The headlamps shining down the tunnel looked unfamiliar. A brighter white than usual, sharper, less soft. And as the alien train curved into the platform, suspicions were confirmed. A Hammersmith & City line service, for sure, but nothing that East London's passengers had ever seen before. This was one of those new-fangled Metropolitan-style trains, the flash ones with the low-slung floors, but with only seven carriages rather than the usual eight. It glided quietly to a halt, in an atypically 21st century manner, then a klaxon blared as the doors welcomed its first customers inside.
Sunday morning saw the debut eastern outing for the Hammersmith & City line's new S7 Stock. They've run as far as Moorgate before, but never beyond to Barking in passenger service. We're more used to rolling stock from the 60s, 70s and 80s, and certainly nothing that looks like it was designed with modern accessibility needs in mind. There's just been the one train so far, shuttling out to Barking and back amidst a horde of more bog-standard vehicles. But as 2013 passes we'll see more of these rolling out week by week on the H&C until eventually the whole of the old guard has been imperceptibly swept away. TfL's publicity describes these new carriages as "more spacious", for which read fewer seats. Not that there are that many seats on the current C Stock, but greater floor space will allow significantly more commuter cattle aboard during the rush hour. They're also longer, a full 16 metres extra, so they don't stop embarrassingly short at the rear of platforms forcing would-be passengers to jog forward to embark.
This pioneering train wasn't at all busy, as you might expect before dawn on a Sunday, so those of us on board spread out through the carriages without the need for strap-hanging. Bright orange letters rolled along the scrolling display, much larger than we're used to, and the disembodied voice successfully negotiated its first attempt at pronouncing Plaistow. We'd picked up several more souls by Barking, where off they surged, unaware they'd just ridden an inaugural service. Few will have noticed the nucleus of TfL officials by the driver's cab, nudged into position by an over-eager photographer, smiling because they knew the future had arrived.
As the doors closed automatically to keep in the heat, those arriving for the return journey seemed uncertain what to do. Should they press the button for re-entry, was that now a possibility, or was the train already locked for departure? They'll get the hang of it before long. Within four years every train on the sub-surface lines will operate like this, as the Circle then the District swaps its old carriages for new. Shining halogen headlamps onto a platform near you soon.