Transport systems around the world are in a race against time to modernise their services and serve an increasing number of passengers with much higher expectations from their daily journeys.

This pressing need to revolutionise urban transport was highlighted by project management and consulting firm Arup in their Future of Rail 2050 report, in which the company writes: “in a future where 75% of people live in cities, the world’s population stands at 9.5 billion, how will infrastructure and rail systems cope with the rising demand for passenger and freight capacity?”

Right now, urban metro networks are faced with the most pressing challenges.

On the one hand, we have Elon Musk’s elaborate plans to launch Hyperloop, which despite many successful deals and trials, still feels too much like a dystopian system to be seen as an up-and-coming practical solution to daily travel woes.

Meanwhile, individual transport providers in big cities around the world are investing in next-generation rolling stock, with futuristic, passenger-friendly and interconnected fleets ready to face the next decades of travel. These down-to-earth approaches currently combine the latest proven technologies available with top-notch design, bringing us closer to the yet elusive concept of smart rail network.

London’s Deep Tube Programme

This summer, Transport for London (TfL) announced it was awarding a £1.5bn contract to Siemens Mobility to design and build 94 new-generation trains to replace the entire Piccadilly Line fleet.

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The Inspiro trains, to be delivered from 2023 onwards, will be part of a wider ranging Deep Tube programme, which aims to replace 250 of the capital’s life-expired rolling stock across four lines. TfL’s programme comes in preparation for an expected increase in London’s population from 8.4 million today to around 10 million by 2030.

Each new train is designed to be 6m longer than existing cars, delivering 60% more capacity, and they will include improved accessibility and in-train information systems. They will also operate at a rate of up to 27 trains-per-hour (tph) at peak times by the end of 2026, compared with a maximum of 24 tph at present. TfL also promises that the trains will be air-cooled for more comfortable journeys and subscribe to improved energy efficiency standards.

The upgrade also means that by the early 2020s, with the completion of the new signalling system on the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines, the majority of existing London Underground lines will have automatic train operation.

Moscow’s next gen Moskva metros

It was only last year that Moscow received its brand new fleet of metro trains, named Moskva by over 220,000 people in an online poll, in what the city’s mayor Sergei Sobyanin called their goal to “design the world’s best metro train”.

The 1,600 new carriages were bought between 2010 and 2016 and entered into operation on the Tagansko-Krasnopresnenskaya Line in April 2017. According to a Moscow Government press release, the trains are more comfortable, quieter and carry 28% more passengers. They also offer a smooth ride, consume less energy, and include a corridor connection between carriages.

When designing the interiors, the carriages were fitted with special soft wall protrusions for standing passengers to lean on, and railings with warm grips. Noise levels inside the new trains have also been reduced by almost 30% to no more than 70 decibels. A nice touch is the adjustable LED lights, which put out a white light in the mornings, changing to warmer, yellow hues in the evening.

In terms of efficiency, the Moskva train is 22 tonnes lighter than its predecessor and uses 35%-40% less energy. The engineering team even took joyriders into consideration, doing away with any bulky or protruding designs on the outside of the carriages, preventing crime and accidents.

New York’s beleaguered metro welcomes new cars

The struggling New York metro will be welcoming 535 “state-of-the-art, next-generation subway cars” built by Kawasaki, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) board announced at the start of this year.

The city’s commuters have long struggled with delays, power cuts, and an overall substandard journey due to ageing infrastructure. The R211 carriages will be open gangway cars, which allow customers to move freely between carriages as part of a pilot programme for MTA New York City Transit.

“It is imperative that we provide a first-in-class subway car that can live up to the rigor and expectations of New Yorkers,” said MTA chairman Joseph Lhota at the time of the announcement.

City dwellers will have to wait longer still though, as the new cars will only begin being delivered for testing from 2020 onwards.

Once functional, the R211s will feature 58-inch wide door openings, eight inches wider than standard doors on existing cars, according to the MTA. These doors are designed to reduce delays and speed up train movement by speeding up boarding and shortening the time trains sit in stations.

They will also be compatible with an advanced signalling system known as Communications-Based Train Control, enabling New York City Transit to deliver more frequent and reliable services by operating trains more closely together.

Inside, all cars will be equipped with digital displays to provide real-time, location-specific information about the service and stations; new grab rails including double-poles; and brighter and clearer lighting, signage and safety graphics.

Seoul commuters get lucky with fast WiFi

Seoul’s commuters are enjoying an enviable service on their journey: a mobile hotspot network with an uninterrupted 1.25Gbps WiFi connection, which allows passengers to stream HD videos while underground.

The technology was developed by ETRI, Korea’s Electronics and Telecommunications Research Institute. ETRI successfully introduced data service of up to 500Mbps in 2016, and then up to 1.25Gbps in 2017. Today, the technology enables a maximum of 550 users to watch a video simultaneously through WiFi in a running subway train.

But it doesn’t stop here: ETRI is currently collaborating with other institutes to develop an enhanced mobile hot-spot network to provide speeds of up to 10Gbps across the network.

Brussels welcomes new autonomous metros

Two years after Brussels’ transport operator STIB-MIVB awarded the contract for the city’s new trainsets to Construcciones y Auxiliar de Ferrocarriles (CAF), a mock-up of the trains was finally released in January.

The trainsets are specifically designed with the idea of modernising the Brussels Metro.

According to CEO of STIB-MIVB Brieuc de Meeûs, the new metro trains will be able to transport 30% more travellers and “offer all metro users a better service”.

Like many other systems around the world, the new generation of trains are larger, and have been built with accessibility and mobility in mind. Veteran transport designer Axel Enthoven was chosen for the project, who also designed Brussels’ trams, the M6 ​​metro trains and a series of buses.

Passengers were also given the choice to chime in via an online poll in regards to the colour of the carriages, which will be silver.

Automated signalling will also help to increase the frequency of the trains by 2021, and by 2028 the transport operator promises that Brussels’ metro trains will drive autonomously on the north-south axis from Albert to Bordet.