diamond geezer

 Friday, February 15, 2008

District farewell

Another slice of London Underground history disappears today. A classic design is about to vanish forever, having been gradually vanishing over the course of the last three years. Those old silver District line trains, officially called D Stock, 75 of them in total, they're all being upgraded. And the very last unrefurbished train rides the rails from East to West London today. Bye.

pigeons on the District lineD Stock trains were first introduced on the District line almost 30 years ago. Big chunky trains with unpainted exteriors, appearing silver to the eye as they glided down the line. Inside were furrowed wooden floors, bright moquette-covered seats and big dangly strap-hangers - everything a classic tube carriage ought to be. Except that (in a slight design faux pas) they were built with single doors, not double doors, which has slowed down passenger throughflow ever since. Beside each door was placed a big metal button marked "Push to open", which customers in outer London had to press to be able to get on or off. But this attempt at temperature control didn't last. Before long the doors were adjusted to swish open at every station and the buttons were disconnected, although that doesn't stop unfamiliar travellers urgently pressing them even today. But not tomorrow.

A few years ago every D Stock train was scheduled for a major revamp, one vehicle at a time until the entire fleet was upgraded. The first of the old silver trains was whisked out of service in the summer of 2005, refitted up the M1 in Derby and then returned to London in gleaming new form. Gone were the classic ridged maple floors, replaced with sparkly vomit-resistant underfoot plastic. Gone were the fire-red seat covers, refitted with something distinctly blue with green blotches. Gone were the springy bobbles that once hung from the roof, replaced by bright green grab-poles both across and down the carriage. Engineers threw in a couple of extra windows at each end, and ripped out a few seats to make way for wheelchairs, and covered over the door buttons so that nobody was tempted to press them any more. They added dot matrix displays and pumped the voice of Emma Clarke into each carriage to tell passengers where they were. And they painted the outside of each carriage in corporate red, blue and white, because that's how you brand tube trains these days.

unpainted D StockSince 2005 there's been an ever-changing mixture of original and reborn trains running on the District Line. In 2006 the next train to pull in at your platform was more likely to be a silver classic, while by 2007 it was more likely to be a modernised paintjob. Today the odds of getting on an untainted train are 74-to-1 against, because there's only one untouched survivor left. This Friday the final oldie is making one last day of journeys up and down the District Line, and then on Monday the six carriages will be slapped on the back of a lorry and sent up to the Midlands for reprocessing.

If you want a quiet journey, today's your last chance to travel from Upminster to Ealing Broadway without being interrupted by endless announcements. If you want to travel on an unpainted train, or walk on a wooden floor, today is your last chance to do so anywhere on the tube network. More to the point, today is your very last chance to grab hold of one of those dangly handles with the plastic bobble on the end and swing your way through a tunnel under London. After today, all dangly bobbles are extinct. Farewell, oh dangly bobbles.

Should you want to take a ride on today's final train, here's where to find it.
Upminster 16:14 → Ealing Broadway 17:44 [via Tower Hill 16:59 & Earls Court 17:23]
» Ealing Broadway 17:54 → Upminster 19:24 [via Earls Court 18:15 & Tower Hill 18:39]
» Upminster 19:33 → Richmond 21:02 [via Tower Hill 20:18 & Earls Court 20:43]
» Richmond 21:13 → Upminster 22:40 [via Earls Court 21:34 & Tower Hill 21:58]
» Upminster 22:54 → Ealing Broadway 00:22 [via Tower Hill 23:37 & Earls Court 00:01]

Well that's the plan anyway. It'd only take one signal failure or train-jam to muck up the whole schedule, so only the first train out of Upminster and the last run into Ealing Broadway are pretty-much guaranteed. Be warned also that the train is likely to be full of last-train-riding transport geeks with cameras, and that the security meatheads at Upminster aren't terribly keen on people taking photographs. But either you put up with that or you never again experience underground travel the way it used to be. And never will be again.

"This is a District Line train, to Ealing Broadway."
Oh shut up Emma. Just one last time in silence please.

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