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The Metropolitan: Lovely new trains, but as usual broken promises


Over the summer, I hope you’ve had the chance to catch one of the new Metropolitan line trains being gradually rolled out over 2010. The Metropolitan is the first line to benefit from new ‘sub-surface’ rolling stock, which will also be used on the Circle, District and Hammersmith & City Lines. The new trains are lovely: they’re the first air-conditioned trains on the London Underground and have walk through carriages. The trains can also carry more people as standing room has been increased, but at the cost of a 29% reduction in seating. I can see the value of a ‘hop-on hop-off’ spacious train for short distances in Zone 1, but while I think these trains are perfect for the Circle line, I’ve had some concerns about the suitability of reducing seats on commuter journeys over long distances, as the Metropolitan line covers.

However, the signal upgrade is now dependent on the new coalition government's Comprehensive Spending Review and review of the Underground upgrade. Until the announcement in October, we can only hope the Mayor is effectively lobbying the Chancellor effectively on this crucial decision for the Underground, London and Brent and Harrow.

Unfortunately, The Mayor’s responses to my questions on this have not been straightforward. In October 2008 he told me

Question: The new sub-surface rolling stock will introduce a new standard in comfort with the introduction of air conditioning on London Underground trains for the first time. However, a decreased seating capacity of 29% will have major implications for the comfort of Metropolitan Line users north of Baker Street. What measures will TfL make to ameliorate the journeys of the commuting Londoners who pay the highest fares to travel the greatest distances on the network, and who are simply not serviced by a ‘hop-on, hop-off’ design?


Answer by Boris Johnson

Although there is a reduction in the number of seats per train, the line upgrade means a more frequent train service and thereby a greater number of seats available to passengers on the line.

This will allow passengers travelling from further out a greater chance of getting a seat and those getting on nearer central London a greater opportunity to get on the first train that arrives.

In December of that year I revisited the issue, after the collapse of Metronet meant a three year period during which the new trains would run but without the higher frequencies promised.


Question: In response to my question 2254/2008 regarding the new Metropolitan Line rolling stock, you responded “Although there is a reduction in the number of seats per train, the line upgrade means a more frequent train service and thereby a greater number of seats available to passengers on the line”. Is the Mayor aware the line upgrade, including the signalling upgrade necessary to run more trains on the line, was delayed by the collapse of Metronet. What does the Mayor intend to do for the three year period where the new trains are in operation without the signalling upgrade, with a resultant overall capacity drop of 29%? What measures will you take to alleviate this congestion?


Answer by Boris Johnson

It is important to note that there is no reduction in overall Metropolitan line capacity at any time. Overall capacity will increase with the introduction of new trains and timetable improvements which will be brought in both before and after the signalling upgrade.

It is also important to reiterate the fact that the current seating capacity is overstated. As I mentioned in my answer to question 2254/2008, the three seat transverse seat is often too cramped for three passengers. So while it is said that there are 448 seats on each train currently, in practice the number of seats that are available for use is 368.

On the latter basis, seating capacity in the peak hour will be virtually unchanged and London Underground (LU) is confident that most people at Harrow-on-the-Hill and stations north will still get a seat once the new trains are fully in use.

Following the completion of the signal upgrade peak hour seating capacity will actually increase. The additional capacity on these new trains will also provide much needed relief on the most crowded sections of the line between Baker Street and Aldgate.

Finally, it is important to note that LU is managing the signalling procurement so that there will be no delay from the original plan.


So, the Mayor now maintains that seating capacity will not drop because “the three seat transverse seat is often too cramped for three passengers”. I think this just shows the Mayor has never travelled on the Metropolitan Line during the rush hour! I’m sad to report he never responded to my invitation to ride the line during those hours to witness the seating arrangements himself.


Nonetheless, there is certainly a reduction in seating capacity, and the Metropolitan Line signal upgrade has now been pushed back to 2016, doubling the time with reduced seating to six years. While that’s a problem, we all understand TfL are operating in a tigh financial climate, as are all public bodies and local authorities, but I think this altercation shows we have a Mayor who is not straightforward with Londoners and whose justification changes when challenged.  


What do you think of the new trains? Please let me know


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1st September 2010