“…when a man is tired of London, he is tired of life; for there is in London all that life can afford,” said writer and anthropologist Samuel Johnson in 1777. Imagine what would he say today!
London was the world’s most populous city until well into the 20th century. Today, its population is rapidly approaching nine million. But what is truly astounding is not the rate of growth, but the ingenuity of the services, technology and infrastructure that keeps London safe, secure and on the move. Here’s the challenge:
London is the world's largest financial centre and is widely regarded as a leading global city in fields as diverse as commerce, the arts, professional services, media, fashion, research and development, tourism and transportation. It attracts more international visitors that any other city in the world.
In terms of commerce, more than half of the UK's top 100 listed companies have their headquarters in London, over 70 percent of the FTSE 100 are within London's metropolitan area, and around 75 percent of Fortune 500 companies have offices in London.
In short, London is a place where people – a great many people - want to be. And all the forecasts are pointing to continuing growth and a greater strain on available resources. So who keeps London moving? And how?
Some things are so fundamental, so commonplace, that we hardly give them a second thought. But the truth is that the people we all rely on to make the world go round, are deeply reliant on the advanced technology and support of thousands of unseen but ever-diligent people working quietly in the background.
These are the people who make things happen. These are the people employed by Thales.
Oiling the wheels of commerce
Let’s start with banking and finance. Nothing moves without money. That’s why 19 of the world’s biggest 20 banks (and some of the best-known technology companies) rely on Thales for the most extraordinarily robust cyber security. And it’s how the wheels of commerce continue to spin quickly and smoothly.
When was the last time you wrote a cheque? They’re disappearing fast. Thales secures around 3.7 billion annual BACS transactions every year, worth in the region of £1,000 billion, making payments quick, convenient and secure. Plus, as many as 70% of the transactions at cash machines and point-of-sale terminals are secured by Thales.
Before we get to the payment stage, though, our technology is used to prepare data for issuing credit cards and PINs, to provide powerful authentication and identity management solutions, and to secure all kinds of electronic transactions.
The next time that you pay for something, there’s a high chance that Thales is helping you do it quickly, conveniently and securely.
With London’s airports operating at maximum capacity, the UK’s regional airports are opening more and more long-haul operations.
Flights into Birmingham, Cardiff, Newcastle, Oxford, Belfast, Cardiff, Norwich, and other destinations, are monitored and controlled by Thales’s radar technology from at least 40 miles away before they land. And that’s not all.
Air traffic management, navigational aids, surveillance, communications, data recording, cyber security, instrument landing systems – these are just some of the technologies deployed by Thales to keep our crowded skies - and our valued visitors - safe.
For those visiting London by road, Thales’s smart motorway technology - on the M25 and all connecting motorways - helps them travel smoothly and with fewer interruptions, by warning of delays and moderating speed limits to reduce congestion and CO2 emissions.
Faster, safer journeys
London’s rapid growth is putting pressure on its public transport infrastructure. Recent figures revealed that more than four million journeys are made on the London Underground every day. By the year 2031, that number is predicted to rise to nine million each day. Yet again, Thales is rising to the challenge and making the future possible.
Our signalling upgrades on the Jubilee and Northern lines have increased rail capacity by 24,000 passenger journeys every hour. We have been enabling driverless trains on the Docklands Light Railway since 1994, and have since upgraded it to achieve a 50% increase in capacity. And we haven’t stopped there.
Thales is currently working with Transport for London on its most complex signalling upgrade yet - the ‘Four Lines Modernisation’ project (4LM), which includes the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines and covers 40% of the Tube network. By using the latest Thales signalling technology, trains can safely run more closely together without compromising safety.
Unique features of the 4LM project include five complex rail junctions, 113 stations and 191 trains, and interfacing the system with four depots and six sidings. As with other Thales rail projects, everything is integrated with a centrally controlled closed circuit television and public address system.
It is the world’s biggest project of its kind!
More capacity: greater safety
To minimise disruption to the travelling public, more than 400 engineers work on-site to carry out installation and testing between the hours of 0130 and 0430 – a tiny window for such a huge task – and additional services are provided by a similar number of people working above ground.
When it’s finished, the project will boost capacity by a third across all four lines – equivalent to space for an extra 36,500 customers during the busiest times of day.
Another unseen but vitally important system is Connect. This digital radio communications system connects every member of London Underground staff, every station, platform depot and control centre. This enables improvements in train service performance, especially during incidents, by helping speed up the recovery of service.
Following the 7/7 terror attacks, where bombs were detonated on the Tube network, Thales stepped in to support the need for the police and emergency services to be able to communicate underground.
We were able to ‘piggyback’ a new digital radio network - Airwave - onto the Connect radio system, boosting the police response to any incident on the Tube and providing extra reassurance to Londoners.
Supporting tourism: past, present and future
According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, tourism makes a direct contribution of more than £66 billion to our gross domestic product every year, with forecasts predicating a growth to £84 billion by 2027.
An efficient, reliable rail network is vital for our tourism industry. Again, safety is of paramount importance. Whenever you go by rail, Thales is working with Network Rail and the train operators to ensure safety and security, increase capacity and optimise performance, and improve the entire end-to-end passenger experience.
Much of the technology will never be noticed by the travelling public: but it’s there nevertheless.
Thales built a ‘predict and prevent’ tool that provides round-the-clock monitoring of 64,000 Network Rail assets across the UK – including things like points and track circuits – and is capable of reporting thousands of incidents a day. And we provide a similar monitoring service for the signalling system on London Underground.
Real-time data is collected, and ‘big data’ analysis is used to help streamline maintenance schedules, reduce spares inventory and help engineers resolve minor issues well before they become major problems.
Looking forward to the future
Driverless cars are expected to play a large part in making London’s roads safer, cleaner and less congested, too. So XPI Simulation – a Thales company – is currently conducting research into how simulation technology can be used to ‘teach’ driverless vehicles to behave in a safe and predictable way, in all conditions.
No one can accurately predict the future. But we can make preparations based on reasonable expectations. It is our expectation that the fields of tourism, finance, and travelling of all types will increase and people will come to expect a, cleaner, safer and more convenient environment.
That’s why we are using our expertise in artificial intelligence, cyber-security, connectivity, big data and digital trust to prepare the ground for London to be the powerhouse that drives the continuing success of Great Britain.
We are transforming Britain’s journeys.