The London Tube is the first underground system created in the world. It all started with great visionaries, but it took many years for the first constructions to begin. The London Tube today isn’t the biggest or the most visited underground system worldwide, but it surely put the beginning of innovations, which changed the looks and habits of the city. To this date, the Tube has 11 lines and 270 stations with a flow of 1.34 billion passengers per year.
Let’s see how the most important part of London’s transportation system was created.
In the early 19th century London already was a city crowded and overloaded with traffic. The Londoner Charles Pearson was the first to suggest to start such major project. However, his plan supported by the City of London, couldn’t find interest among the companies. Plans remained intentions until 1854 when the Metropolitan Railway got permission to start building a line. First works begun in 1860 to build a railroad line between Paddington and Farringdon Street, more than 3 miles long.
The Met experienced funding troubles, but eventually, the engineer John Fowler was assigned to bring life to Pearson’s ideas. In 1863 the Metropolitan Railway opened the first underground railway. In the following years, the Met started with the first section of their District Railway and it opened in 1868. This line carried 9 million people in its first year.
It is interesting to know that the very first line was build using the “cut and cover” method. A trench was excavated, after being surrounded by brick walls. Then rails were laid on the ground, followed brick arches, construction the roof of the tunnel. Above roads were laid, while part of the line was left uncovered. The construction was at ground level, so flooding of the part of Farringdon Street wasn’t something surprising.
The first trains, operating underground were steam powered carriages. The very first trains, which passed underground, traveled through the Thames Tunnel – the earliest tunnel, constructed by the engineer Marc Brunel and finished in 1843. Until 1890 all trains were steam powered, making the passengers choke, because of the smoke. It’s funny to note, that smoking cigarettes were forbidden inside the tunnel.
The first completed circle line opened to the public in 1884 and very soon it expanded, even more, to reach Hammersmith and Richmond, with more than 800 trains running daily.
Deep-Level Tunnels & Electrical Power
As early as the 1886 Londoners have already started to build a deep-level tunnel, using an improvement of the traditional iron shield used for the temporary supporting structure. Deep-tunnel were supported by steel or cast iron and concrete. The first line to be deep-built is from King William Street in the City of London, under the River Thames, to Stockwell. The trains became electrically powered in 1890, though this wasn’t the end of steam powered trains, some of which continued to operate until 1960.
Just ten years later in 1900 the Central London Railway from Shepherd’s Bush to Bank, also called the Twopenny Tube was opened.
Underground Electric Railways Company
Until 1902 the different underground lines were held by private companies, every each of them maintaining and developing its own railway. Many of them, however, suffered from financial problems or were left their new lines half built. This is when the American magnate Charles Yerkes appeared to buy the lines, creating the Underground Electric Railways Company. The underground system was consolidated into one functioning company. In three years the District and Circle lines were electrified.
In these years many new lines opened for the first time: Baker Street & Waterloo Railway – today’s Bakerloo line, Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway, Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway.
We’re so used to escalators today, we can’t even imagine, how strange it was for Londoners, when the first functioning public escalator was introduced to the passengers in Earl’s Court. People were afraid to use it, so a one-legged man was hired to ride the escalator whole day, demonstrating it’s not dangerous.
The Name Underground
Since people are calling the train system with many names, you will probably want to know how the famous sign and name came to life. Around 1912 the Underground Electric Railways Company /UERL/ decided their underground system need promotion amongst people. The company has already begun to expand, acquiring other railway, bus and tram companies, and whose biggest rival in business was the Metropolitan. Metropolitan denied merge with UERL, so they started to promote the underground creating maps and signs at every station. The famous red and blue sign with the name of the station is the creation of UERL and the name Underground comes from the name of the company.
Developments In 20’s
In the 1920’s the underground system moved to another level, expanding the smaller tunnels with the size of others. Then the first air-operated doors were installed on the new train, which ran on the Piccadilly line. In the same decade, stock on all lines was changed with stocks with sliding doors.
London Passenger Transport Board
Finally, in 1933 the Metropolitan Railway, the UERL and all other bus, tram, trolleybus and coach services were merged into one organization. At this time Harry Beck presented the first diagram full map of the metro system.
Before the beginning of WWII, many new cars were purchased for the tube lines and other expansions of the route were started. The outbreak of the war stopped the building plans and many of the Tube lines were used as shelters. The government installed bunk beds and supplies were delivered to the people hiding in the tunnels. Not all lines stopped working, in fact, many of them kept running. Some of the lines were used as storages for treasures of the British Museum and part from the Central line section was used for an aircraft factory.
Nationalization & New Trains
After the war in 1948, the old private organization London Passenger Transport Board was nationalized. Many of the unfinished works, started before the war were left behind or slowed. However, new stock was delivered to the Tube system and the first aluminum unpainted train was put in service. This train became etalon for the future trains and soon all steam locomotives were replaced.
Victoria & Jubilee Lines
Victoria and Jubilee lines are the last built lines in the modern metro system. Victoria line’s works started in 1963 and for six years it was ready without its extension to Brixton, which was released in 1971. The new extension was designed for automatic trains and a new system for automatic gates and encoded tickets.
In the next 6 years one fatal accident- a train crashed into a wall- killed 44 people, the Heathrow Terminus was opened and later Terminal 4 station. The Jubilee line, which was initially designed to serve as central line, operating at one of the Bakerloo line’s branches was completed in 1974.
80’s and 90’s – Fares and Fire
With the beginning of the 80’s the fares scheme was integrated into transportation systems. The fares were divided to zones and prices jumped high at first. For two years the prices were normalized and Londoners started to use Travelcards for the bus and rail transport in the zones.
Trains were painted for the first time since the introduction of the aluminum trains because it was difficult to remove graffiti from the unpainted aluminum. In the very end of the century, the Jubilee line was extended now offering service from Stanmore to Stratford.
In 1878 a fire in the King’s Cross station killed 31 people, a result of lit match faller on the wooden stairs of the escalator. Since this incident, new safety regulation and safety code were introduced.
When Londoners met 2000, Transport for London – TfL took over the control over railway services as part of the top administrative body of Greater London. In the next 11 years after the millennium, the London underground system continued to modify its cars, change to the route of certain lines, to reach even wider range. Trains become air conditioned and the Circle line, being closed loop, becomes a spiral, adding Hammersmith to its route. The TfL introduced the Oyster contactless card in 2003, which made traveling even faster and convenient.
Today the London Tube, after transfers billions of passengers every year. The Tube is still one of the biggest and busiest metro systems in Europe and continues to make its environment more customer friendly and modern.