diamond geezer

 Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Here's the Underground's latest endangered species which, at time of writing, has less than seven hours left in service.

Officially it's called C Stock. You'll know it as the train that runs on the Circle line and the Hammersmith and City line, except it doesn't any more, and hasn't since February. Instead it survives solely on the Edgware Road to Wimbledon section of the District line, shuttling back and forth until its time is up, which would be about twenty to two this afternoon.

C Stock first entered service in 1970, which makes it the oldest rolling stock currently in service on the Underground. It was introduced with high capacity in mind, hence the provision of plenty of room inside the doorways to permit standing, and a very high ratio of entrances to carriage length. Each train is only six carriages long (because some of the platforms round the western side of the Circle line are quite short), and each carriage seats 32 people (making 192 seats altogether). A second burst of C Stock arrived in 1977, and the entire fleet was then upgraded in the 1990s to help it linger longer into the future, a future which ends today.

These imminently-obsolete workhorses have gradually been replaced by S Stock trains over the last eighteen months, with approximately one C Stock per week removed and taken by road to Eastleigh to be destroyed. Today only four complete trains survive, three of which had a final outing in general service yesterday. The plan is for just one to take to the rails today, shuttling between Wimbledon and Edgware Road until lunchtime, with the 13.08 from Wimbledon the very final public service. So I thought yesterday would be the best time to make a farewell trip of my own, there being the best chance of a 70s survivor rolling into the platform without too long a wait.

First train in, yes. That familiar red front approached, its destination written in analogue yellow letters, much larger than the font of its successor. A splash of graffiti marked the paint above the driver's window, and there was still a Remembrance poppy stencilled on the nearside, because why clean up a train you intend to scrap? I waited for several passengers to get off and then stepped aboard, pleased to have the choice of somewhere to sit. And then this happened.

Ah, the closing beep and then the satisfying gerklunk of the C Stock's chunky doors. Each of the doors closes at a fractionally different moment to create a brief mechanical fanfare at the moment of departure, which isn't something you get with the electronic precision of more modern trains. Even the rumble of the engines exudes a nostalgic whine, or maybe that's just because I was brought up on the old Metropolitan stock, itself long crushed.

I managed to plonk down in one of the prized end seats with an extra cushioned strip down one side - ideal if you're overweight, have a bag or want to spread out. I stared across the laminate floor at the moquette which looks like someone's splattered purple, green and yellow paint everywhere. I looked up at the door alongside, part of a quaint ancient concept that carriages should be separate from one another. And then I gazed through the end window into the empty drivers cab coupled up alongside, a capsule with levers and recessed buttons that still screams 20th rather than 21st century. There'll be nothing so basic in the replacement trains, so it's hard to know whether the drivers will welcome the increased functionality or miss the simplicity.

C Stock carriages have long been the Underground's very own cattle trucks, and before long my final journey was living down to expectations. Passengers poured in to fill all the available space, shuffling into minimal gaps and attempting to stand upright by hanging onto the yellow grabpoles. Each new S7 train will be able to carry approximately 300 more passengers than these old stalwarts, which'll help no end during busy periods on the Wimbledon branch, indeed already is helping except on these last few survivors. But the new S7s will also be too long for certain stations north of Earl's Court, so good luck squeezing towards the centre of the train to depart.

Many won't be sad to see the old trains go. Their age now really shows, and their design was never a highpoint, why is probably why we've not been inundated with C Stock commemorative souvenirs. But there has already been a special day-long C Stock tour for the aficionados, and one more is planned at the end of the month for the serious stock bashers. Tickets went on sale yesterday at £40 each, for which you get the privilege of shuttling from Moorgate to Hammersmith in a C Stock train, but travelling via Wimbledon and Barking to make an event of it. Two complete trains are being kept in the depot until this very final jaunt on Sunday 29th June, one as a reserve in case the other breaks down, and then even their carriages will be sent to the crusher.

I understand one C Stock car is being kept somewhere for heritage purposes. I also understand that the remaining District line trains, the larger and better-loved D Stock, won't start being scrapped and replaced until sometime next year. But if you want one last ride on a scheduled C Stock train you've got until 1.39pm today, after which its beep and gerklunk will be but a recorded memory.

Update: I hope you didn't head down to catch the advertised last train, because the final day's service was terminated four hours early. The last C Stock train departed Wimbledon at 09.05, and was then unceremoniously pulled from service at Edgware Road due to "mileage restrictions". It seems that locomotive units can only complete a certain of number of miles before being called in for service, and this particular C Stock unit was perilously close to its limit. It's still needed to run the big tour at the end of the month, and nobody wanted to waste money on an overhaul, so the last train bowed out (rather pathetically) 50 miles early. Thwarted by rules and regulations, it seems, and by a power failure on Sunday that left all the remaining C stock carriages in unplanned locations. Whatever, this gave TfL the opportunity to rush out their "yippee, we've dumped all the C Stock" press release four hours early, increasing the likelihood that the Evening Standard would run with it. They didn't run with it, and the 44-year old rolling stock duly departed with an embarrassed whimper.

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