This page will be updated at approximately 0430 tomorrow morning with the plan for the day. After this time, no further updates will be made until after the last train has stabled. For the latest changes and alterations, please follow me on Twitter, or check the hashtag #CatchTheD.
This week marks the end of an era on London Underground’s District line, as the last of the venerable D78 stock are withdrawn from passenger service. After 37 years of plying their trade between east and west London, the fleet’s time is up, and they are to be replaced by the brand new, air-conditioned, walk-through S stock as part of a multi-million pound upgrade programme for the network. The last train is scheduled to operate in service on Friday 21st April, with a final farewell railtour taking place two weeks later, on Sunday 7th May.
Out of 75 individual units there are now only six left, formed into three trains – two of these are believed to have now run the last, having ended their days at Ealing Common depot, from where this trains will be dispatched away from London Underground. The third unit has spent a week at Upminster depot to be prepared for the final trip, and will tonight also have stabled at Ealing Common. All will have then operated normal services for the last time, closing the curtain on over 100 years of conventional, DC-motored rolling stock operation across the sub-surface lines. Like the A60/62 and C69/77 stock before them, the D78s will become nothing more than a memory, as the trains of the future become the present, ready to take on the baton of service for the next 30 years.
What is a D78 stock?
The London Underground D78 stock are a family of trains constructed by Metro-Cammell between 1978 and 1981 in their Washwood Heath workshops. An innovative design at the time, the trains were the first on the Underground to use a modern joystick-style control handle, replacing the previous spring-loaded ‘deadman’s’ device found on earlier stocks, as well as a modern ‘train management system’ for the diagnosis and rectification of faults, in preference to an earlier, more generic system. Much progress was also made with ride quality, but the most radical and noticeable difference for passengers were the single-leaf doors, a big departure from anything that had been seen in other rolling stock designs of the era. Ordered at a time of dwindling passenger numbers on the network, the design was intended to both reduce maintenance costs and reflect the lower patronage, but despite being replicated in the later 1983 tube stock the doors would continue to be a drawback for the trains, as passenger numbers rose and station dwell times increased.
However, unlike their smaller cousins, the D78 stock soldiered on, and would undergo a comprehensive midlife overhaul between 2004 and 2008. The unpainted aluminium finish of the trains was swept away, replaced by the striking red, white and blue corporate livery as seen on all other Underground stock by this time. Further innovations would be added to the fleet, with the stock continuing to be a pioneering train for the network. For the first time on any London Underground rolling stock, LED information displays were provided on the side of the trains, as well as a brand new passenger information system inside the train, bringing audiovisual announcements to the sub-surface railway for the first time – although the C69/77 stock had been given audio announcements some years prior, they were still without the internal LED screens provided on the D78s. Other enhancements included the provision of an accessible multi-purpose area, CCTV throughout the trains and a more modern and durable interior. It is in this condition that the trains lasted, until the first was withdrawn in January 2015 as the rollout of the new S stock fleet commenced.
Why are the trains being withdrawn?
Simply put, the D78 stock trains no longer meet passenger expectations, despite their overhaul less than fifteen years ago. Passenger numbers on the Underground continue to grow year by year, with more capacity being needed to transport people across the length of the city. To ensure that the network is as prepared as possible for any future growth, a brand new fleet of trains – the S stock – was ordered in 2008. At a cost of £1.5billion for 1,395 individual cars, the order is said to be the largest ever single rolling stock order in Britain. The trains feature improved passenger information systems – including the ability to broadcast real-time service updates – as well as larger carriages with walk-through gangways, allowing passengers to spread down inside and use more available space. The standardised fleet operates in two lengths – 8-car S8 stock on the Metropolitan line, and 7-car S7 stock stock on the Circle, District and Hammersmith & City lines.
But it’s not just the trains that need upgrading to ensure that the network is fit for the future: much of the sub-surface railway operates using conventional signalling systems from the 1920s, 1930s and 1950s, which is also coming to the end of its life and is constraining the ability to operate more services across the network. A new, automatic signalling system is to be installed, allowing more trains to run closer together, without the need for line side signals. The veteran D78 stock trains cannot be equipped for automatic train operation, and so must be replaced by the new trains to realise these capacity benefits.
Which D78 stock trains survive?
Six units of D78 stock remain operational on the network. Each unit is formed of three cars, and units are coupled together to make up trains, creating three six-car rakes from the six units. Five of these units are ‘single-ended’, meaning that they have only one drivers cab. The sixth unit is the last surviving ‘double-ender’, meaning that it has a cab at both ends, which allowed for greater fleet flexibility when the trains were in squadron service. It is not expected that the formations of these trains will change before they are withdrawn. Even-numbered units face the west end of the line, whilst those units ending with an odd digit face east. The six remaining units are thus:
The lowest-numbered surviving train, 7007 holds the rare honour of carrying the Olympic torch, travelling from Wimbledon to Wimbledon Park with the torch on board as part of the London 2012 Games’ Olympic Torch Rally. The driving car was adorned with the Olympic Rings and special London 2012 slogans, which were carried throughout the Games from 24th July 2012 to early January 2013.
7018 has led a somewhat unremarkable life on the Underground, but is now the lowest surviving west end unit. For much of 2017 the unit was paired with 7007 – putting the two lowest numbered units together – but was reformed in early April. Paired with 7057, this unit made its last trip on Thursday 20th April, with decommissioning commencing shortly after the unit stabled at Ealing Common depot.
As the last of the traditional sub-surface railway rolling stock, the D78s are unique even amongst themselves. Despite standardisation, each unit has its own quirks and foibles, even down to the sound of the traction motors.
Through a twist of fate, every surviving east end D78 unit ends in the number 7 – some co-incidence! 7037 is currently formed up with the final surviving double-ended unit 7526 – the west end driving cab of which is numbered, you guessed it, 7527.
7057 is now the highest numbered surviving single-ended unit, out of a stock that originally numbered to 7129. This train saw out its final days in service alongside 7018, operating for the final time on Thursday 20th April. Starting from Lillie Bridge depot, the train operated during the morning peak, before 7057 led the set into Ealing Common depot to stable for the final time.
As the last surviving double-ended unit, 7526/7 is currently operating as the east end unit of a train, meaning that its west-end cab, that is 7527, is buried in the middle of a six-car train. In theory, it is possible to operate a double-ended D78 stock alone, however three cars would lack any meaningful capacity on the network. In the past, however, three-car units of D78 stock did briefly operate on the East London line, to cover for A60/62 stock which was undergoing refurbishment.
Where can I see a D78 stock?
For one more week, a handful of D78 stock trains should be appearing in service on the District line. As always with the operational railway, these plans could change at short notice, so we can’t make any guarantees that you will be able to see one. A final run out in normal passenger carrying service is planned for Friday 21st April, with a special farewell charity railtour taking place two weeks later, on Sunday 7th May. There were three D78 stock trains, each made up of two units, remaining in service for the last week in operation, although not all – and, indeed, sometimes none at all – were out on the line simultaneously. Each morning, the allocations for any D78s that made it out onto the line were posted here, and this page will soon be updated to show what happened during the final week. The six units were formed as follows:
|Last updated: 21/04/17, 0430|
If you are heading out to #CatchTheD for one final time, do be sure to share your photos and thoughts on social media, or in the comments box below. Let’s give these old trains the send-off that they deserve – but do remember that they are still a part of the operational railway, providing a service for Londoners for just a few more days. Photography is permitted across London Underground, although you may not use flash or a tripod. Please respect these simple rules, and make sure that you don’t put yourself in any danger. Keep behind the yellow line and in public areas at all times.
What if I want to ride the final train?
The final train that you can ride with a normal Oyster or contactless card or Travelcard is running today, on Friday 21st April. The train will be operating as set 4, stabling at Ealing Common depot shortly after 1830 tonight. The service should shuttle between Upminster and Richmond throughout the day, provided that there are no unforeseen service perturbations. If there are any changes you will be able to find the most up-to-date information on my Twitter page.
What’s this about a railtour? What even is a railtour?
A railtour is a special trip along a railway line, often organised when trains are being withdrawn for the final time. Such a special occasion is planned for the D78 stock, and will operate on Sunday 7th May. Tickets must be purchased in advance, and normal travel tickets are not valid on board the service. These cost £50 each, and are available now on the London Transport Museum’s website – but be warned! Spaces are limited and the tour is expected to sell out extremely quickly. We’ll update this page when we’re certain that is the case, but in the meantime do regularly check the website as it seems that tickets come available again every few hours.
The ‘Metroliner II’ tour will depart High Street Kensington at 0955 and terminate at Ealing Broadway at 1750, with a lunch break at the Piccadilly line station of Northfields. It is anticipated that the train will cover all of the District line destinations served by the D78 stock – i.e. everywhere but the short section between High Street Kensington and Edgware Road – but will not venture away from this (aside from the lunch stop at Northfields), as some other tours have done in the past. The route is currently a closely guarded secret, but as more details become available they will be added here.
So that’s it then? No more D78 stock?
Well. Not quite. There may yet be opportunity to ride on the D78 stock again – but it won’t be on London Underground. Vivarail have purchased the majority of the redundant rolling stock, and propose to refurbish and upgrade the trains for continued use on the national rail network as a cheaper alternative to expensive new-build trains. The innovative project will see the D78 stock fitted with either an underfloor diesel engine or high capacity battery pack, allowing the units to operate away from electrified tracks. The trains – known as the D-Train or Class 230 – could be a viable solution for little-used rural branch lines, with a number of orders rumoured to have been placed. The train is expected to make its passenger-carrying debut later in the year.
Two further trains are also going to be retained by London Underground for engineering use. Heavily modified and reformed into permanent five-car formations, the trains will be used during the autumn leaf-fall period to lay a special substance known as ‘sandite’ on the tracks. This improves adhesion between trains and the running rails, lessening the affects of that age-old reason of ‘leaves on the line’. The Rail Adhesion Trains, as they will be known, will replace an older formation made up of redundant A60/62 stock and will see use on the Metropolitan and Piccadilly lines.
The D78 stock
37 Years of Service ~ 1980-2017
Credits & Acknowledgements:
I am grateful to everyone who has assisted me with the compilation of this page. The information contained within has been drawn from a number of sources, including the ever-informative District Dave’s forum, Richard Griffin’s comprehensive SquareWheels.org.uk and a number of internal London Underground sources.
The downloadable and printable timetable sheets are my own work, with copyright for the design remaining with me. The information contained on each sheet is drawn from the latest District line working timetable, which can be viewed in full on the TfL website. It must – once again – be stressed that all information is subject to change at any time in the best interests of the service, and I cannot be held responsible if the information is inaccurate. You are free to print and distribute these sheets – including online – provided that attribution is maintained.
Photographs on this page have been supplied by a number of fellow enthusiasts, supplemented by some from my own collection. All copyright remains with the original photographer, and no images may be reproduced without the express prior consent from the copyright holder. Where no photographer is attributed, the copyright remains with me. I am indebted to Tommy Cooling, Jason Cross, Tim Easter and Richard Griffin for allowing me to use their photographs. The sole exception is the graphic of an unrefurbished D78 stock passing Upminster windmill: this image is copyright to the London Transport Museum.
Finally, additional special thanks goes to Richard Griffin for inspiring this page through his historical pages for the final days of the 1959 stock in January 2000. 17 years on, an archive of those pages can still be found on his website.
Featured image: The original Metropolitan District Railway depot at Lillie Bridge remains in use, once again housing District line trains after spending many years as an engineering depot. Three trains of D78 stock and two trains of S7 stock are seen after dark on the 4th May 2015. The central unit is double-ended train 7526/7, the last to survive in use on the Underground. © Tim Easter