September 1st 2018 sees a major anniversary for Westinghouse Brake & Signal, for London Underground and for the world’s Mass Transit railways as we celebrate the 50th year of the Victoria Line entering service.
The Vic Line was the first new line to be constructed in London for decades when it was created, and Londoners had to endure years of disruption as the line inched its way across the capital. Unique amongst London Underground lines for many reasons, entirely underground apart from the depot at Northumberland Park, sixteen stations of which all except Pimlico are interchanges to other mainline or Underground lines, the Victoria Line is special in many ways.
However looking back at the opening of the first stretch in 1968 the most astonishing accomplishment of the then London Transport engineers led by the inspirational Chief Engineer Robert Dell, and his ‘tame contractors’ at Westinghouse, was the commissioning of the railway as a truly automatic system. A combination of then ground-breaking electronics (incomprehensible to most electronics engineers of this era through their use of magnetic amplifiers and other long-lost techniques), and mechanical tricks, introduced the first railway with automatic train protection (preventing trains going too far or too fast) and automatic train operation(driving the trains from station to station). Vying with Paris for the ‘World-first’ tag, the system employed on Vic Line was proven on the Hainault Loop of the Central Line in the early 60s.
A state of the art Control Centre at Coburg street seemed like something out of the space age, and systems such as the train identification system seemed like a world away from the railway technology of the time. Looking back today the electro-pneumatic interlocking and ‘pianola-roll’ programme machines that implemented the timetable seem very low tech, but the imagination and commitment of the engineering team that delivered the system is astonishing.
Westinghouse Brake & Signal was deeply involved in the creation of the Victoria Line, from the earliest trials on the Central Line, right through the 40+ year life of the original system and up to today. The sleek silver ’67 stock trains were fitted with Westinghouse Brakes, ‘safety box’, the ‘autodriver box’ and a number of other systems. The trackside interlockings were made in Chippenham, the pulse generators that created the codes injected in the track circuits were built, set-up and tuned on site, as were all the other components. The higher frequency pulse generators could not use the pendulum technology of the lower frequencies, and so saw an early use of semiconductors in safety electronics – the surviving high code pulse generators still carry their purpose built transistors stamped with a Westinghouse ‘W’.
The original system survived until the late 1990s, albeit with a number of upgrades to the original autodriver system from various suppliers, when the Public Private Partnership scheme of the time saw a brand new fleet of Bombardier-built trains delivered to Northumberland Park. Westinghouse – later Invensys and then Siemens – delivered an equally ground-breaking radio-based protection system, achieving the near impossible by overlaying this on the original 1960s ATP and ATO, allowing old trains to use the old control system whilst the newer trains could use the radio-based system.
Today the Victoria Line has the densest service on the network, with 36 trains per hour operating per direction in morning and evening peaks. The Vic and Central Lines were also the two first to be launched with 24 hour service during weekends, providing the Night Tube. Described by London Underground as a world-class service, the Victoria Line will always be one of the most visible demonstrations of London Underground’s century-long link to WB&S. Although Brakes and Signals now have different owners and different names, the current organisations of Knorr Bremse and Siemens Mobility still carry out everything from research and development, manufacture, engineering, installation, testing, commissioning and after market support from the UK – indeed from Wiltshire!
The brochure below was produced by WB&S in the late 1960s.
And here is British Pathe’s reporting of the event:
Look out for more about this anniversary, particularly in the London press, in the weeks to come. Probably won’t be too many Westinghouse mentions there though I suspect!