A train that hasn’t moved for nearly 50 years could be about to make a dramatic return to the London Underground — the Q-Stock is returning.
The Q-Stock is a general name given to a rather motley set of train carriages, originally used on the District line from 1938 onwards, and made up of a collection of units built between 1923 and 1935. With delightful wooden interiors and curved exteriors they were design partners to the 1938 tube stock and represent the pinnacle of the age of glory for London Underground’s trains.
As they slowly wore out through use, most of them were scrapped in the 1960s and 70s, with the last one running on the East London line in the early 1970s.
Never again, as plastic and metal came to dominate the industry would such warmly decorated art-deco trains grace the rails.
But now, a team at the London Transport Museum are working to restore the last surviving set of four carriages back into working order, with the intention to run them once more on the Underground within the next few years.
The museum actually owns five carriages, but one is in the Covent Garden site, and is a static display, so the museum, and its volunteers are working on four units stored at their Acton depot.
Unsurprisingly, four very elderly train carriages that are nearly 100 years old each that spent 50 years carrying passengers, then most of their retirement in less than forgiving conditions are in a bit of a sorry state.
Of the four carriages, the best looking at the moment is Q35 (08063), which was built in 1936 and donated to the museum in 1997 by the London Underground Railway Society.
One of the issues that will determine if the train can return to operational service is adding in the extra signalling equipment to allow them to run on the live railway. This carriage is likely to be the only one of the four where the equipment can be fitted due to the lack of space in the other three units.
A decision about whether the signalling equipment can be modified to fit into the carriage is hoped for by early next year.
The carriage still needs a lot of work done though, to repair damaged caused by asbestos removal and the doors need a lot of work to bring them up to working order.
In fact the doors are part of what makes the trains the Q-Stock in the first place. When the carriages were first built in the 1920s, they were the last to have manually opening doors. When the carriages were later converted to guard operated doors, with air-powered hydraulics, that was what turned various G, K, L, M, and N stock trains into the collective Q-Stock.
The volunteers restoring the carriages have now got one of the doors working again, with their distinctive sound of air-pressure opening and closing them.
The oldest of the four carriages is Q23 (4184), dating from 1923, but after being removed from service in 1971 it spent some years as a static carriage, so most of the working parts are now missing.
Due to the work needed to bring that carriage into service, it’s going to be the last to be worked on.
The other two are the 4416/17 units, built in 1938, and withdrawn from passenger service in 1972. These are the two most art-deco of the four as they are a decade older than their more American inspired predecessors. They are also in the best condition in terms of motor engines, but that’s about all.
With their slightly flared exteriors, angled windows and richly decorated interiors, I suspect these will be the carriages everyone wants to sit in when the train starts running heritage tours in a few years time.
In the meantime, lots more work is needed. A batch of replacement art-deco style lamp shades have recently been delivered, but as the minimum order they could place for the bespoke design was considerably higher than the number they need for the restoration, expect the surplus to be offered for sale to raise funds for the restoration.
If you fancy a set of replica 1938 tube carriage lamp shades for your living room, keep an eye out if they are put up for sale.
The light shades are today decorative, but originally they were a safety feature. The lighting, and indeed most of the electrics inside the carriages ran on the same 600 volts that powered the motors, so letting passengers fiddle with the lamps could have been fatal.
For the restoration, modern safety standards don’t allow that sort of thing, so the wiring is being replaced with 50 volts, which is both safer for humans and less likely to incinerate the wooden interiors of the carriages.
A lot of the work being done is to try and restore as much of the original works as possible, often by salvaging parts from other scrapped carriages. The recently discontinued District line trains are proving a surprising source of components that are reasonably suitable to be retrofitted to their predecessor carriages.
Elsewhere parts might be found from suppliers that still exist and might be able to manufacture replacements.
At the moment, the volunteers are working on preparing the carriages to bring them up to museum grade, for display as static units, but with working doors and lighting. They aim to have that done in time for the District line’s 150th anniversary, which is next December.
If the signalling equipment issue is solved, then full speed ahead to get them up and working for use on the London Underground once more.
In just a few short years, there could be a 100 year old red art-deco sub-surface train delighting passengers and amazing bystanders on the Underground.
And wont that be an amazing thing to see?
To read more about the Q-Stock restoration project, and donate to it, go here.