Where do subway trains go when they retire?

Ex-London Underground trains awaiting a fairly prosaic fate at a scrapyard in Rotherham. Image: Wikimedia Commons/Ben Elias

What happens to subway trains when they’re no longer useful? Mummy and daddy may have told you that there's a lovely farm in Wales where London Underground and Paris Metro trains frolic together in the fields, but the sad truth is that most of them end up as scrap.

Most of them: but not all. Some find a second life, a working retirement, doing any number of exciting things.

As school libraries

Two old LU District Line carriages have found a dignified retirement as school libraries – ironically, nowhere near the District Line. In south-east London, Coopers Lane School, Lewisham and Plumcroft Primary School, Greenwich each have an unusual new library, complete with faux-platforms. More fun than a portakabin classroom, at any rate.

Plumstead Primary's train, which caused the photographer some amount of confusion when encountered unexpectedly in 2014. Image: Ed Jefferson.

As radio stations

Well, at least one: Great Ormond Street’s hospital radio station, part of the Radio Lollipop network, transmits from a converted ex-Jubilee Line carriage in the courtyard.

As artificial homes for sealife

Thousands of New York subway cars have ended their lives by being dumped into the Atlantic Ocean. This isn’t as irresponsible as it sounds – it is, in fact, a pro-environmental measure to provide surfaces on which algae and barnacles can grow, so a whole ecosystem can spring up around them. The first of these artificial reefs appeared in Delaware in 2001 and was so successful that there is now apparently fierce competition between states to get their hands on the old carriages as they become available.

This train terminates here. Image: South Carolina Department of Natural Resources.

As art studios

Hard to miss if you're passing: Village Underground, a creative community near East London’s Old Street, because it’s the only building with four Jubilee Line carriages on the roof.

Image: Geograph/Robert Lamb.

The site's a double whammy for transport nerds since the trains sit on the part of the complex that was once the Broad Street Rail Viaduct, Broad Street station having closed in 1986 because no-one other than Paul McCartney was using it.

As a restaurant

If you’ve ever wanted to eat a proper meal in an old Victoria Line carriage, well, you can! The Basement Galley offers supper and brunch options in 1960s tube stock permanently parked at Walthamstow Pumphouse Museum. At least it will be less annoying for everyone else than when those students had a dinner party on the Jubilee Line.

At least this was long enough ago that booze was legal. Image: JonAngelo Molinari/YouTube.

And, well, as trains

London Underground rolling stock has, on occasion, been given a working retirement”: some old LU carriages are now used on the Isle of Wight’s 8.5 mile long railway line between Ryde and Shanklin. The trains, built in 1938, are now the oldest stock in regular service in the UK.

A London Underground train, cunningly disguised as a British Rail train, in 1989. Image: Wikimedia Commons/Keith Edkins.

Two carriages have been put to work on an even smaller scale: the tiny 2-mile long volunteer-run railway on the channel island of Alderney makes use of 1959 LU stock. And you thought Morden was as far south at the underground gets!


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Tatton MP Esther McVey thinks Leeds is south of Birmingham for some reason

Great hair, though: Esther McVey. Image: Getty.

Earlier this morning, while everyone was focused on the implosion of the Labour party, former work and pensions secretary Esther McVey decided it was the perfect moment to promote her campaign against High Speed 2.

A quick reminder of the route of the proposed high speed rail link. Phase One will run from London to Birmingham. Should Phase Two ever go ahead, it will split just beyond Birmingham to create a y-shaped network, with one arm running to Manchester and the other to Leeds.

The map McVey tweeted this morning suggests that she doesn't know this. But that is, at worst, the seventh worst thing about the map, because, look:

Let’s look at that a big more closely:

Yep. How many things are wrong with it? Let’s count.

1) Manchester is not east of Leeds;

2) Leeds is not south of Birmingham;


3) Both Manchester and Leeds are further from London than Birmingham, rather than, as this map suggests, closer;

4) To get from London to Manchester you kind of have to pass Birmingham, Esther;

5) There is no railway line that runs from London to Leeds to Birmingham because that would be a really stupid way round, what with Leeds being quite a long way north of Birmingham;

6) Should the government decide to boost the north by scrapping Hs2 and improving east-west lines instead, those improved east-west lines will not cross the proposed route of HS2 Phase One because they are quite a long way to the north of it.

Okay I'm going to stop there and get back to staring at the flaming bin fire that we loving call the Labour party. But for the record, Esther: I'm not taking advice on transport policy from anyone who doesn't know where Leeds is.

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

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