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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)

  • John, yes developing a new maglev linear motor propulsion system will not be cheap but once in common use around the world the cost will reduce.

    The major cost saving will be in the much reduced maintenance of a friction free contactless system which will have almost 100% availability resulting in a transformation of Londoner`s travel options with the system available at night and at weekends and public holidays. This will enable a reduction in car dependency reducing congestion and pollution with further cost,time, health and other benefits .

    Would be good to see a 50 year financial evaluation of steel wheels on rails compared to linear motors for the underground (and HS2!)

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  • No doubt about the fact that the 150 year old system needs renewing. As for noisy wheels on tracks, well what do you expect from 150 year old Technology?
    OK I, personally, have no problem with Siemens bidding for, and perhaps winning, the contract to supply new trains. But I DEFINITELY agree they SHOULD be built in this country. Whether that's by Siemens building a new factory here or doing a deal with Bombardier I couldn't care less!

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  • aerodynamics come into play @ about 27 mph, so why does it have to have a front end like a brick where`s the sense in not making an attempt to make it effecient. So much for a new concept?

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  • Let's not kid ourselves, these trains will not be built in Britain. At the most an assembly plant could be erected here. All the high level R&D, electrical and mechanical engineering and most of the component manufacturing will be done in Germany. We will be doing a screwdriver job, nothing more. I hope Siemens doesn't get the contract, because these trains really are stupendously ugly.

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  • Has anyone including the author been on the new Central Line trains? They seemed to me to address many of the concerns expressed - spacious, cool, quieter, better ride quality. So can this concept be extended to other lines?

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  • I'm not aware of new trains on the Central line, and certainly not any that meet this description. The Circle and several other lines do have some new trains (S stock) that are more spacious and have air conditioning. But these are not deep Tube lines and don't have the tunnel constraints of the Central, Piccadilly, Bakerloo etc lines and so can use different train concepts.

  • There's less of an issue with the more spacious lines - District, Metropolitan, etc.
    More space to play with to achieve a better train, less of the track below ground, etc. too.

    With the deep lines, the answer is to create new (even deeper?) lines to a larger bore size to accommodate larger trains. You make them follow a course with gentler curves to overcome the issues of existing track.

    People are getting taller, and we need new trains that can deal with this!

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  • I agree with the suggestion above- its time to get rid of both bogies, magnetic suspension is here; quiet smooth efficient; a new linear motor has a passive inexpensive track.See magnetic transport systems SanDiego Ca USA

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  • Air conditioning could be reduced by removing the main source of heat, other than the passengers, the motors.

    Using an atmospheric system to move the trains would solve two problems. Firstly the motors would be away from the railways. Secondly the traction air movement would also aid ventilation.
    Early atmospheric railway systems failed as much because the sealing technology of the time was not up to thejob. Practically they worked well.

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  • The problem of 24 hour working is still going to be there I presume.

    Also yes, why can't the Bombardier facility be used by any one bidding for the project. Does it need to have new facility built when the existing facility there is underutilised?

    Am sure Bombardier will also bid given an opportunity.

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