London Underground's old tube trains



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Old tube trains never die... they just resurface in the most unexpected places. Time Out investigates where London Underground's familiar old carriages go when they've passed their sell-by dates

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    A new lease of life on the Isle of Wight

    Isle of Wight

    ‘Oh yes, I’ve been slapped by a big old wave while driving one of the trains along the pier,’ says John Little with a laugh. Little is operations manager of Island Line, the Isle of Wight’s east coast commuter railway, and the trains he’s talking about started their working lives rattling around a pre-WWII tube system. The 1938-built former Bakerloo and Northern Line trains were acquired to replace the Ryde-Shanklin line steam trains when the track was electrified in 1966. They were the only modern trains able to cope with the low and narrow tunnel clearance at Ryde. ‘They’ve taken to the atmosphere pretty well – they weren’t built to be rained on, or even to see the light of day.’

    Despite their advanced years, the trains clock up 70,000 miles a year, covering eight-and-a-half-miles of open-air track, half a mile of which is on the pier – hence the waves. ‘We’ve got the oldest trains rolling,’ Little says proudly. ‘It’s a bit Heath Robinson sometimes, but we get by.’

    Village Underground

    Walk along Great Eastern Street from Shoreditch High Street, look up, and you’ll spot Village Underground’s tube carriages atop a building. It cost designer and entrepreneur Auro Foxcroft £25,000 to get the 1983 Jubilee Line carriages up there by crane, with a plan to turn them into affordable, networking-friendly office space for creatives and small businesses. ‘I’m a furniture designer,’ explains Foxcroft, ‘and I couldn’t afford a studio – so I thought I’d build my own. I was on an old mountain train in Switzerland, looking at all the windows and the light, and the idea just came to me.’ So he called up TfL, which gave him some old carriages for scrap. The former trains are now days away from being finished. The seats are gone, partitioned desk areas face the windows and the doors still open at a push of an original button. As well as being 100 per cent recycled, the carriages are powered by green energy. One is for pay-as-you-go hot-deskers, the other houses permanent offices for designers, record labels, photographers and scriptwriters. There’s already a waiting list.

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    The hospital radio station being installed

    Great Ormond Street

    When rebuilding work began on two-thirds of Great Ormond Street Hospital (GOSH), the hugely popular Radio Lollipop became homeless. So when TfL offered to donate a disused 1983 Jubilee Line carriage, it was the perfect solution. After removing the wheels, the battery boxes and some of the seats, as well as rewiring for mains power, the 26-tonne carriage was chopped in two and rejoined at a right angle, to allow it to fit into the hospital courtyard. Since April 2005, it has been Lollipop’s HQ and plans are now underway to build a ‘station’ to go with it. ‘The patients and nursing staff think it’s fantastic,’ says Radio Lollipop chairman Andrew Kendall of the revamped carriage, which also houses an activity centre so that the children can play outside of the wards. ‘And the fact that you can still press a button to open the doors makes us smile every time we use it.’

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    Cushion covers at the LT Museum © Rob Greig

    Buy your own

    Fancy acquiring your own bit of tube train? It’s not easy. ‘We can’t just sell them to anyone,’ says Laura Wallace of Tubelines, which looks after trains on the Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly Lines. ‘We have to ensure they will use them safely. They cost a lot to maintain and we aim to maximise their lifespan rather than dispose of them.’ Mark Loader of Metronet (which maintains the other two-thirds of the Underground) adds: ‘Old trains are recycled in one form or another. Some are donated to the London Transport Museum. We also see if any other railways could make use of the trains. For the remainder, we salvage as much material as possible to recycle. The carriages are made from aluminium, so there is a good chance in the future that your drinks can will be made from a piece of tube history!’ But here’s the big news for tube buffs. According to Wallace, Piccadilly Line trains are due for replacement in 2014. ‘But we haven’t yet thought about what to do with them.’ Get in there quick. If you can’t get your hands on a whole carriage, the London Transport Museum shop sells all sorts of tube memorabilia made out of 1930s and ’70s geometric moquette (the fabric with which the seats are covered): choose from cushions, pencil cases, bustiers, sofas, even canine coats – ranging in price from £12.99 to £799. You can also buy remade bits of tube at If you’re a true tube nut, try an auction such as the one held last year by the London Transport Museum – but only if your wallet’s full. A disused King’s Cross St Pancras Station underground sign sold for £2,000. More fascinating insights into the tube will be on show at the London Transport Museum ( when it reopens in autumn 2007.

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