The Anonymous Widower

One of North London’s Forgotten Lines Is Awakening

Four of the nearest stations to my house are Moorgate, Old Street, Essex Road and Highbury and Islington. which all lie in an arc on the Northern City Line to Finsbury Park and on to North London and Hertfordshire, where it terminates at Hertford North, Letchworth, Stevenage and Welwyn Garden City.

Traditionally, the line has always only run on a five day-a-week basis, with no service at weekends. As it serves Arsenal’s past and future stadia, I’ve always thought this was a bit short-sighted.

But then I’ve always felt that British  Rail considered it was a railway, that they didn’t really want after they acquired it from London Underground following the Moorgate Tube Crash.

So when this month, when they decided to run a weekend service and the weekday service until 23:59, I did not notice any announcement. I use Highbury and Islington station several times a week and I certainly didn’t see a poster.

This is one of those things that should be filed under At Last! Especially, as the southern end of the line in a few years time will connect a large number of lines together.

  • Moorgate – Northern, Metropolitan and District Lines and Crossrail (2019)
  • Old Street – Northern Line
  • Essex Road
  • Highbury and Islington – East London, North London and Victoria Lines
  • Drayton Park
  • Finsbury Park – Piccadilly and Victoria Lines and Thameslink (2019)

If Crossrail 2 ever gets built, it will connect to this line too!

The forgotten nature of the Northern City Line is illustrated, by the elderly Class 313 trains on the line. There are currently forty-four three-car sets on the line, usually working as six car services, so giving effectively twenty-two trains.

But the days of the Class 313 are numbered as according to this article on Rail Magazine, the operator; Govia Thameslink Railway has just ordered twenty-five six car Class 700 trains from Siemens. This is said about the trains.

The new trains will be Class 700s, and will be a variant of the 1,140 vehicles currently being delivered by Siemens to GTR for Thameslink. They will run on routes from Moorgate and London King’s Cross to Welwyn, Hertford, Stevenage and Letchworth. They will be fixed length with full width inter-vehicle gangways, air-conditioning, real time information and power points.

Of all the lines in London that could benefit from a fleet of new trains, this must be one of those routes, where they will give the greatest improvement.

Especially, as for the operator, it is just more of the same trains, they will be using on Thameslink.

But will they be exactly the same?

This is said in the Wikipedia entry for Class 313 trains.

Since they were designed for use on Great Northern Suburban Inner Suburban services from Moorgate to Welwyn Garden City or Hertford North, Letchworth Garden City which included a section of ‘tube’ line built to take standard size trains between Drayton Park and Moorgate, they are built to a slightly smaller loading gauge than conventional trains. They are standard length and width, but the roof is lower, most noticeable due to the lack of a “well” for the Stone Faiveley AMBR pantograph on the centre coach. They have to comply with regulations for underground trains, such as having doors at each end of the train for evacuation onto the tracks, and when on 750 V DC supply the traction supply for each motor coach is separate, whereas on conventional 750 V DC trains each coach in a unit is linked by a 750 V bus line. Due to this, each motor coach has shoe gear on both bogies, whereas normally it would only be on the leading bogie. They are fitted with trip-cocks that are struck by a raised train-stop arm at red signals and will apply the brakes if the train passes one.

I suspect there will be some intensive work to make the Class 700 trains meet the regulations for underground trains.

To say some of the stations at the southern end of the route are tired and/or difficult for those who need step-free access, would be an understatement.

Moorgate is getting improved for Crossrail and Finsbury Park is getting a much-needed redevelopment. This will only increase the pressure to rebuild stations like Old Street, Essex Road, Highbury and Islington and Drayton Park.

As it goes further north, I do wonder if we’ll see new stations to serve future housing developments, especially on the Hertford Loop Line.

The other possibility of improving services from Moorgate is that the top speed of the new Class 700 trains is 100 mph, whereas the speed limit on the Hertford Loop is only 75 mph.

So will we see the extra three trains available used to move services off the crowded section of the East Coast Main Line over the Digswell Viaduct onto the Hertford Loop Line.

With some clever rescheduling, this might create a path or two on the East Coast Main Line.

The operator is not going to spend those millions on a new set of trains and not make them sweat!

I certainly think, that we’ll see good connectivity between trains on the Northern City and Hertford Loop Lines with Thameslink services to Peterborough and Cambridge.

It will be interesting to see their plans, when they are revealed.

My one worry is that all those new trains will tempt a lot of passengers out of the woodwork!

But one of London’s railways will not be forgotten for very long!

December 22, 2015 - Posted by | Travel | , , , ,


  1. I also use this line and its trains on a regular basis and always find it funny when the old 313s lurch forward when starting, then slowly crawl away! The line would definitely like some new stock and I’m very pleased at Govia’s commitment. I wonder if they can also squeeze in a promise to give all the deep level stations a thorough deep clean, to wash away the musty smell of yester-decade?

    Comment by Joshua | December 22, 2015 | Reply

    • I think Network Rail and British Rail before them, regard this line as having a bad ambience after Moorgate. That crash was never properly explained. I was told a theory about it, which one day I’ll reveal in detail.

      A rail journalist did tell me, that my explanation was feasible.

      Comment by AnonW | December 22, 2015 | Reply

      • Interesting, I knew of the Moorgate crash but it’d never occurred to me that might have been the reason for the line’s neglect. I wonder how many people who use it these days are aware of that tragedy in the past…

        Comment by Joshua | December 23, 2015

  2. It’s only my theory why the line appeared to be neglected. There are also other technical issues on the line, like a tight loading gauge in the tunnels. It looks to me, that Siemens designed the Class 700 trains, so they’d fit this restriction.

    Comment by AnonW | December 23, 2015 | Reply

  3. Hopefully this line will be put on the Tube Map, which will greatly increase the ridership. Plus make some shorter journeys for travelers, and reduce unnecessary train mileage for them.

    Comment by rapidtransitman | December 24, 2015 | Reply

    • Not probably on the tube map, but it’s already on the combined tube and local rail map

      But I take your point! After all the North and East London Lines were for years not shown on the tube map. But they are now!

      The trouble is that London has so many lines, the map gets more and more complicated.
      I think that we should have a few very large maps perhaps a couple of metres high.

      With maps, they can’t be too large!

      Comment by AnonW | December 24, 2015 | Reply

  4. […] In One of North London’s Forgotten Lines Is Awakening, I wrote how Govia Thameslink Railway were buying more Class 700 trains for the Northern City Line. […]

    Pingback by The Missing Piece In The IPEMU Jigsaw « The Anonymous Widower | December 30, 2015 | Reply

  5. […] as I reported in  One Of North London’s Forgotten Lines Is Awakening, Siemens have already received an order for twenty-five six-car Class 700 trains, to run on the […]

    Pingback by IPEMU Trains And Terminal Tunnels « The Anonymous Widower | December 31, 2015 | Reply

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