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Pictures of the Future



Mr. Sebastian Webel
Mr. Sebastian Webel


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Pictures of the Future
The Magazine for Research and Innovation

Urban Mobility

Traveling through Time on the Tube

Some 150 years old and still going strong: London’s Underground is steadily improving.

The world’s first subway began operating a bit more than 150 years ago in London. Today it transports over 1.2 billion people a year and is stretched to the limit. Siemens technology is helping to get the most out of it.

Eight platforms, 470 cameras, dozens of escalators, and 200,000 passengers a day – King’s Cross St. Pancras in London is one of the most frequented subway stations in all of Europe. Emlyn Ragbirsingh’s job at the station’s control center is to ensure that everything runs smoothly. Thanks to a Siemens IT system, just a few mouse clicks is all it takes for Ragbirsingh to close in on any corner of the station, examine floor plans or call up images from surveillance cameras. It might look like a computer game, but in fact it’s reality.

For example, a crew member has just reported by wireless that a young woman has tripped and fallen. Ragbirsingh immediately sends out one of his colleagues to help the young lady. A short time later, one of the escalators breaks down and service technicians immediately move into action. “I never know what to expect when I arrive at work in the morning,” Ragbirsingh says. “Sometimes there’s almost nothing going on during the first seven hours of my shift, but then an entire line will suddenly shut down during the last 15 minutes.”

Siemens Trains: Serving London since 1891

The Tube, as Londoners call their subway, is stretched to the limit, even without breakdowns. It carried more than 1.2 billion passengers in 2012. No one could have imagined such a scenario in 1863, when the world’s first subway line went into operation in London using steam locomotives. The network was significantly expanded in the following decades, and is now the second-longest in the world after Shanghai’s. And of course it has been modernized, step by step. The first electric trains entered service in the late 19th century. In 1891, for example, the City and South London Railway ordered two electric locomotives from Siemens Brothers for use on the route between King William Street and Stockwell.

Siemens chassis were built into modern vehicles a few years ago. Yet despite all the modernizations, the Tube remains a Victorian architectural achievement – a labyrinth with narrow corridors and tight curves. In fact, the signal system installed at the Edgware Road station in 1926 is still being used today. One of the problems faced by the Tube is that many different surveillance and control systems were installed over a period of decades and they now need to be integrated.

The London Underground therefore commissioned Siemens to integrate the surveillance and control systems of the entire Victoria Line into a single control center. The IT solution installed at King’s Cross St. Pancras station is now making Ragbirsingh’s day easier. The solution incorporates 13 different surveillance and control systems into one simple interface. “Lighting, pumps, display boards, fire alarms, passenger help points – everything that is needed for the safe and secure operation of the station can now be called up more quickly by Underground teams.

Expanding the Tube's Capacity by Thirty Percent

Although complaining about the Tube is a London obsession, service has in fact become more efficient over the last few decades. Particularly in recent years a massive overhaul has been underway: platforms are being expanded and new tunnels are being built. For instance, the 21-kilometer, 15-billion-pound Crossrail Tunnel will allow commuter trains to pass under the entire city. The new link is scheduled to enter service in 2018. Its smooth functioning will be ensured by signaling and control systems from Siemens.

When it opens, the Crossrail Tunnel will increase London’s rail transport capacity by around ten percent. Additionally, state-of-the-art signaling systems, wider platforms, larger stations and faster service on existing lines are expected to expand the Tube’s capacity by around 30 percent.

More than 3,000 old rail cars on the deep tube lines – especially those running in tubular tunnels – are to be replaced by 2023, with a first call for tenders to be made in late 2014. Friedrich Timmer and his team at Siemens are currently working on a concept for the London Underground trains of the future. “A deep tube car has to be not only robust but also light,” he says. “Otherwise the trains will consume too much energy and their waste heat will make the tunnels and stations even hotter than they already are.” The Tube is already London’s biggest single electricity consumer, accounting for 2.8 percent of total demand. “Drive systems, bogies, acceleration properties – everything has to be precisely optimized in line with the London Tube network,” says Timmer. His goal is to raise Tube vehicle energy efficiency by around 20 percent and increase passenger capacity by over ten percent.

Andreas Kleinschmidt
Picture credits: from top: 1. and 4. picture Transport for London, 2. AKG