Glasgow Subway’s infamous shoogle to survive £300m upgrade of historic line

Love or hate it, the phenomenon has become synonymous with the Glasgow Subway – which even a near £300 million overhaul of the historic underground railway will fail to banish.

The new Glasgow Subway trains will be the first in the UK to eventually operate without staff on board. Picture: SPT
The new Glasgow Subway trains will be the first in the UK to eventually operate without staff on board. Picture: SPT

Operators of the 125-year-old system – the world’s third oldest after London and Budapest – have revealed that the Subway “shoogle” will live on despite a comprehensive upgrade of the circular line that includes UK-first new trains.

The news has met with a mixed reaction from members of Strathclyde Partnership for Transport, with some complaining that the carriages noisily rocking from side to side caused travel sickness while others expressed relief that the heritage quirk would live on.

Subway director Antony Smith said the extent to which the new trains, due to enter service in 2023, would shoogle would not be known until full-speed testing started in earnest in April.

He told an SPT meeting: “I think it will be better, but I don’t think it will be gone.

"It will take testing to prove it.

“I’m afraid the vehicle itself won’t be able to compensate for a lot of the issues we have got in the tunnel.

"We have been doing some realignment of rails, but we are operating within a very confined space.

"There is only so much you can do.”

Mr Smith said the new trains had not shoogled while on a surface test track beside the Subway depot in Govan, but it was straight and flat unlike the system’s curved tunnels.

But he added: “Hopefully, some people will appreciate that [shoogling] is not going to go completely.”

SPT member and North Lanarkshire councillor Colin Cameron had hoped the £288.7m Subway modernisation project would remove the problem.

He said: “I know people that will not use the underground because the shoogle and the shake of the trains gives them travel sickness.”

However, SPT chair Martin Bartos said: “We cannot lose all the character of our Victorian system.”

Malcolm Balfour, a Glasgow City Council member of SPT, agreed.

He said: “I hope we don’t lose the shoogle altogether – that's part of the character.”

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The trains are being tested with containers of water and sand on board to mimic the weight of passengers.

Mr Smith said the trains’ first trial trip on the system earlier this month had been inconclusive for shoogling because it had been at very low speed.

Overnight testing while the Subway is closed to passengers is scheduled to continue for up to a year.

Once in service, the trains are expected to initially operate with a driver on board before switching to “unattended train operation” with no staff travelling with passengers.

That will be a UK first, following some underground lines in Paris, Barcelona and Copenhagen.

Platform safety screen doors will be fitted at stations as part of the switch, similar to those on some London Underground lines.

Several other UK metro systems run without drivers, such as the Docklands Light Railway in London, but have on-board staff to operate the doors.

The Subway upgrade will enable services to run more frequently, with open plan walk-through interiors replacing separate carriages, and passengers able to see along tunnels from windows at each end of the trains.

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