First look inside Glasgow Subway’s revolutionary new driverless trains

Glasgow Subway’s current trains are notoriously – or endearingly – tiny compared to other underground systems, as those who have bumped their head will be all too aware.

But stepping aboard one of the Subway’s brand new fleet for the first time, I almost hit my head again because the brightness of the interior belied the fact they are no taller than the 40-year-old trains they are due to replace next year.

The dimensions haven’t changed – they will still have to fit through the same 125-year-old tunnels of the world’s third oldest subterranean railway. However, I felt a slight Tardis effect of the interior seeming larger than it looked outside – and what I’m used to as a Subway traveller.

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It was among a series of striking first impressions over that sense of space, the others being the open-plan layout enabling you to see right down the train, and the glass windows at either end allowing views beyond. Even the exteriors look different, with a new predominantly-white livery significantly scaling back the previously-dominant orange hue.

The new fleet is scheduled to replace the existing trains, left, from the second half of 2023. Picture: The Scotsman
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It’s the most marked change between old and new I’ve seen of any train in Scotland.

Where currently, passengers unfamiliar with the system have to peer at maps or try to make sense of often inaudible announcements between stations to know where they are, the new trains have electronic screens that will, in time, show the train’s position and direction on the circular route, while the name of the next station will be displayed and announced.

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There are wheelchair spaces at either end of the train, and extra white lighting strips beside the doors that will come on when they open and flash when they are about to close, along with audible signals. The colour will change to red if the doors are out of service.

I’m told the extra space will enable more football fans to cram in en-route to and from Ibrox – should they wish – but the wider £288 million upgrade of the Subway that includes a new signalling system will mean trains able to run up to every 90 seconds to ease the crush, compared to the current maximum four-minute frequency.

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The four-carriage trains will create more space with their open plan design. Picture: The Scotsman

It could also mean later running, such as at weekends, and on Sunday evenings, when the system closes at teatime for maintenance work. A total of 17 new trains have been ordered to help achieve this – seven of which have arrived – compared to the existing fleet of 12.

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The trains, due to be introduced three years’ late in the latter half of 2023, will initially run with drivers. However, they are scheduled to be switched to “unattended train operation” two years later, once screens along platform edges have been installed, which will open when a train stops.

From then, as well as there being no driver, the trains may only occasionally have any staff on board, such as for ticket checks and passenger assistance. This would be a first of the UK, but established practice in several European cities. However, Subway operator Strathclyde Partnership for Transport said no final decision had been taken and stations would remain staffed.

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For the moment, while Glasgow sleeps, the new trains are out on the system most nights being tested at full speed. Be ready to be impressed.

The trains will feature wheelchair spaces and some pop-up seats. Picture: The Scotsman
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The Scotsman's Transport Correspondent Alastair Dalton was given an exclusive tour of one of the new trains in Glasgow Subway's depot in Govan. Picture: The Scotsman
The driver's cab will become passenger seating with the partition removed when the trains switch to driverless mode in 2025. Picture: The Scotsman

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