TfL rail and the Overground are getting new trains – so here's our guide to all of TfL's other rolling stock

These are not the new trains. These are the Overground trains already running on most of the network's branches. Image: Sunil060902

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.

B07 stock

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.

Bombardier CR4000

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.

Variobahn

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.

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

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A new wave of remote workers could bring lasting change to pricey rental markets

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus. (Valery Hache/AFP via Getty Images)

When the coronavirus spread around the world this spring, government-issued stay-at-home orders essentially forced a global social experiment on remote work.

Perhaps not surprisingly, people who are able to work from home generally like doing so. A recent survey from iOmetrics and Global Workplace Analytics on the work-from-home experience found that 68% of the 2,865 responses said they were “very successful working from home”, 76% want to continue working from home at least one day a week, and 16% don’t want to return to the office at all.

It’s not just employees who’ve gained this appreciation for remote work – several companies are acknowledging benefits from it as well. On 11 June, the workplace chat company Slack joined the growing number of companies that will allow employees to work from home even after the pandemic. “Most employees will have the option to work remotely on a permanent basis if they choose,” Slack said in a public statement, “and we will begin to increasingly hire employees who are permanently remote.”

This type of declaration has been echoing through workspaces since Twitter made its announcement on 12 May, particularly in the tech sector. Since then, companies including Coinbase, Square, Shopify, and Upwork have taken the same steps.


Remote work is much more accessible to white and higher-wage workers in tech, finance, and business services sectors, according to the Economic Policy Institute, and the concentration of these jobs in some major cities has contributed to ballooning housing costs in those markets. Much of the workforce that can work remotely is also more able to afford moving than those on lower incomes working in the hospitality or retail sectors. If they choose not to report back to HQ in San Francisco or New York City, for example, that could potentially have an effect on the white-hot rental and real estate markets in those and other cities.

Data from Zumper, an online apartment rental platform, suggests that some of the priciest rental markets in the US have already started to soften. In June, rent prices for San Francisco’s one- and two-bedroom apartments dropped more than 9% compared to one year before, according to the company’s monthly rent report. The figures were similar in nearby Silicon Valley hotspots of San Jose, Mountain View, Palo Alto.

Six of the 10 highest-rent cities in the US posted year-over-year declines, including New York City, Los Angeles, and Seattle. At the same time, rents increased in some cheaper cities that aren’t far from expensive ones: “In our top markets, while Boston and San Francisco rents were on the decline, Providence and Sacramento prices were both up around 5% last month,” Zumper reports.

In San Francisco, some property owners have begun offering a month or more of free rent to attract new tenants, KQED reports, and an April survey from the San Francisco Apartment Association showed 16% of rental housing providers had residents break a lease or unexpectedly give a 30-day notice to vacate.

It’s still too early to say how much of this movement can be attributed to remote work, layoffs or pay cuts, but some who see this time as an opportunity to move are taking it.

Jay Streets, who owns a two-unit house in San Francisco, says he recently had tenants give notice and move to Kentucky this spring.

“He worked for Google, she worked for another tech company,” Streets says. “When Covid happened, they were on vacation in Palm Springs and they didn’t come back.”

The couple kept the lease on their $4,500 two-bedroom apartment until Google announced its employees would be working from home for the rest of the year, at which point they officially moved out. “They couldn’t justify paying rent on an apartment they didn’t need,” Streets says.

When he re-listed the apartment in May for the same price, the requests poured in. “Overwhelmingly, everyone that came to look at it were all in the situation where they were now working from home,” he says. “They were all in one-bedrooms and they all wanted an extra bedroom because they were all working from home.”

In early June, Yessika Patapoff and her husband moved from San Francisco’s Lower Haight neighbourhood to Tiburon, a charming town north of the city. Patapoff is an attorney who’s been unemployed since before Covid-19 hit, and her husband is working from home. She says her husband’s employer has been flexible about working from home, but it is not currently a permanent situation. While they’re paying a similar price for housing, they now have more space, and no plans to move back.

“My husband and I were already growing tired of the city before Covid,” Patapoff says.

Similar stories emerged in the UK, where real estate markets almost completely stopped for 50 days during lockdown, causing a rush of demand when it reopened. “Enquiry activity has been extraordinary,” Damian Gray, head of Knight Frank’s Oxford office told World Property Journal. “I've never been contacted by so many people that want to live outside London."

Several estate agencies in London have reported a rush for properties since the market opened back up, particularly for more spacious properties with outdoor space. However, Mansion Global noted this is likely due to pent up demand from 50 days of almost complete real estate shutdown, so it’s hard to tell whether that trend will continue.

There’s a wide world of speculation about the long-lasting changes to real estate caused by the coronavirus, but many industry experts say there will indeed be change.

In May, The New York Times reported that three of New York City’s largest commercial tenants — Barclays, JP Morgan Chase and Morgan Stanley — have hinted that many of their employees likely won’t be returning to the office at the level they were pre-Covid.

Until workers are able to safely return to offices, it’s impossible to tell exactly how much office space will stay vacant post-pandemic. On one hand, businesses could require more space to account for physical distancing; on the other hand, they could embrace remote working permanently, or find some middle ground that brings fewer people into the office on a daily basis.

“It’s tough to say anything to the office market because most people are not back working in their office yet,” says Robert Knakal, chairman of JLL Capital Markets. “There will be changes in the office market and there will likely be changes in the residential market as well in terms of how buildings are maintained, constructed, [and] designed.”

Those who do return to the office may find a reversal of recent design trends that favoured open, airy layouts with desks clustered tightly together. “The space per employee likely to go up would counterbalance the folks who are no longer coming into the office,” Knakal says.

There has been some discussion of using newly vacant office space for residential needs, and while that’s appealing to housing advocates in cities that sorely need more housing, Bill Rudin, CEO of Rudin Management Company, recently told Spectrum News that the conversion process may be too difficult to be practical.

"I don’t know the amount of buildings out there that could be adapted," he said. "It’s very complicated and expensive.

While there’s been tumult in San Francisco’s rental scene, housing developers appear to still be moving forward with their plans, says Dan Sider, director of executive programs at the SF Planning Department.

“Despite the doom and gloom that we all read about daily, our office continues to see interest from the development community – particularly larger, more established developers – in both moving ahead with existing applications and in submitting new applications for large projects,” he says.

How demand for those projects might change and what it might do to improve affordable housing is still unknown, though “demand will recover,” Sider predicts.

Johanna Flashman is a freelance writer based in Oakland, California.