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Clockwork Orange reborn

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Andrew Smith Hallidie was shocked to see a cart overturning on the steep San Francisco streets, killing five horses. He later stated that this inspired him to build his world famous cable car system, something he was well placed to do as his father, Andrew Smith, was a Scottish engineer with a patent for the making of wire ropes.

In 1852, both father and son had sailed to California where, in 1867, Hallidie patented his “Hallidie Ropeway” to transport ore by a continuously moving rope. Hallidie was able to convince investors that this system would work successfully on San Francisco’s steep hills and so, in August 1873, the city’s iconic cable cars began an operation that continues to this day. The cars are propelled and retarded up and down the hills by moving rope under a slot in the street to which the cars are connected by a gripper operated by a gripman.

From San Francisco to Glasgow

The promoters of the Glasgow District Subway were a cautious lot. New-fangled electric traction was not for them, despite it being used successfully in London’s first deep tube, the City and South London Railway, in 1890. Instead, they decided on Hallidie’s patent system for their Subway which opened in 1896 as the world’s third tube metro and the only one to be cable hauled.

The Subway’s two independent 6.5 mile circular tunnels each had a wire rope running at a constant 12 mph. There was no other track so, to increase service frequency, coaches were craned into the tunnel from the depot above. With a 4 foot gauge and 11 foot diameter tunnels, it is a small railway. One advantage of its cable legacy is mechanical regenerative braking, the stations are located on humps to assist acceleration and retardation.

When the system was electrified in 1935, the original coaches were converted to electric traction and continued to run until 1977. By this time, the coaches were outdated and the tunnel infrastructure required major work. As a result, the Subway was closed until 1980 for tunnel repairs, new power supplies and station enhancements. The depot at Broomloan was modernised and provided with connecting tracks into the tunnels.

When the system re-opened in 1980, its bright new orange trains, supplied by Metro-Cammell, soon gained the nickname ‘Clockwork Orange’, after the film of the time.

Twenty-first century subway

The 1970s Subway refurbishment has served Glasgow well, with around 13 million passenger journeys being undertaken each year. However, after 30 years, major work is required. As a result, Strathclyde Partnership for Transport (SPT) has initiated a £288 million modernisation programme to which, in 2011, the Scottish Government agreed to contribute £246 million.

Charlie Hoskins, SPT’s director of projects, explains that this will transform the Subway into a more attractive and flexible twenty-first century service to bring in more passengers, with an estimated 17 million journeys each year expected in 30 years’ time. Crucially, the refurbishment will also reduce operational and maintenance costs which would otherwise rise until closure became almost certain.

The programme is expected to be completed by 2019/20, with no disruption to service and the programme has five main aspects: staffing/working practices, infrastructure, stations, ticketing and rolling stock.

The first aspect of the programme was addressed by an agreement signed between UNITE and SPT in August for more flexible working and establishment reduction without compulsory redundancies. Charlie advised that this involved some hard bargaining and would make significant savings and that without this agreement the investment programme could not be justified.

iShoogle no longer?

Infrastructure work on tunnels, rails and the Broomloan depot will account for around £20 to £25 million of the programme. The Subway’s two circular tunnels twice go under the River Clyde and, around the whole network, vary in depth between 7 and 115 feet below the Clyde’s high water level. Water has always been an issue, resulting in rail corrosion and other problems. Therefore, the programme includes tunnel lining repairs, associated water sealing and drainage improvements with upgraded pumping equipment. To repair the worst sections, and learn lessons prior to main contract award, SPT has awarded contracts worth £1.8 million to Balvac Ltd for the Kelvinhall – Partick and Buchanan St – Cowcaddens tunnel sections which have bad water ingress due to old worked coal seams and fractured rock. This work includes a trial of a new two-part polyurethane expanding resin to fill tunnel lining voids.

The Subway rail shares the same profile as the Docklands Light Railway, so SPT frequently works with DLR on rail procurement. The track has no transition curves, which gives such a distinct ride that the Subway iPhone app is named iShoogle. Prior to 1977 the “Shoogle” was quite exciting as the old carriage sides swayed so much that seat backs moved away from seats. Charlie advises that, where possible, track will be re-aligned to smooth out these curves. Whether the app will need to be renamed as a result remains to be seen. Automated track examination options are also being considered to improve the efficiencies of the current manual inspection regime.

The Broomloan depot maintains the Subway’s 41 three-car trains. Also based at the depot are four battery locomotives, some flat bed wagons and a rail train to support infrastructure work into the tunnels. Improvement works at the depot include new welfare facilities and redevelopment of the main workshop and offices. The yard area is also being improved, for which VolkerRail were awarded an £800,000 contract in September.

New stations for old

For the people of Glasgow, the Subway modernisation’s first impact is station refurbishment, which will account for £40 to £50 million. In September, the SPT unveiled its first revamped station, Hillhead, the Subway’s second busiest. This was the result of 15 months work by contractors Clancy Docwra and Otis costing £2 million. For Charlie’s team, transforming this small station without passenger disruption was particularly challenging as 90% of the work had to be done at night with resultant short time possessions alongside neighbour issues. Nevertheless, Hillhead provided valuable lessons for work at other stations.

This attractive, bright, modern station has DDA enhancements including hearing loops, tactile maps and paving, colour contrast flooring and two new escalators. Hillhead’s refurbished station with its new SPT branding is a major improvement over the other stations’ dated 70s look. Whilst such revitalised stations will attract new patronage, they are also designed for cost reduction with lower whole-life-cost modern materials and energy efficient lighting.

Station modernisation includes renewal of all 28 escalators for which a £5.6 million contract has been placed with OTIS. These will incorporate power-standby technology which slows down the escalator when there are no passengers. OTIS will maintain these escalators, one example of the agreed changes in working practice, and replace the Buchanan Street station travelators. Lifts will be installed at St Enoch and Govan stations, the only two stations where this is possible as most other stations have narrow island platforms.

SPT’s vision is the introduction of smart card ticketing throughout the twelve local authorities making up the Strathclyde Region. Hence the Subway modernisation includes an ITSO-compliant smart card ticketing system linked to wider ticketing initiatives (issue 91, April 2012). This system will be developed by a joint venture between SPT and smart card software company, Ecebs. The required hardware, ticket machines and gates, will be supplied by Scheidt and Bachman and will be fully operational by the end of 2013. The estimated cost of this element of the programme is £7 million.

Unmanned Trains

In Paris, the RATP (Régie Autonome des Transports Parisiens) is converting Metro Line 1 from conventional to 100% Unmanned Train Operation (UTO) requiring each station to be fitted with platform screen gates (issue 90, March 2012). SPT also has a firm aspiration for Subway UTO and have engaged SYSTRA, RATP’s engineering subsidiary, as lead technical advisor to support procurement of new trains and signalling systems. Subway trains currently have Automatic Train Operation (ATO) to control train speed and station stops with the driver starting the train.

Charlie Hoskins explains that SPT is currently in discussions with four consortia about a turnkey contract for trains, signalling by CBTC (Communications Based Train Control), power supply, new control room, CCTV and other supporting systems. This will be let around the end of 2013. The SPT’s approach is to issue a performance-based specification so the consortia can offer trains and technology suitable for this unique Subway. Charlie advised that suppliers have shown a higher level of interest than had been expected for the relatively small order for Glasgow’s diminutive four foot gauge trains.

With UTO, headways should be reduced to three minutes. UTO also offers advantages of operating cost reduction, better station dwell times and greater flexibility for changes in demand such as Ibrox football. Another advantage is station passenger flow, with the screen gates required for UTO increasing the capacity of the narrow island platforms.

SPT expects new trains to run within 24 months of contract award. Perhaps the most difficult aspect of their introduction will be transition from ATO to UTO operation with both systems operating in parallel with each other. This is a significant aspect of discussions with the potential suppliers. As an example, prior to full UTO, the new cab-less trains will be driven from the emergency panel at the front of the train. As a result it may be necessary to fit them with temporary cab partitions.

The existing trains will be almost 40 years old before withdrawal and are in need of bodywork repairs in the short term. To do this work, a £330,000 contract was awarded in February to Concept Applications for preparing paintwork, corrosion repairs and applying polyurethane sealant around the windows. This has also allowed for the existing trains to be rebranded in the new orange, white and grey Subway livery.

Preparing for the Games

As the Subway modernisation is such a comprehensive programme of work, its 2019/20 planned completion is not surprising. However there is a more immediate deadline: Glasgow’s Commonwealth Games starting in July 2014. Partly for this reason, the programme has two phases. Phase 1 is preparing for both the Games and the new trains. Phase 2 introduces the new trains and completes the remaining work. The programme is project managed in-house, with additional specialist support. The stations work is led by architects Aedas while consultants Arup and Mott McDonald provide support for infrastructure work. Systra, Fraser Nash and Racon Consultants have been engaged for their specialist expertise in the procurement of new trains and signalling.

Preparing the Subway for the 2014 Games is part of a plan that includes an £11 million development of Dalmarnock station and work to the value of £1.6 million at 30 other stations. On the Subway, stations adjacent to games venues at Kelvinhall and Ibrox will have been refurbished, as will the key interchange station of Partick. In addition, all stations will be rebranded and cleaned up prior to the games. The new Subway ticketing and gating system will be fully operational prior to the Games.

Size does not matter

The Scottish Parliament’s June 2010 debate on the Glasgow Subway makes interesting reading and presents a strong case for the Subway’s modernisation and showed Glasgow’s affection for it. An example of this was a refusal to accept it being re-named the Glasgow Underground in 1930. Ten years ago, SPT changed it back to Subway.

Fond of the Subway MSPs may be, but in this debate it was recognised that no-one owes the Subway a living and doubts were expressed about the feasibility of modernising its small trains. As it has developed its plan to modernise the Subway, the SPT has shown that, in this respect, size does not matter. No doubt, when Glasgow becomes the first part of the UK to introduce UTO, its small trains will become the subject of much attention.

One question remains: what will Glasgow call its new trains?


David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEM
David Shirres BSc CEng MIMechE DEM

Rolling stock, depots, Scottish and Russian railways

David Shirres joined British Rail in 1968 as a scholarship student and graduated in Mechanical Engineering from Sussex University. He has also been awarded a Diploma in Engineering Management by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

His roles in British Rail included Maintenance Assistant at Slade Green, Depot Engineer at Haymarket, Scottish DM&EE Training Engineer and ScotRail Safety Systems Manager.

In 1975, he took a three-year break as a volunteer to manage an irrigation project in Bangladesh.

He retired from Network Rail in 2009 after a 37-year railway career. At that time, he was working on the Airdrie to Bathgate project in a role that included the management of utilities and consents. Prior to that, his roles in the privatised railway included various quality, safety and environmental management posts.

David was appointed Editor of Rail Engineer in January 2017 and, since 2010, has written many articles for the magazine on a wide variety of topics including events in Scotland, rail innovation and Russian Railways. In 2013, the latter gave him an award for being its international journalist of the year.

He is also an active member of the IMechE’s Railway Division, having been Chair and Secretary of its Scottish Centre.


    • That I know Hazelkaye.

      I was trying to point out that preparing the Subway for the 2014 games is part of a bigger plan that includes other work beyond the Subway such as Dalmarnock.

      Sorry if I didn’t make myself clear but hope you enjoyed the article!

  1. What’s-more – there could also be a meaningful “key (Subway/Scotrail) interchange” on the south side at little used West Street – if the Glasgow Crossrail (City Union) line was timeously electrified and reopened to passenger traffic!


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