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DISTRICT LINE SERVICE TO MANCHESTER

London’s old subway cars are being transformed into trains for the north of England

Flickr/Katy Ereira
Next stop: the North.
  • Mike Murphy
By Mike Murphy

Technology editor

This article is more than 2 years old.

Apparently even mass transit systems do hand-me-downs. Some of London’s old Underground subway trains have been sold to a train company, Vivarail, that’s transforming them into diesel trains for use on train lines in towns in the north.

The London Underground has been undertaking a seemingly endless set of track updates, line refurbishments, and train replacements for years now, and part of its updates involved getting new trains. The train stock that runs on the District, Circle, and Hammersmith & City lines were some of the oldest in the system. The District line stock was built in the late 70s and went into service in 1980, and the Underground is in the process of replacing the entire fleet with new trains by this coming summer. Instead of following New York City’s lead and just dumping its old trains into the ocean, the Underground sold a few hundred cars it had planned to scrap to Vivarail in 2014. According to the BBC, Vivarail will be able to build about 70 new trains out of the old subway cars for towns in Yorkshire and other parts of northern England.

Vivarail has been stripping the old cars down over the course of 2015, with the hopes of putting them into service as commuter trains by early 2016, according to The Engineer. Vivarail is rejigging the configuration of the carriages, as well as the livery, so it won’t feel like commuters are riding a three-decade-old subway train from a different city to work. The first converted train was tested out on a 4 km (2.4 mile) track at Vivarail’s factory in Stratford-upon-Avon in August. The company wasn’t immediately available to confirm that it was on track to have trains in service by 2016.

An eagle-eyed Reddit user caught one of the trains being transported up north along the highway:

Although the move has been seen as an environmentally conscious way to recycle old materials, it’s worth noting that the old Underground trains had been fully electric, whereas when they enter their second life as commuter trains, they will be diesel-powered.

Vivarail
A proposed redesign of the Tube train’s layout.

The new trains will replace the Northern Rail Pacer, a train that runs through a series of northern towns that has the body of a bus, which as the BBC put it, is “unloved.” While some criticize reusing older trains instead of purchasing new ones, the refurbished trains will be about a third cheaper than entirely new ones, and commuters shouldn’t be able to tell the difference when Vivarail is finished. Which is exactly what a parent would tell their child when making them wear their older sibling’s clothes to school.

Image by Katy Ereira on Flickr, licensed under CC BY 2.0.

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