How To Get A Guaranteed Seat On The Tube

Geoff Marshall
By Geoff Marshall Last edited 25 months ago
How To Get A Guaranteed Seat On The Tube
Photo by Mister T from the Londonist Flickr pool.

One of our favourite things on the tube is when you let a busy train go by and the next one rolls in a minute later — much emptier — so you can grab a seat on it. “I’m so glad I waited” you might think to yourself. But did you know there are places on the network where you don’t have to leave this to chance? And if you know what you’re doing, you can plan to get a nice empty carriage and seat to yourself.

Admittedly this only works in a few places, but if you regularly travel from any of the areas we’re about to mention, you will really love this…

During the day on the tube, there are several places where the trains don’t run from one end of the line to the other but instead terminate earlier into a siding then reverse and come back out again. London Underground do this so that the frequency of trains in the central area is kept higher than the extremities, but the bonus for you if you live near one of these places is that if know when a tube is due to come in out of the sidings you can get yourself a nice empty carriage to sit in.

So we’ve listed all the places where we know this happens, plus the times of the day (yes, Tube Trains run to an official timetable too) so that you can decide whether it’s worth letting a busy train go to wait for an empty one just moments later…

Jubilee line

Willesden Green to North Greenwich. A classic… as you can even see the train in the reversing siding just to the north of the station, and if its white lights are on then you know it’s getting ready to come out of the siding and into service. So if you’re at Willesden (or perhaps Kilburn or West Hampstead) heading south into town, you should know that trains are scheduled to leave Willesden at the following times during the day: 13, 28, 43, 58 minutes past the hour.

jubilee

(Note: some Jubilee trains also reverse and come out of a siding at Wembley Park heading back into town so it can be done here too).

Piccadilly line

This author's local station is Acton Town and many a time I have let a packed train heaving with people fresh off of a plane from Heathrow with suitcases clogging up the train head off into the central area and then caught the next one – which has come out of Northfields depot/siding having started at Northfields at 09, 29 and 49 minutes past the hour.

piccadilly

Central line

There are many Central Line trains that run back and forth between White City and Newbury Park rather than going all the way to West Ruislip or Epping. So if you’re heading east into town from White City or Shepherd’s Bush let the busy train go by and instead wait for the much emptier one: White City at 14, 34 and 54 minutes past the hour.

central

(Note: some Central line trains also reverse and head into town from a siding at Northolt).

District/Hammersmith & City line

If you live out east coming into the centre of town, don’t cram yourself onto a District train – consider getting a Hammersmith & City one that starts nice and empty at Barking.

Also, don’t forget that some District line trains terminate and head back west into town at Tower Hill. As you come down the steps to the platform, the majority of trains leave from the platform on your left, people tend to miss the one lit-up sign that tells you if the train on the right is leaving anytime soon. Well actually there are three an hour and they leave at 05, 25 and 45 minutes past the hour, taking away that indecision and letting you avoid a potential crush.

district

Victoria line

The morning peak into town can be a crush, but if you’re starting your journey at Seven Sisters, you can let the busy train that’s started at Walthamstow go, and get these ones instead: 05, 15, 25, 35, 45, 55 minutes past the hour.

victoria2

Bakerloo line

Heading south on the Bakerloo line it’s also worth knowing that there are (generally) four trains every ten minutes. One of which starts at Harrow & Wealdstone, one that starts at Stonebridge Park, and two starting at Queen’s Park heading south in central London. So if you’re at Stonebridge Park or Harlesden and a packed Bakerloo line train comes in, it’s the one that’s come all the way from Harrow. If getting a seat means that much to you, wait five minutes, and the much more empty one that starts at Stonebridge Park will arrive.

Northern line

There’s only one good place on the Northern line that we could find where you might get an empty train, but it won’t suit morning commuters! There are six Northern line trains that come empty out of the depot at Golders Green then start at Hampstead and head south into the centre of town between 4.30pm and 6pm each day.

Last Updated 19 January 2016

Dan

what about the ones coming into Finchley Central from Mill Hill East rather than High Barnet? only "hack" I've known, for about 30 years too

Rachel Holdsworth

And a bonus National Rail entry - on Southeastern, occasionally trains start from Hither Green's depot. The only one I know about for definite (and try to catch whenever I can) is the 16:56 to Charing Cross, but a good rule during a nightmare rush hour is that anything that starts from platform 1 at Hither Green has likely started from the depot...

Lorenzo Hermoso

Erm, used to catch the Victoria line with in from Seven Sisters, you knew you were in luck when the approaching train was wet.

JDS

There's a loop at Kennington too. The trains that terminate there, do a loop and head North again via Charing Cross. People getting on the tube there in the morning, like me, often wait a few minutes for an empty one. :-)

BethPH

Bonus Central line - westbound trains which start from Loughton or Debden. Not sure what the times are though.

Carla Longshot

And I always thought the answer was to put several sheets of toilet paper on the seat next to you ......

Ambler

Geoff, is this article partly inspired by my comments on another of your articles last year, where you were talking about methods for getting a seat on the tube, but didn't mention the sidings trick? I don't mind if it is, just curious!

In either case I almost wish you'd kept this a secret, my Willesden Green commute is so much nicer knowing something few others seem aware of (I hardly ever see anyone wait for the empty train, almost everybody insists on cramming onto the full ones, which is fine by me!).

Stephen Way

The other end of the Piccadilly give you two opportunities, one at Oakwood (admittedly it's rare for a train coming from Cockfosters to get rammed) and again at Arnos Grove, where peak trains are turned to head back into town...

Guest

Hacking is wrong.

hostile_17

My hacking attempt is get pregnant! Or get crutches, if you're a man.

Tyrwhitt Michael

Overground from New Cross

Emma

Love this but your info about the Piccadilly line is all wrong. Depot trains from Northfields are much rarer than 3 times an hour and there are none in the morning peak.

Guido

Geoff there is currently discussion over which Northern Line Reversing Sidings to use when the new timetable comes along in the near future! Suffice it to say tough luck if you live near [redacted] ;)

That Kennington Trick may not work for much longer either, going by some I the feasibility options I've seen(!)

Rebecca Randall

Or, you do the simple ways - you move right to the end of the platforms, this is especially true on Piccadilly Line trains where stupid tourists cram themselves into the middle three cars in Central London (where the stairs onto the platform are). I've seen people standing wall to wall, packed, in middle cars, and then jumped on the last one and got myself a seat and one for my bag.

Rich Thomas

Don't forget the reciprocal direction on the Jubilee line - a North Greenwich starter is nice and easy to identify, as it'll be sitting in the middle platform for several minutes (with minutes-to-departure shown on the display as normal) while westbound trains come and go through the other platform. I've even been sitting on a starter waiting for it to leave when a packed morning-peak train has come in from Stratford, then ours has closed its doors and gone, delaying the busy train in the platform! Which seemed particularly nuts.

Presumably there are similar occasional starters from West Ham, having just come out of Stratford Market depot? Is there a train wash to give the game away, like at Seven Sisters?

Vas

Kennington is a good one for the Northern Line. You can let the busy train go and get the next one ;)

James Guppy

By observing the system you interfere with it - so now it's going to be a lot harder to get a seat via any of the above methods. What holds true for quantum physics is also true of sneaky tube tips.

Wilkes

I posted this on Reddit... there is some dispute over the times... take a look at this http://www.reddit.com/r/london...

Graham Taylor

I used to use Wood Green southbound, and there were a reasonable number of peak hour services that were emptier - presumably from the Arnos Grove depot?

Clunking Fist

At Stratford in the morn, everyone would run to catch the (edit) JUBILEE train leaving in 15 seconds: the rear carriage was rammed*. I would catch one of the other two trains at the other platforms. A seat all the way to Green Park, near the exit. Sweet.
*One day a guy was too slow and missed it, so he then jumped down onto the tracks to take a short-cut to the next train waiting at the next platform. He stepped onto the centre rail, slipped, and then froze: he had just realised what he was doing. After a pause of a couple of seconds, he continued, being a bit more careful to avoid the rails.

Caspar Aremi

The 8.38am Central Line train at Notting Hill Gate (which I assume is also the 8.38 one at Holland Park shown above) is almost extremely empty, often with seats availalbe, despite the trains two minutes before and after always being packed. I'd always wondered if it departed further down the line than other trains but couldn't think of a way to actually find out!

Seb

I just think this article is just sad. #ratrace

AlexMay

There was a petite woman on the jubilee line last year who was heavily pregnant for about 11 months.

Matt

I think they reverse Central line trains at Liverpool St too

nemethv

Central line from North Acton pls as well. There certainly is a train departing at 9.30am but I'm not sure what the others are. Probably not all NA trains start at half past (only?)

Nathalie

any empty trains from Tooting Broadway?

The Wanderer

Kennington on the Northern Charing Cross Branch surely has to feature as well? Especially at peak times?

Guest

On the Northern Line you can normally get seats from Camden Town going north or anywhere south of Waterloo/London Bridge. And mostly in town if it's not peak times.

Pete

Forget this offpeak matter, I'd rather the Central line operated a consistent service during peak hours! How can TfL say they have increased the frequency of trains from Epping when two trains arrive within 2-3 minutes and the next is 10-12 minutes later? The planner suggests trains depart from the next station every 6 minutes, but in practice, there are no set times and no way of knowing when these big gaps will be. So, I would like to see the rush hour requirement for the end of the line improved (i.e. put back to the train schedule that was in play before these so called service improvements were made a couple of years ago!)

David Hall

Loved this article - always said a good presentation of facts can put bums on seats lol. This story actually inspired a 'good friend' of mine to write Love Line, a must read for all those women lucky enough to get a seat on the tube (maybe even opposite a hot guy). Anyway, keep up the good work!

Peter_Collins

Well, another way is to live at the end of a line - when I used the District Line from Wimbledon, with four tube platforms, getting a seat was a piece of cake...

Anita Morris

It seems as if the Piccadilly line times are incorrect. Two days running someone I shared the info with tried to get an empty train but reports they were full of Heathrow travellers. This is an old article judging by age of comments. Why did it appear in my feed now - as if it was new information? Little bit rubbish?

Mahesh

The Victoria Line is now end to end, so no trains come out empty from Northumberland Park Depot.