Imagine a Tube where there is no gap to mind. A train that could whisk passengers direct from point of boarding to final destination without making calls at all the stations in between. Imagine a Tube where those getting off need never jostle with those getting on. Imagine a Tube that never stops.
William Aitken of Windermere Road, Muswell Hill imagined and patented such a system 90 years ago. His concept envisages a continuously moving train, which jettisons and accumulates carriages, and thereby passengers, as it moves along the track. Londonist contributor Chris Coltrane stumbled across the zany concept a few months ago in a yellowing science magazine found in his attic. We’ve now tracked down (well, Googled) the patent and present here an alternative concept for ‘Improvements in Railway Train Systems, and the Like’.
To illustrate Aitken’s idea, let’s catch the southbound Piccadilly line from Kings Cross to Leicester Square. We head downstairs and join other newcomers in a single, stationary car on a ‘feeder’ track. The car is marked ‘Piccadilly Circus’, the station five stops down the line and where this carriage is destined to end up.
At each station, a new carriage joins the front of the train, while the rear carriage uncouples and comes to rest in the feeder track of the station, where passengers alight. The situation shown here is the Southbound Piccadilly at Kings Cross.
After a short wait, the doors close and our car accelerates out of the feeder track and onto the main Piccadilly Line just ahead of a southbound train. Our carriage, now going at a similar speed to this train, couples to it. We find ourselves in the frontmost carriage of a five-car train.
In short order, we reach the next station, Russell Square. Our train does not stop here. Instead, those wishing to get off have made their way to the rear carriage, which is clearly labelled ‘Russell Square’. As we pass through, that car is decoupled and diverted onto the Russell Square feeder track, where it stops for passengers to alight. Meanwhile, a new car labelled ‘Green Park’ overtakes us from the Russell Square feeder track and becomes the lead carriage. Thanks to this coupling, we now find ourselves in the second carriage.
Leicester Square, where we wish to alight, is getting closer so we need to make sure we’re in the correct car for disembarkation when the time comes. We pass through the doors at the end of the carriage into the adjacent car, which is marked ‘Leicester Square’, and wait here.
After carriages are jettisoned at Holborn and Covent Garden, our carriage is at the rear of the train. As we approach Leicester Square, the carriage decouples and feeds into the sidings at that station, where we alight. The empty carriage then moves forward (empty) to the loading area, where new passengers embark and await a through-train.
Got all that? Adopting such a system would require epic changes to infrastructure and passenger behaviour but might prove more efficient if certain obstacles could be overcome. The carriages would have to be driverless, and passengers must be prepared to move along the train to reach the correct carriage. There is also no allowance for popularity of station—we all know that the carriage for Piccadilly Circus would be more cramped than that for Russell Square.
So, transport buffs, what do you reckon? Is such a system feasible? What are the major drawbacks and advantages? Have any transport companies ever tried the idea? Let us know in the comments.