Going Underground

Now in its 150th year and transporting over one billion passengers annually, the London Underground has come a long way since the Metropolitan Railway rolled out its first train on January 10, 1853. James Pozzi looks at the differences between past and present, and how the network benefits its manufacturing supply chain.

When the idea for a network railway system linking London together was put forward in Victorian-era Britain, its purpose was to alleviate the increased congestion of the capital city. The Metropolitan Railway opened its first service to the public on 10 January 1863, using steam locomotives hauling wooden carriages. An overwhelming success, it carried 38,000 passengers on the opening day.

The first stretch measured just six kilometres and ran between Paddington (Bishop’s Road) and Farringdon Street. Now reaching 402 kilometres and serving 270 stations across 11 lines, the expansion has been dramatic. After recently announcing plans for the biggest upgrade in its history to address its creaking Victorian infrastructure, an overhaul of existing tunnels, track, lifts and other components is to take place over the next decade.

Victorian infrastructure against modern demands

By the turn of the century, the already increasing London population stood at 6.5 million. In 2013, it now stands at 8m, and is expected to surpass the 9m mark by 2020. With high demands placed on the track, infrastructure specialist Balfour Beatty Balfour won a five-year contract to carry out track renewal work in partnership with London Underground in December 2010.

After beginning construction on the £110m project the following April, it set about working on six different lines. This included the introduction of a new fleet of 191 air-conditioned trains and a new signalling system on the Metropolitan, District and Hammersmith & City lines. Significantly, it also represented an upgrade in tunnelling infrastructure at stations such as Victoria and Baker Street, whose origins stretch back to the tube’s beginnings.

Manufacturing the London Underground upgrade plan

  • Increased capacity due to new trains, signalling, more frequent services and modernised stations
  • More frequent trains run on the Victoria, Jubilee and Central lines, providing the highest frequency rail services in the UK
  • Air-conditioned, walk-through trains are operating on the Metropolitan line and are being rolled out on the Hammersmith & City and Circle lines. The District line is next
  • New lifts, boarding ramps and wider train doors are improving accessibility
Source – London Underground

The all important supply chain

The London Underground provides has an extensive supply chain, estimated to generate £3bn for UK manufacturers annually, while employing 41,000 individuals. From manufacturing to construction, the opportunities at home and abroad are present lucrative opportunities for primes and SMEs alike.

One of which is H & E Smith, a Staffordshire-based manufacturer of tiles, supplying to 23 tube stations. It makes tiles to stations including Camden Town, Baker Street and High Street Kensington. Its chief executive Charles Smith said providing products for such a world famous institution has strengthened the reputation of his family-run SME, which was founded in 1926.

Tube for thought

  • 11: lines on the London Underground
  • 270: tube stations
  • 4134: Carriages in London Underground’s fleet
  • 114,500: The number of miles travelled by each Tube train each year
  • 426: Total number of escalators

Keeping it cool

One of the biggest passenger desires has been introducing air conditioning to carriages. A study showed the Bakerloo line had an average temperature of 14C 100 years ago. In 2013, this figure has doubled.

While the notion of installing a working air conditioning system on a modern public transport sounds relatively straight forward, the tube’s unique situation has made this a manufacturing conundrum. Air conditioning has been introduced on the more shallow level lines, such as the Metropolitan, District & Circle and Hammersmith & City networks.

The problem with deeper lying stations remains ongoing, due to London’s the subway network, having become unbearably hot during the summer months thanks to the deep lines and lack of ventilation. During 2006, temperatures inside the trains reached as high as 47 degrees Celsius.

Ken Livingstone famously once offered a £100,000 reward to anyone who could solve the air conditioning dilemma, a reward which has gone unclaimed. And while train carriages remain saunas come summer, one deep lying station – Green Park – has had a new form of air conditioning technology installed in the station, pointing the way forward for potential solutions.

The cooling is provided by groundwater drawn up from 80m-deep boreholes in the parkland above the station, fed by cool water abstracted from two of the newly-drilled boreholes and piped to the station. The warmer return water is then put back into the aquifer through two more boreholes at some distance from the abstraction points. Morgan Sindall carried out the Green Park project, which also involved installation of eight air-handling units (AHUs as they are known in the trade) on the platforms.

From wooden carriages to Crossrail

As London’s population recently hit a new 8.3million high, with 1.2bn tube passengers carried annually, the need for a robust transport system to withstand this is paramount. This will include extending existing tracks – with both the Northern and Bakerloo lines mooted foe expansion. There is also the ongoing Crossrail project scheduled for a 2018 completion.

And its Crossrail which has seen the most visible construction activity. Billed as the UK’s biggest infrastructure project in over a century, its objective is to deliver service to 38 stations linking Maidenhead and Heathrow in the west, to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the east via 21 km of new twin-bore tunnels under central London.

Making this all possible are eight specialised, 150-feet long Tunnel Boring Machines (TBM), dubbed ‘metal moles’, which will tunnel 26 miles through London. But as there are no existing UK tunnel boring manufacturers, its been left to German firm Herrenknecht AG.

New era, new models

London Underground Inspiro train
London Underground Inspiro train - image courtesy of Siemens.

While the infrastructure is being addressed with new lines, tunnels and carriages, attention has turned to existing tube carriages. The Metropolitan Line was the most recent beneficiary of the upgrade plan, having its entire fleet replaced between 2011-2012 with new Bombardier manufactured carriages.

Siemens recently unveiled its futuristic Inspiro train at the Royal Victoria Docks as a potential model for future London Underground carriages. Valued at £1m a carriage, the company has hinted it could be a future underground model, subject to Mayor of London Boris Johnson’s approval of any deal.

Having already manufactured the controversial £1bn Thameslink deal in its native Germany, the pressures of keeping the production British against achieving best value for the tax payer could prove a tricky proposition. The trains, which have also started serving the Riyadh Metro in Saudi Arabia, are also entirely automated in the same manner as the Dockland Light Rail system.

Steve Scrimshaw, managing director of Siemens Rail Systems UK, said London, in common with many large cities around the world, faces significant transport challenges as a result of ongoing population growth and increased capacity demands.

“Our exhibition highlights some of the innovations that can be considered by cities to help their metro systems tackle these issues and help passengers benefit from an improved travel experience,” he added.

And as the growth continues in one of the true world cities, it is a case of bigger definitely being better.

For more on the 150th anniversary of the Tube network  see the November issue of TM, out in early November.