diamond geezer

 Sunday, June 12, 2011

The oldest trains on the London Underground network run on the Metropolitan line. They're older than the trains on the Bakerloo line, which hit the tracks as recently as 1972. They're older than the trains that trundle round the Circle line, which are merely in their early 40s. They're older than the last surviving Victoria line trains, due to be phased out forever at the end of the month. Oh yes, the trains that run on the Metropolitan line are much older than that. Precisely fifty years old, as it turns out. Half a century old. Today.

The Metropolitan line's very first 'A' Stock train first ran in public service on Monday 12th June 1961. A single eight-carriage train rumbled out to Watford and back, that's how it all began. They'd have looked sleek and futuristic, those silver carriages, instead of the slamdoor trains with separate compartments that passengers had previously used. Beyond Rickmansworth the Met was still run by steam, and these new trains helped to bring about the electrification of the entire service. By the time I was growing up in Metroland, mid Sixties, these splendid 'A' Stock trains were the only way to travel.

They don't look quite so futuristic now. Most of the windows are grubby, or scratched, or both. The exterior of the carriages looks worn, as if graffiti's had to be scraped off one time too many. And the interior, lit by a series of long fluorescent tubes, is dim compared to the brighter trains we're used to elsewhere. But the trains remain cosy and welcoming, not least thanks to the copious amounts of high-backed transverse seating. And the Metropolitan commuter can still count on twenty luggage racks and twenty coat hooks per carriage - a luxury you just don't get on lesser services in deep-level tubes.

Not everything about the 'A' Stock is old. Those purple poles aren't original, and neither is the pebbledash-effect plastic floor. That and the spiky moquette date back to a mid-90s revamp, which also saw the introduction of a loudspeaker system connected to the driver's cab. There aren't any automated station announcements - these are the last carriages on the network not blessed with those. But the trains still make enough quite noise all by themselves. That unique pulsing drone as the brakes kick in, that's a Metropolitan line special. The racket the motors make, like artillery fire beneath the carriage. And the loud creaking of the chassis, especially over the faster sections of track - you're unlikely to fall asleep aboard one of these.

But retirement beckons. These fifty-somethings are already being replaced by upstart 'S' Stock - shiny new trains that are as futuristic and alien to the commuters of Pinner as the 'A' Stock was back in 1961. They bleep, they swish and they announce the next station automatically in advance. They have air-conditioning rather than opening windows, which is a first for the tube. They're walk-through, for easy access, not eight separate carriages. They're a lot lot quieter, and a much smoother ride. But they're also lacking a certain Home Counties style. Those luggage racks and coathooks have gone, and so have one-third of the seats. These are trains optimised for capacity rather than comfort, which means more passengers having to stand for longer. For those lucky enough to sit down the seats are less substantial, and there are fewer with a decent sideways view out of the window. Ideal for rush hour travel between Finchley Road and the City, but less appealing for the long-distance Chesham commuter. [comparison video]

There still aren't many 'S' Stock trains in regular service, and none at all at weekends. They've only just started running as far as Aldgate, and they have yet to carry any passengers out to Amersham. But they're taking over, slowly but surely, just as the 'A' Stock did fifty years ago. And that means it's time for the 'A' Stock to depart. The old trains are being taken out of service at regular intervals, then stripped out at Neasden depot and removed from the network via a siding at Northwood. Here the doomed carriages are loaded onto a truck and carted away to Yorkshire for scrap. Life over, job done.

Carriage unit number 5004, which kicked off that inaugural passenger journey to Watford fifty years ago, remains in regular operation. Indeed it's out there somewhere on the network this very day, and various hardy tube enthusiasts will be attempting to track it down for an anniversary ride. It's hard to imagine anyone getting quite so moist-eyed about their replacements, but then it's hard to imagine the 'S' lasting a full half-century as the good old 'A' has done. Happy fiftieth birthday to the hardest working trains on the Underground network. I'll miss them, and their familiar rumble, when they're finally gone.

<< click for Newer posts

click for Older Posts >>

click to return to the main page

...or read more in my monthly archives
Jan20  Feb20  Mar20  Apr20  May20  Jun20  Jul20
Jan19  Feb19  Mar19  Apr19  May19  Jun19  Jul19  Aug19  Sep19  Oct19  Nov19  Dec19
Jan18  Feb18  Mar18  Apr18  May18  Jun18  Jul18  Aug18  Sep18  Oct18  Nov18  Dec18
Jan17  Feb17  Mar17  Apr17  May17  Jun17  Jul17  Aug17  Sep17  Oct17  Nov17  Dec17
Jan16  Feb16  Mar16  Apr16  May16  Jun16  Jul16  Aug16  Sep16  Oct16  Nov16  Dec16
Jan15  Feb15  Mar15  Apr15  May15  Jun15  Jul15  Aug15  Sep15  Oct15  Nov15  Dec15
Jan14  Feb14  Mar14  Apr14  May14  Jun14  Jul14  Aug14  Sep14  Oct14  Nov14  Dec14
Jan13  Feb13  Mar13  Apr13  May13  Jun13  Jul13  Aug13  Sep13  Oct13  Nov13  Dec13
Jan12  Feb12  Mar12  Apr12  May12  Jun12  Jul12  Aug12  Sep12  Oct12  Nov12  Dec12
Jan11  Feb11  Mar11  Apr11  May11  Jun11  Jul11  Aug11  Sep11  Oct11  Nov11  Dec11
Jan10  Feb10  Mar10  Apr10  May10  Jun10  Jul10  Aug10  Sep10  Oct10  Nov10  Dec10 
Jan09  Feb09  Mar09  Apr09  May09  Jun09  Jul09  Aug09  Sep09  Oct09  Nov09  Dec09
Jan08  Feb08  Mar08  Apr08  May08  Jun08  Jul08  Aug08  Sep08  Oct08  Nov08  Dec08
Jan07  Feb07  Mar07  Apr07  May07  Jun07  Jul07  Aug07  Sep07  Oct07  Nov07  Dec07
Jan06  Feb06  Mar06  Apr06  May06  Jun06  Jul06  Aug06  Sep06  Oct06  Nov06  Dec06
Jan05  Feb05  Mar05  Apr05  May05  Jun05  Jul05  Aug05  Sep05  Oct05  Nov05  Dec05
Jan04  Feb04  Mar04  Apr04  May04  Jun04  Jul04  Aug04  Sep04  Oct04  Nov04  Dec04
Jan03  Feb03  Mar03  Apr03  May03  Jun03  Jul03  Aug03  Sep03  Oct03  Nov03  Dec03
 Jan02  Feb02  Mar02  Apr02  May02  Jun02  Jul02 Aug02  Sep02  Oct02  Nov02  Dec02 

eXTReMe Tracker
jack of diamonds
Life viewed from London E3

» email me
» follow me on twitter
» follow the blog on Twitter
» follow the blog on RSS

my flickr photostream