Just outside Epping tube station, commuters might have noticed an old tube train rusting away, and thought little of it, but this locomotive is the remains of a very odd development in tube history.
This is Locomotive L11, and it’s a hybrid of two engines glued together from a time when tube trains needed large engines at each end to pull them along.
The earliest underground trains were naturally, steam-powered, but when electric locomotives were developed, they were electrically similar to steam engines, a separate unit pulling the train.
Today all the engines and electrics are hidden underneath the carriage — but in the 1920s, there was an intermediate stage. London Underground developed the “standard stock”, where only the front half of the front carriage was the engine, which allowed for the back half to be used for passenger seating.
Although the first of the modern style tube trains were developed in the 1930s, these standard stock trains (where nothing was made to standard), lasted right up to the mid-1960s.
In 1964, two locomotives were cut in half, and the two engines stuck back together to form a rather unique shunting locomotive to use in the depots. With two engines in use, it was more than powerful enough for its job shifting tube trains around.
There is a bit of space between the two engine units, which is the remains of the old passenger compartment. If you were to look closely, the bogies for the wheels came from two different railway companies, so this weird hybrid machine could well be made up of more than three different machines.
If it were a car, it’s one of those dodgy garage insurance jobs. But it’s a train engine, and specially designed to be like this.
The old door in the front of the train also had a new window cut in at the bottom so that the driver could see the couplers and make sure they had connected correctly to whatever was about to be shunted.
Otherwise, the interior was left untouched. The same wooden flooring, the same olde-world driver controls, the padded seat fraying away, grease and oil everywhere.
Today, it’s a seemingly abandoned locomotive rusting away on the sidings by Epping station. Actually, it’s not rusting, that’s a red anti-rust paint that’s been put on to conserve the metalwork while the wider restoration is carried out.
It’s looked after by Cravens Heritage Trains, who are also restoring the Epping Signal Cabin next door, so two separate pieces of railway heritage will eventually form a single visitor attraction.
It arrived just over a decade ago, in April 2004, and although not much was done for some years, it is now under active restoration. It’ll never return to the railways, but the aim is to renovate it to the point where people can go into the driver’s cab, walk through the old passenger section and out the other end.
A chance to see a very odd bit of tube history.
In the meantime, the restoration team are always on the look out for volunteers to help, or cash to be donated, and you can read more here.
There’s also a limited edition number of models being made, which you can read about here.
Addendum, I think this was one of the days when I must have flicked the wrong switch on my camera, the photos all came out dark and slightly blurry. Sorry. A range of better photos is here.