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Upgrade Plans

Proposals for the Upgrade of the Sub-surface Lines


I am sure that many of you will be aware that there has in the recent past been a major restructuring of London Underground recently under the much-heralded 'Public Private Partnership' (PPP).

I do not think there is anyone who uses London Underground who would not agree that the system is in need of major financial investment – many of the trains are in need of replacement, signalling systems are outdated and tracks require major renewal.

Much has been written about this and can be found on the web, so I am not going to comment further, other than to say that, in its simplest terms, the idea is that the infrastructure and assets of London Underground have been leased off to private consortia for the next thirty years. It is the responsibility of these consortia to upgrade and renew these assets and provide the means to an improved service to the travelling public. 

The 'operational' side of London Underground – and this effectively means those of us who are actually involved in the 'provision' of the service – remains in public ownership.

This is really putting the situation at its simplest, and if you are not aware of more details I would urge you to do some research on the topic! 'Tubeprune' has an excellent section on the topic, with links to further reading read more about it here. There is a wide divergence of opinion as to the rights and wrongs of PPP, but it is now in place and a reality and what follows is an overview of the plans as they affect the Sub-surface lines.

But even though the money is now available, there can be no magic fix – building a whole new railway is in itself a massive undertaking, but renewing one whilst keeping it running (as far as possible) at the same time is even more complex.  There can be no overnight quick fix, and what I want to try to convey here is the complexity of the whole programme, the timescales that will be involved and what will hopefully be the outcome at the end of it all.

Many of the details that follow in this article are drawn from a document that outlines London Underground's 'vision' for the Sub-surface Lines.  I've used this as the basis of this article, but tried to explain areas which, in the main document, make a number of assumptions and expand into more detail than is, in my opinion, relevant here whilst at the same time trying to avoid internal jargon and 'corporate speak'. So this is not simply a copy of the document, but my prιcis, with my own comments and expansions added, as I have felt appropriate in its preparation. Similarly I have not reproduced many of the statistics or any of the graphical commentaries as these are going into too much of the minutiae of the matter. Some of the matters addressed are also my own interpretation of the content of the document.

Sub-surface Lines

So that you can appreciate correctly the parts of London Underground that are being discussed here I'll define what makes up the 'Sub-surface Lines'. 

They are comprised of the Metropolitan, District, Hammersmith & City and Circle Lines – in essence all the lines that do not run through 'deep tube' tunnels and who operate (currently) the A, C and D Stock trains.

The observant amongst you may notice that there is no mention of the East London Line. The ELL is not included within the scope of the review, I assume because it is currently the subject of a whole programme of renewal and extension and although, clearly, a Sub-surface line falls outside the scope of this programme.

Programme for Peak Service Change

It is generally considered that the service provision on the Subsurface railway (SSR) will change more than on any other line on London Underground as a result of PPP. It is intended that service frequencies will improve and the services will also change from that offered at the present time – probably the most radical change will be that the Circle Line will, effectively, disappear!

The following will outline the phases of the upgrade.

The Situation Today

As I mentioned above, the SSR is made up of four services, but to put more detail on this the following makes up the total service during the 'peaks':

  • The Metropolitan Line utilises 44 A stock trains each having a total capacity of 1,048
  • The District Line utilises 67 D Stock trains each having a capacity of 968 plus 10 C Stock trains each having a capacity of 1,014
  • The Hammersmith & City line utilises 15 C Stock trains
  • The Circle Line utilises 14 C Stock trains

These provide a total of 150 trains in service in the central area of London providing 28 trains per hour (tph). The total daily kilometrage approaches 62,000 km.

The Proposals to be implemented by 2011

Signalling Improvements and Changes to Routes

Through improvements to signalling systems (though not replacement at this stage), many of which are aimed at relieving various locations and areas that, at the moment, cause delays to services, it is intended that the peak services will be increased to 30 tph from the existing 28 tph.

It is also intended that the Circle and Hammersmith & City Line services will have been replaced by what is being called a 'T Cup' service.  These will run from Hammersmith to Edgware Road via Tower Hill – that is they will start at Hammersmith, go via Edgware Road and Liverpool Street round what is currently known as the 'Outer Rail' and then, on arrival back at Edgware Road, it appears that the idea is that the trains will reverse and follow the same path back to Hammersmith. The intention is to create a recovery period (i.e. a layover point) in the trip, which the Circle line does not currently have and which causes many of its problems.  At the present time trains operating the Circle Line simply go 'round and round', so once running late there is nowhere that lost time can be caught up, unless the controller decides to 'reform ' (renumber) all the trains, thus putting them back on time.

The Hammersmith & City line service between Liverpool Street and Barking will, therefore, no longer exist. It is intended to replace this by extending the Metropolitan Line services beyond Aldgate to Barking.

New Trains

By this time delivery will have commenced of a new fleet of trains for the whole of the SSR. The plan is for the A Stock to be replaced first, by this time the D Stock fleet will have been refurbished to extend their service life and to improve the 'ambience' of the type.

It is intended that there will be a 'uniform' stock for all the SSR lines that will offer improved top speed and comfort. It is anticipated that the new stock will also be equipped with Automatic Train Operation (ATO) and Automatic Train Protection (ATP) equipment, although signalling systems will need to be replaced before these capabilities can be used. The provision of air-conditioning is also a possibility.

There are two major factors that will need to be taken into account as far as the new trains are concerned:

  • The present the length of the trains made up of the three stocks varies considerably.  The A Stock is comprised of 8 cars, each of approximately 50ft in length. The C Stock trains are made up of 6 cars, each of approximately 50ft and the D Stock trains comprise 6 cars, each approximately 60ft in length.
  • The seating configuration of each of the three stocks also differs greatly – the A Stock has a relatively high number of seats, the C Stock relatively few. The D Stock falls between the two.

It is intended that the first of these factors will be overcome by the following means:

  • The trains will have car lengths of 50ft (approx).
  • Trains for the Metropolitan Line will be made up of 8 cars, as at present.
  • The trains for the 'T Cup' service will be made up of 6 cars – again as at present.
  • The D Stock (when it is finally replaced) will be made up of 7 cars, which will roughly equate to the existing trains.

How the second factor is to be addressed though is less clear. Whether there will be a standard interior layout irrespective of the route on which the train is being operated or perhaps there could be an airliner-style facility to reconfigure the interiors according to the route operated by being able to slot in or out seating as deemed appropriate for the route.  Personally I think this is unlikely, the plans to date seem to suggest a compromise seating arrangement. I am sure this will become clearer once the plans for the trains are more advanced.

One matter that is clear though is that each car will have three sets of double doors – a major problem with the D Stock is the single leaf door configuration which are slow to open and close and which result in extended 'dwell times' at stations.

At this point the total number of trains in service will have risen to 173 and – as implied above – will be a mix of the old and new fleets. The projection is that the District line will require two more trains, the new 'T Cup' service a further five and the Metropolitan Line a further sixteen to allow for the extended service to Barking.

The Proposals to be implemented by 2014

By this time it is anticipated that further improvements will have allowed a further increase in the number of trains operating between Uxbridge and Barking by 4tph. This should result in a train frequency on what is today the north part of the Circle Line to 34tph.

By the end of this phase the A and C Stocks will have been withdrawn from service. It is also expected that the ATO and ATP will be able to be utilised over the parts of the lines solely operated by the new trains.

The total number of trains in service is envisaged to be 180, and only the new trains would operate on the Northern parts of the lines.  This should allow improved running times that should then reduce the number of trains required to be in service by about ten.

At this point, and as implied by the introduction of ATO/ATP, new signalling systems will have been installed and become operational.  It is intended that a new Service Control Centre to be located at Neasden will by now be operational, at least for the Northern services.  Ultimately this centre will be the control point for all the SSR lines, meaning that Earls Court, Baker Street and all the existing small signal cabins will be decommissioned.

The Proposals to be implemented by 2017

The introduction of the final part of the plan will allow an increase of about 4tph between Wimbledon and Barking, increasing the South Circle capacity to 34tph to match that on the Northern Circle. It also increases the service from the city to Barking to 34tph, which is an increase of 10tph over the situation today.

The control and signalling systems, the track and fleet will by now have all been upgraded.  All sections will now be controlled from Neasden and all trains running under ATO/ATP.

Total trains in service will now be in the region of 180, all of the new stock.  District Line Services will require all the increase in the number of trains.


At this point I'll briefly summarise what all this has brought about, in terms of trains in service and the kilometrage achieved.  Today the SSR has 150 trains in service, covering 62,000km each day.  At the end of all this there will be 180 trains in service, a 20% increase, covering a total of 73,700km each day, an increase of 18.9%.


So, those are the plans as to what the SSR services will look like at the end of the programme, but there are some pretty radical changes proposed. The next matter to consider is how these changes are going to take place – how will they be introduced?


Implementation Plan

Although I have only summarised the impact at the start and finish of the plans, there are of course intermediate targets as to how the service will look at the end of each of the phases described above.

These could be implemented using speed and capacity improvements, rather than train frequency.

But, whatever means is ultimately decided upon, LU will have to introduce the changes to the service to take best advantage of the improvements as they become available. Leaving the changes until all the new rolling stock, track improvements and signalling systems could, of course, be an option but if this were to be done it is probable that the service would be jeopardised – a gradual introduction means that each phase could be implemented, tested and proved and the inevitable bugs ironed out progressively.

As can be seen the most radical change will be that proposed at the first stage – the changes in the services on the Circle and Hammersmith & City Lines and more trains running to Barking.

So, a plan is in place to introduce these changes over the whole life of the programme.

Step 1 – approximately 2009

The first step will be the introduction of the 'T Cup' service as described above. At this point – other than extending the current Plaistow 'reversers' on the Hammersmith & City Line to Barking – the focus can be maintained on this major and radical change.

It is considered that the most significant benefit to passengers will be the 100% increase in the service to Hammersmith, and it is believed that the layover options for the Circle Line replacement will help to reduce passenger journey times significantly.

But this service, which currently relies on the C Stock fleet, can only be introduced when the new train stock starts coming 'on stream' – there are no spare C Stock trains available for this to be introduced earlier than this. It would also mean that the new trains could be introduced into service without a reduction in the utilisation of the existing fleet at this stage.  It would see the introduction of an additional 2,000kms each day over the current situation.

Step 2 – approximately 2010

By this time it is expected that the service 'cycle' would have been reduced from 8.5 minutes to 8 minutes, thus offering improved services to all destinations. The number of Trains per Hour would have increased from 28 to 30 in the central area.

To expand a little on the expression 'service cycle', I will use a small example.  At the present time the westbound/outer rail service between Tower Hill and Gloucester Road is intended to follow the following pattern of final destinations: Richmond, Circle, Ealing Broadway, Wimbledon. The 'cycle' then repeats.

The service at this point should operate a further 1,700kms each day, requiring a further ten trains in service raising the total to 168.

Step 3 – approximately 2011

It is now expected that the central area frequencies would remain as last described above, but the Metropolitan Line's service would have new patterns introduced with some services now travelling to Barking. This would mean that the Metropolitan Line would increase the availability of the 'bay' platforms at Aldgate (currently used by the trains reversing on the Uxbridge service) and this capacity would be used by reversing the Hammersmith & City line service there.

This would again improve the frequency available, and it is intended that this would lead to an increased service between Baker Street and Amersham of approximately 2.5tph.

The finalisation of this step would see the full introduction of the service as outlined in The Proposals to be implemented by 2011 above.


So that is a summary of the situation as it is today and the 'vision' of what the SSR services will look like with the introduction of the final phase of the upgrade.

But all that has preceded is, of course, not the 'big picture'.  There are a number of other factors that will also have an influence on the workings of the SSR. Not least of these will be the introduction of new railway lines and extensions to existing services. Indeed, the plans LU have will also have an effect on other lines and rail services too.

Again, much is available elsewhere on these topics and proposals – some are a reality and are in the process of construction, some are still on the 'wish list' of the planners. But within the context of the study discussed here, account has been taken of these, so it is appropriate to go into a little detail.


New Lines and Extensions

The following is an outline of the current plans and proposals that will impact – either on the SSR or by the SSR on other rail service providers.


Crossrail 1, although where it will terminate at both the east and west ends will certainly operate between Paddington in the west and Stratford in the east and will have a number of intermediate stops through the city. It is believed that the largest Impact will at Whitechapel where it will serve the station that will become a hub for the east end of London. This will require a major remodelling of the station.

There are also implications for the SSR plans should the route choice for the west end of Crossrail terminate at Richmond. This could result in the District Line being diverted away from Richmond, and this would have a 'knock on' effect for other London Underground services.

Thameslink 2000

The plan provides for direct links between the SSR and Thameslink at Blackfriars/Farringdon and Moorgate. There will be major changes to the stations to offer improved entry and exit as well as easier interchange between the two services.  All the stations affected will provide step free access to all platforms.

Work is due to commence in 2004 and complete in 2008. The impact on the station at London Bridge in particular is unquantified, as there are doubts (on London Underground's part) as to the accuracy of the forecasts for the future usage or even accurate figures of its current position!

Croxley Link

This would see the closure of the current Watford (Metropolitan Line) station and the diversion of services along new lines to Watford Junction, thus linking with Silverlink and Virgin services.

The additional stations would generate increased demand for Metropolitan Line services in the northern area of the SSR but it would not have a significant impact on services in the central area.

There would be a need for an additional train in service to maintain the ten-minute service to Watford, but this would need to be reviewed for the new stations.

East London Line

As is well known, the existing East London Line is to be extended, both to the north and south. It is expected that the number of passengers using the line will increase substantially.

As far as the SSR is concerned, the major impact will (again) be at Whitechapel where it is anticipated that a significant increase in interchange traffic will be seen.

Channel Tunnel Rail Link (CTRL)

CTRL is the high-speed link to the Channel Tunnel directly into St. Pancras station. The station is currently undergoing major rebuilding to accommodate the increased demand.

St. Pancras is served by London Underground as Kings Cross St. Pancras, and by the Circle, Hammersmith and City lines of the SSR and also by the Piccadilly, Northern and Victoria Lines.

The forecast is for the demand at this location to increase by approximately 21% in the 'peaks', although the increase in demand for the SSR is likely to be less than this, around 13%, as most of the additional demand will be looking to use the deep level tube services.



The question of the refurbishment, upgrading and renewal of stations is outside the terms of reference of this article, but, of course, the changes will have an impact on stations.

It is well known that commitments have been given that there will be improvements to stations and there are several major projects already underway and a number of other projects have been announced.  But many stations have been neglected for many years. I assume that there is a similar plan in place for a programme of station refurbishment in the same way that the report around which I base this article.

However, anyone who uses London Underground on a regular basis and particularly during the 'peaks' will be only too well aware that many stations are currently extremely congested, to the point that crowd control measures have to be put into effect on more or less a daily basis at some key interchange points and trains instructed to non-stop for safety reasons. A lack of station capacity could seriously affect the benefits that the improved train service will offer.

Steps are being taken to ensure that station capacity does not detract from the introduction of the train service upgrade.  This will include forecasts for future demand at stations, assessments of where it is anticipated crowding will increase and the effect this will have on journey times and to consider and amend (if necessary) the station decongestion programme that is already in place.

Other day-to-day station activities will need to be re-examined if the upgraded service is to be fully realised. As has already been said, there will be an increase in train frequency, so the question of platform management and station dwell times will become even more important than they are already.


Service Control

As mentioned above, it is intended that new signalling and control systems will be introduced allowing the technology to move into the 21st Century – many of the signalling systems currently used date back to the 1950's.

There are currently two control rooms for the SSR, one at Earls Court for the District Line and the other at Baker Street for the Metropolitan, Circle and Hammersmith and City Lines. Many of the functions are therefore duplicated.  There are too a number of signal cabins which control relatively small areas.

As mentioned above, the intention is for the SSR to be controlled from one facility to be constructed at Neasden.  This will bring all the command and control and signalling operations into one single location, thus avoiding the duplication that exists at present.

It is hoped that this will help with the overall management of the railway.


Reliability Improvements

This should be the first area where the public should become aware of the impact of PPP and it is intended that it will address the current problems of availability, whether this be of rolling stock or signals.

Although most replacement of trains and signals will be phased as outlined already, steps are being taken to look at matters relating to maintenance and prompt replacement of existing equipment.

There is no question that the biggest areas affecting the SSR over the recent past have been related to signal and track problems and signal failures have been more to blame than any other single area of failure.

The projections are that there should be approximately a 50% improvement in this situation within 8 years.


Staff Management, Deployment & Training

So, what of the people at the 'sharp end' of the train service – the Train Operators?  What will the effect of all this be on them?  It appears that there could well be quite a few changes!  But it doesn't appear to be all bad news.

At the moment there are a total of 906 Train Operators required for the lines making up the SSR – at the end of the whole programme this is expected to have increased to 1,006 as would be suggested by the increased number of trains that the plan envisages actually putting on the railway.

The statistics apparently show that the effective driving time per running duty has dropped over the last seven years by about 6%. I presume this loss of efficiency has come about through the reduction in the working week and the time spent not driving when on meal break (this is 30 minutes plus 'walking time', but it is not unusual that the time spent off a train could be up to an hour – therefore the excess is considered as 'lost' time).

There is also a concern that this could also be affected with the introduction of 'family friendly rostering' which is intended to complement LU's 'work-life balance' policy – a matter I may comment on elsewhere at some future time!

Further matters are also being considered. The introduction of a uniform rolling stock could offer the possibility of greater flexibility of routes covered, subject of course to appropriate road training having been given.

There is also the matter of Train Operator depots. Currently there are seven on the SSR, but it is considered that they are not ideally located in view of the changes outlined above.  The plan at the moment is actually for the number to increase and for there to be some relocation to the various termini – the idea of this being that it would get away from the problems of a train occupying a platform on the 'running line' whilst waiting for a crew relief, and thus preventing trains behind it running through in the event of a late relief or non-availability of a driver and so on.

Of course, other 'train and signal related' grades will be affected too – and during the implementation there will be implications as far as training staff in new equipment too.


In conclusion I emphasise that all that I've outlined is very much that – it's been written from a blueprint, which I'm sure will be amended and fine tuned as time progresses, but I hope that it has been of interest and at least gives an idea of how the future of the SSR at least is expected to evolve.

As, when and if further news, changes or amendments come to hand, I will try to keep this up to date as far as possible.

Further reading from Metronet themselves can be found here

The following images are from Metronet, and give an impression of the interior and exterior views of the proposed new rolling stock  These trains will be built by Bombardier.

The interior view suggests that the trains will have 'walk through' cars, whether this proves to be a reality or not only time will tell.  There are clearly advantages to this configuration but, in the light of the need to make trains up in different lengths dependant on route, can this be achieved whilst retaining flexibility?

Update added 18 November 2003

I was pleased to receive a communication from one of my correspondents, Bob Kirchner, on this matter, in particular regarding the new signalling systems. He has pointed me at a Press Release dated 7th April 2003 which can be read in full here.

In particular he has noted the following text within the context of this release: 'Two new state-of-the-art WESTCAD Control Centres, one to control the Northern SSL , one for the Southern SSL , but each capable of controlling the other's area.'

This seems a little at odds with the idea of one Control Centre at Neasden for the whole of the SSR, so it will be interesting to see how things develop but, as I said, I expected there to be changes from the appraisal I wrote above!

I will be pleased to receive any further amendments, corrections and updates that you notice - I do try to keep abreast but claim no infallibility!

Update added 12 December 2003

Many of you will know that I share quite a few of my articles with 'Tubeprune', and this one is no exception!  He has now posted it to his site and added comments from his knowledge, and they certainly raise a number of question marks about the viability of some of these proposals, and also offer more detail of some areas. Follow this link - his comments appear in italics.


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