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The return of steam on the London Underground
February 26, 2012 9:44 AM   Subscribe

The return of steam on the London Underground.

More details. The train leaving Baker Street. (via)
posted by ArmyOfKittens (33 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
OK, this is flat out one of the most awesome things I've seen on MeFi. Thank you.
posted by jaduncan at 9:46 AM on February 26, 2012


That is to say I'm stoked.
posted by jaduncan at 9:51 AM on February 26, 2012 [13 favorites]


More Jules Verne cosplay?
posted by GuyZero at 9:51 AM on February 26, 2012


Neat!
posted by brundlefly at 10:05 AM on February 26, 2012


This is why we can have nice things.
posted by saturday_morning at 10:14 AM on February 26, 2012


Does it also depart from platform 9 ¾?
posted by Foci for Analysis at 10:31 AM on February 26, 2012 [5 favorites]


Everyone knows platform 9 3/4 is at Kings Cross.
posted by vacapinta at 10:40 AM on February 26, 2012 [4 favorites]


Also, Steam rail in the London Underground is amazing! But steam trains themselves are all over the UK.
posted by vacapinta at 10:43 AM on February 26, 2012


I love rail travel as a whole. Steam rail is just that extra bit of magic, though. This is awesome. Now how do I get to London next year when this is happening?
posted by spitefulcrow at 11:08 AM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


chuff chuff chuff
posted by not_on_display at 11:30 AM on February 26, 2012


Well chuffed indeed.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:35 AM on February 26, 2012


Amazing.
posted by Summer at 11:51 AM on February 26, 2012


Great post.
posted by Samuel Farrow at 11:53 AM on February 26, 2012


Good news everyone! We've figured out how to make the subway even more dank and moist!
posted by gjc at 12:44 PM on February 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Pointless, but kind of awesome.
posted by sunnychef88 at 12:52 PM on February 26, 2012


For heavens sake, please dress appropriately Londoner's or what's the point?
posted by Skygazer at 1:57 PM on February 26, 2012


I suppose you could only use the oldest lines which are relatively close to the surface and built with massive ventilation - like that famous dummy house - in order to accommodate steam.

If you put one of these on the Jubilee people would be kippered.
posted by Segundus at 2:31 PM on February 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Lovely! Truly.
posted by rowansm at 2:31 PM on February 26, 2012


Maybe for the 200th anniversary they can try out coal.
posted by dixiecupdrinking at 2:38 PM on February 26, 2012


Impressive.
I remember when I was a kid of 8 or so in St Annes in Lancashire there were still steam trains running. A bunch of us stood on the bridge in town as the train ran by under us. We leant expectantly over the parapet and got engulfed in that magic steam as she rushed by under us. Emerged coughing and snorting with blackened faces and bits of cinder in our eyes, hair and mouths. Had not expected that.

Later, when reading Thomas the Tank Engine for my children I often got a sulphurous tinge at the back of my throat.
posted by jan murray at 3:04 PM on February 26, 2012 [2 favorites]


Obligatory Kinks reference.
posted by ovvl at 3:25 PM on February 26, 2012 [3 favorites]


Maybe for the 200th anniversary they can try out coal.

How is steemy formed?
posted by Sys Rq at 3:33 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


For heavens sake, please dress appropriately Londoner's or what's the point?

Don't say that — everyone will show up all steampunk, with clock faces and gears glued everywhere.
posted by orange swan at 3:48 PM on February 26, 2012


I wish I'd been there.
posted by carter at 5:01 PM on February 26, 2012


London meetup next year!
posted by ersatz at 5:43 PM on February 26, 2012


I know steam is filthy, but that video is so, so romantic.
posted by DarlingBri at 8:03 PM on February 26, 2012 [1 favorite]


It seems possible that locomotives like Met 1 may not have actually burned fuel while underground but may instead have stored steam like a tank engine for those parts of their runs. I can't tell for certain from the linked materials, but this may have solved the cinder problem.

(I was once on the rear... porch? of the last passenger car of the SL Yamaguchi excursion steam train when it went through a tunnel. This was a mistake. It became pretty unbearable in a hurry.)
posted by Chef Flamboyardee at 10:44 PM on February 26, 2012


I won't self link, but we've got some more photos and info about both the Beattie Tank Engine and Met No. 1 up on London Reconnections for those who want to squeee out over the sight of the steam loco at Edgware Road/Earls Court that evening as well.

Basically, as Leon Daniels (who is actually Head of Surface Transport when he's not blogging - i.e King of London Buses) writes, it's all preparation for the 150th birthday of the London Underground next year. The Transport Museum and TfL are hoping that they'll be able to run a few special steam services.

Yes, you read that right - 150 years! Basically all other metro systems in the world need to get the hell off London's lawn. Damn kids.

It seems possible that locomotives like Met 1 may not have actually burned fuel while underground but may instead have stored steam like a tank engine for those parts of their runs. I can't tell for certain from the linked materials, but this may have solved the cinder problem.

Short answer? Bit of both depending on line/time/context. It's worth remembering that during the early years there was actually no such thing as "the London Underground" - it was a number of competing companies all with different philosophies, priorities and technologies at their disposal.

Plus, don't forget that the Underground can be divided into two distinct parts:

- Hammersmith & City/Circle, District, Metropolitan. These are generally known as the Sub-Surface Lines and were all built using "cut and cover" - i.e. you basically dig a big ditch, stick a railway in it, then cover it over as required (and sometimes you don't bother even doing that).

Steam trains on these weren't really an issue so much, as most of the route either had very good ventilation or was open air anyway. This is why any steam services that do happen next year will be on the Met and/or District. Kensington Olympia - Baker Street via Earls Court would be my guess.

- Central Line, Piccadilly, Bakerloo, Jubilee, Victoria, Northern Line, Waterloo & City. The Deep Tube. These were all properly tunnelled as they came on the scene after Marc Brunel built the Thames Tunnel and invented the tunneling shield and Greathead refined it. Obviously steam on these was a no go from the start, and these have always been electric (although part of the Northern Line was originally meant to be cable-driven if I remember).

Even after its unification as a single company (and ultimately its nationalization) its origins as a multitude of differing lines with differing standards thus meant that having universal rolling stock was impossible, so you had a semi-random assortment of electrics and steam in use right up to the 1960s (although steam was mostly for engineering trains/yard work by then).

Hopefully that helps explain why steam on the Underground isn't as crazy as it sounds.

Indeed hopefully it also helps explain why even today its not really possible to have one single style of Underground train.

Right now, the goal is to move to a situation where we only have four different types of Underground rolling stock, three of which are now in service:

1) The 1992 Stock on the Central Line. This will be around for a while because, annoyingly, the tunnels are quite small. The line was built before a "standard" minimum width for the tunnels had been established (that's why it's always so bloody hot down there, in case you were wondering)
2) The 2009 Stock on the Victoria Line (which finally replaced the venerable 67 stock last year).
3) The S Stock on the Sub Surface Lines (the "S" Stands for "Sub-Surface." They wanted to give it a letter as nod to the "C" and "D" stocks it was/is replacing). This is the only one of the lot that can be air conditioned effectively but unfortunately is the one that least needs it (that bit tends to get left out in the press releases from TfL/the Mayor when they're boasting about "air conditioning the tube").

And...

4) "Project Deep Tube" which sounds wonderfully X-Files but is basically the codename for the work currently underway to produce a "standard" rolling stock for the rest of the Deep Tube lines which all, broadly speaking, share the same signalling and technology.

Deep Tube is very much a post 2020 thing from what I understand, with the first place its likely to appear being the Bakerloo and/or Piccadilly Lines (the current Bakerloo Line stock celebrates its 40th birthday this year if I remember).

Planning for this is in its very early stages, obviously, but the current expectation is that it will:

- be either fully automated or remotely operated but not unmanned (don't believe what you read in the papers or anything spun up by the current Mayor who's just angling for votes). Basically they'll follow the same operational model as currently exists on the DLR with some kind of "train captain" who can do limited driving in an emergency.
- be as efficient/self-cooling as possible (regenerative breaks etc. etc
- look something like this. Possibly. Or... you know... not at all.

/end London Underground nerd.
posted by garius at 8:01 AM on February 27, 2012 [7 favorites]


garius: "I won't self link, but we've got some more photos and info "

It's totally OK to self-link in a comment if you're an expert on the subject!

This is pretty fascinating stuff.

I'm curious about a few things here:
1) They're actually going to burn coal down there? I'm amazed that all of the ventilation infrastructure is still there and working, and that TfL will allow them to dirty up the tunnels. I was kind of assuming that they were going to rig up some sort of electric steam generator.

2) Why is the steam locomotive in the middle of the set and driving backwards, and what's going on with the battery locomotive trailing at the end of the set? I guess there must be signaling issues that they need to work out? I'm actually a bit surprised that Met #1 can drive in both directions, and seems to have been fitted with an elevated cab designed for that exact purpose (looking a bit like a modern North American switcher locomotive)
posted by schmod at 10:57 AM on February 27, 2012


That's fascinating, garius. Incidentally where will the Crossrail fit into all this? Will it use the Deep Tube stock or is it a different category from the other tube lines?
posted by tavegyl at 11:03 AM on February 27, 2012


I expect this is what garius refrained from linking. This whole business has already sent me mad with joy. Along with The Tube.
posted by gdav at 1:10 PM on February 27, 2012


That is indeed what I was refraining from linking. Okay, couple of self links here then - sorry - but they are relevant/useful in context of this comment. Honest.

Right, to answer a few questions then:

They're actually going to burn coal down there?

Yup. Again, worth remembering that its not really "down there." On the Sub-Surface lines - particularly that section of them - most of the Underground is actually above ground. Indeed head further down the line a bit towards Hammersmith and its actually elevated!

I'm amazed that all of the ventilation infrastructure is still there and working, and that TfL will allow them to dirty up the tunnels

They'll likely only do a couple of runs, which will hardly be more grubby than normal day to day operations in the grand scheme of things (that's partly what Sunday morning was meant to establish). Also, it doesn't really matter if the tunnels it passes through get dirty - they're filthy already (they're dark, so no one sees them apart from LU's own workers).

Why is the steam locomotive in the middle of the set and driving backwards, and what's going on with the battery locomotive trailing at the end of the set?

From what I understand, the only time the special train moved under power from the loco was whilst it was in Baker Street itself (although it was always under steam) - the back and forth shunting you see in the video. It was L24 and L26, bracketing the train at either end, that provided the motive power the rest of the time.

If you think about it, that makes sense. This wasn't intended to be a test of the loco itself and so you want to minimise potential issues - one of which would be the loco breaking down or suffering problems that meant normal operations couldn't begin later that morning.

"Sorry. We were mucking around with a steam train last night" isn't really something you want to have to tell people when they want to know why they can't get a train later that day. Not least because I doubt they've got an automated announcement recorded for it!

Plus, as you rightly point out...

I guess there must be signaling issues that they need to work out?

Indeed. The Harrow and Wealdstone disaster (which changed Britain in ways most people don't even realise) and other post-war changes stretching right forward into the new signalling system being installed on the SSL as I write mean the Underground is a very different place to what it was during the days of steam.

That said, with speed restrictions, planning and careful working its completely possible (and has been done before - back when the District turned 125) but obviously there's a lot to test.

I'm actually a bit surprised that Met #1 can drive in both directions, and seems to have been fitted with an elevated cab designed for that exact purpose

Nitpicking slightly, but worth highlighting that the loco they used wasn't Met No. 1 - that's still being restored and will need a boiler certificate. This loco was a Beattie on loan from the National Railway Museum - basically they grabbed the nearest decently compatible, comparable and available loco they could get their hands on. You can find a bit more on Met 1 here from back when we twigged that they were planning this (me and Ian from ianvisits worked it out whilst comparing notes on obscure tenders last year), and a bit more on the Beattie in Sunday's article (with even more details in the comments).

In all honesty that's probably the best place to ask about the design particulars if you're genuinely interested - sadly my steam loco knowledge is relatively limited. Sorry!

That's fascinating, garius. Incidentally where will the Crossrail fit into all this? Will it use the Deep Tube stock or is it a different category from the other tube lines?

Crossrail will have its own rolling stock. It's worth remembering that although its central section will be beneath the city (where, going by their test mockup, the platforms will be Jubilee Extension style) it's as much intended to be a suburban line as it is a high-traffic metro system. Effectively, it'll have as much in common with Thameslink as it does the Underrground, although it will be run by TfL.

That mix of short and mid range potential journeys makes for some interesting design challenges when it comes to its trains, because suddenly you have to think about people who might be standing for considerable amounts of time as well as people who may only travel one stop in the core. Will mean some interesting decisions on seating layout, toilets etc. as they try to find the right balance between passenger capacity and comfort.

My personal suspicion is that we'll see something not dissimilar to the 378 CapitalStars you can now see on the Overground. The battle to win the Crossrail contract should be interesting for various reasons, but that's a whole other story...

Hope all that helps!
posted by garius at 5:33 PM on February 27, 2012 [2 favorites]


Looks like some interesting stories there, but annoyingly, I can't seem to connect to http://www.londonreconnections.com/.
posted by grouse at 9:57 AM on February 28, 2012


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