New trains mark beginning of the end for 1980s-era orange carriages.
Five years since first being revealed, four years since being delivered, and after over two years in testing, the Glasgow Subway has finally introduced a new fleet of trains, only the third generation since the system was first opened over 125 years ago. Since late December, two units have been running on the system’s outer circle. The new trains are composed of four ‘walk-through’ carriages, and are provisioned for eventual driverless operation.
Following their introduction, the Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, which operates the system, has also announced an increase in fares: single fares have been raised by 5p, while returns will increase by 10p, which means an all-day ticket will now cost £3.10 instead of £3 when using a smartcard. This includes the Young Scot card. The new fares have been applied since the beginning of this year.
The introduction of new rolling stock is an important milestone in the system’s modernisation programme, first started in 2010. With the new trains now in the system, work can now progress on installing platform screen doors, which are glass barriers meant to increase passenger safety in stations. Similar systems are in operation on London’s Elizabeth Line, and the Paris metro, however, SPT was quick to point out these doors will be ‘half-height’ “to preserve as much space and openness within the stations as possible.” Once installed, work can begin on implementing automated operation, which could lead to improved performance, and extended services into the night and on Sundays.
The introduction of the new trains has triggered calls for expanding the system. Since first opening in 1896 as the world’s third oldest subway, the current circle has not been expanded at all. The system does not serve the north or east of the city at all, while many of its Southside stations are placed in neighbourhoods which have been depopulated over the past decades.
There are currently no plans to expand the system due to the unorthodox, 19th century design of the tunnels. The long testing period required for the new trains is due the trains’ custom-built nature. There are no other subway systems in the world which use the Glasgow Subway’s 4ft rail gauge. The standard gauge used in most systems around the world is 4ft and 8in.
While the new trains have been designed to accommodate wheelchairs, only two of the Subway’s stations, Govan and St Enoch, are fitted with lifts. Due to the Victorian design of most stations, lifts would not be able to be fitted without significant rebuilds.
The system could however fit into the wider potential for a so-called ‘Clyde Metro’, which would involve another type of subway or metro-like system replacing some suburban ScotRail trains. The plan also outlines another light rail system, similar to Edinburgh’s trams also being introduced in the city. There is little progress expected on the plan in the immediate future as there is no funding announced from either the Scottish or UK Government.