These are exciting times for the London Overground.
When the Night Tube was first announced – complete with cringe-inducing photo op with then-chancellor George Osborne and then-mayor Boris Johnson – they also announced a sliver of night-time action for the London Overground. The section of the East London line between Highbury & Islington and New Cross Gate was going to run 24-hour services on Friday and Saturday nights, we were told. And it was going to start 2017.
Well, 2017 is now here, there’s no sign of the night-Overground, and TfL’s press office have been a little coy into replying to my queries as to which part of 2017 exactly would see the launch of this service, seeing as the year’s half-gone already.
But fear not, Overground lovers: next year, you’re getting some fancy new trains.
At the moment, the London Overground runs a patchy conglomeration of different types of rolling stock, with some seriously old clapped-out trains running on some parts of the network.
But in May 2018, the British Rail Class 710 will enter service, with 30 trains headed to the West Anglia lines from Cheshunt and Chingford into Liverpool Street, eight headed for the Gospel Oak to Barking line – universally known as the GOBLIN – one for the Romford to Upminster line, and 6 for the line down from Watford into Euston.
Specific images of the OG trains aren't out yet, but here's one from the same type. Image: Bombardier.
The contract to build the trains was awarded in July 2015 to Bombardier Transportation – authors of most of the London Overground and suburban rolling stock in and around London. These will be built in a similar manner to the Elizabeth Line trains they were already working on for Crossrail.
We don’t know 100 per cent of the information about these trains yet, but we do know that they’ll have entirely longitudinal seating (read, awkwardly-facing-each-other, tube-style) on the Watford and GOBLIN lines, and a mixture of longitudinal and transverse style seating (read, like the Metropolitan line) on the West Anglia and Romford lines. So that’s exciting.
But these new trains won’t completely replace all of the London Overground’s stock. And seeing as the people have been given what they want with a guide to the tube’s different types of train, why not give them even more of what they want with a guide to all the other types of train clanging around on TfL’s network?
I thought you’d never ask.
So. Here goes.
British Rail Class 378
These are the most bog-standard Overground trains – the new ones that are really the ‘orange tubes’ that you see across the network.
After coming into service from July 2009 onwards, they now serve the East London Line (Highbury & Islington down to Croydon and the New Cross bit), the North London Line (Stratford to Richmond), the West London Line (Stratford to Clapham Junction), the South London line (Clapham Junction round to the East London line at around Surrey Quays) and the Watford line.
The inside of a BRC378 train on the Overground. Image: Peter Skuce.
They have longitudinal seating all the way through, which is what makes them feel like tube trains as there’s more standing space lined with seats along the windows on each side. They were originally four carriages long, but they were planned to extend to five-cars after the TfL-run Overground service on all those lines proved way more popular than the slightly rubbish nonsense that was in place before. TfL proudly announced that all 57 of the BRC 378 trains were 5-cars long as of January 2016. Good thing too.
British Rail Class 317
This is where we get into less-appealing-old-trains territory.
These run on the West Anglia lines, and are seriously old. They were built between 1981 and 1992, and have transverse seating – the type that means you’re either staring at the back of someone’s head or dealing with an awkward table situation.
The inside of a London Overground BRC317. Image: Peter Skuce.
Technically speaking there’s a distinction between the 317/7 class – of which there are eight in service – and the 317/8 class – of which there are six in service – but they’re all just 317/1 class trains that have been rebranded. So there’s not actually that much worth worrying about.
The bottom line is that they’re old, and nobody really wants transverse seating when they’re on an allegedly metro-style commuter service.
British Rail Class 315
These ones are even older, as they were built between 1980 and 1981.
A TfL Rail BRC315. Image: Peter Skuce.
These trains are also the same ones that are run between Liverpool Street and Shenfield as part of the TfL Rail-branded service – which took over from Greater Anglia as a stop-gap before Crossrail, ahem – sorry – I mean the Elizabeth line, starts running services along the tracks.
In short, 44 of these trains run on TfL Rail, while another 17 run on the London Overground – both on the Romford to Upminster line and the West Anglia lines.
The interior of a London Overground BRC315 train. Image: Peter Skuce.
These trains are particularly ripe for replacement. Those on West Anglia will be overwhelmed by the BRC 710 trains when they come into service next year.
Those on TfL Rail will be replaced even sooner. The first of the new Crossrail trains – the British Rail Class 345, also made by Bombardier – are seeing action for the first time today:
A brand new BRC345 train, ready for Crossrail. Image: Alex Nevin-Tylee/Wikipedia.
So that's exciting.
British Rail Class 172
These trains are kind of weird, and I can’t quite work out in my head what I find so weird about them – though admittedly I’ve only been on them once.
They’re what’s currently running on the GOBLIN line, and the eight cars are – as I understand it, though please do correct me – the only diesel-powered trains running on the London Overground network.
A BRC172 train somewhere in north-east London. Image: Stefan Baguette.
That’s all about to change, as the GOBLIN line has been electrified – remember when the whole thing was shut for a million years? That’s what they were doing.
They were introduced in July 2010, and I think what I find so strange about them is that they’re only two carriages long, which is particularly silly because that line has actually proved very popular, with far higher ridership figures than in the lines pre-Overground past.
B90 / B92 / B2K Stock
These are the Docklands Light Railway trains. Mostly. There are some other ones, too. More on that later.
This lot of DLR trains comes in three batches. B90 confusingly came into service in 1991; B92 in 1993, and B2K in 2001. Just because. Oh, and the B refers to Beckton, where the big depot for DLR trains is.
The trains are fully-automated, and run via a particularly clever system that sends live information to a control headquarters about which bit of track it’s running over at that particular moment via a whole army of sensors that are at regular intervals all along the track. So you can literally sit in the control room and watch all the DLR trains whizzing around like little blips on a radar as if you’re some ruddy naval chief or something. So that’s cool.
A DLR B2K train before the colours on it got changed. Image: Previnnk.
That being said, there is still someone on board the train at all times. The thrillingly-named ‘Passenger Service Agent’ can take control of the train at any time via a locked control panel at each end of the train, which means that if you’ve been keen and sat at the front so you get the view, you can be kicked out of your seat at any point and you’ll just have to deal with that crushing disappointment. Not mentioning names.
There’s not all that much difference between the three types, other than that the B2K stock was built after the Disability Discrimination Act was passed in 1995, which means that some accessibility features that were retro-fitted onto the other trains were built into the B2K (and later) stock automatically.
The B07 is basically the other kind of DLR stock, which was introduced in 2008.
A DLR B07 train at Poplar. Image: Hippoattack.
It has larger windows, larger doors, more leg room, better acceleration, improved door functions to make it quicker to get people on and off the trains, and better brakes.
But you probably won’t notice most of those things. Instead, you’ll probably notice that they’re the DLR trains with the salaciously curved fronts, rather than the 90s/Noughties DLR trains which are all sort of boxy at the front.
The old DLR stock, back, compared to the new, two at front. Image: Tyw7.
As a fun side note, all the DLR trains have angled wheels, which allow it to tackle the DLR’s occasionally very tight corners. The only downside is that it can mean that rolling over straight sections of the network at higher speeds can both be very noisy and produce reasonably violent shaking. So that’s not great.
As another fun side note, the old DLR stock – the P86 and P89, are now running on the Essen Stadtbahn in western Germany, after a couple of tweaks.
A DLR P89 train in Essen, Germany. Image: Stefan Baguette.
For a decade or so they were still running with the same red and blue livery that they had in London, but they were painted a rather lurid yellow from about 2005 onwards, so you’ll see London’s old DLR romping around Essen in yellow if you’re ever in Essen.
Finally crawling towards the end now, folks. It’s almost over.
Built between 1998 and 2000 by Bombardier – those guys again – these form the bulk of the trams on the south London Tramlink network between Croydon, Mitcham, Wimbledon, and those underpopulated places in the Borough of Bromley.
A tram somewhere so far south in London they even have snow. Image: Peter Skuce.
There’s not all that much I can bring myself to say about them by this point, other than that there are questions being raised about the quality of the windows and the type of glass used on these trams at the moment.
In the Croydon tram derailment incident of 2016, six of the seven fatalities were people who were ejected through windows that became broken or dislodged with the tram derailed. We don’t know for sure if we can definitively say that those six people would still be alive if the train were designed differently.
These are fancy German trams built by Stadler rail. They also run on tram networks in Helsinki, Potsdam, Graz, Munich, Bergen, and a few other places in Germany, so we’re in good company.
This Variobahn tram is going to Elmers End. Don't ask. Image: Sunil060902.
There are ten of these trams in and around Croydon, and they’re all very nice, so venture all the way down south to have a look, if you like.
That’s all, folks.