London: Pt 23 – The London Underground

Deep beneath London’s streets, a network of trains carry commuters, locals and tourists alike over hundreds of stations all around the capital, from Canary Wharf to Baker Street, Wembley to Westminster…

London Underground

Founded – January 10th, 1863

Stations – 270 (as of 2015)

Lines – 11 (as of 2015)

Track Length – 250 Miles (as of 2015)

Claims to Fame – Oldest Underground Railway in the World

An Early History:

The London Underground is a mammoth construction, which wasn’t originally conceived as a dedicated metro system for London. It was born out of different competing companies constructing underground railway lines through the capital, and the 1st to open was the Metropolitan Railway (MR) on January 10th, 1863. They ran direct trains from London Paddington to Farringdon Street in Islington. The area is notable as the previous location of the River Fleet, buried beneath the Farringdon over a 20 year period of construction. It would be followed just 5 years later by the new Metropolitan District Railway (MDR), which ran from Westminster to South Kensington, which was actually an extension of the MR, which became the start of a large loop around London City Centre, later completed in 1884. These lines of course retained their original name when they were later incorporated into the Tube.

Ken 13

Over the following decades numerous other lines and companies appeared, with the East London Railway (ELR) buying out Brunel’s famous pedestrian Thames Tunnel, opened in 1843. It was converted to take trains, becoming part of the ELR. It is 1 of the original areas of the tube that was eventually transferred to the London Overground Network in 2007, but it remains an important part of the Tubes history.  The first dedicated tunnel to be built specifically to carry a railway didn’t open until 1880, running between the Tower of London to Bermondsey.

By 1907, a large portion of the other familiar lines across London had been opened:

1) 1890: City & South London Railway (CSLR) opens between King William Street and Stockwell. Now the Bank Branch of the Northern Line.

2) 1900: Central London Railway (CLR) begins services from Shepherd’s Bush all the the way to Bank in the City of London. Now incorporated into the Central Line.

3) 1906: Baker Street & Waterloo Railway (BSWR) opens from Baker Street to Kennington Road. This later forms a large portion of the Bakerloo Line, the name taken from merging Baker Street and Waterloo.

4) 1906: Greater Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway (GNPBR) closely followed the Bakerloo Lines, from Hammersmith to Finsbury Park, now part of the Piccadilly Line.

5) 1907: Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway (CCEHR) opens between London Charing Cross and Highgate, constituting most of the Charing Cross branch of the Northern Line alongside the Bank Branch.

Design Work:

Eventually all of these separate lines would be incorporated together by a new company called the Underground Electric Railway Company of London, who gradually brought all the lines except the Metropolitan Railway into 1 large system. It wouldn’t be until 1908 however that the name Underground 1st appeared, characterised by the now world famous Roundel, with some examples shown above.

The Undergrounds 1st map appeared in 1908, laid out geographically on a map of London, with different colours representing the different lines. The instantly recognisable map we all know and love today wasn’t introduced until 1931, when Harry Beck (1902 – 1974, English Draughtsman) came up with his 1st designs. The map was unlike any previous attempts, as, whilst it was geographically accurate in that it portrayed the Thames in the centre with the correct stations either side of it, it was more of a schematic allowing users to easily see where to interchange. Some of the original colours have changed over the years, as the Central Line was originally orange, whereas today it is Red.

The Network Expands:

When Harry Beck created his 1st map, there were some notable omissions, in the form of the Victoria and Jubilee Lines. These only arrived much later, with Queen Elizabeth II opening the 1st part of the Victoria Line in 1969. It was eventually extended all the way to Brixton in 1971.

Brent 8

The Jubilee Line is the most modern line, with the 1st sections opening in 1979. In the South it began at Charing Cross, running up via Green Park towards Baker Street where it annexed the Bakerloo branch from Bakerstreet to Stanmore in the North via Wembley Park (shown above). In 1999 an extension saw the line diverted at Green Park, underneath the Thames via Westminster, and then along the South side of the River, East to Canada Water. It would then run underneath the Thames to Canary Wharf, and round to Stratford, the new Southern Terminus. The extension meant that the Jubilee Lines at Charing Cross were now redundant, forcing them to close, although they have been used occasionally as sets for various movies.

The London Overground was added to the Tube Map after it was opened in 2007, taking various unused sections of track, along with some local lines to create a new route to supplement the Tube. Likewise, the DLR (Docklands Light Railway) which is another extra metro system based around the Quays at Canary Wharf is also on the map, as the 3 railways are used in conjunction with each other.

Over the years London Heathrow Airport has also been expanding, and is now home to 5 different Tube stations, at Terminals 1, 2, 3, 4 and 5. The Piccadilly Line was extended to serve the airport, with the main portion of the line reaching Terminals 1 -3 and 5, with a run round loop allowing access to Terminal 4 from there.

Travel Zones:

London itself is split into 9 different travel zones, which radiate out in circles from the centre. Zone 1 covers the main attractions from the Tower of London, the City of London and the City of Westminster, through Southwark/Lambeth etc. Zone 2 spreads out further, towards Shepherd’s Bush, and the zones continue to expand concentrically towards Watford. Some Underground lines actually run out of Greater London into surrounding counties, so these areas are included as part of the travel zones. A special zone also covers Watford Junction in Hertfordshire, which is shown in the top left hand corner of the Tube Map, and simply says “Special Fares Apply”, as it lies outside of Zone 9. Zones 7 – 9 aren’t concentric and cover just a small area, those in Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire etc.

Today you can get an Oyster Travel Card, so basically you could choose for example 7 days worth of travel in Zones 1 – 7, and this would entitle you to access on all London Buses, Overground, Tube and DLR services running within these zones for that length of time. This came in particularly handy for our trip, as we could swap from the Tube to the DLR at Bank in the City to get towards the Quays/Greenwich without having to pay extra. It also let us take London Overground trains towards Croydon, Kingston and Richmond, again with no extra charge on top of the original ticket we bought at the start of the week.

Rolling Stock:

Incredibly, most of the lines on the Tube use different sizes/types of rolling stock.

Underground 1

I took this picture of a train pulling into Charing Cross station in the City of Westminster during our trip. There are 2 lines going through Charing Cross, the Northern/Bakerloo Lines, and these particular trains all run on the Northern Line, and are known as “1995 Stock”. Despite the name suggesting they began use in 1995, they were actually brought in in 1998, and consist of 6 car sets, of which there are a total of 106.

Underground 3

Across the rest of the network however, a variety of different sized trains are used. The deeper lines (E.G. Bakerloo, Jubilee, Northern, Victoria etc) use smaller trains, that most average sized people would be the same height as on the platform. In contrast, the sub-surface lines (E.G. Circle, Metropolitan, District etc) located much higher up just below the surface, use larger trains more similar to mainline trains.

I took the above picture at Marble Arch station on the Central Line, another of the deep level lines. You can see how small the trains are compared with the commuters.

Of course the original trains to run on the lines that would eventually become the Tube were steam powered, on the Metropolitan Railway. This was a problem however with the lack of ventilation in the tunnels, causing a large amount of smoke inhalation. The 1st type of Electric Locomotive was used in 1890 on the City & South London Railway, with other railways following by the end of the 1900’s.

Underground 4

Most stock on the Underground is currently being replaced, with a new train known as “S-Stock”, pictured here arriving at London Paddington on the Circle Line. Rather than the old doors and gangway which used to connect the individual coaches, they are more like bendy buses, allowing the customer to easily pass from carriage to carriage. They are stunning, modern creations yet they still retain the familiar feel of the Tube.

Former Stations:

As I mentioned before, the extension to the Jubilee Line from Green Park to Stratford, bypassing Charing Cross made the latter redundant, with the Jubilee Platforms no longer in service. These old stations still exist, with almost 80 different stations closing for various reasons, with some lines having been diverted.

There is a great website which details all the stations that still exist, and where you can find them. Sadly they aren’t open to the public, but if you look closely at just the right moment as you pass through various sections of the line, you can catch a glimpse of a long forgotten set of platforms… Find out more on the “Abandoned Stations” site here.

The Future:

There are various ideas for extensions to the Tube network, with proposals to extend the Jubilee Line to cover more of the Docklands being regularly talked about. 1 idea that is very likely to reach the construction stage is an extension of the Northern Line, with a branch line coming off at Kennington, and running through a new station called Nine Elms, and terminating in a 2nd new station, Battersea. This would fit in with the redevelopment of the former Battersea Power Station, currently being converted into residential use as the centrepiece of a larger redevelopment scheme.

The Tube is the easiest way to see London, and it’s also a big part of the city’s heritage, which is just as famous as the Tower of London, St Paul’s Cathedral, the Palace of Westminster and many more…


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