I have known about this thing for ages, and I have known about the never-finished Deep Lines for ages. Yet it was only this morning, bleary-eyed and flicking through a book on the Underground, that my addled brain made the connection. Right, you know how I said that express Tube lines were planned in the 1930s? Well, London Transport actually built special experimental trains to run on them. See that photo there? That’s one of them. A streamlined Tube train for express services.
They were built in 1935, and can, in many ways, be considered the first modern Tube train. They had their motors and control equipment mounted under the floor, providing desperately-needed extra capacity in the carriages themselves. You think the Tubes are crowded now? Imagine losing a third of the carriage to fit a honking great motor behind the driver. That was the situation in the 1930s.
Unfortunately, though the new trains were innovative, they had their problems. First of all, there were aesthetic objections from more conservative passengers, who didn’t see why the Underground should pander to modern design trends. There was also the aesthetic objection that, when two streamlined sets were coupled together, they looked rather less neat than flat-fronted stock. More importantly, though, drivers found their space and vision restricted in the new cabs.
What really did for them was the Second World War. Like any experimental machine, they spent a lot of time in the Works as the faults were ironed out. With all hands to the wheel for the War Effort, it was simply unacceptable to be devoting resources to trains that didn’t work very well. And so they were withdrawn from service. Three of the carriages were used for air raid shelters at Northfields and Cockfosters Depot (the units being primarily based on the Piccadilly Line) and the rest were scrapped.
None survive. However, it can’t be denied that they were a brave experiment. It’s hard to say whether they could have succeeded, given the chance. However, the innovations they pioneered – under-floor power units, forced air ventilation – are still in use on trains to this day, so while you couldn’t say they were a success, they were a long way from failure. Call them a draw.
The next post – with more photos of the streamlined train and more on what they actually achieved.