Uxbridge and Back - 1938 style

Posted on 5 October 2003 in London, Transport (No comments)

Just down the road from me is the London Transport Museum's depot at Acton Town, which houses a motley collection of exhibits that they can't house in their museum in Covent Garden, as well as being the place where restoration is done. It's not open to the public very often - three or four weekends a year, one of which was this weekend, and having nothing better to do today, I took the opportunity to pay it a visit.

Amongst the exhibits are buses and trains (including several rare prototypes like the only rear engined Routemaster bus ever made), signs, lift equipment and a segment of an experimental spiral escalator that was quickly removed from the station it was installed in.

It's fascinatingly eclectic in its organisation. Old buses sit alongside a set of railings from Bishopsgate station, where as old tube trains stand idle at plywood platforms with old station benches, whilst a palate nearby sits on a shelf housing computer equipment.

I was especially interested in the collection of 1930s photographs (showing off the fantastic architecture of the new stations of the era) and posters which were housed in a special display, and wandered along with strange fascination a narrow alley which featured at least 8 near-identical roundel signs proclaiming the legend 'Tuffnell Park'.

Something a little special...

Most interesting was something I was not aware would be happening - it had received no promotion prior to the day, and even when I got to the depot, they weren't making a huge song and dance about it. For two trips that day, a 1938 tube train would be making its way from Ealing Common to Uxbridge, and back again.

Sounding wonderfully whimsical, I got a boarding pass and rushed off to Acton Town station so I could get on board the 15:25 departure. As with any tube journey, you need a normal tube ticket, although in my rush I managed to buy a single rather than a return - something I rectified during the wait at Ealing Common station.

So not to disrupt normal services, the train was carefully scheduled, and would run non-stop. Unfortunately it was late thanks to normal trains getting in the way, so the train didn't slowly work its way out of Ealing Common depot until about half past.

1938 train in a 1988 time warp.

The train itself is a four carriage engine, resplendent in bright lipstick red paint. The station was full of excited passengers for this special journey, as we boarded a train to be greeted with strange green paint work, and wonderful art-deco shades over the lamps. The train itself ran the very last service by this type of train - it was finally withdrawn from active service as late as 1988. Inside the old Northern Line route maps and 1988 adverts lay untouched.

It was a strange feeling pulling out of the station as we sailed on the half hour journey to Uxbridge. As we passed through the stations, there were a mixture of people watching, both bemused or completely oblivious.

The ride was smooth - slightly slower than the current Piccadilly Line service, but less wobbly. A museum volunteer walked around the carriage, answering questions.

There... and back.

We arrived at Uxbridge ready for a fast turn-around. The small drivers cabin had housed three members of staff at the front, and three at the back so that the train could leave Uxbridge without delay.

Surprisingly only one person in the entire journey approached the train in an attempt to board. Quite why a harassed woman with several carrier bags thought that the strange looking bright red half-sized train in front of her was running on the Piccadilly Line, who knows, especially when there was a huge looking Metropolitain Line train sat next to us, but I was quite surprised no one else made that mistake.

We left Uxbridge in a matter of minutes on the way back, though the fields and greenery of the end of the Piccadilly Line - the drivers in the other cab had taken over the driving. The train must have been popular with tube workers, as there were numerous members of Underground staff on board.

As we disembarked again at Ealing Common, I watched slide into the depot again and out of sight, and then walked home, wishing I'd taken my camera with me.

Again?

The train itself is the oldest electric train that's capable of running on the tube network - there is a steam train which used to run for an annual event called 'Steam on the Met', but there are numerous problems with running steam trains, like having to cut back the foliage even further than normal, and in the era of PPP on the tube, no one wants to pay the extra money.

Steam on the Met may be gone, but today's event was a pilot run (according to our onboard volunteer) which they hope to replicate for future open days. It's good to see that even in this privatised world, there's still room for something whimsical on the tube network. Here's hoping today was a success for that pilot run (we didn't seem to cause any logjams in the tube system during our journey) and that oft may it be repeated! The next depot open day is in March next year, so maybe if you pop along, keep a look out for some signs, cos hopefully they'll be doing it again.

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