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Subway Modernisation by Charles Hoskins, Director of Projects, Strathclyde Partnership for Transport: Glasgow meeting of 22 October 2013

Keith Evans (left) with Charles Hoskins (right) after the meeting.d

Keith Evans (left) with Charles Hoskins (right) after the meeting.

© John Yellowlees, 2013

The Glasgow Subway is the third oldest in the world, opening in December 1896 after 6 years of construction work. Originally it was operated using cable hauled trains, the cables running from the Power House in Scotland Street, round each of the 6½ mile tunnels. The system has a non-standard gauge of 1220 mm. Between 1931 and 1933 the system was modernized with the trains being converted to electric traction using the third rail system.

By the late 1970's the system had become very run down and it closed for modernization in May 1977. The modernization included rebuilding stations, replacing the track and introducing new signalling and rolling stock. A new depot was built next to the existing one and a test track was installed. A new ticketing system was also introduced at that time. The modernised subway opened in 1980.

Today the system consists of 41 subway cars, operating in 3 car trains serving 15 stations. There are 28 escalators and two travelators in the system. There are three stations with park and ride car parks and the subway is used by some 12 to 13 million passengers a year. Passenger numbers fluctuate but there has been a downward trend partly due to the recession and partly due to other factors, such as the modernization, changes in travel patterns and changes in employment opportunities in the area service by the line.

The busiest stations are Buchanan Street, Hillhead and St. Enoch Stations, with the heaviest traffic flow between Govan and Partick and Hillhead and Buchanan Street. On a daily basis, the morning and afternoon peaks periods see the heaviest traffic. Seasonally, the busiest period is in the run up to the Festive holidays with the summer holiday period being the quietest. In the morning peak, some 41% of passenger journeys originate outwith the Glasgow area.

The challenges faced were that the Stations were of 1970's design and appearance and the materials used were not easy to keep clean and maintain and stations were not bright and airy as found in other systems. The ticketing system was dated, using old magnetic stripe technology. The escalators were 30 years old and in need of replacement. There are also accessibility issues. Although 8 new trailer cars were acquired in the 1990's, the 33 power cars are increasingly difficult to maintain with difficulties in obtaining spare parts due to their unique design.

Another problem is that the infrastructure essentially dates from the 1890's and the tunnel lining is of brick and cast iron construction, leading to water ingress problems. The line passes under the river Clyde at two points and the river Kelvin at one point and as Glasgow has a relatively high water table in some places, water has to be constantly pumped out of the system. Working practices dated from the 1970's and were also in need of modernising.

A STAG/business case approach was used to assess the options for the Subway's future. These included doing nothing, modernizing the system or a "blue sky" option of extending the system. The assessment showed that there was a very limited, if any, case for extending the current system and the "do nothing" option would lead to closure and have major transportation impacts across the region. The case for modernisation would transform the system for the 21st Century would lead to less whole life costs and a reduced subsidy.

A programme to modernise the system was subsequently developed in detail and is now being implemented. A key part of the modernisation is keeping the system open whilst undertaking the work. A new "smart" ticketing system is being introduced and passengers will use a smartcard to travel. Just tapping this on the sensor at the gate will allow access to the system and passengers will be able to top up credit on their card at any station. For those without a smartcard, "smart" paper tickets will be issued by the new ticket machines at stations.

Work is also being undertaken to upgrade the infrastructure with work on the tunnel linings and track to tackle the water ingress problem and a pioneering research project has recently been announced to examine the potential to extract heat from water and use it to warm stations and other buildings. Tunnel linings will be grouted to reduce leaks and the trackbed and rails will be renewed and upgraded.

New rolling stock is in the process of being procured and SPT is working with the tenderers on the design of the new trains and associated signalling and control system. Trains will be fully automatic and a new control room and signalling system will also be installed. A new agreement on more flexible working was reached with the staff in August 2012.

The modernisation will see stations being refurbished to provide an attractive, bright and modern environment that is easy to clean and maintain. New signage is being introduced. Hillhead Station has already been completed and work is underway at Ibrox and Kelvinhall stations. New escalators and travelators will be installed. At Govan Station, a new interchange will be built replacing the existing bus station and linking in with the new Fastlink system.

St. Enoch station will feature completely new canopy entrances and all stations will eventually feature platform screen doors for the new fully automated driverless system. Public art will also be a feature of the refurbished stations and a 12 metre by 2 metre mural by renowned artist Alasdair Gray has been installed at Hillhead Station.

The modernisation will deliver a subway system for the 21st Century with improved reliability, greater flexibility to have extended operational times, more frequent services and more comfortable trains. With bright, attractive stations and the new smartcard ticketing system, the Subway will be an attractive mode of travel for passengers, leading to passenger growth. Operational costs will be reduced and with revenue increases, subsidy levels will be reduced.

Following the presentation there was a question and answer session and Mr. Hoskins ably responded to the many and varied questions. At the conclusion of this session, the Chairman, Keith Evans, presented Mr. Hoskins with one of the Scottish Region's engraved glasses as a memento of the evening.

You can keep up to date with the Subway modernisation at

The Scottish Region would like to thank Charles Hoskins of SPT for taking the time to give his presentation and to ScotRail for hosting the event.

Report by John Fender. Photograph by John Yellowlees.


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