London’s only tube trains with a forward view!

London’s only tube trains with a forward view!

Now that the 1938 tube stock’s long era in public service has come to an end with the last examples having bowed out from the Island Line, I thought it would be a good time to talk about the one element of these tube trains no one ever seems to mention. That is the fact that they were the first deep level tube stock to provide passengers with a forward view of the line ahead! If one does not know what I mean when its alluded they had forward facing views, please read on!

Let it be said that facility wasn’t even available on the refurbished stock destined for the Isle of Wight because these trains had full solid bulkheads instead of the design they originally came with – thus the style could only be seen on London’s underground. What this means is its only on the heritage stock or by way of having used the original stock on the Bakerloo, Northern and even the Piccadilly Lines that one would have been aware of an opportunity to see the line ahead like the driver could.

If anyone is reading this and thinking to themselves, ‘this is totally crap, this is an absolute lie, there was never ever anything of the sort, and a facility not one of London’s tube stock has ever had – like a forward view on a classic DMU or those on the Newcastle Metro or even the new Merseyside units or on a tram, even the DLR or whatever.’

Well yes evidently its true London’s underground trains have never had a forward view of any sort for passengers. But this is no lie. The 1938 tube stock didn’t officially have a forward facing window for passengers to gawp at the driver working his controls or watch the tunnels the train was speeding through. But there was indeed one and yet it was a design quirk more than anything else.

The 1938 stock during restoration at Acton Works in 1999. If one knows where to look the train’s ‘forward view window’ can clearly be seen. Source: Twitter

The only reason I am writing about any such thing to be found on the 1938 tube stock is because few seem to know of it – and as time goes on even fewer will know about it…. Even some of the preserved examples have had their forward view windows plated over – perhaps as a matter of convenience – or maybe even a gross oversight.

The official preserved model, that at the London Transport Museum, has been modified in such a way no-one would realise it had a forward view for passengers. Thus it’s not historically correct.

In terms of the most recent surviving examples of 1938 tube stock, namely those on the Island Line, as I have already mentioned those didn’t have it either. It means any awareness of this quirk that was part of the 1938 tube stock is no doubt slipping into the stygian depths of forgotten history.

Its why I thought I’d do my best to extoll on the said feature as widely as I could – before the subject goes off radar for good!

Its outrageous when the official preserved example of a 1938 tube stock at the London Transport museum isn’t what it seems to be – it doesn’t even have a ‘forward facing window!’ Source: Facebook

As I’ve just stressed, the 1938 tube stock did have a forward facing window yet its curious no-one’s ever discussed it. To be honest what could be seen wasn’t any great view ahead, it wasn’t a grand vista of any sort, it wasn’t one where one would have thought to themselves ‘wow I could sit behind the driver all day and just watch the tunnels go by…’

Maybe no-one used it, or thought the window to the fire extinguisher was no more than a mere access point for this extinguisher. In fact it was somewhat awkward to use – and in a way it depended on the fire extinguisher’s placement. If one knew of it they could look through the window in question and enjoy the same sort of view ahead that the driver had while the train was in motion. Not only that, if there was a delay for example one could check to see what the probable cause could be. What it meant was one didn’t even have to have to gain any special privilege of being in the driver’s cab just to see the train hurtling through London’s steel lined tube tunnels!

It is because of these forward facing windows that I became quite acquainted with the tunnels on the Bakerloo and Northern Lines and this was decades before drivers eye view videos on You Tube became available! I could enjoy the view as the train descended from East Finchley into the tunnels towards Highgate, see the remains of the unbuilt station at North End Road, see how the tunnels at King’s Cross and Euston were laid out, and even the remains of the original City and South London station beneath City Road. How the original CSLR tunnels split off from the newer tunnels north of Borough station. And observe the Lambeth North tunnels, which go to the London Road depot and have a grandstand view of the Piccadilly Circus station approach from the north.

Was the 1938 tube stock’s designer, Graff-Baker, responsible for the quirk? Source: Twitter

It wasn’t the London Passenger Transport Board or W. S. Graff Baker, the 1938 tube’s rolling stock designer, who may have said ‘well now we’ve managed to put all the train’s motors under the floor and got rid of that pesky motor compartment, why don’t we be extra nice and give passengers the excitement of a forward view of the line ahead?’ So why did the facility even get to be introduced in the first place?

It is quite possible the ample space in the original 1938 experimental stock design (which I’ve written about) caused a considerable problem when it came to using the classic style of flat front end tube stock instead. So much more had to be compressed into a far smaller space. Thus this ‘forward facing viewpoint’ wasn’t a deliberate design but a quirk rather – because other than a simple necessity to save space its curious it even came about.

One big caveat on this ‘forward facing window’ was obvious. It was more an opportunity for any discerning passengers to inspect a London Transport certified fire extinguisher at close hand! But if one ignored the damn thing, well there was indeed a reasonable forward view ahead. Not only that one could look to the side and see the driver operating the controls, which was an added bonus!

This facility couldn’t really be enjoyed much either – except perhaps on the quieter trains – otherwise one would be getting in the way of other passengers. One had to hope there would be no passengers sitting at the seats by the bulkhead – because if there were well there was no chance one could take a look through the bulkhead window and see which driver was currently in charge of the train and how well they were driving it.

You see, the ‘forward facing window’ wasn’t really anything much to write home about unless one happened to be a hardcore tube enthusiast.

The 1938 stock forward facing window can be seen at the rear of the driver’s cab where the fire extinguisher is. Source: Wikipedia

As I have just indicated, I’m not really sure how the ‘forward facing window’ came about, I’ve never read anything that would explain the design’s existence – but I think it was due to constraints in the layout of the 1938 motor driving cars that would have flat front ends, which resulted in a need to save on space and the result of this therefore was that both the driver’s cab and the passenger compartment (and hence the train’s guard) shared the same fire extinguisher.

LT Museum’s 1938 heritage train with its forward facing window clearly evident. Source: Wikipedia

If one thinks about it fire extinguishers on the later and more modern tube stock what it is was these were in fact placed within a recess set into the bulkhead door between the passenger and driver’s compartment. The reason this works is likely due to the lighter materials available to keep the weight of the bulkhead door down but also retain its rigidity and strength. Having a fire extinguisher installed in similar fashion on the 1938 stock would have posed problems – not only that there would be the issue of the door not being able to fully open into the passenger compartment if there was a boxed apparition containing the extinguisher itself placed upon the back of the door.

Evidently it seems the door in the 1938 tube stock, being of steel construction (it was practically a whole solid plate in fact) was already very heavy and awkward to use as well. Placing a fire extinguisher on that would have increased the total weight beyond any sort of reasonable acceptance.

Thus the extinguisher was instead placed in a position within the bulkhead where it could be reached from either side and could be used by either the driver or the passenger. In turn it created an additional cute factor for the train.

In some cases depending on the fire extinguisher that was used, the viewing window would be much larger as seen here, the first farewell tour of the 38 stock on the Northern Line in April 1978 (that’s before they were reintroduced for a second time due to stock shortages.) Source: PicClick

The fire extinguisher sat on a shelf within the bulkhead and it was open at the driver’s side but partitioned off on the passenger side. The glass partition was in a metal frame however and it was hinged thus the extinguisher could be accessed by passengers simply opening the glass partition.

I suppose there was no way of stopping anyone opening the window in question and acting unhinged. One could open it and basically wave their hands right inside the driver’s cab if they so wished! Even handle the fire extinguisher and try to set it off or chuck it at the poor driver whist shouting ‘Here’s Johnny!’

To be honest I don’t think anyone ever did any of those things! Let it be known the 1938 tube stock was built more than four decades before Kubrick’s The Shining…

Despite its possible downside the design of the 1938 tube stock entailed a window that looked into the driver’s cab and gave a view of the line ahead. Sure enough the fact the fire extinguisher stood there was a little bit of a pain! Not only that one had to be somewhat tall enough or was rather a kid standing on the seats in order to enjoy the view of the tunnels ahead.

"The Starlight Express" - 12th May 1985, 6 of 6

Excellent picture of the ‘Starlight Express’ unit at Baker Street on 12th May 1985. Close scrutiny of this image will revel the train’s ‘forward view window!’ Source: Flickr

Pictures of this forward view window arrangement are extremely rare and I don’t think anyone’s really thought about it or even taken any pictures to show the arrangement. I didn’t either but do find I have a couple of shots which include this forward facing view.

No-one’s ever discussed it in any history of the 1938 tube stock – not in any books in the underground nor even on any rail forums. Here are some photographs I took when the 1938 tube stock was enjoying a second revival on the Northern Line. The camera I was using at the time was an Olympus XA3.

One of the restored 1938 units has just arrived at Moorgate. Source: London Rail Blog.

What’s interesting about this Moorgate picture is in the late 1980s the station appeared far more modern than it is nowadays! Maybe its the fact it was one of the few other stations besides those on the Victoria Line and a few other such as Hatton Cross whch had backlit station name panels? Those pretty roundel panels have been gone a long time! Source: London Rail Blog.

The 1938 tube stock revival on the Northern Line! Morden. One may notice the train has an aerial. This is for the Northern Line’s PTI (Positive Train Identification) as well as Storno radio equipment for communications with the line controllers. New Year’s Day 1987. Source: London Rail Blog.

The bulkhead between the driving cab and passenger saloon, seen at Morden. It was the fire extinguisher access window that enabled a forward view from the 1938 tube stock. Notice how its shaped the same as the driver’s door! Note the lovely metallic looking Cerulean Blue colour! Source: London Rail Blog.

The same train at Morden with the driver’s cab door open. Source: London Rail Blog.

What’s interesting about the above shot is I unintentionally took a picture of the view that could be seen through the ‘forward window’ at the time – namely the platform shunt signals which were sited right by the signal cabin at Morden. It might not seem a great view that could be obtained through this window but if one were to go right up close the angle of view widened very considerably and one could see the cab’s controls, the line ahead and the rest of it.

If one stood on the seats or was tall enough the view by the top of the fire extinguisher was even better! An almost uninterrupted view of the tracks and tunnels ahead!

Apart from the topmost bit, it often depended on the positioning of the extinguisher as to how much one could see. If it was set rather more to one side the field of view was much better.

Return of the 1938 tube stock 1986-1988

Although the tube at the time was awash with lovely colour posters heralding the return of the ‘Red’ tube train, the only example I can find is this one from the series of ‘Update’ posters LT did at the time. This example I scanned from an old magazine in my possession. Source: London Rail Blog.

There’s a full page colour example of the ‘Bring back the red!’ poster on the LT Museum website however its low res.

It seems somewhat prudent at this point to write a little on the Red Trains and their reintroduction to the Northern Line during 1987 and 1988. As some will realise it was these trains (except the Starlight Express unit) that ended up on the Isle of Wight thus its those same ones that were recently withdrawn. Anyway on the 14th April of 1978 the final 1938 stock train ran on the Northern Line. A number remained on the Bakerloo however and the last day of 1938s on that line was 20th November 1985 when the line’s celebrated ‘Starlight Express’ ran, this celebrated heritage train having had it’s first Bakerloo outing on 22nd November 1984 and which I remember using as a regular on the Bakerloo then. After the stock’s wholesale withdrawal, the large remaining 1938 allocation went for scrap at the rate of one weekly except the ‘Starlight Express’ which would be retained.

By 1985 LT was uncertain whether its stock allocations could sustain the levels of service on the Northern Line, this being due to a substantial increase in passenger numbers, and that coupled with a need to convert the 1972 stock for the line’s forthcoming One Person Operation. LT ordered a halt on any remaining 1938 stock waiting to be sent for scrap.

Five trains (four in service with one spare) were chosen to supplement the Northern Line’s services with the first examples at work on 15th September 1986. It was originally planned that these be withdrawn by August 1988. They were in fact withdrawn on 19th May 1988. It was of course the ‘Starlight Express’ that began the 1938 tube stock’s revival, being the unit that needed the least work to bring it up to standard. It began work on the 15th September with the 07.47 Morden to High Barnet duty, and then a special working back to Morden from High Barnet at 09.11am, this being a Press and VIP special. On some days the ‘Starlight Express’ remained in service all day instead of peaks only as planned because so many people and the media expressed an interest in it.

1938 stock allocation table for the period September 1986 to August 1988, adapted from one of my old rail magazines. Source: London Rail Blog.

The date delivered/into service columns actually refers to when these five units were first built, delivered and put into service. The first train, including Car 10012, was the first into service – the date being 30th June 1938. However the original was scrapped following an accident and Car 11178 assumed the identity of 10012.

In terms of getting the trains ready for their reintroduction to London’s underground, four units plus the Starlight Express went to Ruislip for full overall and refurbishment. The first of the completely refurbished units were put into service during November 1986, almost two months after the Starlight Express. The Starlight Express could be identified easily as it was the only unit to retain its original shovel shaped lightshades. The trains were repainted in LT Rail Red rather than the original lighter 1938 red livery. The striking blue lining colour inside the units is said to have been Cerulean Blue, somewhat similar to Malachite Green.

The surprising thing about the return of the 1938 tube stock to service from 1986 to 1988 is the three car element of the Starlight Express’ seven car consist actually consisted the few examples of LNER owned 1938 tube stock! These LNER ones were built for the abortive pre war expansion programme (eg Finsbury Park to Alexandra Place and Mill Hill East to Edgware on what were LNER owned metals.) These were Nos. 10291, 012371, and 11291. The LNER Forum says a total of ten LNER cars were in the five trains restored to service – and six of those ultimately went to the Island Line.

There’s one thing that’s clear from this reintroduction of 1938 stock to the tube during those two years – its that I was able to chase the units in question and take many photographs at various locations on the Northern Line of the 1938 tube stock as well as quite a few interior shots.

And enjoy the train’s forward facing view too!