels line the Clyde.


Image: Iain Hepburn.

Key city landmarks like the Barrowlands, the Riverside Museum – with its own, fake, vintage subway stop, or the Merchant City are woefully underserved by the subway. But their incorporation – or connection with a Glasgow Crossrail – seems a very expensive pipe dream.

Instead, two adjoining loops, one to Ibrox and one to Celtic Park, seems the most plausible future for an extended Subway. At least colour coding the lines would be easy…

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