Literally just a guide to all of the different types of train on the London Underground

Look! Trains! Specifically the Central line 1992 stock trains! Look at them go! Wow! Image: 4999603 via Pixabay

For the train lovers of London, last month was an emotional time. On 21 April, the tube said goodbye to one of its most faithful servants – the D stock.

In layman’s terms, the D stock were the trains that ran on the District line from 1980 to 2017. They carried millions of passengers over 37 years until the final journey from Upminster to Ealing Broadway last month.

But despite its recent bereavement, the District line trundles on – as do all the lines, with their own distinct trains. So how well do you know those trains? Whether by the colour of the poles you grab onto, the pattern on the seats, or the fact you have to duck your head as the doors close at rush hour, can you tell the different stock apart?

Here, to help you out, is CityMetric’s comprehensive guide to the tube’s rolling stock (read, trains). We’ll go line by line, rather than chronologically, to help the rolling stock novices in the room.

Bakerloo line

A Bakerloo line train at Kilburn High Road – don't ask why. Image: Oxyman.

Bakerloo line trains are called the London Underground 1972 stock, because they’re on the London Underground, and are from 1972, pretty much.

This is the oldest stock still in use on the tube. The design was based on the 1967 stock, which used to run on the Victoria line until 2011. They’re the last deep-level tube line trains – that is, those the narrow tube-shaped trains as opposed to the big box-shaped ‘sub-surface’ lines – which still have facing seats in little pods, as opposed to just having seating along the sides of the carriage.

There’s seven carriages to each train, which adds up to a total of 268 seats for passengers, though realistically everyone knows that the facing seats were built for midgets and you definitely can’t fit four people on them.

They were refurbished in a big way from 1991 to 1995. But they’re still pretty horrible, and it’ll be a blessing to see the Bakerloo line as one of the lines set to benefit from the ‘New Tube for London’, a massive batch of new rolling stock coming by 2033.

Which is a long time to be stuck with hot, loud, saggy, socially awkward trains, but we’ll just pretend they’re charming.

Central and Waterloo & City lines

The interior of a Central line train. Image: Peter Skuce.

We now jump ahead to the nineties (yay!) to the 1992 stock. This name is ironic, because the trains didn’t actually come into service until 1993. But details are for losers.

The 1992 stock has four carriages on the Waterloo & City line, but does most of its work on the Central, where its trains have eight carriages.

These trains also have two clever things called ATO and ATP, which more or less means the trains can drive themselves (just don’t tell the unions). ATO is Automatic Train Operation, which operates the train, and ATP is Automatic Train Protection, which gets data from the track and sends it to the drivers’ cab.


This makes for three modes of operation: automatic, where both are in use and the driver only has to open and close doors and press ‘start’ when the train is ready to go; ‘coded manual’ where ATO is off but ATP still gets data from the track to tell the driver how fast the train is going and how fast it should be going; and ‘restricted manual’ where both ATO and ATP are off and the driver drives by sight and the signals alone.

When driving on ‘restricted manual’, the trains can only run below 11mph. This is only really used in depots and when there’s a signal failure or a problem with the train’s systems.

Mercifully, the 1992 stock had a big refresher in 2011, with new seat patterns and better lights. The refresh is also one of the key differences between the Central and Waterloo & City line trains (the other is the different colour poles) as the Central line trains got new window frames and different panelling on the front of the train that the Waterloo & City line didn’t get. Sad!

New trains are also coming here, by 2033. So that’s nice.

Circle, District, Hammersmith & City lines

The inside of a shiny new S7 stock train. Image: Peter Skuce

Three birds with one stone, because they all use the nice new shiny ‘S7 stock’.

These came in a big bulk order built between 2009 and 2017 alongside new trains for the Metropolitan line – more on that later.

It was reportedly the biggest single order of trains in Britain (don’t get too hot under the collar there, lads), with an estimated cost of £1.5bn. That’s some serious train cash.

But the perk is that they’re beautiful, there’s loads of them – 192 trains, or 1,403 carriages – and they do a lot of good work.

The S7 trains are light, bright, air-conditioned, with seating along both sides of the carriages and fancy bendy bits that mean you can walk from one end of the train to the other.

They have regenerative brakes which means they can give the energy they use in stopping back to the network – about 20 per cent of it – which obviously is good for efficiency.

Fun fact! The colours on the seats reflect the colours of the lines that the S7 and S8 run on, which is why the colour coordination on them is so hideous. Turns out that throwing together yellow, green, pink and purple together isn’t really a good look.

Jubilee line

A 1996 stock train at Stratford. Image: Joshua Brown.

Back on the deeper lines, and an introduction to the 1996 stock. Again, confusingly, these trains actually came into service a year after their name, in 1997, and each train is seven carriages long.

They have a pretty similar design to the Northern line trains, which are numbered a year earlier but came into service a year later; but they do have some differences, such as the kind of suspension systems they use. Fun!

Most of the differences are because the Jubilee line trains were done on the cheap, whereas the Northern line trains were designed to live forever, but as a proud Jubilee line resident I’ll brush over that part.

The trains were originally operated manually, with a good old-fashioned ‘dead man’s handle’ – in other words, if the driver takes their hand off it because they’re dead, the train stops running – but a 2011 upgrade means the trains are now operated automatically.

The driver is responsible for opening and closing doors, and getting the thing started, and the transition allowed for an increase in peak services – up to 27 trains per hour in 2011 and then to 30 trains per hour in 2014.

Even as we speak, the Jubilee line trains are being refurbished. They’re getting new flooring, repainted hand rails – in actual Jubilee line colours – and new open/close buttons. I’m thrilled.

Metropolitan line

An S8 stock train at Amersham, of all places. Image: Matt Buck.

These are the aforementioned S8. Basically they’re the same as the S7, except they’re about 15 metres longer, and they have opposite-facing seats as well as seats down the side of the trains.

Since you asked, ‘S’ stands for ‘sub-surface’.

Northern line

The interior of a Northern line train. Image: Joshua Brown.

These are the ones that are like the Jubilee line but not. They’re called the 1995 stock, but they didn’t come into service until 1998. I swear I'm not making this up.

They’re the only deep tube trains that can choose to only open some doors, to cope with shorter platforms at Clapham Common, Euston, Camden Town, Charing Cross, and Hampstead.

Theres a cool thing that I don’t really understand, but basically: the way the Northern line trains get electricity from the lines is more efficient than the Jubilee line trains, and they can switch very large currents very quickly without damaging the systems of the trains. This is why the Northern line doesn’t make that weird whooping screaming noise when it starts, which the Jubilee line does. Fancy.

Like the Jubilee, it used to have a dead man’s handle, but now the trains are driven with ‘TBTC’, meaning transmissions-based train control. I don’t understand this, so don’t ask me, but it basically means it mostly drives itself.

Piccadilly line

Looks like a Northern line, but isn't. A Piccadilly line train. Image: Chris McKenna.

You’re still reading this. Why?

Anyway. The Piccadilly line trains – the 1973 stock – are really old, but surprisingly less horrible than the Bakerloo line.

Cleverly, the trains were specifically designed with larger door space, to cope with all those annoying people who use the tube to lug three thousand kilograms back from Heathrow, and each train has six carriages.

The main reason why these trains are less awful than the Bakerloo is that they were totally refurbished between 1996 and 2001.

The facing seats were ripped out and replaced entirely by seats along the sides of the carriage, and the original wooden (wooden!) floor was replaced. Evil awful straphangers – those dangly things that let you truly feel how recently the previous passenger scratched an unwashed part of their body – were replaced with slightly less heinous rails, and brighter lighting was put in.

They also added those fun perch seats on the ends of the carriages that you can sit on and let your legs dangle if you’re a child like me.

Enjoyably, the driver can choose to run the train in ‘commuter’ or ‘tourist’ mode. In ‘tourist’ mode, the train tells you helpful things, like ‘alight here for the museums and Royal Albert Hall’, whereas in commuter mode it just has morning breath and tries to pretend it wasn’t the one who just let off that woofter. Only one of those is true.

New trains are coming here very early, in 2025. Get excited.

Victoria line

A majestic 2009 stock train. Author definitely not biased. Image: Alex Nevin Tylee.

If you’re still here, you’re in for a treat – and you probably also need to seek help. Get a hobby. I hear golf is cool.

The 2009 stock is the most beautiful of all the tube’s offerings. Light, bright, spacious, fast, and with surprisingly competent air-conditioning, the new trains came with an 8 per cent reduction in journey times between stations, leading to a 16 per cent overall drop in journey times.

The 2009 stock has a higher top speed than the 1967 trains it replaced, a faster maximum acceleration, and is just generally amazing and good in every way.

Two fun things: part of the reason the Victoria line trains feel more spacious than other deep lines is they have a thinner casing, and – I got this one direct from the horse’s mouth, one of the stock’s designers – the handrails are laid out in such a way that they subconsciously lead you further into the carriage as soon as you step on board.

The Victoria line also has commuter and tourist modes, and its trains mostly operated automatically.

Sadly, however, two trains broke down in July 2010 due to failures in the system’s software, and very sensitive door sensors, which was bad. The line’s engineers are now working to build a new door edge, which should be installed across the network when it’s finished at an estimated cost of £3m.

Or you could all just actually stand clear of the doors and not try and leap on trains that clearly don’t have space for you. But whatever.

Don’t even ask me about the DLR and the Overground, this is already far too long.

But yeah. Trains, right? Cool. 

Jack May is a regular contributor to CityMetric and tweets as @JackO_May.

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To build its emerging “megaregions”, the USA should turn to trains

Under construction: high speed rail in California. Image: Getty.

An extract from “Designing the Megaregion: Meeting Urban Challenges at a New Scale”, out now from Island Press.

A regional transportation system does not become balanced until all its parts are operating effectively. Highways, arterial streets, and local streets are essential, and every megaregion has them, although there is often a big backlog of needed repairs, especially for bridges. Airports for long-distance travel are also recognized as essential, and there are major airports in all the evolving megaregions. Both highways and airports are overloaded at peak periods in the megaregions because of gaps in the rest of the transportation system. Predictions for 2040, when the megaregions will be far more developed than they are today, show that there will be much worse traffic congestion and more airport delays.

What is needed to create a better balance? Passenger rail service that is fast enough to be competitive with driving and with some short airplane trips, commuter rail to major employment centers to take some travelers off highways, and improved local transit systems, especially those that make use of exclusive transit rights-of-way, again to reduce the number of cars on highways and arterial roads. Bicycle paths, sidewalks, and pedestrian paths are also important for reducing car trips in neighborhoods and business centers.

Implementing “fast enough” passenger rail

Long-distance Amtrak trains and commuter rail on conventional, unelectrified tracks are powered by diesel locomotives that can attain a maximum permitted speed of 79 miles per hour, which works out to average operating speeds of 30 to 50 miles per hour. At these speeds, trains are not competitive with driving or even short airline flights.

Trains that can attain 110 miles per hour and can operate at average speeds of 70 miles per hour are fast enough to help balance transportation in megaregions. A trip that takes two to three hours by rail can be competitive with a one-hour flight because of the need to allow an hour and a half or more to get to the boarding area through security, plus the time needed to pick up checked baggage. A two-to-three-hour train trip can be competitive with driving when the distance between destinations is more than two hundred miles – particularly for business travelers who want to sit and work on the train. Of course, the trains also have to be frequent enough, and the traveler’s destination needs to be easily reachable from a train station.

An important factor in reaching higher railway speeds is the recent federal law requiring all trains to have a positive train control safety system, where automated devices manage train separation to avoid collisions, as well as to prevent excessive speeds and deal with track repairs and other temporary situations. What are called high-speed trains in the United States, averaging 70 miles per hour, need gate controls at grade crossings, upgraded tracks, and trains with tilt technology – as on the Acela trains – to permit faster speeds around curves. The Virgin Trains in Florida have diesel-electric locomotives with an electrical generator on board that drives the train but is powered by a diesel engine. 

The faster the train needs to operate, the larger, and heavier, these diesel-electric locomotives have to be, setting an effective speed limit on this technology. The faster speeds possible on the portion of Amtrak’s Acela service north of New Haven, Connecticut, came after the entire line was electrified, as engines that get their power from lines along the track can be smaller and much lighter, and thus go faster. Catenary or third-rail electric trains, like Amtrak’s Acela, can attain speeds of 150 miles per hour, but only a few portions of the tracks now permit this, and average operating speeds are much lower.

Possible alternatives to fast enough trains

True electric high-speed rail can attain maximum operating speeds of 150 to 220 miles per hour, with average operating speeds from 120 to 200 miles per hour. These trains need their own grade-separated track structure, which means new alignments, which are expensive to build. In some places the property-acquisition problem may make a new alignment impossible, unless tunnels are used. True high speeds may be attained by the proposed Texas Central train from Dallas to Houston, and on some portions of the California High-Speed Rail line, should it ever be completed. All of the California line is to be electrified, but some sections will be conventional tracks so that average operating speeds will be lower.


Maglev technology is sometimes mentioned as the ultimate solution to attaining high-speed rail travel. A maglev train travels just above a guideway using magnetic levitation and is propelled by electromagnetic energy. There is an operating maglev train connecting the center of Shanghai to its Pudong International Airport. It can reach a top speed of 267 miles per hour, although its average speed is much lower, as the distance is short and most of the trip is spent getting up to speed or decelerating. The Chinese government has not, so far, used this technology in any other application while building a national system of long-distance, high-speed electric trains. However, there has been a recent announcement of a proposed Chinese maglev train that can attain speeds of 375 miles per hour.

The Hyperloop is a proposed technology that would, in theory, permit passenger trains to travel through large tubes from which all air has been evacuated, and would be even faster than today’s highest-speed trains. Elon Musk has formed a company to develop this virtually frictionless mode of travel, which would have speeds to make it competitive with medium- and even long-distance airplane travel. However, the Hyperloop technology is not yet ready to be applied to real travel situations, and the infrastructure to support it, whether an elevated system or a tunnel, will have all the problems of building conventional high-speed rail on separate guideways, and will also be even more expensive, as a tube has to be constructed as well as the train.

Megaregions need fast enough trains now

Even if new technology someday creates long-distance passenger trains with travel times competitive with airplanes, passenger traffic will still benefit from upgrading rail service to fast-enough trains for many of the trips within a megaregion, now and in the future. States already have the responsibility of financing passenger trains in megaregion rail corridors. Section 209 of the federal Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 requires states to pay 85 percent of operating costs for all Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles (the legislation exempts the Northeast Corridor) as well as capital maintenance costs of the Amtrak equipment they use, plus support costs for such programs as safety and marketing. 

California’s Caltrans and Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority, Connecticut, Indiana, Illinois, Maine’s Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin all have agreements with Amtrak to operate their state corridor services. Amtrak has agreements with the freight railroads that own the tracks, and by law, its operations have priority over freight trains.

At present it appears that upgrading these corridor services to fast-enough trains will also be primarily the responsibility of the states, although they may be able to receive federal grants and loans. The track improvements being financed by the State of Michigan are an example of the way a state can take control over rail service. These tracks will eventually be part of 110-mile-per-hour service between Chicago and Detroit, with commitments from not just Michigan but also Illinois and Indiana. Fast-enough service between Chicago and Detroit could become a major organizer in an evolving megaregion, with stops at key cities along the way, including Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, and Ann Arbor. 

Cooperation among states for faster train service requires formal agreements, in this case, the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact. The participants are Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. There is also an advocacy organization to support the objectives of the compact, the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission.

States could, in future, reach operating agreements with a private company such as Virgin Trains USA, but the private company would have to negotiate its own agreement with the freight railroads, and also negotiate its own dispatching priorities. Virgin Trains says in its prospectus that it can finance track improvements itself. If the Virgin Trains service in Florida proves to be profitable, it could lead to other private investments in fast-enough trains.

Jonathan Barnett is an emeritus Professor of Practice in City and Regional Planning, and former director of the Urban Design Program, at the University of Pennsylvania. 

This is an extract from “Designing the Megaregion: Meeting Urban Challenges at a New Scale”, published now by Island Press. You can find out more here.