WITH YOUR NOSE WEDGED FIRMLY in the armpit of a complete stranger, clinging to whatever handrail, nook or person you can while swaying back and forth with the rolling wheels below you, nothing quite compares to the joys of riding the London Underground at peak times.
The scene is all too familiar to many morning commuters in London who rely on the city's subway network called the London Tube to take them from their homes to their places of work in droves, packed like sardines in a tin. If that isn't irritating enough, the experience doesn't come cheap.
Luckily for the capital's dwellers, London Underground (LU) is working to change this. The body has a structured programme developing what the "next generation train" will look like and is in talks with potential suppliers for these trains on a regular basis to work out what they will look like and how they will solve some of the overcrowding problems in the Tube network due to its ever growing number of passengers.
One contender in the bidding to provide that "next generation" train is German electronics firm Siemens, which was also one of the sponsors for London Underground's 150th anniversary that it celebrated this year. The date not only marked a prestigious moment for the longevity of London's unique underground railway network, but it gave rise to Siemens' "tube train of the future" mock-up, the Inspiro metro train, which rests at the Crystal in the Royal Victoria Dock in East London, a building that boasts a permanent exhibition on sustainable development.
We spoke with Siemen's head of rolling stock business development Graeme Clark, who gave us some insight to Siemens' plans for the London Underground and what the company has worked into its Inspiro metro train plans since starting the project around four years ago.
"One of the main requirements asked of train manufacturers by LU is that they are extremely energy efficient, so they will use a lot of systems which will make sure that they operate at the absolute optimum in terms of using energy," Clark said.
"There's also a longer term view: LU made it quite clear that they are looking in the future to have trains which probably wouldn't have drivers in them."
To give LU what it wants, Siemens' train will feature full air conditioning throughout, an open gangway layout, energy-saving LED lighting and an intelligent passenger information system that shows journey information in real time.
Clark said that all of the technology that will feature in the real world version of the mock-up train is available now, so it truly reflects what can be achieved in terms of passenger information systems, how signaling might work, and the technology for delivering power supplies.
At the moment, some of the most recent re-signaled lines, such as the Victoria and Jubilee lines, are running around 32 to 33 trains an hour in each direction. London Underground has told prospective train manufacturers that it would like to make that 36 trains per direction per hour, with an ultimate objective of getting it as high as 40.
"To achieve this, [LU] would probably have to have trains that don't have drivers in them, but it is likely that they would have a conductor or train captain," Clark added.
"The usage of LU is increasing rapidly, so LU wants to operate trains at a higher frequency, and they want to minimise the length of time in the station, the 'dwell time'. If you minimise that, you can run more trains down the line per hour."
To help with the dwell time, Siemens' projected train has large doors, which are evenly spaced all the way down the train. This would be a first for the Tube network because, at the moment, existing Tube trains have single leaf doors at either end of each vehicle. Clark said LU has made it clear that it wants to get rid of this arrangement.
"To be able to have double leaf doors all the way down each train, the train will have to be articulated so you won't be able to have a conventional layout of the wheels underneath," he explained.
The reason why the doors aren't all the same size on Tube trains presently running on the network is because the floor of an underground train is lower than the wheel diameter, and therefore between the single leaf door and the double leaf doors at the end, the wheels protrude up through the floor and are located under the seats.
"This will have to continue in the new train but there'll be an articulated arrangement where you can position the bogies and the running gear such that there isn't a conflict with the doors," Clark explained. "Therefore, you can have large double leaf doors evenly spaced all the way down the train."
London Underground has said that it would like up to 20 pairs of double doors on each side of the train to minimise dwell time.
Siemens is promising that if its train is chosen by LU it will be 30 percent more energy efficient than a conventional Tube train, and will also be 20 percent lighter with 10 percent more passenger capacity. It will be made from sustainable materials, too, that are 95 percent recyclable.
Train braking will be electric, using regenerative braking, an energy recovery mechanism that turns the traction motors into generators and slows a vehicle down by converting its kinetic energy into another form that can either be used immediately or stored until needed. This power is then fed back into the power rail and you can use that to power other trains on the network. This also means that heat is not generated from friction braking as the train is stopping.
Another feature that Siemen's Inspiro will bring to the London Underground is a "last mile option". In this, if the power supply on the Underground failed, the train would be able use battery power to get to the next station and safely unload the passengers without any power supply from the infrastructure.
"The traction equipment on this vehicle would be similar to what is used on Siemens other trains; the latest generation of propulsion," Clark added. "We're looking at the motor technology with various options at the moment but they are all based on technology we already have."
The Inspiro is a bespoke train, purpose designed for the London Underground. It has been designed especially for London Underground because of issues of spacing in the London Tube tunnels. Clearances are particularly tight, so the tunnels can't take the same trains Siemens has recently sold to Prague, for example, because they simply wouldn't fit.
Other challenges Siemens has faced in designing the trains is fitting air conditioning units into a train that has wider gangways than those that presently operate on the network.
"The requirement from LU is that a new air-conditioned train is at least as good in terms of the energy it puts back into the system as a current non-air-conditioned tube," Clark said.
"The problem is that current trains currently have no space to put an air-conditioning system but we have solved that. But one of the problems here is that if you take the heat out of passenger vehicles to cool them down, physics says that that heat has got to go somewhere else and what we don't want to be doing is putting lots of heat back into the tunnels."
Siemens is looking at some "novel solutions" to crack this problem and working with buyers to try to solve how that heat will escape in a way that would make the train even more energy efficient.
Those that frequent the Piccadilly, Bakerloo and Central lines will be happy to hear that these lines will be the first to see the next generation train, as London Underground has recently said that the fleet will be rolled out across these lines in that order.
It's still uncertain which manufacturer London Underground will choose to provide "the train of the future", but it has promised it will be "radically different from anything that's been on the underground railway before", and for the sake of our noses and general well being, it should ease congestion and help relieve morning commuters of the nasty, too close for comfort experiences they face every morning.
Siemens' exhibition, suitably called "Going Underground: Our journey to the future" is presenting its Inspiro train and future London Underground station layout at the Crystal, London Royal Victoria Docklands until 8 January. µ
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