Rail-bound transport: For the love of commuting

When it comes to rail transport, Siemens offers many elements from a single source – from trains to signaling and control technology to complete service packages. One current example is the modernization of the Thameslink in southern England.

For those living in the southeast of England, the term Thameslink is part of everyday life. Each day over half a million people commute to work in London – many of them using this 225-kilometer Thameslink route, which closely resembles a metro or suburban rail link. With 50 stations, the line runs from north to south, from Bedford, through London down to Brighton, also serving Luton Airport to the north of the city and Gatwick Airport to the south. The problem until now has been lukewarm customer satisfaction due to delays and overcrowded trains.


The Department for Transport (DfT) therefore decided to modernize the line and the vehicle fleet. The DfT aims to have 24 trains per hour serving the main route between Blackfriars and St Pancras during peak times. However, this requires high-performance control and safety systems on the one hand, and technically sophisticated trains with high capacities and intelligent on-board technology on the other.

Rail automation: ETCS and ATO for the Thameslink

Siemens is responsible for the train safety system in the central section of the Thameslink route, the ETCS Level 2. This system will operate in conjunction with the existing infrastructure from 2018, bringing about the necessary conditions for Automatic Train Operation (ATO). It will be a world first for this combination in a customer project, which will most importantly enable the desired short headways between the trains. Every train must adhere to a precise schedule, which means following an optimized speed profile, stopping accurately at the platforms and departing again without delay. The ATO system is responsible for controlling the train, for instance by sending a signal at the platform to open all the doors and allow passengers to change quickly.


One of the route’s distinguishing features is that it is equipped with two different traction power systems. In the northern section the trains draw power from an overhead line, as is normally the case for rail lines with 25 kV alternating current, whereas in the southern section they are powered with 750 V direct current from a third rail, like a subway train. This is to remain the case, which is why the dual-system trains switch between the two systems during a short stop at Farringdon Station.

Desiro City: the new cutting-edge platform

The 115 Class 700 Desiro City commuter trains that Siemens is supplying starting in 2016 are remarkable in terms of their all-around technical standard. With the Desiro City, which is based on the tried-and-tested Desiro UK trains, Siemens developed a new platform concept for suburban, regional and intercity rail in the UK. The Desiro City can be operated as a single-system train for direct or alternating current, or as a dual-system train, as with the Thameslink. This allows the trains, which run at up to 160 km/h, to be deployed in a variety of situations in the UK.


The Desiro City has a modular design, allowing trains to be assembled with anything from three to twelve cars, with a total length of 62 to 240 meters, as the passenger volume requires. Depending on the interior fittings, using different seats, more or less space between the seats, or additional standing room, the Desiro City can accommodate up to 25 percent more passengers. The air-conditioning system automatically adjusts to the passenger volume. Broader intercar gangways and roughly 1.5-meter-wide sliding doors ensure that passengers can board and alight quickly, therefore reducing changing times.

An energy-saving train

The lightweight construction of the aluminum car bodies and weight-optimized bogies are key reasons why the Desiro City is up to 25 percent lighter than the current Desiro train fleet in the UK. With the added benefit of a more advanced ATO vehicle control system, which adjusts the train’s speed based on the route utilization, the Desiro City is a real energy saver. What is more, all auxiliary systems can be switched to eco mode. All in all, this makes energy savings of up to 50 percent compared to the previous models entirely realistic.

Always connected

In the Thameslink trains the Passenger Information System (PIS) displays travel information on large, double-sided flat screens in the entrance areas and on exterior LED displays. It includes the current and next station, the time, route maps, additional information, video clips and updates on connections from the next station. Notably, this information is provided to passengers in real time, which makes a crucial difference in case of disruption or problems with connections.

Many years of local experience

Siemens is the only manufacturer to fill the role of both supplier and maintenance partner, servicing all 1,600 cars of the over 400 trains supplied since 1997 - trains that complete over 80 million kilometers per year. Up to now the trains have been regularly serviced and kept in operation at six Siemens depots and eight depots operated in partnership with the rail companies. Now two additional maintenance facilities at Three Bridges and Hornsey are being set up just to service the Desiro City. Three Bridges went into operation first, in summer 2015. It has five 260-meter-long service tracks with maintenance pits and lowering devices for two bogies simultaneously, plus vehicle and tank cleaning systems, storage and more. All this with the aim of opening a new chapter in British rail transport history.


Eberhard Buhl

Picture credits: Getty Images; Siemens AG / Videos: Siemens AG


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