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The first time I got one of these tickets it took me by surprise. I was used to the magnetic stripe tickets when they switched to a paper ticket with RFID circuitry inside.
The Glasgow Subway is the third oldest underground railway in the world, and is completely underground for its whole route. It's a very simple system with two continuous tracks, an inner and outer circle. If you miss your stop you can either get off at the next station and get the first train back, or just go right round the whole loop again. It takes about 20 minutes.
It's a single fare system whether you're going a single stop or to the furthest station.
While preparing the video I discovered that they have a reusable plastic card that will possibly give all-day use for the cost of a disposable return ticket.
Here's the Glasgow Subway's Wikipedia page:-
The company that makes the tickets and cards for the Subway has a website here:-
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A disposable cardboard ticket from the glasgow subway at the glasgow subway, which opened in 1896, it's the third oldest underground the world and probably one of the few that actually runs completely underground the ticket. I got this uh in 2017. I wish i'd opened it sooner because it turns out. This is quite interesting inside because during one of the more recent updates they changed over to smart cards, and i didn't know this - i went in uh got my ticket and uh.

I went over to the turnstiles and there's usually a slot to put it in, and i was thinking where's the slot and then i look at the ticket and thinking. Oh there's no magnetic thing either, but it's a disposable paper ticket. Surely it's not a wireless, a contactless ticket and i felt a bit silly i reached over and put it to the uh, the card reader and it went beep and the gates opened, and i was thinking. Oh, i have to open this, but here it is.

I did open it. Let me show you: what's inside, i put it in a saucer water and gradually rubbed all the layers of cardboard off both sides inside the cardboard. Is this flexible plastic sheet with the antenna on it and a tiny, tiny little chip? Let me give you a closer look at that inside the ticket. Is this foil antenna? It's approximately seven turns uh round it.

Has this tiny little chip here? If you look at the original ticket, it's barely fillable through the ticket. There is the tiny little dimple on it here that you can just barely. If you run your fingers across it, you can barely feel that, but the antenna connects to our side of that chip and there's really not much to see. If you look at this you'll see a bit of splooge round here, i think that's flux, because if you look at the actual inside the ticket itself, it looks shiny and metallic.

You may see the light reflecting more of that area. It's as if there's a thin tinning of soda on it and looking up close there's not much to see it honestly looks like a little black square. That's just been tacked on with soda on either side, but that forms the this is the brains of the operation. I don't know if it's i don't know if they can write to, or it's just a number a serial number that then gets loaded into the system, so it double checks it when you go up and uh scan it, but on the other side of the ticket To create the continuous loop antenna, there is a bridge from the outer side to the inner side and the way that's done.

I have flipped this image. Yes, the chip is made by well. The card is made by confidex i'll, put a link to their website. Confidex is a company that specializes in rfid for stock control and uh transit tickets, but on the other side there is this little metal, strap and they've punched through there's a little three by three array of holes here and the same here and they've, basically just crimped.

It through to make that connection you're, not sure how how they get such a good electrical connection, one side, the other, but that's fundamentally it all we have. If you look at the other side, is the the overlapping pads here for that chip to solder across it's worth mentioning the underground i'll? Show you a little map of the underground here from strathclyde passenger transport executive site, the underground is uh in glasgow. Is an outer loop and an inner loop, and it's not you don't pay for suppose i got on at st enoch, which is highly likely or buchanan street they're. The two most likely place, i'm going to start a journey and you went to well say i was visiting a prop company in ibrox.

For instance, it's just one fare for all the stations. In fact, you can go down there and with you can take a pack lunch with you. You can just ride that all day long, if you want it's a very simple ticketing system. Apparently i didn't know this at the time you get a plastic card as well.

A reusable one and if you go for that option, i think i've not tried this that with the same price as a return, you can ride all day and that's extremely good. That's a very impressive um! Other things worth your note. It does actually pass under the river uh because it covers quite a large area of glasgow um. Other things where the note it runs in 600 volts dc.

The original train uh system when it was first built in 1896, was cable driven. There was a cable in the middle of the track and the driver actually operated a clutch onto that that would grip onto the cable to actually propel it through. What that means is that as you, if this is a station platform, the track actually just gradually rides up to that, and then it rides back down again. The reason for that was it made it easier for the clutch system to actually well.

They didn't need so much. They were breaking because this, the ramp up helped with the braking for the station for the train to come into the station, and it also meant that took a lot of stress off the rope system that it gripped onto if it was actually pointing down the way. The advantage of this since it got electrified is that it goes like a two bob rocket. It is so fast when it takes off if you're not sitting down, you'll, probably end up lying down, because it starts off going downhill and it means it's got massive acceleration.

It was electrified, though, with a 600 volt dc system and a rail that travels outside the tracks, with the collector on it. It's a great system. I really like it. I wrote the uh.

I wrote the original version of it when i was really young after they'd. Converted from the rope to electric and the same trains - and it was very shaky and shuddery - it was great, but the modern ones are very, very slick. I think it's due from modern nation within the next couple of years, but that's interesting. I didn't realize that they could put a smart card into you know i didn't realize they could do that so thin that it's basically in just a paper ticket.

This one is notable. I should shone a light through. I shall shine a light through again. Let's say i focus down on to the ticket, so you can actually see this better.

If you put a light round the back of it uh it's different uh. Let me see if you can, if i can get down closer to this i'll, just zoom in a bit. Can you see that there's? Actually it's not that clear. I shall try again that's slightly better that there's actually three positions of the chip there and there's a on their trip in one of those positions.

I wonder why that is, but very neat. I do like the glasgow underground. I also like the london underground, the underground trains just have a good feeling to them, but there we go it's surprising where the smart card technology finds its way. I was quite impressed definitely like.

It was really just that moment of surprise when a paper ticket actually activated a contactless barrier, very impressive.

13 thoughts on “Inside a glasgow subway rfid train ticket”
  1. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars James says:

    Green cultist ban plastic straws but if the plastic surrounds one of the socialist state's sacred cows, it's a good thing.

  2. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Kenta Hirono says:

    What a waste.
    Why make them 1 use disposable ticket?
    Make usual personal plastic credit card size one to just pass and pay.
    We are in post 2000 era, not in the '60

  3. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars George Cohn says:

    Cable driven subway, shades of the San Francisco cable cars which still use that ancient technology. I rode one around 1978 and they are a big tourist attraction.

  4. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Nick Loh says:

    I remember seeing labels on boxed software (which shows how long ago this was…) that had a similar-looking coil on the adhesive side for anti-theft purposes. They were usually square with a corner “cut off”, and terminated in a pad of metal in the center. As an extremely bored child I’d sometimes try to peel away the “wire” and see if I could get to the pad in the center without breaking the metal. I wonder if those had a chip in them as well?

  5. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars K.o.R says:

    Ultra-thin RFID labels have been security tags in library books for a long time.

    So instead of recyclable paper tickets we now have more landfill junk? At least smart cards are reusable.

    Brussels day passes are like this but they are considerably chunkier (you can't rip one in half, for example!).

  6. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars masteryoda394 says:

    They use the same ones in Morocco where I am from. However here in Germany where I live it is a paper ticket that you need to time stamp it with a machine before boarding the train.

  7. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Dom Wright says:

    My local library uses RFID stickers to keep track of the books. A number gets written to the sticker to identify the book and a flag is set to say if the book is on loan or not. If not it sets off an alarm if you try to take it out of the building.

  8. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Rob says:

    I used to live near Bridge St station. I absolutely love the Glasgow public transit system, I barely drove my car at all when I lived there.

  9. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars MartelDuV says:

    In San Diego the busses, commuter rail and trolley all have a common ticket system. There are options for either just one way trip, day pass or monthly passes. The monthly ones use a plastic RFID card but the other ones are paper and I think have the RFID inside them. I really enjoyed taking rail to/from work.

  10. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Peter Kay says:

    As a geek it's great to see this; not so sure it's a great leap forward from an environmental perspective. Perhaps they should have pushed further into smartphone app using either QR codes on screen and or RFI within the phone. I wonder what the cost difference is between the smart ticket and a standard paper one?

  11. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Tony Weavers says:

    Really interesting. The London Oyster Cards work the same. Interestingly, a passenger programmed his own card to defeat the system and get free journeys several years ago. He got caught and it was on the news. Perhaps he started selling them?

  12. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars uzlonewolf says:

    Usually those systems do write data to the cards when you purchase or use them. This is so it remains operational even if the network connection goes down. The chips are usually something from the MiFare family, and if so, you can read the type and serial number with an Android phone. Reading and writing the actual data will require the encryption key though.

  13. Avataaar/Circle Created with python_avatars Lake Nipissing says:

    Seeing the inside of this is really amazing, but what frequency does this operate at, and what actually is going on between the two pin chip and the reader? Is the chip powered by the RF energy from the reader, or does it contain a microscopic battery of its own, and transmits some type of signal when interrogated?

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