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Connect: “By your side”. 20 years of collaboration on the London Underground

For the last 20 years, Thales has collaborated with London Underground and partner organisations to build, install and run Connect; London Underground’s radio, transmission and operational CCTV communications technology. Transport for London (TfL) staff rely on this expansive network to communicate on the London Underground, above and below ground, every day. 

From a global pandemic, to a seamless communications system upgrade of the entire London Underground network, to an emergency fire response in one of its stations, Thales has been collaborating with partners and the customer to ensure Connect enables safe and reliable operations.

Collaboration is Key

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, collaboration in the rail industry was essential to ensure the network kept running for key workers and freight transportation, whilst maintaining safety measures for passengers and staff. In 2021, Thales successfully performed a critical radio upgrade of the 20-year-old Connect system. The refresh replaced core elements of the communications system, removing legacy equipment across 270 stations and installing new equipment. The new system functionality is even more reliable and easier to maintain, improving the overall service for the London Underground. 

In such unpredictable times, lessons were learned throughout the pandemic, particularly in the way the Thales team worked with their partners and customer, TfL As a result of open communication with the customer and suppliers, new and innovative ways of collaborative remote testing were developed and implemented, allowing efficiencies to be realised for decades to come. The two-year programme was completed without any disruption to the underground network. 

Scaling solutions with the Northern Line Extension

An effective and reliable radio communications system is critical to the safe and smooth running of trains on the London Underground network. With the network continuously evolving and growing to include more track and additional stations, so too must the communications systems. In 2021, Connect was successfully extended out as part of the Northern Line Extension, covering the 3km of new track and two new stations terminating at Battersea Power Station. 

Seamless integration enabling safe operations

Safety of passengers and operators of the London Underground is paramount, which is why Thales continuously consider new ways to optimise safety measures. The 7/7 bombings highlighted an urgent need for a method of rapid communications between underground personnel, and emergency services controllers above ground. To fulfil this requirement, the Connect network was physically integrated with Airwave, the national operator for emergency service radio communications, using the Connect system’s integrated TETRA technology. The Connect and Airwave systems operate separately but both service the purpose of allowing communication in the underground when it matters most. This integration ensures uninterrupted communication between emergency service responders, allowing them to focus on resolving critical situations. 

In October 2021, London Underground’s Connect network demonstrated this essential capability, when a fire broke out in London’s Westminster station. The seamless integration of the two systems enabled parallel emergency services radio coverage underground, allowing responders to successfully evacuate over 100 people from the busy station, whilst staying in communication with surface units. 

With up to five million journeys taken every day on London’s Underground, the safety of passengers, operators, and station staff is paramount. These safe journeys are only made possible by collaboration across the network, feeding into a critical communications system which works behind the scenes to connect key staff. 

Read more about Thales in the UK’s work in ground transport here