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London Underground: Where trains go at night and what happens in the depots where they ‘sleep’

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If you’ve ever had to catch the last train back to Essex from London, you may have wondered what happens to the Tube at night.

Even though the Night Tube runs two days per week on certain lines, Tube trains don’t simply sit where they finish and wait to restart the next day.

Instead, a team of maintenance professionals takes to the London Underground each night between 2am and 5am to maintain the tracks, trains and stations which are used intensively throughout the day.

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The tight window means it’s a slick operation, with rigorous safety protocols in place.

London’s 619 Tube trains can spend the night in three different settings – on the network, sidings and depots and here’s exactly what happens to them, according to MyLondon.

On the network

On Friday and Saturday nights, trains continue to run on the Central, Jubilee, Northern and Victoria lines. In theory, trains can run non-stop from one day into the next, but this is up to controllers who normally swap trains in and out of service to balance the needs of maintenance teams and the passenger service.

There are also occasions where trains can be requisitioned by TfL’s commercial department for filming.

The Tube is busy in a different way at night

This can notably occur on the Jubilee line, which has two abandoned platforms at Charing Cross which can be hired out by production companies if they can afford it.

In order to make sure there is minimal disruption to passengers, this usually occurs at quieter times such as overnight or outside of the peak periods.

Famous examples of this include the 2004 film Creep and various scenes from the Bourne and James Bond series.

Sidings

Sidings are the railway equivalent of a car park. Just like a decent multi-storey, they often feature various basic facilities such as cleaning equipment.

Trains which do not need any maintenance overnight are stored here rather than in stations as sidings tend to be in more secure locations.

Sidings tend to be dotted at various locations towards the end of each line, such as South Harrow on the Piccadilly line, Watford on the Metropolitan line and Loughton on the Central line. You can spot them on this map.

There are also sidings at most depots – these are often called ‘roads’ and given numbers. Trains are often sent to specific roads so that they can leave the depot easily in the morning without being blocked in by other trains which are supposed to leave the depot later.

Depots

Not every line has a depot which can carry out heavy maintenance – infamously, the Waterloo & City line requires trains to be lifted out of the Tube system by a crane onto a lorry and then transported by road to another depot to carry out refurbishments and resolve major technical problems.

The lines which do have their own depots always carry out basic cleaning and security/maintenance checks. Trains undergo more rigorous cleans every 3 weeks which involve vacuuming or shampooing seats, washing the carriage floors and disinfecting poles/grab rails.

The train exteriors also go through train washes, which are like giant car washes, with any graffiti removed manually.

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In terms of routine maintenance, this depends on the state of each train – not all trains are as old as each other, they have different mechanical components and they are built by different manufacturers.

Tests are routinely carried out overnight on brake systems, CCTV equipment, onboard signalling software, door sensitivity, heating/air-con, onboard power supply and lighting.

Back when the Circle line was a genuine circle ( now it is a ‘figure of six’ ), trains were checked for wheel wear and alternated between being assigned to clockwise duties and anti-clockwise duties.

As the route was entirely circular, if a train spent 20 hours per day turning right constantly, there was a higher risk of the wheels encountering problems on that side.

One of the reasons why the Circle line gained a spur to Hammersmith was to give the trains terminus stations where they could swap from clockwise to anti-clockwise and back, balancing the pressure on the wheels more evenly.

As some of these lines do not run past the depot, you can occasionally spot trains using ‘the wrong line’ between Baker Street and Neasden to get to/from there.

The only depot available for the public to explore is at Acton Town, which is where the London Transport Museum stores everything it cannot currently hold in its Covent Garden main site.

This ‘depot’ is almost self-contained so does not interact with the nearby District line depot at Ealing Common, which is used on a daily basis by trains.

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