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Two new tube lines for London – without anyone really noticing!
I actually wrote this in November last year on top of the series covering the Piccadilly Line’s extension to Cockfosters, but put it aside as I decided I wasn’t authoritative or knowledgeable enough to discuss such matters. I even had done this lovely new tube map to show my ideas. In many ways I sighed a relief because I wasn’t going to have to face any possible ridicule publishing it.
Imagine my surprise when I read John Bull’s article in London Reconnections yesterday (10 May 2018) on the same subject where he discusses the classic ways of dealing with upgrading the Piccadilly. I suddenly realised maybe this was where my rejected article may have some worth and that it was time to publish. So here it is – six months later and with some slight modifications in reference to London Reconnection’s article.
All so far so good? Let’s begin. A word of warning – my presentation isnt excellent and explanations are somewhat messy so if this is the sort of thing that is going to make you guffaw please turn away and find something else constructive to read!
The enormous track works that were undertaken between South Kensington and Earls Court over Christmas to improve District Line train services no doubt mean some subtle improvements to train services. But will there be huge improvement? I think not. What we need however is a huge leap of faith. The tube system needs reshaping.
In using the word ‘reshaping’ people might think I am somehow harking back to Beeching. Never, not in a million years. Beeching advocated the wholesale closing of Britain’s railway lines. This is not what this is about. This ‘reshaping’ merely advocates the expansion of London’s tube system by introducing two new tube lines to improve reliability and enable even more capacity. To achieve this one must start by getting rid of half of the Piccadilly Line.
Its rather like the Bakerloo back in 1979. Chopping it in half gave London a much needed asset in the shape of the Jubilee Line. It was a drastic measure which has indeed done wonders for London.
Take a look at the following picture of London’s tube system – all the details, station names etc have been taken out for clarity. Can you see two totally new tube lines in it. Nope? So far so good! I actually added some embellishments to try and make the changes stand out more but seeing my cartography skills are somewhat poorly contrived I suppose it failed….
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Take a look at the diagram again… What is amazing in my view is how these two new tube lines can be procured with hardly any construction work needed! They’re already there in fact yet it seems no-one has noticed them! Its just a question of having a totally different vision to bring these new lines into reality and practice. There are other benefits including improving disability access by simply changing the type of train used and the lines’ routes that are taken.
This second diagram shows an extension to one of these tube lines, some other slight alterations and utilises a tube station that’s no longer used as its new terminus. It should be more evident that this is not the usual tube map everyone knows. There’s no huge change yet the total capacity of London’s tube system has been increased quite considerably.
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(At this point in the original draft I discussed the new TfL signalling centre, Four Lines Modernisation, the South Kensington remodelling and other matters which will all ultimately limit any expansion of London’s tube network. I’ve cut all that out to keep the content down as this post is already quite long.)
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Whilst enduring the regular mishaps on the very poorly performing Piccadilly Line I began to think about how its services could be improved. Almost every time I use that line its a mess. The signalling the tracks, even the trains themselves are dreadful and failures are widespread. Regular gaps of 10-15 minutes on a line to Heathrow is a massive sop to those needing a reliable service.
The huge numbers of tourists to this country who use that particular tube line because it connects many of the capitals famous locations must get a very poor impression of London’s attempts to move people around the capital effectively.
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Promises, promises! 2001 Govt publication telling us how the Piccadilly Line would improve.
I often despaired at even mentioning the line’s dreadful performance in my posts on the Piccadilly Line last year even though I wanted to. Instead of doing that I decided a separate post was best. And that is how this post came about originally.As I have said it was written in November 2017 and then left aside.
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I wouldn’t go so far to say that my thoughts are completely original. The idea of reusing the Acton Town to Rayners Lane section for sub surface stock (which do indeed still use this line but not with trains in service) has been mooted many times by others. My hope is the recasting entirely of these services over a section of London’s transport system will be akin to something London Overground would have excelled at.
To give an example of an earlier suggestion, in the LURS publication, Piccadilly to the West by Eric Stuart, the author advocated the keeping of the Heathrow line but rescind the Rayners Lane/Uxbridge service to Ealing Broadway instead. Their reason was at least the Piccadilly would still have an onwards connection to the airport (via Heathrow Connect, and of course soon via Crossrail/Elizabeth Line.) My suggestion is similar but more radical.
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The idea is of course the provision of a new tube line at minimal cost with potentiality for some sort of expansion in order to provide greater relief across the network, as well as giving new opportunities for cross-platform interchange with other lines, whilst giving Hounslow and Heathrow passengers a better service and more options to reach Central London.
The huge bugbear with the Heathrow line is there is no potentiality for expansion of services. It is compromised severely by its complete reliance on a lengthy route with little flexibility that stretches as far as Cockfosters. What is the point of providing Heathrow services especially when trains are stuck around Arnos Grove or Cockfosters for some reason or other – such as signals that keep failing at Arnos Grove.
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This severely affects the entire line right out to Heathrow. Upgrading the signals isn’t going to ensure problems at the eastern end will not impact upon Heathrow services and its because the Piccadilly Line has so little flexibility.
A big problem with the Piccadilly is the question of airport luggage. These are getting larger and larger and passenger space is being compromised on many sections of this line. Airport luggage can be considered part of the problem of overcrowding faced on the Piccadilly. The Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) put it quite succinctly in a March 2012 review examining the many aspects that severely affected the Piccadilly Line:

“…the Piccadilly Line carries far more luggage than any other tube line. Frequently in the morning rush hour it is difficult to get on and off the train because of the number of suitcases and rucksacks blocking the way and taking up space. Either people need to be charged extra for carrying such luggage onto the tube (to discourage them and make the Piccadilly Line less competitive) or storage provision has to be made for luggage.”

The 73 tube stock was originally equipped with luggage racks. These were removed in order to create more space for passengers. That was a very temporary success. Luggage has increased in size and people take even more of it so the problems haven’t actually gone away.
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Separating the lines and establishing a third, new tube route, would go a long way towards separating the different flows and reducing overcrowding. The only way to gain expansion of services is to make the Heathrow section a new tube line – much like how the Jubilee grew out of the Bakerloo. And to make that new line match those difficult requirements that the Piccadilly has not achieved.
The biggest disappointment of course with Heathrow is of course the insistence it be built for tube sized trains only. That is a huge deficit. I have read again and again that London Transport officials regret this lack of foresight. The line to Hounslow West was already built to main line standards and with proper foresight we could now be having S stock work through to Heathrow.
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Yes we no longer provide turnbacks at some of these stations…
The other issue is the number of crossovers on the Piccadilly have been greatly reduced. This means trains can only turn back at the most irrelevant, even banal locations. It means more than half the line has to be shut down when problems arise.
Separating the Piccadilly Line from Heathrow would mean subtly larger tube trains could be used on the Heathrow services (like the example of using the larger 2009 stock on the Victoria Line.) Whilst that would not ever give the Heathrow services full sized stock, it would at least help to improve capacity and give greater passenger comfort.
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The old order operated by the Piccadilly Line to Hounslow West and buses onwards to the airport worked quite well despite the somewhat inconvenient change at Hounslow West. Had the District operated to Hounslow for just a few more years instead of being withdrawn in 1964, LT would have clearly seen the need to provide full sized tunnels to Heathrow and the tube system wouldn’t be in the mess it is with regards to this major transport artery.
The opening of the world’s first airport metro line, splendid as it was, eventually gave rise to the many problems that are faced by the Piccadilly Line and which permeate across the central areas of London tube system. Even in the first year of Heathrow opening tube frequencies to the airport often fell short of target. And to this day it hasnt really improved that much.
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LT urged building of the Heathrow extension. Frequencies touted were 8 min peak & 10 off-peak.
What’s to be done? As I have suggested, get rid of the Piccadilly services to Heathrow. Replace the Rayners Lane/Uxbridge services with S stock (or other new full sized train builds.) Send the Piccadilly to Ealing and cut the District Back. This will introduce two new lines – one to Heathrow and the other to Uxbridge. Let’s look at the tube map I did once again – this time with just the two new lines showing….
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The Uxbridge Line.

Its a circular route Uxbridge to Uxbridge via the classic route and a new route. There are no new builds of line required. The intent is the provision of more services and thus relieve the Piccadilly of a section of line upon which it consistently performs very poorly.
The Uxbridge Line would be an out and back line from Uxbridge via Rayners Lane – Harrow – Baker Street (through platforms) – King’s Cross – Aldgate (through platforms) – Tower Hill – Victoria – Earl’s Court – Acton Town – Alperton – Rayners Lane and return to Uxbridge.
One of the great advantages of this are the many new connections that will arise as well as dedicated service for Uxbridge. The Uxbridge Line will create much relief for the maligned Piccadilly Line.
The other advantage is TfL could convert the Acton Town-Rayners Lane section to ATO as soon as these changes are made. No need for mixed mode working between Rayners Lane and Uxbridge which should provide extra reliability and safety.
Where will the stock for this come from? Clearly it will be S8 stock released by the retirement of the Met’s Aldgate section plus some surplus S7 released from the District’s Ealing operations. Of course it could eventually have its own trains and depots.
Disability Access – huge benefit of having a new line: This is very important. The Uxbridge Line will greatly improve disability access because the range of stations that can be accessed will be expanded. Piccadilly Line trains are restrictive due to their small loading gauge plus issues with platform levels where these are also shared by S stock (eg Rayners Lane to Uxbridge, Ealing Common and Acton Town.) The need to provide different sized trains on these shared sections of line does not help at all in terms of accessibility and this is why I (and others too) have suggested the Acton-Rayners Lane section is given over to full sized stock.
The fact one will be able to access a S stock train and venture down to Acton Town or Hammersmith with ease and even change en route across platform to a Piccadilly Line train, or go right up to Victoria, Westminster, Blackfriars, Monument etc for other lines means considerably more options and new destinations for disabled people, not forgetting mothers with children etc.
The Uxbridge Line will also solve the problem of retracting the District Line from Ealing Broadway. Certainly the Piccadilly can serve Ealing Broadway destination and continue to run non-stop Hammersmith-Acton Town as normal, no need to faff about with new platforms at Chiswick (or close it down making nearby Gunnersbury the area’s major station as per some of the options being discussed in the comments section of London Reconnections.)
Stations along the Acton Town – Rayners lane branch, except Sudbury Town, will of course still need addressing in terms of proper access facilities. In my view South Harrow has the potential to provide immediate level access to the London bound platform however that requires a shift in current TfL thinking. The other platform and other stations on the line will of course require some deeper insight in terms of accessibility however with the use of full sized trains there will still be improvement.

Heathrow services.

The solution? A new tube line!
A new dedicated service, the Heathrow Line or whatever (no Royal names please) from all three airport terminal stations to South Kensington. The re-use of the double tracked sections Triangle sidings to South Kensington and four platforms restored at Gloucester Road and South Kensington. (The four tracked sections were removed in April 1965 because they were seen a surplus to needs and that has cultivated a mentality which exists to limit the potentiality for real expansion along this section.
It must be said the current works to improve the junctions at Earls Court hasn’t actually made for any easy expansion of London’s tube network either! The Four Lines Modernisation may improve the lines but once again it will not allow for the kind of expansion I am advocating.
At South Kensington through services (eg the District) will use the outer platforms. The Heathrow services to use the inner platforms with turnbacks from the east ends of the platforms leading towards the tunnel mouths at Brompton Road. New crossovers could too be built west of South Kensington station to increase flexibility. Alas the spaces formerly used for the western crossovers is now used by the stairs leading up to the ticket hall. Some re-modelling would have to be undertaken to restore these crossovers.
The dedicated Heathrow trains could eventually tunnel on to Victoria, beneath St James Park and into the old Jubilee Line terminus at Charing Cross. The reuse of the defunct Charing Cross station would be a boon by providing a an ideal centrally located London terminus. But it doesn’t have to end there, the tunnels extend almost as far as Aldwych – and who knows – with a bit of imagination what could be achieved…..
Cross platform interchange will of course be possible with the Circle line at Gloucester Road, as well as cross platform interchange with the District at Earls Court, and of course cross platform with the Piccadilly at Barons Court/Hammersmith/Acton Town.(Baron’s Court is a difficult case which needs more thought, as it would need to retain uneven platform/train levels even under this scheme.)
Heathrow trains could pass through West Kensington non-stop (one way of resolving the uneven platform interface here.) Earl’s Court, Gloucester Road and South Kensington can have separate dedicated level access platforms for both District and Heathrow services. The District on the outside lines and the Heathrow on the inside lines.
The other boon of separating the lines means the Heathrow services could be worked by slightly larger tube stock (much the same way as the 2009 does on the Victoria Line.) Whilst not as ideal as having full sized sub surface stock it would go some what to improving the Heathrow services.
Where will the stock come from? Existing Piccadilly tube stock to begin with and procurement of a brand new series of tube stock as soon as possible.

Piccadilly Line.

Having to service three routes out from central London (Heathrow, Uxbridge, Cockfosters) each with totally different needs and major operational limitations (including a severe lack of turn back options in central London) in order to maintain what should be a reliable, enhanced service to Heathrow means the entire line is a shambles and does not live up to the expectations of commuters, the many ad hoc passengers or the huge numbers of tourists.
Cockfosters to Ealing Broadway should be the line’s new portfolio. Its not a problem as the Piccadilly’s been diverted to Ealing before in lieu of District Line services. In terms of depots, Northfields could still be used for as an outreach depot for minor works and major overhauls of Piccadilly trains, and plausibly even for District Line trains. That’s not a problem because Northfields depot is suitably served by a generous railway route consisting of four tracks. Ealing Common would become a dedicated Piccadilly stabling/cleaning depot, whilst Cockfosters would become the major depot for all the line’s needs.
The District wont need Ealing depot if it no longer serves points westwards of Turnham Green – however better utilisation would need to be made of other stabling locations such as Parsons Green, Triangle Sidings etc. Its a shame the old depot at Parsons Green is being sold off. Perhaps there is spare capacity at Lillie Bridge for extra stabling?
Far less new trains would be needed to replace the 73 tube stock. Not only that train orders and dedicated rolling stock can be tailored to each line depending on the needs thus its a huge benefit.
(At the time of writing this update to the original post – 10 May 2018 – its said TfL may be ready to order new stock for the Piccadilly. So we are definitely going to see the old line as usual and no extra capacity or expansion of services. Top team points all round!)
In terms of future ATO train services splitting the lines would also be a boon. Instead of having to do the entire Piccadilly Line, phased steps of introduction of ATO on the separated lines according to their need and the new dedicated stock requirements. TfL wouldnt have to run round in circles trying to upgrade London’s best dinosaur tube line!
At the bare minimum in terms of any changes the Piccadilly’s Uxbridge section should go.

The Circle Line.

No changes to the service whatsoever.

Hammersmith and City.

No changes to the service whatsoever. It must be stressed the removal of the old turnback facilities at Whitechapel means there are reliability problems. Yes new crossovers have been installed at Whitechapel but the loss of half the station’s platforms limit any potential recovery options.
In deference Aldgate’s inner platforms would be the new point at which H&C trains could be turned back earlier in their journey.

Aldgate Station.

Turnback for the Uxbridge, Circle and Hammersmith/City Line trains.as well as the through services. Currently too many trains endure severe delays in the rush hour on each of the lines because of the need to jiggle Metropolitan services into Aldgate with conflicting Circle and Hammersmith/City trains. This means the regular tailing back of trains as far as King’s Cross would be considerably reduced if the Metropolitan no longer goes to Aldgate.

District Line.

Upminster to Olympia, Wimbledon and Richmond. The fact the District has turn backs at Tower Hill, High Street Kensington and Edgware Road means it can sustain reasonable services on these branches. There may even be scope for a more intensive service on the Wimbledon or Richmond branches. The withdrawal of the District’s Ealing trains will release the necessary extra train paths needed between Acton Town and Hanger Lane junction for a new dedicated Uxbridge Line service.

The Metropolitan Line.

The classic Metropolitan routes will terminate at Baker Street at all times. This is no real hardship as this is what many of its services currently do. In fact at one time the only period when trains even ventured beyond Baker Street to Aldgate was during rush hours. The all day service to Aldgate is a recent innovation. Both Uxbridge Line and the main Metropolitan services will of course complement with each other, offering easy interchange points at Harrow, Wembley Park, Finchley Road and Baker Street itself.

Other considerations.

One of the biggest disappointments will be the plans for the former widened lines from Farringdon to Moorgate. Despite the ingenious proposals made by a number of people on transport forums as a means of creatively enhancing the current services along here, it seems TfL has no interest in pursuing this. Instead its plans effectively freezes capacity along this section so there is no win of any sort.
The Uxbridge Line would possibly benefit slightly from stabling of some trains on the old Thameslink lines to Moorgate although flexibility and capacity won’t ideally be solved this way. Perhaps those ideas mooted previously for a Metropolitan terminus at Moorgate could be revisited. I have seen some fantastic low costs schemes which involve very little conflict with the other tube lines and would essentially give each line a conflict free route through the Farringdon pinch point. Sadly it seems TfL has no interest and that is why its pushing on with the reviled plans for the old Moorgate lines to be used for stabling.
In conclusion I expect the old clapped out Piccadilly Line will continue as it is and be an embarrassment to both Heathrow Airport and London and TfL will as always, think it is doing a good job. And if it isn’t then staff go and hide in their offices as usual! And possible new trains with no additional capacity on the tube system. That’s how things usually work in this country!
Disclaimer: This article is for entertainment purposes only and its contents should be in no way construed a serious attempt to address some of the capacity and reliability problems of London’s Underground. I mean when they proposed the Metropolitan back in the 1850s people thought it was some sort of joke…. let’s keep it that way…. We dont want reality to step in do we?

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1 Comment

  1. That’s a good read, thanks for sharing. I’d suggest the usual blocker to sweeping changes like these is when people at one end of the line risk losing the through services they’re accustomed to. I suspect this is also one of the main challenges to splitting the Northern Line (the other being redeveloping Camden Town). But, if the options for infrastructure changes to the Piccadilly are limited, it makes sense to try and rethink the service patterns.

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