Bombardier Selected as Prefered Bidder for Sub-Surface Signalling

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TfL have confirmed that the contract to provide new signalling for the Sub-Surface Lines (District, Circle, Metropolitan and Hammersmith and City) will be awarded to Bombardier after the completion of the statutory standstill period following the announcement.

The news will come as something of a surprise to many, with Invensys/Westinghouse being the other bidder (although unnamed in the TfL press release) as Westinghouse have a long history of involvement on the Underground, including the Victoria Line where (ironically) they were working as a subcontractor to Bombardier.

Indeed Westinghouse have technically already held this contract, albeit briefly, under Metronet. The contract was retendered, however, by TfL after Metronet’s dissolution as it was felt the £755m price tag was inflated and that the planned implementation methods were out of line with the new emphasis on reducing closures. Following Metronet’s dissolution, TfL indicated they would be looking to a new implementation model for the project, one that was lighter on closures and made more use of best practices learnt elsewhere – with the Madrid Metro upgrade emphasised as a project they were looking to emulate.

It appears that the comparison with Madrid has ended up even more apt than was likely suspected at the time, for it was Bombardier who upgraded Lines 1 and 6 there. More than that, the Railway Gazette are reporting that Bombardier will, in fact, not be subcontracting this signals job out but instead looking to implement their own CITYFLO 650 moving block CBTC System on the Sub-Surface Lines – the very same system used on those Madrid Lines.

If this is the case, then it’ll mark a major step up for the CITYFLO 650 system in the UK, where it has previously only featured on Airport Light Rail at Gatwick and Heathrow. Madrid aside, Shenzen, Tainjin and Ghangzhou Metros in China appear to be the other major Metro systems using the system in some way.

Although relatively new to the UK, the fact that CITYFLO was implemented with as few closures as possible in Madrid (where an overlay method with mixed mode running was used) probably played out in Bombardier’s favour when it came to awarding the contract, similiarly it is tempting to suspect that Bombardier may well have entered a highly competitve bid due to the foothold the SSR deal would give them in the UK market. Whatever the reasoning it does mean that the Underground will be getting its fourth different signalling system, and Bombardier will no doubt face an interesting challenge integrating CITYFLO with the various others that the Sub-Surface lines touch upon and share track with.

If all goes to plan, however, today’s announcement will represent good news for travellers. The new signalling work was considered a critical part of the London Underground Upgrade project, and not only will it ultimately increase capacity across all the affected lines but this contract also stipulates this be achieved without weekend closures (that does, of course, seem to suggest we’ll be looking at block closures although they’re not mentioned in the official press release).

Unsurprisingly, the lack of weekend closures is a piece of news that has been welcomed in various quarters, with Caroline Pidgeon from the Assembly already going on record with the following comment:

I very much welcome this new approach. Avoiding so much disruption is good for passengers and many businesses across London. It is just a great shame that the Mayor and Transport for London have until now been stubborn in refusing to look at international best practice, meaning Londoners have suffered for so long.

All in all, it is therefore good news that this contract has been awarded, although it will be interesting to see how Bombardier manage and implement the new system on a practical level.

Finally, there is one more thing that readers should note about the CITYFLO system. Not because it is necessarily relevant here, but because it is something that will no doubt be picked up on by the mainstream media at some point and receive its day in the sun…

…CITYFLO 650 is, of course, also designed to support driverless (DTO) or unattended (UTO) train operation.

Thanks to PH and GM for the spots.

Written by John Bull