The hottest day of the year so far in London today – 30°C.

Boris Johnson has described his “New Routemaster” as having amazing new air conditioning .

TfL Commissioner Sir Peter Hendy has claimed that the new bus, when the cooling is working properly, is cooler than the equivalent latest ordinary bus .

TfL have recently stated The air cooling system on NRMs is now working effectively on virtually all vehicles in the fleet as verified by assurance checks carried out in early summer.

Can we, then, assume that the temperatures for passengers onboard the vehicles today were perfectly acceptable and exactly what could reasonably be expected from a bus touted as being designed for Londoners and the bus to the future?

Why not compare the tweets that follow with those from a year ago:

To get to the nub of the problem:

It’s summer – this is what the weather is like in summer. To explain in terms that even Boris Johnson could understand: In the autumn, it gets a bit chilly. After that comes winter, when it’s pretty nippy and you’ll want to wrap up warm. Then comes spring, when it gets warmer. Spring becomes summer, when temperatures increase even further until it’s really quite hot, like it is today.

Boris Johnson, however, like many of his fellow Conservatives, is a climate change-denier – his favourite meteorologist is one Piers Corbyn.

When Boris Johnson was first elected Mayor of London in 2008, one of his manifesto pledges [PDF] was:

commissioning a 21st century Routemaster with conductors

We’re now into the second decade of the 21st century and it’s been apparent for quite some time that summers are getting hotter. 600 of Boris Johnson’s “New Routemaster” buses will be on London’s streets until at least 2026 – they have a projected working life in London of 14 years. This, remember, is a bespoke bus which was supposedly designed specifically for London – a city whose summer temperatures make a vehicle with sealed windows and inadequate air cooling utterly unsuitable.

In the 2007 BBC TV programme Climate Change – Britain Under Threat, presenter Kate Humble examined the effects of increasing temperature on transport:

We’re already seeing the first signs of a warmer climate. Last July was the hottest since records began. But, with prolonged high temperatures, comes danger, especially for the very young and the elderly. In August 2003, during a ten-day heatwave, 35,000 people across Europe died from the heat. It’s predicted that by 2020, heatwaves like this will be 25 times more likely.

The impact will be felt most in our cities – that’s because of a phenomenon called the Urban Heat Island. What happens is that buildings and man-made surfaces absorb much more heat than green spaces do. That heat is then slowly released, increasing city air temperatures well into the night. On 9 August 2003, central London recorded night-time temperatures 9 degrees hotter than the surrounding countryside. So, is there anything we can do to cope with the anticipated increase in heat?

In London, one of the hottest places is the Underground. If a train breaks down in a tunnel, then the situation can, quite quickly, become really dangerous. In July 2001, 4,000 people were trapped for 90 minutes. Temperatures soared to 40 degrees. 17 people were taken to hospital and nearly 600 were treated for heat problems. But trying to cool down the Tube is a major challenge. You’d think the obvious answer would be air conditioning, but the problem is that most of the tunnels on the Underground network are simply too narrow to fit air conditioning on the outside of the trains. And even if you could, the air conditioning systems would simply throw the heat back out onto the platforms.

But now, London Underground believes it may have found an answer. Parts of the Victoria Line are so deep underground that they’re actually below the water table. Pumping stations work around the clock to prevent the tunnels from flooding. David Waboso, London Underground’s Head Engineer, hopes that this water will help cool down the Tube.

Waboso: “The Victoria’s got a particular abundance of ground-water, we pump out enough to fill two Olympic-size pools every hour”

Humble: “That’s extraordinary, and it feels quite cool down here compared to upstairs”

Waboso: “It’s quite cold, it’s about 11-12 degrees centigrade”

This cold ground-water is pumped up to the station where it cools the air.

Humble [on platform, holds hand up to vent]: “Yeah, I can definitely feel that the air is definitely cooler coming out of there”

It’s early days, but they are already seeing a drop of 2 degrees Celcius.

Humble: “But the real problem is on the trains themselves. How’s that going to help the people on the trains?”

Waboso: “If we did this all over the station, eventually the whole station would cool down, the cold air gets into the tunnels and the trains get cooler”

A 2 degree fall in temperature so far is, no doubt, a help, but is it enough? Cooling the Tube in the years ahead is going to be an increasing challenge but the impact of heat doesn’t just stop with London Underground. By 2020, thanks to our hotter summers, we could face major problems across the country on all our transport networks. The first effects of climate change we will face are likely to be nuisance and cost. Rail lines can buckle in the heat, causing delays and chaos to commuters. Our roads can soften, like these did last year in Norfolk. One answer would be to resurface using better, heat-resistant materials, but with nearly 250,000 miles of road it could take decades.

Boris Johnson’s predecessor, Ken Livingstone, delivered what he promised - air-conditioned trains on several of the London Underground lines. Sadly for Ken, the first air-conditioned trains were delivered just a few months after Boris Johnson had been elected Mayor of London, so Johnson took all the credit for them. And yes, they work, unlike Boris Johnson’s promised amazing new air conditioning on his “New Routemaster”:


10 Responses to Roastmaster Round-Up – What A Difference A Year Makes. Oh…

  1. Dave Holladay says:

    In 1976 I was at a presentation by London Transport’s in house engineers who specified their buses and trains, describing their international work, bringing money in to London Transport and the UK, advising on how to build and run underground railways. They were speaking especially about the Hong Kong MTR (year the same MTR who now operate London Overground and have won the bid for Crossrail – and send money back to Hong Kong, ironic?)

    Basically they said that a) with the high humidity and temperatures in HK most people would be dressed for this, and so the US standards for chilling and dehumidifying were totally OTT b) the energy required to run the a/c would be a massive additional burden on the power supply plus c) removing heat from inside the carriages and dumping it in the tunnels outside becomes a “task of Sisyphus” as the hot tunnels will make the train warmer and demand more cooling..which makes the tunnels hotter….

    Air conditioning – moving heat (and moisture, as dry heat and cold are more bearable than humid conditions), requires a place where the transfer medium (usually a refrigerant ‘gas’) flows in to a ‘condenser’ a big ‘radiator’ where cooling, usually by air, often assisted by a fan, brings down the temperature, and the gas liquifies, to flow out into the evaporator, where the evaporation process takes in heat. All will work fine as long as the condenser can be cooled down. Put the condenser in a place where it a) cannot get enough cool air, or b) is next to a hot engine/engine cooling outlet and the a/c won’t work. Testing an a/c bus in the open may be very different to standing in traffic on a warm day with heat reflected and not mitigated by the tarmac, plus hemmed in by other vehicles giving the a/c a near impossible task.

    Many other buses have a basic and simple action – of painting the roofs white to reflect heat – it works – does the NBFL have this? In that respect the idea of painting a number of buses BLACK all over (advertising for Addidas) seems rather unwise as black items absorb heat, white might have been a better choice…

    Buses also have an option for ‘emergency cooling’ as do tube trains, but the application is limited to use in short bursts, and brings in other issues, which would need to be considered.

    The heat on the street issues are addressed in other countries by a portfolio of measures which London can apply. One immediate solution on hot days is to patrol the massive areas of hard landscaping with water bowsers spraying ‘grey water’ (potentially drawn through filters from the Thames). The evaporation of water, and the huge capacity it has to soak up heat, is a foundation for life on earth. We swear, plants sweat to control heat, and the bright and fresh feeling as the water evaporates after a summer shower is a great example of this. Water bowser treatment does require some adjustments – where this is common and intensively done pedestrians quickly learn to step aside when a bowser approaches. Perhaps the new buses could be hosed down en route?

    Hard landscaping is the curse of modern cities, and it can be addressed. On street air conditioning units (AKA trees) combined with grass and shrubs offer climate control which not only requires no carbon penalty of demanding a power supply but actually removes COx and NOx, converting these to nutrients for the plant and soil it sits in. Work on green track for trams, and potentially also for rail lines, also shows that the leaves (and bark of trees like the London Plane) provide a really effective air filtration system to capture fine particulates like the PM10′s we have to tackle from diesel engine emissions especially.

    We have the clear evidence that Londoners flock to the parks in warm weather, simply because of the climate control offered by the trees and grass therein. We could grow the green account of land use in London, with a carefully developed plan to remove the tarmac and concrete from areas where it does not need to be. TfL and the boroughs are only mandated by law to provide roads for moving traffic and looking around it is clear that up to 50% of the city’s roads are filled with parked vehicles, mainly private cars which the RAC’s Annual Motoring Survey tells us, are idle for 96% of the time – sitting, ‘free or at very low cost’ on land spaces which in London will sell for a price of over £200,000 if used for other purposes (see Foxtons listings!). A steady programme to remove ‘unused’ road space and replant grass, seedum (lower maintenance and more colour) plus trees and shrubs, should help to redress the climate and drainage issues that plague a city with so much concrete and tarmac. Oh asn whilst we’re at it lets rediscover the rivers of London given their powerful value as a source of cooling and cleaning up the air.

  2. Anonymous says:

    If you are saying it’s not possible to cool the inside of a bus sufficiently, I have do disagree. I transferred from a stifling 148 to a 436 and the difference in temperature was marked.

    These wretched buses cost hundreds of thousands and keep breaking down in traffic, have sealed windows and, in the absence of a ‘conductor’ closed platform between stops. An utter farce.

  3. Craig says:

    Johnson really is the most despicable fat sack of crap. Anyone who voted for him should be drowned in hot urine immediately.

  4. Andrew says:

    You can’t fit full air-conditioning to a UK double-decker, the weight of the unit means it would require an expensive 3rd axle to get a useable passenger load, that is why the only air-con double-deckers anywhere in the world I know of have 3-axles (UK, US, HK & Singapore). The air-cooling units (as fitted to the Borismaster) work OK as part of a conventional design with opening windows in assisting airflow through the vehicle but they simply can’t cool the air enough on their own to make a dent, they need the airflow of open windows to get the air moving. Whoever decided that opening windows were unnecessary on the Borismaster had clearly never travelled on a bus in the summer (I assume it was Heatherwick both because when they did the program on him soon after the bus was launched the design rubbish he talked all seemed to treat everything he did as revolutionary despite the fact that most was standard practice outside London & that Wrightbus have not tried this on their own products designs even those that have adopted the smaller windows of the Borismaster). I cannot think of any bus supplier, or operator, who has not fitted opening windows to a bus that didn’t have full aircon (and even most buses with aircon have opening windows in case the system breaks down and those cool so much that you often need a jacket when you board) & given the number of experienced busmen at the top of TfL you must assume that the idiocy is either contagious or they were overruled by someone with no experience of buses.

  5. Helen says:

    It’s fairly obvious to everybody except TfL’s Puffery Department that this vanity project of Boris Johnson is a very expensive failure. Johnson misled the London Assembly into believing the R&D costs would be borne by the manufacturer – not so, R&D plus eight prototypes cost Londoners £11,065,000. Add on the “average” of £345,000 for the remaining 592 buses ordered as part of Boris Johnson’s contract with WrightBus and that’s at least £215,305,000 of TfL’s bus budget that’s disappeared down the drain on a vehicle with a major design flaw, utterly unfit for purpose and unable to be sold on as who would want a bus that’s not fit for passenger use for at least three months of the year?

  6. Anonymous says:

    Nothing is going to be done about these horrors as the expense involved in retro-fitting windows is unthinkable. TfL mouthpieces will continue to parrot the mantra that nothing is wrong with them or that problems has been addressed.

    The bus companies will not contemplate open platform running on driver only routes, so passengers will continue to suffer unbearable heat during high temperatures. Doubtless, someone has actually rationalised the sealed units on the basis that we only get about two months of hot weather a year.

  7. Greg says:

    I don’t understand why the tunnel vent fans are not all automatically controlled to turn on at night , and during the winter months to push cool air into the tub system, the trains are not running at night , it would also push the hot air at the stations out.
    Espicall as TFL already have the central infstructurev to achieve this.

  8. Anonymous says:

    @Greg: I don’t understand your reasoning for turning on the tunnel vent fans at night when no trains are running. Further, it is the trains running through the tunnels that provide the ventilation in the carriages. If you have ever been on a train that has stopped in the tunnel, the heat soon builds up.

  9. Anonymous says:

    @Helen: I wonder if any of these eight prototypes had windows and at what point it was decided they were not needed?

  10. Andrew says:

    Given that Wrights had to explain to the TfL commissioned designer why double-deck buses need stairs (I assume as opposed to lifts but you never know) you start to suspect that they were never planned to have opening windows.

    It wouldn’t be difficult to retrofit opening windows, you just replace the non-opening windows with opening ones in the same way as you replace a broken window. If they are bonded windows it just takes a couple of hours for the glue to set, if they are the more traditional gasket mountings they take minutes to swap. The only hold-up would be the time to manufacture the required new style windows to fit the Borismaster (assuming they don’t have similar window layouts as the new Gemini 3). It just requires TfL to admit they were wrong and authorise the retrofit, how likely do we think that would be?

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