diamond geezer

 Monday, June 30, 2014

Yesterday the Underground's last C stock train ran one last time.

The last public service was four weeks ago, you may remember, but six cars were kept on for a final celebratory tour. For £40 you could have spent four and a half hours covering the entirety of the C Stock network, trapped in a carriage with a few dozen other train enthusiasts.
Moorgate d0955 - a1042 Wimbledon d1055 - Baker St - a1216 Barking LUNCH d1321 - Baker St - South Kensington - Tower Hill - Baker St - a1527 Hammersmith
I'm sure being aboard was fun, if a little claustrophobic, but being aboard meant missing the opportunity to watch the train passing through any of the stations along its journey. And so a squad of photographers stalked the train, in various locations, to record its passing. [6 photos]

One end of the train was C69 stock and the other C77, the digits referring to the year of introduction. Meanwhile someone had had fun with the blinds on the front and the back, which sometimes showed a destination long since renamed or departed. Aldersgate, anyone? Kensington Addison Road?

At the very end of the journey, in Hammersmith, the blinds were switched to show "Rotherham via Northwood", this a reference to the entire train's imminent demise. It'll be driven one last time to sidings in Northwood, from which the cars will be lifted onto trucks and driven to Rotherham for scrap. A handful of carriages are being kept for heritage reasons, tucked away out of sight in TfL's Acton depot, but probably not sufficient to form a complete train.

There's general consensus that London's well rid of the old C Stock, now replaced by longer more spacious air-conditioned S Stock trains. But from today it'll exist only in photographic, film or digital form, or in our memories of journeys from days gone by.

One consequence of this is that trains on the sub-surface lines have become a lot more samey. Time was when the Metropolitan, Circle and District lines all had different rolling stock, so when a train rolled in you knew pretty much where it was going. Not any more. I thought I'd draw up a table to show you what I mean.

Liverpool St → Baker StA C CS C CS S SS S S
Baker St → HammersmithC CC CS SS S
Edgware Rd → High St Ken C CC SS SS S
Earl's Court → Wimbledon C DC DS DS S
Gloucester Rd → Tower Hill C DC DS DS S
Aldgate East → Barking C DC DS DS S

As an example, if you were anywhere between Baker Street and Liverpool Street in 2009, it was very obvious which were the Metropolitan line trains and which were for the Circle and Hammersmith and City line. Even when the Met's A Stock switched to S Stock the trains were still easily distinguished. But head down today and all the trains look the same, so you have to look at the destination displays carefully to be sure which is which.

Or take the Wimbledon branch of the District line. Trains to Edgware Road have always looked different to trains to the City, indeed still do now that all the C Stock has upgraded to S. But by the end of 2016 it's promised that every D Stock train on the District line will have been replaced, and then every Underground train out of Wimbledon will look the same. It's not a problem - travellers on the rest of the District line have always had to check carefully where their trains are going. But a useful visual shorthand is disappearing, and homogeneity is the new name of the game.

It's deliberate. Different lines used to have different trains, pretty much, but TfL are trying to bear down on costs by making as many of them the same as possible. All of the sub-surface lines are getting S Stock trains, either 7 or 8 carriages long, and within two and a half years the transformation will be complete. And then work starts on replacing old tube stock on deep lines like the Bakerloo and Piccadilly, which is where the New Tube For London comes in. Here's a prototype...

The New Tube For London will be an air-cooled train with walk-through carriages. It may even be driverless, whatever that precisely means, although that'll take a lot more investment and opens a whole new can of worms. Another benefit will be the use of a single signalling system, rather than each subterranean line working things differently. But don't get your hopes up that this is going to be quick. TfL haven't even invited companies to bid for the work yet, we're still at the pre-qualification stage.
"The design and specification phase continues, with the formal procurement process for the purchase of rolling stock having been launched on 28 February via a notice in the Official Journal of the European Union and through the issue of the pre-qualification questionnaire. The informal early contractor engagement process is proceeding in parallel and the draft technical specification has been issued to suppliers."
The Piccadilly line will be first with the new trains, then the Bakerloo, and later the Central and Waterloo and City. But not any time yet. Even if all goes to plan, which it never does, the first New Tube For London won't be rolling out until the early 2020s. This creates a lengthy gap from 2016 onwards when there'll be no replacement rolling stock on the Underground - at least five years, probably more. Lack of funding or lack of Mayoral vision? You'll have your own opinion, I'm sure.

It also means that the old tube trains will have to stay in service longer than was ever planned. Piccadilly line stock dates back to 1973, and the Bakerloo to 1972. These trains will be at least 50 years old before they're replaced, possibly rather more, hence maintenance could become an issue before retirement. By contrast the C Stock that went out of service yesterday was 'only' 44, and looked it too, I think you'll agree.

The Northern, Jubilee and Victoria lines aren't included in existing upgrade plans because their trains are more recent, the former not yet 20 and the latter barely 5. But the other eight lines could be served by only two types of train by the end of the next decade - either S Stock or the New Tube For London. Yesterday's departure brings that homogeneity one step closer... and the rest of the District line, that's next.

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