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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Coming soon: CityMetric will relaunch as City Monitor, a new publication dedicated to the future of cities

Coming soon!

Later this month, CityMetric will be relaunching with an entirely new look and identity, as well as an expanded editorial mission. We’ll become City Monitor, a name that reflects both a ramping up of our ambitions as well as our membership in a network of like-minded publications coming soon from New Statesman Media Group. We can’t wait to share the new website with you, but in the meantime, here’s what CityMetric readers should know about what to expect from this exciting transition.  

Regular CityMetric readers may have already noticed a few changes around here since the spring. CityMetric’s beloved founding editor, Jonn Elledge, has moved on to some new adventures, and a new team has formed to take the site into the future. It’s led by yours truly – I’m Sommer Mathis, the editor-in-chief of City Monitor. Hello!

My background includes having served as the founding editor of CityLab, editor-in-chief of Atlas Obscura, and editor-in-chief of DCist, a local news publication in the District of Columbia. I’ve been reporting on and writing about cities in one way or another for the past 15 years. To me, there is no more important story in the world right now than how cities are changing and adapting to an increasingly challenging global landscape. The majority of the world’s population lives in cities, and if we’re ever going to be able to tackle the most pressing issues currently facing our planet – the climate emergency, rising inequality, the Covid-19 pandemic ­­­– cities are going to have to lead the way.

That’s why City Monitor is going to be a global publication dedicated to the future of cities everywhere – not just in the UK (nor for that matter just in the US, where I live). Our mission will be to help our readers, many of whom are in leadership positions around the globe, navigate how cities are changing and discover what’s next in the world of urban policy. We’ll do that through original reporting, expert opinion and most crucially, a data-driven approach that emphasises evidence and rigorous analysis. We want to arm local decision-makers and those they work in concert with – whether that’s elected officials, bureaucratic leaders, policy advocates, neighbourhood activists, academics and researchers, entrepreneurs, or plain-old engaged citizens – with real insights and potential answers to tough problems. Subjects we’ll cover include transportation, infrastructure, housing, urban design, public safety, the environment, the economy, and much more.

The City Monitor team is made up of some of the most experienced urban policy journalists in the world. Our managing editor is Adam Sneed, also a CityLab alum where he served as a senior associate editor. Before that he was a technology reporter at Politico. Allison Arieff is City Monitor’s senior editor. She was previously editorial director of the urban planning and policy think tank SPUR, as well as a contributing columnist for The New York Times. Staff writer Jake Blumgart most recently covered development, housing, and politics for WHYY, the local public radio station in Philadelphia. And our data reporter is Alexandra Kanik, whose previous roles include data reporting for Louisville Public Media in Kentucky and PublicSource in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Our team will continue to grow in the coming weeks, and we’ll also be collaborating closely with our editorial colleagues across New Statesman Media Group. In fact, we’re launching a whole network of new publications this fall, covering topics such as the clean energy transition, foreign direct investment, technology, banks and more. Many of these sectors will frequently overlap with our cities coverage, and a key part of our plan is make the most of the expertise that all of these newsrooms combined will bring to bear on our journalism.

City Monitor will go live later this month. In the meantime, please visit citymonitor.ai to sign up for our forthcoming email newsletter.


As for CityMetric, some of its archives have already been moved over to the new website, and the rest will follow not long after. If you’re looking for a favourite piece from CityMetric’s past, for a time you’ll still be able to find it here, but before long the whole archive will move over to City Monitor.

On behalf of the City Monitor team, I’m thrilled to invite you to come along for the ride at our forthcoming digs. You can already follow City Monitor on LinkedIn, and on Twitter, sign up or keep following our existing account, which will switch over to our new name shortly. If you’re interested in learning more about the potential for a commercial partnership with City Monitor, please get in touch with our director of partnerships, Joe Maughan.

I want to thank and congratulate Jonn Elledge on a brilliant run. Everything we do from here on out will be building on the legacy of his work, and the community that he built here at CityMetric. Cheers, Jonn!

In the meantime, stay tuned, and thank you from all of us for being a loyal CityMetric reader. We couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Sommer Mathis is editor-in-chief of City Monitor.