Remember the ‘neo-Victorian’ age of investment Great Boris Lie? Remember the ‘I’ll never order a new tube train with a cab’ and ‘driverless Tube trains within ten years’ pledges? Time for an update, based on the September 2013 issue of Modern Railways magazine, which I read for the non-league football results.
Page 10′s headline is ‘Piccadilly Line upgrade confirmed’ which is all jolly good, but the subheading is ‘But Bakerloo on hold’. What’s been going on? In 2008 the Bakerloo Line upgrade timetable was for completion in 2020 and last time we looked it was part of the Deep Tube Programme which would see it upgraded with the Piccadilly and Central to a standard design with standard automated trains by 2025. Now it’s disappeared completely.
What’s been happening is Boris’s old Stalingrad defence of London’s transport budget – as usual he’s more von Paulus than Zhukhov and Osborne’s Treasury, while swinging the axe at TfL’s subsidy has only given firm guarantees for one line out of three and the Piccadilly, being the one with the worst crowding problem and the second oldest trains as well as other life expired infrastructure is the only one funded. The DTP as a multi-line rolling upgrade is therefore effectively dead – in MR’s words:
However, as part of the agreement with the Treasury, LU will defer replacement of trains currently used on the Bakerloo and Central Lines, a decision that will see the Bakerloo’s 1972 stock remain in service until at least 2030
That’s 58 years at least. 1938 stock was withdrawn in 1988 after 50 years while A-Stock on the Metropolitan made it to 52 (1960-2012) so that’s extremely long-lived for Underground trains, and explains why LU is forced into planning a serious mid-life refurbishment. Obviously there’s no indication of replacement Bakerloo signalling either, so that line will presumably remain unautomated well into the middle of the century. As for the Central Line, equipped with 1992 vintage computer controlled signalling, I’d expect that will suffer parts obsolescence before long so there’s a big question mark about what to do there, although at least the trains are ‘only’ 21 years old.
Instead we have a purely Piccadilly Line upgrade programme being developed, involving new automated trains (I hesitate to say ‘driverless’ as they’ll have a crew member on board). These will be articulated, air cooled and lightweight for reduced energy use, hopefully without the input of Heatherwick this time – the reduced energy use and air cooling are linked, as less energy to move it means more for cooling it without increasing the net amount transmitted to the environment. They are, sadly, calling it the ‘New Tube for London’ on the erroneous basis that the supposed ‘iconic’ glamour of the Roastmaster will rub off on it rather than people wondering why they’re persisting with a stupid naming convention. First train 2021 with the full fleet in 2023 so just nicking in under the ten year mark, assuming no cockups. Quite how you handle the changeover with dual running with 1973 stock is one to keep an eye on, but if they’re truly cabless you’d have to have the signalling upgrade done before 2021, interfacing with the legacy stuff to allow a smooth handover.
All jolly good, automation is no problem for me for capacity reasons, it’s crewless operation that’s the worry. This does tend to suggest that Bombardier’s CityFlo650 signalling system will have to be adopted though, as this will be operational on the shared sections of Piccadilly with District (Acton Town – Ealing Common) and Metropolitan (Rayners Lane – Uxbridge) by then and it would be extremely difficult to overlay a new system intended for automatic operation over the top of it. Besides, the siting of the new Piccadilly control room at Hammersmith together with the SSL room is a bit of a giveaway here. It would be both sensible and efficient.
There’s a final point, though, which is that a lot of people’s scenarios about the Deep Tube Programme involved various cascades of Northern and Jubilee trains to meet increased demand, such as replacing Bakerloo stock with one of those fleets, which now seems off the cards. Also the Northern Line extension to Battersea will require more trains as, arguably, will the increased frequencies possible with the introduction of TBTC signalling, currently half done, judging by the way reliability has fallen off a cliff recently.
Modern Railways has the answer on page 11:
…the most likely option for new stock for the Northern’s Battersea extension now seems to be 1995 clone trains, with the retention of 1995 stock on the Northern Line
In other words they’ll go back and order a few more trains to the same design. With driving cabs. So that’s that pledge gone (it was always daft precisely because it excluded the possibility of perfectly sensible incremental builds of existing designs).
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