If you see a Central line train pass through a station without stopping, try to get a look inside, as it could be an upgraded train out on final tests before it carries passengers.
The Central line’s trains entered service between 1993 and 1995, and while they are comparatively modern, the design contains technology that was innovative at the time but which is now superseded and is difficult to maintain
Problems experienced with the fleet have their origins either in poor design, poor manufacture or obsolescence and as a result, the Central line incurs a greater number of lost customer hours (LCH) than any other line due, in large part, to the poor reliability and availability of the trains.
An upgrade project was initiated before the pandemic to improve the reliability of the trains while also modernising their appearance for passengers. The refurbished trains will introduce new wheelchair bays, improved lighting and CCTV, better customer information systems and new seating.
Moquette fans may be interested to learn that the moquette pattern will be replaced with new material featuring the existing design. At the same time, the priority seats will use the same design and messages as used on the Jubilee line.
The pandemic delayed progress, but the first upgraded train has started final tests before carrying passengers, probably by the end of this year.
Following the completion of the testing, the project will scale up, and five trains will be taken out of service at a time to complete the overhaul work, with increasing numbers entering into passenger service over the next four years.
The refurbishment, which TfL says is the most significant overhaul project undertaken by TfL engineers in the history of the London Underground, should see the trains last until they can eventually be replaced by the New Tube for London trains. Those trains will start to appear on the Piccadilly line in 2025, and there’s an expectation — unfunded at the moment — that more trains will be ordered to upgrade the ageing Bakerloo line, and then the Waterloo & City line/Central line.
Deputy Mayor for Transport, Seb Dance, said: “It is vital that we secure the necessary long-term Government capital investment to replace our trains when they become old and unreliable. Given the uncertainty over this investment, TfL is working hard to overhaul the Central line trains to improve their reliability and safety and to extend their working life.”
Alongside the passenger improvements, a new train computer system will also contribute to improved reliability and overhauled doors and wheels components. The unreliable and maintenance-intensive direct current (DC) traction system will be replaced with a modern alternating current (AC) traction system. The new motors are being supplied by Bombardier and are based on the design used in the Victoria line and sub-surface trains. The faster acceleration from the new motors should allow the Central line to resume 100kph (62mph) running in the longer above ground sections of the line.
The upgraded trains will also consume less power and run slightly cooler, which is expected to reduce tunnel temperatures, albeit by just one degree, but as a certain retailer says… every little helps.
The project is substantial, as it involves stripping Central line trains down to the frames, with every other part either replaced or improved. The floors are removed, new poles installed and new driving systems put in place. The wiring within the trains is also totally revamped, with new power sources and control systems alongside two CCTV cameras in each carriage. New lighting, improved doors and new seats complete the work.
TfL is working with more than 30 manufacturers nationwide to supply the parts for this programme. The trains are worked on by a team of over 125 fitters based at TfL’s Acton depot, with several apprentices also employed over the project’s lifetime.
The project is an ambitious innovation for TfL as well, as work to install new traction motors and multiple new systems has never before been undertaken on its existing trains.
Back in 2016, when the project was initiated, the cost of the upgrade was put at £334 million, but it would reduce costs by £8.7 million a year and improve reliability would increase fares revenue by around £16 million a year. Over the estimated 17 year life span of the upgrade, the investment would be recouped from the lower costs and higher revenues, so the upgrade is roughly cost neutral, while also delivering a better product.
Richard Jones, TfL’s Director of Asset Performance Delivery, said: “The work to overhaul trains on the Central line is vital, innovative and will have a huge impact on our customers. Making the trains more reliable will mean we can run a better service for the people who use and rely on the Central line every day, improving journeys across London and providing better access to areas in the West End and in east London that are crucial in driving the city’s economy. It will also improve accessibility significantly and provide CCTV in trains to improve safety for customers. Our engineers have worked hard to progress the project to this testing stage and we will continue this work in the coming years to deliver these huge improvements for London.”
Look out on the Central line, because in the next few weeks, the first of the refurbished trains will be in passenger service, so everyone can see what the change looks like.