New trains show the railway’s progress

There’s nothing like new trains for showing visible progress in modernising a railway.

New signalling passes most passengers by and there’s not much a following for new lifts and escalators. New trains are another matter!

Passengers on all but one of London Underground’s sub-surface lines now enjoy the air-conditioned comfort of S-Stock now that the last of the ageing C-Stock has been withdrawn. The latest of the S-Stock – S-7 – is running on parts of the District Line, having already entered service on the Circle and the Hammersmith & City Lines.

Its longer variant, S-8, has been running on the Metropolitan Line for a couple of years, displacing A-Stock and sending these Sheffield-built trains to the scrapyard.

The Victoria Line also has modern trains, introduced from 2009 and, like the S-Stock, built by Bombardier in Derby. Those for the Jubilee Line date from the late-1990s, as do the Northern Line’s, with the Central Line’s stock from earlier in that decade.

This all makes the trains used by Bakerloo and Piccadilly Line passengers very old. The Bakerloo’s stock is the wrong side of 40, while the Piccadilly’s – which serves Heathrow Airport – is approaching that anniversary.

Both lines should see new trains at some point in the future as part of London Underground’s ‘New Tube for London’ project which also includes the Central and Waterloo & City Lines.

Transport for London’s latest investment report describes the project thus: “The programme provides a unique opportunity for LU to deliver long-term business transformation by introducing LU to efficient maintenance models and higher levels of automation. Technology-enabled change and asset renewals will enhance the customer experience and improve the operating and maintenance model of the ‘Deep Tube’ lines, creating a paradigm shift for the future operating and business model of LU.”

Cutting through this tortuous management speak, it seems to point to driverless trains that can also inspect tracks as they pass, which removes the need for drivers (but probably keeping a crew member on the train as happens on Docklands Light Railway) and gangers to inspect tracks when no trains run, although repair teams will still be needed.

Obstacle detection trials continue, providing further evidence of the move towards driverless trains. TfL expects to issue an Invitation to Tender this coming December.

New trains also feature in the next c2c franchise (is it too much to hope a new name might appear?) that begins in November and runs to 2029.

Franchisee National Express is promising another 68 carriages while the DfT said it was 17 brand new trains. The figures equate to the same thing but NX’s version could make one think that today’s trains were being lengthened rather than the DfT’s expansion of the overall fleet.

c2c today operates 74 Class 357 four-car EMUs, all first-generation Electrostars built by Bombardier. Such trains are no longer built so the operator is destined to run a mixed fleet from 2019 onwards. By this time the ‘357s’ will be approaching their 20th birthday. Perhaps we might then see a gradual replacement to give c2c a new fleet with the ‘357s’ cascaded elsewhere but I’m told this does not feature in the company’s thinking.

It plans to refurbish its current fleet and alter some to make them more effective for inner-suburban ‘metro’ traffic. Combined with new trains, this will give c2c three sub-fleets.

Other eye-catching features of the new deal include automatic compensation for passengers on trains more than two minutes late. These passengers will doubtless need some form of smart card for the automatic aspect of the compensation to work.

The operator is also to switch to a new performance measure. Late trains will be classed as anything over one minute behind rather than five minutes. c2c’s target will be 90% on time by this new measure. The operator is usually at or around the top of the performance table. As I write this at the end of a morning peak, it has delivered 84 out of 84 trains to destination ‘on time’ in the five-minute measure.

Spokesman Chris Atkinson tells me that the latest four-week period saw a record 88% of trains on time by Network Rail’s ‘right-time’ definition of within 59 seconds of timetable. “We can’t sit back and let nature take its course” was his conclusion of the switch to the new 90% target.

More c2c services will run to Liverpool Street, rather than the route’s traditional Fenchurch Street terminus. Liverpool Street should have more space once many of its inner-suburban services are switched to Crossrail. To reach Liverpool Street, c2c trains will call at Stratford for Westfield shopping centre (NX says a quarter of weekend trains will go this way). Stratford also provides a link to Crossrail and so make it easier for residents along the Tilbury and Southend route to reach central London or Heathrow.

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Philip Haigh

Freelance railway writer, former deputy editor at RAIL magazine - news, views and analysis of today's railway.

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