New Piccadilly Line Signalling Held at a Red Light

TfL says lack of government support for investment puts project in doubt

One of the new trains set to be introduced on the line. Picture: Siemens

December 29, 2023

The latest round of government funding for Transport for London (TfL) has revealed good news and bad news for users of the Piccadilly line.

Although the settlement, announced on 18 December, only provided £250 million for capital spending on the network, half of what was hoped for, TfL says that it will still be able to deliver the full programme of improvements and infrastructure renewals for the next financial year (2024/25). It estimates that can invest just £1billion a year over the medium term with half of this funding coming from the government.

This includes the spending on new rolling stock for the Piccadilly line which is going ahead despite the funding shortfall as TfL has arranged revised payment terms with Siemens Mobility for trains currently under construction, although it says this is not something it would have chosen to do. This new arrangement will not delay delivery of the trains.

However, because the funding package only lasts a year, TfL says it is unable to commit to major new infrastructure spending such as the signalling upgrade on the Piccadilly line which would enable the new trains to operate at their full potential.

TfL is asking the government for a multi-year capital funding agreement similar to those given to Network Rail, National Highways and eight city regions across England.

It is understood that the government was keen to see the upgrade of rolling stock to proceed because much of the manufacturing will be done at a factory in Goole in Yorkshire with around 700 jobs likely to be created directly and up to 1,700 in the supply chain. Once the Piccadilly line fleet has been renewed it is expected this facility will commence work on the Bakerloo line upgrade where the trains are the oldest still in passenger services in the UK.

The first new train, to replace the existing stock which has been in service since 1975, will be delivered in 2024 when it will undergo testing with a view to starting the process of bringing the new fleet into operation during 2025. The complete upgrade of the stock on the line would be by 2027 which would allow an uplift to the Piccadilly line timetable as the new trains would no longer be held up by the older, slower stock.

The line will become fully air-conditioned with walk through carriages that will be able to carry 23% more passengers. 94 new trains have been ordered to replace the existing fleet of 86.

Once in service it is expected that the number of trains running through central London could be increased from 24 to 27 with one arriving every 135 seconds at peak times.

New facilities are being built at Cockfosters and Northfields to service the fleet and extra stabling track is being provided at South Harrow.

The total cost of these new trains is estimated to be £1.6billion but a further £1.3billion is required for the signalling upgrade on the line which TfL says would enable a full service to be introduced at Turnham Green.

Once implemented, TfL says this would allow the line to operate at a peak service of 36 trains an hour in the central area, a 64% increase in capacity from current levels.

Fully upgrading the line-wide signalling to enable automatic train operation with additional trains would allow for a peak service of up to 36 trains an hour in the central area during peak hours, for a 64% increase in capacity compared to current levels.

Because of the uncertainty about future levels of central government support, TfL cannot commit to this programme but, assuming that 50% of its capital funding needs are met, the signalling project is included in capital spending programmes from 2025/6 onwards. It is unclear at this stage how the attitude of a possible future Labour government might be different.

Implementing the new signalling on the 72-kilometre-long Piccadilly line is expected to be a complex project with estimates of the time from start to completion ranging from 7 to 10 years. This means that currently, under the best case scenario, the earliest the Piccadilly line could be fully upgraded would be 2033.

Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said, “These past few years have been the most challenging in TfL’s history, but following a programme of work to rebuild ridership, increase income and reduce costs, I’m pleased that TfL is now on track to be financially sustainable for the first time in its history in terms of its day-to-day operations.

“As the Government has only provided half of the capital funding that TfL needs, TfL has had to make difficult decisions about their business plan to ensure they can continue to make vital upgrades to London’s transport network.

“That’s why it is still vitally important that we agree a sustainable long-term funding settlement from the Government that allows us to plan and invest for the infrastructure London will need over the coming decades. Expanding our transport network and supporting jobs and economic growth in London has real and sizeable benefits for the economy of the whole UK.”

Andy Lord, London’s Transport Commissioner, warned of ‘difficult decisions’ relating to future business plans adding, “While we can now deliver our full Business Plan for 2024/25, our shortfall in Government capital investment has only been mitigated in the near term and will reduce the amount of valuable investment we can make in future years, unless further funding is agreed. We, alongside London's business stakeholders and others, will continue to make the case that ongoing Government support for capital investment in transport is needed if we are to be able to continue to deliver vital improvements to London's transport network, unlock new homes and support growth across London and the UK.”

TfL’s Business Plan is available to view here -

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