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New Tube train concept raises hopes for UK manufacturing

One of the incredible things about the London Underground is that it is 150 years old. It’s also one of the worst things. The narrow tunnels mean people are forced into small carriages. The poor ventilation means stations can be sweltering even in the winter and the carriages are even worse because it’s impossible to install air conditioning as there’s nowhere for the heat to go.

And the entire Tube must be closed overnight despite the strong demand for 24-hour public transport in London because, unlike some other metro systems, it only has one set of tracks and so there’s nowhere else for the trains to go while essential daily maintenance is carried out.

Not that I wish to knock the Tube. It does an incredible job of transporting an average of over 3 million people a day, especially given that much of it was built in the Victorian era. But anything that makes the experience of riding it everyday more pleasant would be very much welcomed.

New exhibition at the Crystal -

The Inspiro metro train, redesigned for the London Underground.

So it was with some excitement that I went to see Siemens latest concept for how the next generation of carriages for the deep central tunnels of the Tube might look, as and when London Underground decide to buy new trains (which could be in the next few years) and if Siemens were to be awarded a contract.

The Inspiro is certainly a futuristic looking thing, less like a train and more like a literal tube. Its white plastic interior and LED light panels give it a bright and open feel (when no one’s in it) but also make it reminiscent of a slightly eerie science-fiction film.

Stephen tube

The Inspiro’s design is still not big enough for lanky Engineer reporters.

The layout of open walkways between the carriages follows the design already seen on more modern metro systems, which do feel bigger than the current London Underground trains, although the doorway and ceiling handles are still too low to stop me hitting my head on them (I’m 6’2).

The engineering of the carriage builds on the previous Inspiro that Siemens launched two years ago for the Warsaw Metro, using a lightweight aluminium structure and a single bogie instead of two to reduce the weight by around 10 to 20 per cent compared to similar trains. Siemens’ senior principal engineer for urban transport, Lutz Uebel, explained that this had been achieved using new simulation tools to more exactly determine the forces acting at the interfaces of the structure.

Combined with regenerative braking, new electronic control systems and a new generation of converters, this helps would help to make the train up to 30 per cent more energy efficient, the company claims. It also says the choice of materials means around 95 per cent of the train would be recyclable.

Neue Ausstellung im Crystal in London -

The efficient layout of the propulsion and control systems underneath the carriage floor has also created room for air conditioning units, which solves the problem previous deep tube trains have had of where to place air con equipment.

But even more impressively, Siemens claims the train would produce less heat than existing air-conditioning-free trains, helping to reduce temperatures in the wider Tube network. To do this the firm is examining the use of phase-change materials that would capture the heat in the tunnels and then release it when the train moved onto the overground portion of the line. The Inspiro could literally be the coolest train ever made for the Underground.

New exhibition at the Crystal -

Another big change would be if the trains (should Siemens win any tender that came up) were made in the UK, and staff at the Inspiro preview event hinted this could be a possibility.

Siemens doesn’t have any UK train factories, although it does manufacture some components such as automation systems here, and its securing of the contract to provide rolling stock for the Thameslink line through London caused controversy because it threatened the existence of Britain’s last train manufacturing facility, owned by Bombardier.

Neue Ausstellung im Crystal in London -

Steve Scrimshaw, managing director of Siemens’ UK rail systems division, said the company was acutely aware of the importance of localising manufacturing where possible, particularly following the Thameslink decision. ‘It has to make sense. It’s a balance between deliverability and localisation,’ he said.

This was a heavily caveat laden recognition of the public pressure on government and on multinational firms to support UK manufacturing that has increased in recent years. It could all be spin to generate publicity and support for the firm, and staff said the Thameslink model should be taken as a benchmark.

Neue Ausstellung im Crystal in London -

But it’s worth remembering that earlier this year Hitachi agreed to build a new factory in County Durham as part of its contract to supply new Intercity Express trains, so it’s certainly a possibility Siemens, with its 13 existing UK manufacturing sites, might be willing to do the same.

The full-scale model of the Inspiro concept Tube train will be on display for three months from 8 Oct at Siemens’ Smart Cities exhibition at The Crystal in London’s docklands.

Readers' comments (19)

  • Would cut more tube costs if they make it driverless like the DLR.

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  • What about also getting rid of that horrible screeching and dreadful rattling from steel wheels on steel rails especially on tight bends?

    Time for penumatic tyres as used I believe in the Paris U/G system or better still a no contact, frictionless and hence essentially maintenance free magnetic levitation system of which Siemens have plenty of experience?

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  • I agree with with Mike above, it's high time the old bogie systems, noisy and no good for braking should be replaced with a much quieter and safer modern system. I don't think the linear motor systems will ever really take off though, due to the massive cost of the installations.

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  • Great idea and I fully understand the limitations of the current system.
    So why cannot Bombardier take on the job?

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  • This is a design proposed by one of the firms likely to be in the running as and when a Tube contract is up for grabs. Other companies are likely to be readying similar proposals. We'll actually be speaking to the head of Bombardier Rail for an interview feature very soon.

  • The train is the easy bit... changing London Underground is about changing the tunnels' diameter.

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  • Sorry, I think maybe I'm missing something. This doesn't really feel like a new concept, rather, it feels like the same old tube with a bit of rebranding. Some slightly different looks and more efficiency, but it doesn't seem much different from what we've got already. Why aren't we looking at major, effective mass transit systems from elsewhere in the world and learning from them, eg Hong Kong or Beijing, where they're not only extremely fast, safe, efficient and above all regular, they are also extremely cheap. It costs less than 20p to go anywhere on the Beijing underground network - if you wanted, you could go right from one side to the other. If our underground was that cheap there'd be no way you could get on it because it would be massively under capacity: any new underground trains need to solve this capacity issue first and foremost.

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  • Can we not have a window at the front like the DLR?

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  • If the government injected the billions of pounds being spent on HS2 into the tube network and improved the signals and tracks the whole tube network infrastructure would be less fragile and run smoothly. You could quite easily see a 7-to-10% increase in the out put from London and surrounding counties, and such an undertaking would increase jobs and stimulate growth. But on the other hand, some people might need to get to Birmingham just that little bit faster.

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  • A city which identifies itself as World class could introduce:

    - split level carriages;
    - multiple tracks with low separation distances between adjacent carriages; and
    - modular carriage systems, that combine and separate on route.

    Furthermore, how long is it going to take to exploit the geothermal energy inherent under London to heat/cool and power carriages?

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  • Sounds fantastic. But how do you propose expanding the tunnels and overground track space of the London Underground into what is a very crowded city both above and below ground to accommodate split-level carriages and multiple tracks while maintaining service for millions of people every day?

  • It IS about time that the underground had an upgrade. I think that all of the above comments are relevant. The one thing that sends a shudder down my spine is the word "Siemens". I work with automation and Siemens products always seem to be more complicated than they need to be. I think that the previous comment really sums it up, "Why can't Bombardier take on the job?"

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