Chris Rogers writer on architecture and visual culture

New Victoria Line tube trains

New Victoria Line rolling stock is being introduced on London Underground. It’s a long process, that hasn’t gone entirely to plan, with reports of faults and service disruption. But they are the first new trains on the network since the Northern and Jubilee Lines in the late 1990s and so are worth a closer look.

Created by Bombardier, they are the latest iteration of a 150-year old basic design and as such have to conform to certain physical and operational limits. Not visible in any of these pictures, though, is an engineering breakthrough which allows a much thinner structural skin for the cars. This gives an extra 40mm of width whilst still, of course, allowing them to fit in the tunnels. Bombardier call it FICAS and describe a modular sandwich construction comprising a steel skin bonded to a rigid composite core.

The smooth, sculpted interiors have the look of 2001: A Space Odyssey. Some of the design details are rather neat – the sill-level LED lights to draw attention to the step, the illuminating/flashing door opening/closing indicators.

Not sure about that awkward junction of vertical pole and horizontal rail, though happily lessons have been learned from the Jubilee and Northern stock so that the poles are now staggered, eliminating the dead spot where only the longest-armed can stand.

The car-end windows are now standard on all new stock, making for a brighter train generally but actually intended to increase visibility and provide reassurance for passengers.

Although the Victoria Line was conceived in a climate of reduced government funding which affected its aesthetics, its designers still managed to stress the clean, space-age lines of the original bare-metal-finished trains and the ingenuity of the technical equipment which controlled services semi-automatically.

With new signalling also on the way, the new stock does a fair job of continuing that legacy.

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Views inside the new Bombardier 2009 Victoria Line tube stock, the exterior of whose driving car is also shown (that image only from Bombardier)

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