Tag Archives: London Underground

I’m Not Sure Harry Beck Would Believe It…

Screenshot 2014-01-25 19.55.54I’m not sure Harry Beck would believe it, but amongst the variations of his famous map of the London Underground that are now produced, this is a special version that shows the location of all the toilets on the system, including details of whether you have to pay, whether you have to find a member of staff who has the key, and even whether there are baby change facilities. It may seem a strange thing to have, but when you’re taking a little boy who doesn’t give you much notice of needing to go on his first trip to London, it’s an essential bit of kit!

Ever since he heard that there were trains that went underground, and trains without drivers, my son has wanted to see them, so since his sister was off at a party – seriously she has a busier social life than anybody else in our family – we headed off with Grandpa to go ride some trains.

We started off from the mythical Rickmansworth (Tom Phillips of Buzzfeed doesn’t seem to think the outer reaches of the Metropolitan line exist) and took the now rather slow train into London. Back in my youth the Met line from Rickmansworth ran down the other tracks from Moor Park and didn’t stop at Northwood, Northwood Hills, Pinner and North Harrow, today we saw the lot – it was only thanks to engineering work that we didn’t get Northwick Park and Preston Road too. This kept the interest for a bit, but we did get to the “are we there yet” by Harrow.

Things got more interesting beyond Wembley when we started overtaking the little trains on the Jubilee Line, and then at Finchley Road we crossed over and took a ride on one of those down into the depths of London. When we pulled into Swiss Cottage and we were still in a tunnel this was fascinating, although there was a definite concern as to whether the toilets were underground too, a fixation that continued all the way to St John’s Wood and beyond. Checking my toilet map I can see that whilst the toilets aren’t underground (or indeed anywhere) at Swiss Cottage, St John’s Wood even has baby change facilities.

We rode the Jubilee on under London, and there was another burst of interest when the platform doors appeared on the newer stretch. We jumped off when we got to Canary Wharf, and after much excitement at stairs that moved by themselves we headed onto the Docklands Light Railway for the even more exciting trains without any drivers.

Riding Up Front on the DLREven better, when we got onto the train, we got one where the seats right at the front were empty, so we could look at the track ahead.

Cue one transfixed little boy, especially when we got on the last stretch into Bank where the train is underground and there are lights along the tunnel so you can see where the train is going.

From there we headed along the Central Line to Bond Street, and picked up a bus where there was even more excitement about riding on the top deck, before ending up at Marylebone for a much faster journey back to Rickmansworth on the Chiltern Line – although much of that was missed as the excitement was all a bit too much and a nap was needed!

So we’ve now seen the trains that go underground, and the trains that have no drivers, and even had a go on a bus as well. I’ve also sampled the much maligned new trains on the Metropolitan line, which still bounce you all over the place when they run up to speed – methinks perhaps the track needs to be a bit flatter or something. I’m not sure any of them surpass Thomas and Friends for excitement, but for a first trip into London, there were certainly lots of excited descriptions for Mummy when we got home!

Not Quite Steam on the Met

Back in the late eighties and early nineties, for a number of years London Underground ran a number of successful Steam on the Met weekends. It all started with a celebration weekend in 1989 to commemorate the centenary of the opening of the Metropolitan Railway into Chesham, using Met 1, the last remaining operating Metropolitan Railway steam locomotive. That first weekend was so successful that the railway organised a number of follow up events, mainly running between Watford and Amersham, but including special parallel running of trains on the main lines up from Harrow. The event was all staffed by volunteers – believe me you’ve never seen so many of London Underground’s management as you did on those weekends, and it seemed popular with passengers and staff alike – so popular that they quickly got to the point of having to bring in mainline steam locomotives rather than Met 1. On the summer weekends when it ran you could sit outside in Mum and Dad’s back garden and once again hear steam trains working their way along the steep climb up Chorleywood bank.

The steam trains weren’t the only stars. All the trains needed a non-steam backup loco, and whilst for some trains it was a second hand diesel loco bought from British Rail, others used another Metropolitan Railway original, Sarah Siddons, one of the Metropolitan electric locomotives, which having been built in the nineteen twenties was older than some of the steam locomotives it was acting as backup for, was used for support.

Then in the mid-nineties the event was cancelled. There were a number of rumours as to why. Some cited health and safety concerns, but others talked about the management changes at London Underground in the lead up to the part privatisation, saying that the heritage weekends weren’t compatible with a commuter railway.

Since then, Sarah Siddons has been retained, and has run occasional special trains, however on September 14th, it’s not quite Steam on the Met, but London Underground are running a special heritage day using Sarah Siddons, and also a preserved train of 1938 Underground stock, following the Amersham, Watford and Harrow route that was used for the previous events. Based on some of the pictures coming through on Flickr they seem to be putting some effort into the event as well. Sarah Siddons has had a new paint job, and the set of retained heritage coaches (also picked up from British Rail) have all been refurbished too. Is it a prelude to resuming the steam events? I’m not sure, I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens with this event.

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