Today's the last day that D Stock trains run on the District line in passenger service.
Another class bites the dust.
Farewell to seats that face forwards.
Farewell to that step up from the platform.
Farewell to the hissing clunk as the doors close.
Farewell to green grab poles and blue/green moquette.
Farewell to special solo seats and single leaf doors.
Farewell to a unique look, hello identikit design.
Hello to low-floor access and wheelchair spaces.
Hello to air conditioning and yellowish lighting.
Hello to glaring headlamps and walk-through carriages.
Hello to being able to cram on board in the rush hour.
Hello to cattle class, farewell to all that.
If you'd like to take a last ride, you'll need to be prepared. Only three D Stock trains remain, and only one is out on the line today, shuttling back and forth between Upminster and Richmond. If you simply turn up on spec you're unlikely to catch it, so best take note of the planned timetable... which goes like this, unforeseen circumstances permitting.
Unforeseen circumstances are quite likely. Trains get delayed, diverted, rescheduled and renumbered on an unpredictably regular basis, and all it takes is one signal failure to blow the proposed timetable out of the water. The first train is the most likely to run perfectly as scheduled, and the last train's also a good bet because signallers will try to do some juggling to get the intended rolling stock back on track. That said, absolutely anything could happen, so best keep an eye on District Dave's forum for updates, or follow Jack on Twitter because he'll know where it ought to be.
Then at quarter past six this evening, assuming crowds of excitable men with cameras can be cleared, the last D Stock heads off into Ealing Common depot and will not be seen again in passenger service. It will be popping out again for a final celebratory tour of the District line on Sunday 7th May, but only for passengers who've paid £50 for a ticket and like being cooped up on a train with geeks for hours. One carriage is likely to end up in the London Transport Museum depot, so that future generations will still be able to see what we used to travel in. And the remainder of TfL's spare D Stock stock will be heading up north to be remodelled into trains suitable for National Rail services, courtesy of Vivarail, assuming their business model holds up.
I made sure to take a nostalgic ride on a D Stock earlier in the week, before the enthusiasts descended. I had a good idea what was scheduled, but the appearance of its boxy silhouette in the distance, non-dazzling headlamps blazing, still made me smile. What's more I managed to get a carriage to myself, because the line out to Upminster is like that in the morning. One coffee stain, several discarded newspapers, one broken tip-up seat, some quite-scratched windows, various peeling stickers, and that 80s videogame beep at each station just before the doors close - all were extremely evocative. I made sure to get a seat by the window and watch the scenery go by, because I won't be doing that again. As with all long-standing about-to-be decommissioned trains, everything seemed utterly familiar but doomed, commonplace but never to be seen again.
A lot of people won't be sad to see the D Stocks go. On my return journey a dad got on with his son and was immediately unimpressed. "This train stinks!" he said. "We should have got the newer one. Every time I get on this train I hate it!" I hadn't noticed a reek, but it is true that less love and care has been given to the D Stock in its declining years, enough to keep it clean and ticking over but hardly spruce. Dad didn't discuss the subject further, but when he alighted at Whitechapel I noted he'd left an empty Lucozade bottle on the seat, so immediately disregarded his earlier comments as hypocrisy.
Today's D Stock demise is the final entry in a ten year story, dating back to December 2006 when Ken Livingstone first announced plans to introduce air-conditioned trains on the sub-surface lines. The first mocked-up carriage appeared in September 2008 under Boris Johnson, whose first production line photoshoot was in June 2009. The very first S Stock train entered service on the Metropolitan line in July 2010, and on the Hammersmith & City line in December 2012. The last of the Metropolitan line's old A Stock trains ran in September 2012, and the last of the Hammersmith & City's C Stock in June 2014, since when the trains on the District line have been sequentially replaced. It wasn't supposed to take until April 2017 to get rid of them all, but signalling upgrades delayed things, and so Sadiq Khan gets to wave the flag for final project completion.
One interesting point is that the entire District line fleet was upgraded around ten years ago, so could have had several years potential life ahead. Indeed the entire District line fleet has been replaced despite not being the oldest rolling stock on the Underground.
Bakerloo: 1972 stock (45 years old) Piccadilly: 1973 Stock (42 years old) District: D Stock (37 years old)(today only) Central: 1992 stock (24 years old) Northern: 1995 Stock (20 years old) Jubilee: 1996 stock (20 years old) Victoria: 2009 Stock (8 years old) Metropolitan: S8 Stock (7 years old) Hammersmith & City: S7 Stock (5 years old) Circle: S7 Stock (4 years old)
The Piccadilly line's trains are five years older, but as yet nobody's even got a contract to redesign them, let alone produce one. The first New TubeFor London isn't due to enter service before 2023, by which time the existing Piccadilly line trains will be pushing 50, while the Bakerloo is even further down the delivery list so might hit 60. We've just lived through eight years when there's always been at least one Underground line having its rolling stock replaced, and now we're entering a six year period when none will. You could blame a lack of forward planning, or a lack of Mayoral focus, or simply a lack of money thanks to Crossrail taking priority, but the future suddenly looks a lot slower than the recent present.
The next big project isn't rolling stock, it's signalling. Much of the signalling on the sub-surface lines is unbelievably ancient, hence flaky, and replacing it will allow more trains to run, greatly boosting capacity. Unfortunately TfL's resignalling programme is many years behind schedule, thanks to ill-advised contractual decisions and technical difficulties. Only now are enabling works taking place on the Hammersmith branch to tentatively try out the new system, and it'll be years before the full Metropolitan, Circle and District lines feel the full effect. Trains and signalling were supposed to be upgraded in parallel, but instead one is completed before the other has properly begun. Oops.
Nevertheless, it's a major success to have introduced air-conditioned trains on four Underground lines, as the forthcoming summer will prove. It's also been a very successful way to increase capacity, even if that's meant fewer seats and more people standing. Indeed this evening will be the very last time that a D Stock train rolls through central London in the rush hour and commuters mutter "bloody hell, it's one of the old ones, I can't get on". There might also be an issue this evening with overcrowding due to large volumes of enthusiasts on board, so you might prefer to wait for the next train. But do squeeze on if you can, because you never will again, as the District line's workhorse slips into the sidings for the very last time.