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.

Existing Central line train – Photo by Rich Smith on Unsplash

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while they are comparatively modern, the design contains technology that was innovative at the time but which is now superseded and is difficult to maintain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.

Existing Central line train interior – Photo by Francesca Grima on Unsplash

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.


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  1. Robert M says:

    There is no mention of the window problem. The previous generation of Central Line trains had opening side windows, which made them much less unbearable on hot days. Will it really be another seventeen years before the ventilation is sorted out?

    • Andy T says:

      The large glass area of the windows doesn’t help matters. A very modern design but thanks to what I believe to be a happy accident, newer stock is less affected.

      Sadly, cooling the deep level lines is never going to be that simple, but making them tolerate is hopefully not so far off with newer trains coming along the tracks

    • Graham says:

      The windows themselves aren’t the problem, it’s the over use of the trains heaters in winter coupled with the fact the tunnels between Stratford and White City are saturated in too much heat as there is insufficient ventilation shafts on these tunnels. As during summer the trains were hotter getting on an Eastbound at Stratford than on a westbound from Newbury Park

  2. NG says:

    “… better customer information systems” – does this mean they will – SHUT UP – some of the time?
    At least 85% – possibly 95% of their “announcements” are totally un-necessary.

  3. Alex Mckenna says:

    It would be nice if they replaced the red dot matrix destination display with something you could actually decipher without squinting. Is it an Epping or a Hainault? Or is the driver keeping it secret until we have to jump off at Leytonstone? The rambling announcements often omit this information.

  4. Chris Rogers says:

    “Problems experienced with the fleet have their origins either in poor design, poor manufacture or obsolescence” The central stock is the worst-designedon the network and has been since 1993. Infamously the original electro-fluorescent destination indicators was allergci to UV light and soon broke down, which is why all trains carried a paper notice in the driver’s cab for months. The tinted gass is awful, makig it hard to see space inside from outside and giving a depressing view out. Then there’s the odd kink in the seat plan, retained in the image above, which even TfL couldn’t explain to me when I asked. One hopes someone at the contractors or TfL was fired but I doubt it.

  5. Ricky Varaden says:

    The big problem with the central line is the noise which has to be above legal limits in some sections, e.g Eastbound between Stratford and Leyton and around Bank station. How TFL is getting away with getting paying passengers deaf is a mystery to me.
    I hope these upgraded trains will be less noisy, although I think it’s a problem with the tracks themselves which are not being addressed here.

    • Ruby says:

      The whole section between Leyton and Mile End routinely reaches volumes in excess of 120dB in short bursts and on average its around 95dB.

      Control of Noise at Work Regs don’t apply to “members of the public exposed to noise from their non-work activities, or making an informed choice to go to noisy places” (HSE). So, nothing has to be done to protect the public if we choose to go on the tube.

      Section 3 of the HSWA require employers not to harm people that don’t work for them but are affected by their activities so this being the law that the regs support should be the most important thing but nobody seems concerned.

      I hope all the drivers that are exposed to the noise constantly are provided with hearing protection and that it is mandatory.

  6. Haris Zafar says:

    Well right now they’re only doing a Hainault to Woodford shuttle service for the trains, but when will the trains really open to public like goes into London? My local station is Redbridge and Newbury park,hopefully soon we’ll get to see these trains into london

  7. Mikayeel says:

    New Seat and new announcement screens I love it.

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