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.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.


Why doesn’t London build an RER network, like Paris did?

A commuter walking by a map of the RER B line at the Chatelet-Les Halles station in Paris. Image: Getty.

I’ve heard many people make many different complaints about the Parisian transport system. That it does a bad job of linking a rich, white city with its poorer, more diverse suburbs. That, even as subway systems go, it’s a hostile environment for women. That the whole thing smells distractingly of urine.

I’m familiar with all of these complaints – I’ve often smelt the urine. And I’m aware that, in many ways, London’s is the superior transport network.

And yet I can’t help be jealous of Paris – In large part, because of the RER.

Central Paris. The Metro lines are thinner, and in pastel shades; the RER lines are thicker, and in brighter colours. Image: RATP.

Paris, you see, has not one but two underground railway systems. The more famous one is the original Paris Metro, opened in 1900: that’s the one with those fancy green portals with the word “metropolitain” written above them in a vaguely kooky font.

The Metro, though, mostly serves Paris Intra-muros: the official city, inside the Boulevard Périphérique ring road, site of the city’s last set of walls. As a result, it’s of very little use in most of the city’s suburbs. Its stations are very close together, which places a limit on how fast its trains can cross town. It was also, by the mid 20th century, becoming annoyingly overcrowded.

So starting in the 1960s, the city transport authorities began planning a second underground railway network. The Réseau Express Régional – Regional Express Network – would link suburban lines on either side of Paris, through new heavy rail tunnels beneath the city. Its stations would be much further apart than those of the metro – roughly one every 3km, rather than every 600m – so its trains can run faster.

And fifty years and five lines later, it means that 224 stations in the suburbs of Paris are served by trains which, rather than terminating on the edge of the city, now continue directly through tunnels to its centre.

The RER network today. Image: RATP.

London is, belatedly, doing something similar. The Elizabeth Line, due to open in stages from later this year, will offer express-tube style services linking the suburban lines which run west from Paddington to those which run east from Liverpool Street. And Thameslink has offered cross-town services for 30 years now (albeit not at tube-level frequencies). That, too, is going to add more routes to its network over the next few years, meaning direct trains from the southern suburbs to north London and vice versa.

Yet the vast majority of suburban National Rail services in London still terminate at big mainline stations, most of which are on the edge of the centre. For many journeys, especially from the south of the city, you still need to change to the London Underground.

So, could London ape Paris – and make Thameslink and Crossrail the first element of its own RER network?

In a limited way, of course, it’s doing just that. The next big project after Crossrail is likely to be (original name, this) Crossrail 2. If that gets funding, it’ll be a new south-west to north-east route, connecting some of the suburban lines into Waterloo to those in the Lea Valley.

The proposed route of Crossrail 2. Click to expand.

But it’s not immediately obvious where you could go next – what Crossails 3, 4 or 5 should cover.

That’s because there’s an imbalance in the distribution of the remaining mainline rail services in London. Anyone who’s even remotely familiar with the geography of the city will know that there are far more tube lines to its north. But the corollary of that is that there are far more mainlines to the south.

To usefully absorb some of those, Crossrail 3 would probably need to run south to south in some way. There is actually an obvious way of doing this: build a new tunnel from roughly Battersea to roughly Bermondsey, and take over the Richmond lines in the west and North Kent lines in the east, as a sort of London equivalent of RER C:

Our suggestion for Crossrail 3. Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

But that still leaves a whole load of lines in south and south east London with nowhere to send them beyond their current terminal stations.

In fact, there are reasons for thinking that the whole RER concept doesn’t really fit the British capital. It was designed, remember, for a city in which the Metro only served the centre (roughly equivalent of London’s zones 1 & 2).

But London Underground wasn’t like that. From very early in its history, it served outer London too: it was not just a way of getting people around the centre, but for getting them there from their suburban homes too.

This is turn is at least in part a function of the economic geography of the two cities. Rich Parisians have generally wanted to live in the centre, pushing poorer people out to the banlieues. In London, though, the suburbs were where the good life was to be found.

To that end, the original operators of some lines weren’t just railway companies, but housing developers, too. The Metropolitan Railway effectively built large chunks of north west London (“Metroland”), partly to guarantee the market for its trains, but partly too because, well, housing is profitable.

In other parts of town, existing main line railways were simply added to the new underground lines. The Central line swallowed routes originally built by the Great Western Railway and London & North Eastern Railway. The District line absorbed part of the London, Tilbury & Southend Railway.

At any rate: the Tube was playing the same role as the RER as early as the 1930s. London could still benefit from some RER-type services, so hopefully the Elizbaeth Line won’t be the last. But it doesn’t need an entire second metro network in the way 1960s Paris did.

There is another idea we could more profitably steal from Paris. Those suburban railways which aren’t connected to the RER are still run by the national rail operator, SNCF. But it uses the Transilien brand name, to mark them out as a part of the Parisian transport network, and – as with the RER – each route has its own letter and its own colour.

The Transilien & RER networks in Paris. Image: Maximilian Dörrbecker/Wikimedia Commons.

This would not have the transformative effect on London that building another half a dozen Crossrails would. But it would make the network much easier to navigate, and would be almost infinitely cheaper. Perhaps we should be starting there.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook