It’s one of the perks of the job: being at the front of the queue when something new arrives.
Last week I was at the London Underground depot in Acton for a first look at the reconditioned Central line trains.
The following day I was in Germany to see a new Piccadilly line train put through its paces on a test track.
Neither event matched the excitement of the Elizabeth line launch last year, but that’s not to diminish the day-to-day significance for millions of passengers.
The first “new” Central line train is due in service next week.
The Piccadilly line trains will be the first deep-level Tube to be walk-through and air conditioned when they arrive in 2025. Alas, what won’t be upgraded in a hurry is the Piccadilly line signalling.
Along this country lane will trundle £1.5 billion of new trains: the proverbial Ferrari on a dirt track
Switch from the Victoria line to the Piccadilly and the difference is obvious. It’s like going from a motorway to a country lane. Along this country lane will trundle £1.5 billion of new trains: the proverbial Ferrari on a dirt track.
How can this have happened? The Bakerloo line, that’s how. Its trains are even more knackered than those being replaced on the Piccadilly, and have jumped the queue in terms of being a funding priority for Transport for London. Tube chiefs may “patch and mend” the Bakerloo trains by culling parts from the outgoing Piccadilly fleet, I'm told.
TfL has just submitted a capital investment pipeline “wish list” to ministers. But new Bakerloo trains — and the Bakerloo line extension — only appear “from 2029 onwards”. Neither has a price tag, so far off are they.
London has done well in terms of new trains: the Metropolitan line in 2010, Victoria in 2011, Hammersmith and City in 2012, Circle and District from 2013, London Overground in 2020.
That’s not to mention the Lizzie line. Or to forget that a fleet of 54 new DLR trains, also walk-through and air conditioned, is due imminently and a new station at Thames Wharf, south of Canning Town, should be built in the next three to five years.
While TfL is not yet in rude health, it’s no longer on its death bed. Journeys have reached 90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, with fares income higher than it was before covid, thanks in part to the Lizzie line. TfL has generated a £142 million “operating surplus” so far this year and will have broken even for the first time in its history by next March.
Everybody loves the sound of a train in the distance. Alas for those queuing for the Bakerloo line, it is likely to be the rattle and splutter of a clapped-out fifty-something fleet for another decade at least.
Ross Lydall is City Hall Editor and Transport Editor