Priestmangoode unveils driverless tube train
designs for London Underground

| 42 comments

News: designs by London studio Priestmangoode are due to be rolled out on four London tube lines in 2020, and could be the first fleet of driverless Underground trains (+ interview + movie).

Priestmangoode is working with Transport for London on the project to design the next generation of trains for the Piccadilly, Bakerloo, Central and Waterloo & City Lines on the underground network.

New Tube by Priestmangoode

Called the New Tube for London, the designs ditch the traditional carriage layout of existing tubes for one long, complete structure of finite length with air conditioning and Wi-Fi built in. The firm has produced two versions, one with a driver's cab and one that is driverless with seats running up to the front of the cab.



In February, Transport for London published a public advert for a supplier for 250 driverless tube trains for the Piccadilly, Central, Bakerloo and Waterloo & City lines as part of the New Tube for London project, with a contract worth £16 billion.

Asked by Dezeen if the trains had been designed to be driverless, Paul Priestman, co-founder of Preistmangoode, said:  "They're adaptable. I can't say too much on the subject but yes… it's future proofed."

New Tube by Priestmangoode

Update: Boris Johnson has confirmed that the first trains will have drivers, but these will be phased and the trains will be automated out by the middle of the 2020s.

"Automation is going to come. This train will allow us to do that," said Johnson at a press briefing this morning.

Images show a frontage that has no immediately visible driver's cab, but a large window surrounded by a strip of curved light created using LEDs with a door in the centre.

"There's a door down the centre which allows people to evacuate through the front of the vehicle if necessary, in an emergency, and it's designed to future proof all developments in cab," said Priestman.

New Tube by Priestmangoode

"As a design team we have to allow the thing to evolve through its life. These things are not really going to go into service until 2020, and will run for another 30 or 40 years after that so you have to think about every eventuality that might happen."

The LEDs on the front of the train will glow white when the train moves forward and red when in reverse. LED lighting has also been used throughout the interior of the design and on the doors, which have an in-built traffic light system around the edges to warn passengers when they are preparing to open and close.



The trains will also be air conditioned and be Wi-Fi enabled, and replace traditional paper advertising with "dynamic" screens that can be updated with real-time travel information and advertising messages. They are intended to last for 30 years and run 24 hours a day.

New Tube by Priestmangoode

Priestmangoode's designs also include a completely new layout for a London tube train, with double doors spaced evenly along the length of the train and no single doors.

"One of the things that will be happening in the lifetime of this train will be platform doors, which you can already see on the Jubilee Line, and those will be rolled out in the coming years," explained Priestman. "So on this particular train we've been able to make the doors bigger."

"Getting people on and off more quickly allows more trains to operate and then we can get more capacity, so it's absolutely critical to get that right because if you get one train that's moving slowly then the system clogs up. What we're trying to do is work with the limitations we've got to make them as efficient as possible, but also enjoyable and characterful for Londoners."

New Tube by Priestmangoode

Priestmangoode has worked on a number of high profile transport projects around the world, including conceptual train platforms that move and aircraft interiors designed to create more space for hand luggage.

The company has been working on the New Tube project for three years, working with a series of unusual size limitations thanks to the small height and width of the deep tunnels on the tube, which is the world's oldest underground system.

"It's unique because of the size of the tunnel which everyone knows is tiny," said Priestman. "If you compare the New Tube for London to the District Line trains they're much, much smaller because the tunnels are so old in the way that they were built."

New Tube by Priestmangoode

"We built a number of mock-ups and when you take it out of context it looks so tiny. You can barely stand up in the centre of the car, and you forget when you're in the tube train that you are in quite a small space," explained Priestman. "From a design point of view what we're trying to do is just use every possible design skill we have to make it feel as light and as big as possible."

Priestman said that the firm had taken lessons on materials learned from its work designing aircraft interiors and applied them to the New Tube interiors. The colour palette, including charcoal and warm grey, and oxblood red, was "derived from looking at heritage and contemporary architecture and landmarks in London" according to the press statement.

"It's about taking some elements of London and building up a palette of details and colours and finishes and materials which we then use throughout the design," explained Priestman. "So each element will have a London-ness as we would call it, but is still very much part of the brand of the London Underground."

New Tube by Priestmangoode

Read on for an edited version of the transcript from our interview with Paul Priestman:


Anna Winston: I hear you have some exciting news?

Paul Priestman: It's great we can talk about it at last. It's a massive project, probably one of the largest orders for metros, and it's unique because of the size of the tunnel which everyone knows is tiny. If you compare the New Tube for London to the District Line trains they're much, much smaller because the tunnels are so old in the way that they were built.

Anna Winston: So this design is pretty unique compared to other things that you've worked on?

Paul Priestman: It's certainly a different requirement because of the size of the car, the diameter of the tube itself is quite small. But then that is just another part of the brief that we have to work around. Obviously you can't make all the tunnels bigger or the stations bigger, it is a replacement vehicle.

Anna Winston: So how big are the trains?

Paul Priestman: I'm not sure exactly of the diameter of the tube but it's amazing because we built a number of mock-ups and when you take it out of context it looks so tiny. You can barely stand up in the centre of the car, and you forget when you're in the tube train that you are in quite a small space. From a design point of view what we're trying to do is just use every possible design skill we have to make it feel as light and as big as possible.

New Tube by Priestmangoode

Anna Winston: So tell me a little bit more about what the project involved.

Paul Priestman: We designed all of the interior and all of the exterior. The London Underground train is an icon in itself, it's a symbol of London. So we think very much about - I call it London-ness - I love a sense of a place. I'm also not great at retro either, so it's about taking some elements of London and building up a palette of details and colours and finishes and materials which we then use throughout the design. So each element will have a London-ness as we would call it, but is still very much part of the brand of the London Underground.

Anna Winston: What makes this particular design different from what's come before from other designers?

Paul Priestman: The client wanted something that was unique to London. My personal aim was to just get every square millimetre we can back to the passenger because over-crowding, and the amount of people using the network, is immense. We can't make the trains longer and we can't make them bigger, so the only thing we can do is make what we've got more efficiently.

Anna Winston: So are they one long unit?

Paul Pristeman: Yes they are.

Anna Winston: And that's a finite length?

Paul Priestman: It is yes because of the existing stations of course.

New Tube by Priestmangoode

Anna Winston: How long are they?

Paul Priestman: They range from about 12 cars to 13 cars. One of the interesting things about the London Underground trains is that sticking air conditioning units in each car causes a problem, because the doors are actually open more than they're shut because the distance between each station is so close. So if you add air conditioning units all that that would do is push heat out onto the platform. Then when the doors open they'll suck that back in and all that does is add energy and heat to the whole system, the whole infrastructure. So one of the things we're trying to do is reduce the energy we put into the system as a whole, as in the whole infrastructure system. To reduce that, take the energy away and eventually that will reduce the temperature. There's ways of doing that.

Anna Winston: Has anyone done one long single unit train on the tube before?

Paul Priestman: Not on these particular tubes. They're the first, and we're trying to give the character and the feel to it and a familiarity to it so it doesn't feel just like a European train dumped onto the system – a real character of London, of modern London.

Anna Winston: Can you talk me through some of the individual design elements on the front of the train.

Paul Priestman: What we've got is something which is a recognisable face, a modern face, and you'll see that it's got a new lighting system which we've developed for the front, which is a distinctive shape and brings modernity to it. The face of the train is very important – it's the thing you see as it enters the station. The interesting thing about projects like this is that they will be running for forty to fifty years so you're designing something to last an immensely long time and they'll be used 24 hours a day because the tubes will now be operating 24 hours a day.

From a design point of view it's an incredibly rigorous area to work in. It's got to look beautiful but at the same time it's got to be practical because if something breaks and the train goes out of service we have some delay. Normally in product design you're designing something that will last a couple of years and someone will then buy another for a couple of years time, but this is completely different, which is what I love about designing for public transport.

Anna Winston: Are those lights LED strips?

Paul Priestman: They are yes. They're continual light which illuminates round the side, and then when it's in reverse then these glow red rather than white, so it gives the correct illumination but also gives this character and a feeling for London, really.

New Tube by Priestmangoode

Anna Winston: At the front are those driver's carriages or do they just lead into the carriage like the DLR?

Paul Priestman: There's a door down the centre which allows people to evacuate through the front of the vehicle if necessary, in an emergency, and it's designed to future proof all developments in cab…

Anna Winston: Boris Johnson has been talking about automating the tube eventually, so theoretically these are driverless cabs?

Paul Priestman: It's future proof for that, yes. As a design team we have to allow the thing to evolve through its life. These things are not really going to go into service until 2020, and will run for another thirty or forty years after that so you have to think about every eventuality that might happen. In the interiors we were thinking about screens - dynamic screens rather than advertisements, which allow you to then put information to a lot of people. Should you be on the tube when you go into a packed station and you don't know which station you're at, the displays will change to give you information so that you can find out where you are.

Anna Winston: Are they actually designed for drivers at all?

Paul Priestman: They're adaptable. I can't say too much on the subject but yes… it's future proofed.

Anna Winston: You talked about screens, and they're in the spaces where you would normally have the normal paper adverts?

Paul Priestman: That's right yes, they change the advertisement but then all of the screens can change to tell you which station you're in. In different modes and emergencies it can illuminate or give more light and more information. It's more much connected. One of the big discussions we're involved in in train design, because we design trains around the world, is that the windows themselves can be LED displays so that you can add information on every surface. Even in the last five to ten years on public transport everybody is looking at their phones but not really looking around them. So it's a big discussion whether you beam information to those devices, and again this is all to do with future proofing and how these things will work in years to come, because things will change rapidly and people's user patterns will be very different.

Anna Winston: So they'll be Wi-Fi enabled?

Paul Priestman: Yes. People will be using that much more and guiding themselves through the network on their PDAs telling them to get off at this station, go left, go right, and that's something we have to think about for the future.

New Tube by Priestmangoode

Anna Winston: What else in the design makes it different from an existing tube train?

Paul Priestman: The main thing is the lighting, which is much more characterful. It hasn't got the linear lines that just endlessly run down the train. It's obviously got hardware and surfaces, but the thing that people will notice the most is that it is cool and it feels very much a part of London.

One of the big pushes is to reduce energy consumption and trying to make it very much more efficient. One of the things that will be happening in the lifetime of this train will be platform doors, which you can already see on the Jubilee Line, and those will be rolled out in the coming years. So on this particular train we've been able to make the doors bigger. On the old existing trains you get the big double doors and then you get the single doors, those have actually gone and now they're all double doors but they're exactly regularly spaced along the train.

Anna Winston: Does that improve the passenger flow?

Paul Priestman: Yes. One of the thing we've been working on very closely is how we can get what we've got to be more efficient. Getting people on and off more quickly allows more trains to operate and then we can get more capacity, so it's absolutely critical to get that right because if you get one train that's moving slowly then the system clogs up. What we're trying to do is work with the limitations we've got to make them as efficient as possible, but also enjoyable and characterful for Londoners.

Anna Winston: Can you talk me through some of the materials that you're using for the shell and the interior?

Paul Priestman: Incredibly hardwearing. Non-slip surfaces. Obviously you have to think about wear and the fire issues. But also then trying to get some of the quality feel to it. We design an awful lot of air crafts and we're using materials that we've learned from other industries, so a lot of surfaces are foiled. It's not just a paint finish, so they're very resistant to wear, scratches, even vandalism. It's trying to create something which has got a higher quality feel but is at the same time very durable.

We were talking recently with the New York metro, and it's really fascinating that in New York they have to have seats that are stainless steel or hard materials because of vandalism issues, and they look at London and say 'well how can you have fabric seats? It wouldn't last five minutes in New York'. Why is that? In some cities there are some things that are affected by cultures, and soft fabric seats – it's quite interesting that it's something for London.

Anna Winston: How long have you been working on this?

Paul Priestman: Quite a long time. It's about three years.

New Tube by Priestmangoode

Anna Winston: Are they being manufactured in the UK?

Paul Priestman: I'm not sure - it's going to tender… But something that we've been doing with a number of cities round the world is to create a design vision before it goes to tender. Then the tender is not just to submit a technical cost answer, but also trying to meet the aspiration of the design already agreed. That does save an awful lot of time in the process further on, and it also allows more interesting and more culturally correct vehicles in different cities and countries. In China it's a requirement that you have boiling water in each vestibule, because everyone wants tea on high-speed trains. We've been working on trains in New Zealand where there has to be surfboard storage rather than bike storage, so there's lots of different things that you have to think about. More people are taking bikes on trains now, and how does that work and how does that affect capacity and how does that affect spaces?

Anna Winston: Given that you're working on all these projects what's the one thing that makes this one particularly different from the others?

Paul Priestman: The character of London. We're trying to keep it contemporary and modern and moving it forward. If you made it look like the train cars on the street today then it will be out of date in five years time.

Anna Winston: Do you know what the material specifications are for the floor?

Paul Priestman: It's a single sheet material which is printed and then debossed as well. It has to be non-slip and one of the requirements right now is to have a different colour where the doors are so you can detect where the doors are from a distance. One of the things we tried to do with the shape of the flooring is to try and encourage people to move down the cars and to lead you through but then also to give you some way finding so where the entrances are are lights which then draw you to the entrance.

The edges of the doors will actually change colours depending on their status so that they go green when the doors open and then they start to change colours when the doors are about to close. The idea is it might persuade people from doing a last minute dash because they know that they're not going to get to the door. Also when the lights start changing people start moving from the door and it speeds up that process. We're trying everything we can to get people on and off trains as quickly as possible.

Additional reporting by Jessica Mairs

  • Chris MacDonald

    These look wonderful. I love the effect that it’s just one long continuous carriage.

  • No more strikes

    Boris is bashing the RMT with this one.

  • William D

    Looks good. Plenty of nods to the current and historic designs, updated. If the air conditioning works well then that’d be a miracle for London. :D

    They’ll make more money on the electronically delivered, changing, adverts too which probably isn’t a bad thing.

    One point: seems a shame there isn’t more obvious storage though. Half the battle on the underground is getting in and out around people’s suitcases for the various train stations/airports.

  • hopeful

    All those ghosts and haunting piano tunes make me want to walk.

  • PaulUrba

    “Could be the first fleet of driverless underground trains”? Paris opened in 1998 the Line 14, which has operated completely automatically since. And you can probably find other examples in Asia.

    • dave

      I think the point here is the use of the term “fleet”. London already has the DLR which is driverless, and agree there are many other examples, but they are referring to a fully automated system on all lines.

      • PaulUrba

        Thanks for the clarification Dave. English is not my mother language, so I try to acquire the nuances ;)

      • bidou

        Well, there’s at least Dubai, Lille, Toulouse and Copenhagen that are already completely driverless on all lines. But they were from the beginning.

    • bidou

      In fact most of the subway lines built after 2000 are automatic. I think the first one was Lille subway in the early eighties. I assume they wanted to say the first in London or UK.

      • LondonBill

        The first was the Victoria Line on the London Underground, opened in 1968 ;)

        • bidou

          If you speak of partially automatic (well, with a driver…) the first one was Barcelona I think.

    • LondonBill

      The London Underground Victoria Line pioneered automated driverless operation and opened in 1968, making it the world’s first fully automated full-scale railway. It has always carried a ‘driver’ however.

    • dan

      You’ve misread it. It says, they ‘could be the first fleet of driverless Underground trains.’

  • Londoner

    Air conditioned, Wi-Fi enabled and driverless… it’s about bloody time. We’re always ten years behind when it comes to major infrastructure improvements and the need for increased airport capacity is another example.

    Then there is HS2. Yes it is finally on the cards, but the process takes too long and our economy suffers as a result. We need to step it up as a nation and look progressively to the future.

    • LondonBill

      It is due to funding constraints imposed by the national government. We get what we vote for! Or rather, what the rest of the country votes for ;)

      • William D

        I’m not sure having the drivers is a lack of funding issue. There has been known resistance by the transport unions for decades, no?

  • Tom_Tom94

    Why do we incessantly develop ourselves out of jobs?! Our resolute obsession with automatons will be our ruin.

    • J-S G

      Only if we keep this capitalist nonsensical system as it is. If we get out of our sh*tty system people could work less whilst producing as much and collect as much resource, and still be comfortable. Our economic system is the only reason we are not replacing all
      the jobs that could be done better and cheaper by automation.

    • automaton

      Being underground all day, doing repetitive things and being exposed to high levels of dust* is hardly fun or healthy. Getting rid of such jobs is a humane thing to do.

      * http://cleanairinlondon.org/sources/high-levels-of-tube-dust/

  • Brain

    The front looks like Magneto from X-mens helmet.

  • Robing87

    I hope the colour of the handrails and poles will still correspond with the tube line!

  • John Elliott

    “… one long, complete structure of finite length.”

    Yes, I can see there might have been some difficulty fitting the trains on the network if they’d been specified to be infinitely long.

  • mini mal

    Biomimicry rocks.

  • M.

    Tron?

  • spadestick

    Those seats better be stain, gum and waterproof. Should be in faux leather or something so that is easy to clean the spew from drunks and crap from IBS sufferers, yet gentle on the bottoms.

  • Des Eng

    Can’t help but think PG are getting unjustly credited for being innovative in this article when all the technologies and features such as linked carriages, driverless trains, air conditioning, barriers on platforms and LED lighting have all been used on other modes of public transport around the world for years, or even decades.

    Furthermore, implementing these features into the London Tube network is not an aesthetic design challenge, rather the realm of pure engineering. Did Priestmangoode do any of the thermal airflow analysis for the AirCon system? Did they do the structural engineering required to make the interlinked carriages possible, thus increasing the capacity?

    Yes the interior looks nice and considered (although I agree the colours of the handrails should remain as a semantic identifier of the tube line, which makes it much easier to board the right train at multi-line stations), but there isn’t any real innovation here… just a veneer of aesthetics pretending to be real progress that isn’t actually progress.

    This is just an attempt to catch up with the rest of the developed (and a lot of the developing) world.

  • Jonathan Tuffin

    Now for platform barriers too.

  • Aաınah bınե Խaհb◾آمنة بنت وهب

    Very soon it will be introduced with e-ink in colour and cost-effective transparent displays layered on the windows and doors. However, the windows should be kept as they are and thought LED/LCD screens will be changed for then developed colour e-ink displays.

  • kevcampb

    Wi-Fi enabled, with a subscription service, I assume. Other countries have 4G networks which work underground.

  • ahrbust

    What are the headlights for?

  • Lee Pearce

    “Progress” costs money. Automation costs jobs. While it all looks new and shiny, at it’s heart it stinks. Let’s apply the term automation to artists and ask how wonderful that would be.

    • Londoner

      That’s the rankest logic I have heard in a long time. Before alarm clocks, people in need of waking up early would pay individuals to tap their window with a stick. Just think, an entire industry wiped out as electricity proliferated into the homes of ordinary people.

      If efficiencies can be made and automated services rolled out, the money you save can be pilled into other public services. Also, as one industry fades because of technological progress, others obviously emerge. The secret is to deliver a well-trained, educated work force that won’t be left completely vulnerable to such changes.

      Sticking with rocks to light fires is not the answer.

      • Leo P

        Hi Londoner, there are many arguments in favour of progress agreed, but let us not be blinded by new is better, automation is best. Progress is not always better.

        Your argument about “if efficiencies can be made and automated services rolled out, the money you save can be directed to other public services” can be likened to the advent of computers. We can do five days work in four days, thus increasing free time. No free time ever came.

        With that knowledge, do you really think the efficiency savings will be passed back to the consumer? No. Today we live in a perceived market value society, if it looks expensive we’ll sell it as expensive.

        All these vanity projects aim to deceive the consumer into thinking they are getting something more, a justification for putting up the price. It’s for people like me to say, hold up a minute, do we really need this?

  • T,.T

    Less drivers tomorrow = more strikers today.

  • Lighting Designer

    And why are they blue?

  • a munn

    Cool :) Don’t like the idea of one long continuous carriage without divisions. Segregated carriages are good to contain “foul odours” from people being sick, or to avoid excessively loud and otherwise annoying people.

  • William D

    Lyon too I think for all or most of theirs for at least the past couple of decades. London is behind the curve. I say bring them in asap.

    The unions often threaten to paralyse the system too often for my comfort, and of course I worry about their future, but I am not convinced they can’t be better deployed. Automated systems will also probably be safer by 2020!

  • Matt

    The end of strikes and disruption in London?

  • gothika

    Did he just use the word ‘PDA’?

  • Lowri

    Modern technology is determined to marginalise the need for people. A future controlled by robots is what I see before me. So sad.

  • s2law

    More money spent on London trains whilst in the north it still takes longer to get to Manchester from Leeds by train than by car. Crazy.

  • nygma2004

    I love the design, the front lights, colours and materials. But I was hoping the new stock would have a lower floor level, so I can stand up in the train not just in the middle.

    There is no space wasted at the top in the current stock, so I don’t believe they could of made this more specious… in terms of height.

    AC is also great, but all the excess heat will go to the stations. It already feels like sauna, and it will only get worse. People will be getting into cool trains from hot stations, standing under the AC vents: best combo for flu and neck pains.