If you want to catch the most ill-timed exhibition in London you'd better hurry up. Night Shift - London after Dark is currently running at the London Transport Museum, and has been since mid-September. It showcases posters, films and photographs from a century of late evening travel, and was scheduled to coincide with the introduction of the Night Tube. This should have been perfect timing, indeed we should have been enjoying overnight weekend travel for more than six months by now. But plans advanced faster than reality, and the Night Tube still hasn't happened, and so the Night Shift exhibition will close this weekend several months before its inspiration finally dawns. Unfortunate, that.
There are still considerable barriers to the timely introduction of the Night Tube. Amending existing drivers' terms and conditions has proved too taxing, or too presumptuous, so TfL are training up a whole new set of employees ready to run the entire overnight operation. But that's not going to be easy either. Over 6000 people applied for the part-time roles, most of whom weren't up to the grade, which is a perfectly normal attrition rate for the taxing job of a tube operator. Training then takes sixteen weeks, the first half of which is in the classroom and the remainder out in the driver's cab, not that there are necessarily enough driver's cabs to go round. Only when 180 operators have been fully trained can the Night Tube service begin, which is the reason why a phased introduction now looks increasingly likely.
Rumours widely leaked last month suggested that the Night Tube would kick off on the Victoria and Jubilee lines in August, then the Central, Northern and Piccadilly Lines in September. The Evening Standard gave more specific dates, namely August 5th for the Victoria and Jubilee, then September 23rd for the Piccadilly, Central and Northern, reputedly obtained from the ASLEF trade union. It remains unlikely that these dates will be achieved, given the training issues, but we can look for additional clues in the weekend engineering works announced for the upcoming six month period.
When the Night Tube was first due to begin, that's September 12th last year, TfL cleared the decks of engineering works on Night tube lines for several months. There were line closures on the Victoria line two weeks before the Night Tube began, and on the Central line one week beforehand, but then nothing at all until January 16th. TfL deliberately scheduled no weekend closures whatsoever on any Night Tube line for eighteen weeks, in the expectation that overnight passengers wouldn't be disadvantaged during the first four months of operation, I remember reading in some Board papers somewhere. A very sensible plan, and testament to the well-maintained state of the track on the Underground's deep tube lines.
Here's what the latest track closure list looks like during the summer months. I've split the Piccadilly line into Night Tube and non-Night Tube sectrions.
Ham & City
Almost all the closures are on the sub-surface lines, that's the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan. There's still a lot to do to upgrade these lines for the future, with the upcoming signalling contract destined to take until at least 2023 to complete. There's also at least one closure scheduled on the Bakerloo, which isn't a Night Tube line so needn't concern us, and two more on the Uxbridge branch of the Piccadilly line, which won't be overnighting either.
The only Night Tube lines with any weekend engineering works scheduled in the summer are the Central and Northern lines, and only early on. The Jubilee and Victoria lines are clear of track closures throughout, so could indeed kick off a Night Tube service early, and the other three lines could follow any time from September onwards, without having to awkwardly shut down as soon as the service has started.
Whatever, until all those new train operators are fully trained and an official announcement is made, this is all mere speculation. All that is known is that the Night Shift exhibition closes tomorrow, so if you fancy some overnight ambience before the autumn, best get down fast.