Deep thinking

As Bombardier has looked to push reliability levels even higher, so it has looked at how it might adjust some of its key systems to ensure even better durability going forward, rather than go through the risky and more expensive process of designing certain components from scratch. “Going through those learning curves is a big part of how we grow our experience,” says Simmons.

So, is it fair to say that NTfL will be more of an evolution than a ‘fresh start’? It may be a case of developing components of existing trains to the next stage, but it doesn’t necessarily feel like TfL is starting again. S-Stock was something of a transformation, whereas this time TfL is taking S-Stock, taking VLU, taking what’s on the Jubilee Line and making that into the NTfL concept.

Simmons agrees, and says: “TfL takes a holistic view of the railway and doesn’t just focus on the rolling stock. So upgrading signalling systems, control centres and stations can speed up passenger flow and the train is one part of that system.” 

Eventually LU will go to overnight running on certain routes, which will make the window of opportunity for maintenance even smaller. Bombardier understands that and wants to make the train low-impact on the infrastructure. Simmons elaborates: “The trains will have to be lighter, more track-friendly and more energy efficient, and we have already developed much of the technology to achieve that. We set the bar high with S-Stock, and there are a lot of passenger features TfL would probably want to see included in the new Deep Tube stock.

“For us it’s an evolution, but for other suppliers it would take more of a revolution. We’re building on things we know work. Everybody buys our bogies for use in the global market - and for good reason.”

Bombardier knows how to make reliable Tube trains too. S-Stock trains are now achieving 110,000 kilometres between failures. Simmons says: “Because we’ve been developing S-Stock reliability levels, we have a headstart in terms of increasing reliability. Now, instead of it taking 12 months to perfect an improvement, we’re going to build that improvement into these trains before they even enter service. We follow a very structured System Engineering approach to the design of our vehicles and our mature processes allow us to have confidence that the product will perform well on day one.”

Rennoldson adds: “With modern trains and all their systems, you have to do more system testing anyway. We’re increasing our investment in developing ways of testing these system designs.”

Is that because passengers expect more from what they’re doing these days? Simmons points out: “Customers want much more reliable trains. They want cleaner trains, they want faster trains. We have to create trains that passengers will really want to travel on, with as many seats as possible.” 

But is seating so important for the Tube? Journeys are, typically, short so fewer seats and more standing space is the answer, surely? Simmons explains: “Seats are important for London Underground. Most other places in the world have rigid plastic seats. But seats are incredibly important from a comfort perspective for TfL. NTfL will still feature strong, cushioned seats with its distinctive, time-honoured moquette.”

The look of the train is crucial. TfL issued a design that it wants bidders to work with. The ‘face’ of the cab, for example, is of great importance because it’s part of LU’s brand identity. And TfL wants this heritage to be respected. Simmons explains: “It’s really passionate about the level of comfort on its vehicles and retaining an iconic design inside and out.”

No matter who builds the trains, retaining brand identity is a condition of the deal. Simmons elaborates: “Although the number of seats isn’t a factor, maintaining the style and comfort level is mandatory. And that’s true across all TfL trains.” TfL, Bombardier acknowledges, “is really proud of its brand.” 

“LU took great care in presenting their brand vision to us and all the other bidders. That included interior materials, and some of the colours or patterns you associate with London Underground.”

NTfL will revolutionise the Tube in a bigger way than even the S-Stock and VLU did. Bombardier has the experience of those projects. It’s poised to use that in shaping the future of the Tube, too. 

  • This feature was published in RAIL 793 on February 3 2016.


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