I hate the tube. I hate slithering underground each day, twice a day, to squeeze inside the foetid air, and duck under the radar of the shifty looks of not looking at people. I hate the scramble for seats and the looks of triumph people give when they beat you to the prickly cushioned thrones of privilige. I hate getting stuck in the clanking darkness underground. I don't mind the nutters, the weirdos, the chanters, the dreamers. (And I like to sneak looks at what people are reading, watch the concentration as three people play snake on their mobiles.) It's the stale-sweating suits that piss me off, the ones who never notice the people who really need a seat. It's the open-mouthed gum-chewers and the burger-scoffers that scatter their detritus across the stained floors.

In recent mornings the trains have been speckled with mother-and-daughter tourists. The elegant mother, with a neatly tucked yellow wool scarf, adjusting her cuffs and then flicking anxiously through the guidebook while her daughter stared up at the ceiling with teenage ennui. The most beautiful girl, cramped tight with awkwardness, rubbing her brown-booted feet together and shoving her hands deeper and deeper into the pouch pocket of her fuzzy pale blue fleece. Her face so smooth, and sparkling with energy, despite the arias of bored sighing that accompanied each sideways glance at her mother's comments.

The tube is my favourite zoo. I turn the pages of my book with careful regularity and eavesdrop with delight. I watch people in the ricocheted reflections, and try to store away the scraps of their lives that I can catch. the leather trousered stickboy explaining marxist history to his grandmother, who tutted him and told him he was a tory at heart. The gold-earringed girl giggling into her hands as she whispered the name of her secret crush to her schoolpal (twisting the strap of her book bag into spirals). The woolly-jumpered old man reminiscing about his long dead wife, pausing, and the exhaling so fondly, "by god, that woman could snore!"

The tube stank of rotting flowers, old piss and stale beer. A double assault--two dozing tramps, one at either end of the carriage, each with their heads falling forwards in the heaviness of boozeclouds, but their fingers gripped with tight urgency around the unnerving gold of the Special Brew cans. (The beer that dissolves the mind and smells like old death when sweated through layers of all winter long clothes.) White hogbristle beard growth breaking through the paintpink flush of face. The bare ankles corned beef toned with failing circulation above unpaired shoes. A sudden stumble lurch as he aims for the closing door, escapes, and stunned, stock still on the platform, watches the vanishing train with amazement.

And at the next stop, this one is replaced with a more jovial drunk. the small space between his pulled down green hat and the voluminous black birdsnest beard is alight with amusement as he gawks showily at the tired and bleary commuters. Holding up his can in a toast to all those who meet his eye, you can see him measuring the fear and shrinking embarrassment around him. Leaning forward, he started to regale the woman opposite with some tale (sadly, out of earshot) and, amazingly, she listened. And she laughed. This is one of the rarest moments on the tube--a chance conversation that provokes a smile between strangers rather than a shrinking back or a hostile glare, or a wall of invisibility.

So often you can overhear that chanting thought-voice from all around you, "no, not me. Don't come and talk to me. Don't notice me. Don't tell me god will save me. Don't tell me your children are lost. Don't ask me for money. Don't sing 'Hey, Jude'. Don't look at me. Don't talk to me. Pretend I'm not here. I'm not here. I'm not here. I wish I wasn't here."

Those closed off mornings when it seems every passerby crashes against your shoulder in the tunnels, and everyone stands too close against the door, and if you dare to sit down, squeezed between outstretched thighs, your face is too close to a forest of besuited crotches, and you focus very hard on your knees. and everyone is staring into nowhere and wishing everyone was somewhere else.

I wish I could walk to work.

The name "London Underground" was also used by a chain of American stores specializing in "London Apparel" (in other words Doc Martens). For a while London Underground stores were the sole distributors of Doc Martens footware in the US, until there was a dispute between the chain and the footware company. Doc Martens, in an effort to boost sales through increased avilibility in the US started selling their footware in Nordstrom's apparel stores. London underground responded by discontinuing the relationship with Doc Martens and started selling it's own (inferior) knock-off brand. In 1999 the chain went bankrupt.

The London Underground Map is often cited as one of the easiest maps for people to navigate their way around. Even those who do not understand English can usually find their way to their destination by using the distinct colour coding of the map and many Londoners, myself included, use the simple layout of this cartographical masterpiece as a mental image of the shape of London.

In reality, the actual layout of the stations is heavily topologically distorted to make the planning of one’s route as easy as possible. When deciding upon an itinerary, it is easier to make reference to a clear and linear map even though its distances and angles may be distorted. When underground, the only thing to which one can refer in order to determine how far one has travelled is the number of stations passed. By having the map laid out with the stations for the most part equally spaced, the distance on the map corresponds precisely to one’s perception of distance travelled when underground.

Connections are also important to the traveller attempting to chart their way from one station to another. Most people will choose the route requiring the fewest stops unless they have other information about delays on a particular line. Therefore, it is important that any map of the underground emphasises the connections between stations as an integral part of its efficacy.

Since the Underground Map covers a very large area, it is important that the information it contains is easily accessible. Most of its traffic passes through the very popular Zone One stations of Central London and so it is important that these are highlighted in the map. This is done not only by placing them at the centre of the map but also by shrinking the distances between outlying stations to minimise the effect that they have on the map as a whole.

Funding the London Underground

For the past few years there has been a bitter ongoing dispute about the future of the London Underground with regards to how it should be financed, given its urgent need for improvements.

The New Labour government has proposed a PPP (Public Private Partnership) scheme, under which three private companies will maintain the track, signals and stations, while the publicly owned London Underground will be responsible for the staffing of the stations and trains. Currently, the government is pressing ahead with these plans, despite the fact that the PPP is deeply unpopular. The Mayor of London Ken Livingstone, as well as large sections of the press, a number of experts, and the majority of the population do not want the tube to be funded in this way, especially given the sorry state of the national train system (see: Railtrack) following control being put into private hands. Livingstone, backed by Commissioner for Transport Bob Kiley has an alternative plan, to finance the tube with bonds, keeping it in public hands. They say this will be safer and less costly than allowing private companies to run it.

One thing all sides agree on is that the Underground is in terrible condition at present, and badly needs investment. The system is notoriously overcrowded, with passengers packed in trains like sardines during the rush hour, and stations frequently having to be closed due to dangerous congestion. In addition, there are often delays due to signalling problems and stations closed for repair.


A good definition of what a PPP is is given on the Irish government website (http://www.ppp.gov.ie):

A Public Private Partnership (PPP) is a partnership between the public and private sector for the purpose of delivering a project or service traditionally provided by the public sector. Public Private Partnership recognises that both the public sector and the private sector have certain advantages relative to the other in the performance of specific tasks. By allowing each sector to do what it does best, public services and infrastructure can be provided in the most economically efficient manner.
In the case of the London Underground, the government's PPP plan works like this: The publicly owned LUL (London Underground Limited) will have three contracts with private companies, each lasting 30 years. They will be divided up in terms of tube lines - one company will manage the Bakerloo, Central, Victoria, and Waterloo & City lines. Another will run the Circle, District, East London, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan lines. And another company will run the deepest lines – Jubilee, Northern, and Piccadilly.

Ken Livingstone claims that these companies may be making a profit margin as high as 30%, unlike London's bus companies which only make 8%. A number of commentators have also made a comparison between this break-up of the lines and the one that occurred with the national rail network, although the government maintains that it is completely different. They point out that the tube will still be controlled by the public, and contractors will be accountable to the public, whereas the railways that were privatised by the Tories were fully privatised. Despite this, the PPP has been dubbed by many as 'Railtrack Underground'.

Fighting the government's plan

There are two main reasons why Ken Livingstone was elected mayor, both of which are largely about what he is against rather than what he is for. The first reason is the undemocratic way the government tried to stop Livingtone from standing. The second is that he was against the partial privatisation of the tube. And it is only the government that maintain the PPP plan isn't partial privatisation.

The mayor has had the upper hand in the argument from the beginning. He appointed Bob Kiley, an American who is credited with turning around the New York subway and other underground systems, to head Transport for London (TfL). Kiley is hardly a left-wing radical or natural ally of Livingstone's (he used to be a CIA man and union basher), yet he said the government's plan was destined to failure. TfL went to court to challenge the government's right to overrule the mayor, but lost. It had been decided when London was given a mayor that the government would handle reform of the tube and then pass it over.

The two sides have also fought the issue with reports from external accountants. TfL commissioned a report from Deloitte & Touche, which sided with TfL against the PPP. The government tried, in court, to prevent Kiley from making the report public, saying it was rushed and inaccurate compared to the PriceWaterhouseCoopers and Ernst & Young reports they had commissioned, which sided with them.

At the time of writing, Transport Minister Stephen Byers has announced that the government's plan is going ahead (this is after a few days of suspense when it looked like the government might back down). This is despite the fact that the Commons Transport Select Committee is against it. The 45 out of 50 Labour MPs that are against the plan refer to those in favour as the 'Taliban', it was revealed on Newsnight. The plan is still subject to approval by the Health and Safety Executive – while the government claims this test will be stringent, Livingtone claimed on Newsnight that Gordon Brown told him it wouldn't be a serious test. Livingstone says that he is still seeing what he can do to prevent the scheme from happening.

The story of the debate over tube funding is a lengthy and complex one. Please point out any errors and omissions in this writeup. Listed below are some headlines from the Evening Standard, taken from their website. I chose to reproduce them as I think it gives an interesting look at what the conflict over the tube has been like. Also try some of the URLs given at the end of this writeup for further information.

Key headlines, in chronological order, from the Evening Standard
As listed at http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/dynamic/campaign/top_tube_story.html?in_review_id=414716&in_review_text_id=363820

'PPP to cost £1bn more for Tube';     Kiley and the PPP's 'fatal flaw';     PPP 'would bankrupt some lines';     Mayor wins right to challenge PPP;     PPP will shut lines 'at same time';     Mayor consults lawyers on PPP;     PPP choices a 'stab in back' ;     London voters reject Tube PPP;     Huge blow for PPP;     Think tank questions PPP;     Kiley declares all-out war on PPP;     Labour rigs MPs' backing for PPP;     Experts say Tube PPP won't work;     Blair warns Mayor over PPP;     Kiley accused of influencing LU report;     Kiley alarm as report slams safety;     Blair sacks Kiley from LT;     Sacked Kiley roasts Blair;     LT wins gagging order on Kiley;     Tube sued for Jubilee chaos;     GLA Labour leader slams Kiley;     Tube protesters to picket court;     And now they want to export it;     Legal showdown on PPP;     PPP protest as court battle starts;     Kiley - the people's champion;     Livingstone in court over PPP;     Act 'has no provision for PPP';     Anger as Ken loses PPP battle;     PPP faces new court challenge;     Battle for control of Tube is over'    

For more information, see:
www.thetube.com – London Underground Ltd's site, and the government's views
www.londontransport.co.uk – London Transport / Transport for London, against the PPP
www.ippr.org.uk – The Institute for Public Policy Research, a 'centre left thinktank'
www.thisislondon.co.uk – the Evening Standard, contains a lot of information about the tube
www.guardian.co.uk – The Guardian, another newspaper, again with lots of info

I walk along the dank and winding passageways only acutely aware of those slumped against the walls. Colourful grafitti hangs scrawled above them, the once-bright paint now fading, just like the rest of this station. The sound of a busker's guitar hangs stagnant in the air, and as I listen, I become aware of others building up a chorus; a choir of amature melodies meandering through the darkness.

Somehow I manage to resist the pleading urge to toss a coin into the ragged hat that sits upon the urine-soaked floor. I move onwards, still watching from the corner of my eye as the man finds a new target. I am vaguely aware of my compatriots - businessmen, sightseers, the occasional member of staff - all battling their own way through the gauntlet of beggars, all as reluctant to spare change as I am. I approach the stairs and immediately begin my descent, gratefully escaping the beggars. Somehow, this doesn't bother me as much as it should.

I take a look at my surroundings properly for the first time and am amazed by the myriad of features unique to this place alone (in this station, at least). Stale water follows me down the iron stairs making a horrid, metallic drip, resonating around me.

Drip. Drip.

Always the same sound. The brickwork surrounding me shows the effect this has upon it : with every drip more calcium was deposited, a network of encrustations growing across the walls in a spider-like manner. Their tendrils spread in an attempt to corrupt the entire room, like a disease infesting the bricks. I tear myself away from this sight to complete my descent, banishing everything back into the heavy recesses of my memory.

Despite all its faults - the ancient trains, the woefully optimistic timetables, to name but two - I still like the Tube. Every time I use it, another thing fascinates me (Quite why eludes me to this day). On this particular journey, it was those same decaying trains. Some were old, some were new, but they all held one thing in common: each was packed far, far past capacity like some sardine can of commuters.

I board the train, quickly leaping into what very well could be the sole remaining seat left on the vehicle. The last space in the can. Despite this, I am not the last to board. Soon I am followed by a gaggle of others all vying for the nonexistant places. Like mosquitoes 'round a lamp after dark. Some, frustrated, leave the collective prison. Others, unafraid of standing, grab hold and prepare for the ride.

With a jolt the train starts, and begins its journey. Elsewhere along the line, this process is beginning again. With this thought we leave the station, leaving my thoughts behind.

The world's first public underground railway was the Metropolitan Railway in London. Its conception led to the most famous underground railway system in the world.

The total length of route covered by the Underground is 259 miles, comprising of 146 miles above ground, 93 miles in tube tunnelling and 20 in "cut and cover" tunnel. Only about 10% of London's surface area is covered by highways, in comparason to to about 25% of a typical American city, making the city particularly dependent on its railway system; every day approximately 2.8 million journeys are made on the Underground system.

The Lines

The London Underground is made up of 14 lines:


(please also see metalangel's excellent writeup The History of the London Underground)

Before the trains

Between 1825 and 1843, Sir Marc Brunel constructed the world's first bored tunnel crossing of a river with a 400m long structure between Wapping and Rotherhithe. The Thames Tunnel was opened in 1843 and was designed for foot and horse traffic it was sold to a railway company in 1865 and now forms part of the London Undergroud's East London line.

The beginning - 1863 - 1900

10th Jan 1863 - Metropolitan railway opens its route from Bishop's Road, Paddington to Farringdon Street, a distance of 3.75 miles. Most of the line was built using the "cut and cover" method (digging down into earth, laying the tracks (and building stations) and then covering the tracks - most of the tracks were built along existing roads in order to minimise disturbance to local buildings).

After two months, the steam operated line was carrying 2.75 million passengers a year for every mile of track; 26,500 people a day used the line in the first six months. Specially designed locomotives were purchased by the Metropolitan for working in the tunnels, built by Beyer Peacock of Manchester, they were fitted with a system which condensed the exhaust steam in order to reduce the steam and smoke in the tunnels.

By 1876 the line had been extended to reach Aldgate and by 1882 a further extension to Tower of London (now Tower Hill) was reached. A westward projection was started from a junction at Praed Street between the stations at Paddington and Edgware Road. This line passed through a new Paddington station built especially for the Metropolitan (now the Circle/District station) and proceeded south, reaching South Kensington by 1868.

A second company come onto the scene in 1868. The Metropolitan District Railway (usually referred to as the District) built the southern section of what is now the Circle Line between South Kensington and Mansion House, opening it in stages between 1868 and 1871. The final part of the circle was opened in 1884 when the joint construction by the Metropolitan and the District companies of the link between Mansion house and the Tower was completed - the project included an extension to Whitechapel and a triangular junction with the present-day Circle line between Liverpool Street, Aldgate East and the Tower.

Both companies became involved with the construction or operation of extensions radiating from the Circle line. Working jointly with the Great Western Railway, the Metropolitan operated a branch to Hammersmith which was opened in 1864. The District had reached Hammersmith in 1874 and then built a small extension to a junction with the London & South Western Railway at Studland Road (near Ravenscourt Park station), this gave the District the opportunity to run trains to Richmond in 1877 and by 1879 the company had opened an extension from Turnham Green to Ealing Broadway. In the following year the branch to West Brompton (opened in 1869) was extended to Putney Bridge and, following the construction of the appropiate bridge, District trains ran to Wimbledon in 1889.

At the same time, the St John's Wood Railway Company opened a line Baker Street to Swiss Cottage was opened in 1868, which was extended to Willesden Green in 1879 (the company amalgamated with the Metropolitan Railway Company in the same year) and to Harrow-on-the-Hill in 1880). Pinner was reached in 1885, Rickmansworth in 1887 and Chesham in 1889.

Until now, all trains on the Underground were powered by steam, this all changed with the appearance of The City & South London Railway company and the electric traction railway running between Stockwell and King William Street, which officially opened on 4th November 1890. It was the first tube railway in the world and was initally planned to be operated by cable haulage (similar to the system in San Francisco for their cable cars), however, by the time the line opened electric traction had been substituted as a faster and more reliable system. By the beginning of the new century the Metropolitan and District Railways had begun their conversion to electric traction.

Extending and condensing - 1900 - 1933

In 1900, the C&SLR opened extensions to Clapham Common (in the south) and Moorgate (to the north) - the Moorgate extension allowed the original terminus at King William Street to be abandoned, replaced by Bank. Further extensions were built, one to Angel (opened in 1901) and Euston (1907). This line was eventually to become part of the Northern Line.

Also in 1900, another company launched the Central London Railway between Shepherd's Bush and Bank, connecting the shopping area of Oxford Street with the financial area of the City. Trains ran up to 30 times an hour, making the CLR London's first tube rapid transit railway. More tube lines appeared following the appearance of the Central London forming the basis of the Underground system that is so familiar today.

The Bakerloo (opened 10th March 1906) was originally known as the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway and ran from Baker Street to Lambeth North (later in 1906 it was extended to Elephant & Castle). Extensions to the line reached Edgware Road in June 1907, Queen's Park and Willesden Junction in 1915 and by 1917 the line had reached Watford. The Bakerloo became the longest line until the Piccadilly extensions in 1932-3.

The Piccadilly Line was opened as the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway in December 1906. Running between Finsbury Park and Hammersmith, the line had a small branch from the main route at Holborn to Aldwych.

The Hampstead line was the last of the lines to be opened as a result of the tube boom of the 1900s. It ran between Charing Cross and Golders Green (with a branch to Highgate) in 1907 and eventually became part of the Northern line after being combined with the C&SLR.

By the time they were opened, The Bakerloo, Piccadilly and Hampstead lines were all owned by the Yerkes' holding company, which was known as the Underground Electric Railways of London Ltd (UERL). The three tubes formed one company called the London Electric Railway (LER). UERL also took over the District Railway and absorbed the Central London and C&SLR in 1913.

Both the Central London and the C&SLR had slightly smaller tunnels than the three LER tubes and work began on standardising the width of the tunnels, during which the C&SLR was extended to Morden and was combined with the Hampstead. The two lines were connected at Kennington and Camden Town and the Hampstead line was extended from Golders Green to Edgware. The Central London Railway was also extended from Bank to Liverpool Street in 1912 and to Ealing Broadway in 1920 - this was done as part of the plans for long eastern and western extensions to Epping, Hainault, Ongar and West Ruislip (although these were delayed by World War II, they were opened soon after).

The idea of extending the tubes lines to create suburbs and thus generate custom had begun in 1907 with the opening on the Hampstead tube to the open countryside at Golders Green. The idea had been imported from the US with Yerkes and his engineers, who had seen the phenomenon in cities like New York and Chicago. The Piccadilly line extension to Oakwood was the last under independent ownership; four months later the small extension to Cockfosters (opened on the 31st July 1933) was the first to open under the new London Passenger Transport Board.

The London Passenger Transport Board was appointed by the government in 1933 to take over the operation of the Underground, bus and tram services in the greater London area. The name London Transport appeared for the first time on buses and trains to mark the passing of the Underground and bus companies from private to public ownership. The LPTB began a programme of new works which included a new tube line between Baker Street and Finchley Road to relieve the Metropolitan's worst bottleneck.

The Second World War and beyond - 1934 - 1969

The Second World War had a profound effect on London's transport system, not least on the Underground. As a result of the blackout and bombings on London, all train windows were covered with a gauze for the dual purpose of preventing glass injuries in the event of a blast and also to dim the light from the inside of the carriages.

Programs for the extension of the Northern and Central lines and improvements to the Metropolitan line were halted. The first bomb landed on Croydon Aerodrome on 15th August 1940 marking the beginning of the air raids on London (which began in earnest on 7th September 1940). During the first heavy night-time raids people began to descend into the deep-level stations in droves. At first the LPTB tried to discourage this practice but practicality meant that removing the some 175,000 people who each night sought safety within the depths of the tunnels within the first few weeks was impossible. People would buy a short journey ticket and refuse to leave after the last train, they slept where-ever they could find space - on platforms, on the stationary escalators and even between the tracks.

In November bunk beds were installed at Lambeth North station and by the end of 1941 some 22,000 bunk beds were available at 79 stations. Shelterers could even obtain season tickets to ensure a regular place. One such station was Aldwych, which was also used to store numerous works from the British Museum.

Although the Underground had the advantage of being below ground level, it did not escape the Blitz unscathed. For example, on 12th November 1940 a bomb hit Sloane Square station, injuring 79 passengers who were on a train - the station's modernisation had only been completed on 27th March 1940 and had to be completely redone. Bank also suffered on 11th January 1941, when a direct hit on the station killed 56 people and injured 69. The huge crater that the bomb left had to be covered with a Bailey Bridge for the traffic and the station itself was closed for two months.

Perhaps the most shocking tragedy which occured during the bombings on London was not caused by a hit from above. On 3rd March 1943 (long after the air raids had much abated) the air raid sirens sounded in east London and people made their way to Bethnal Green, where there were 10,000 designated spaces. Following the sound of anti-aircraft rockets being launched the masses of people entering the station surged forward onto those already descending the stairs. A woman close to the bottom tripped and fell, causing those behind her to follow suit. Soon many hundreds had fallen on top of those at the bottom of the stairs, while the crush at the top continued. 173 people died of suffocation and other injuries, of those, 146 were women and children. The news of this incident was not released to the nation until January 1945, for obvious reasons.

It wasn't only the public who sheltered in the Tube. The Railway Executive Committee met at the closed Down Street station, which was also used by the War Cabinet. Reminders of this use still exist in the disused station. Gants Hill on the Central line was completed in early 1942, not to house the Central line but to house a factory for The Plessary Company which manufactured aircraft components. The factory employed 2,000 people and ran 24 hours a day.

Following the Second World War the Underground slowly returned to normal, services gradually returned to normal, escalators (once turned off during off-peaks hours to save power) ran all day and bunks, chemical toilets and canteen points used by the shelterers were removed.

In 1948 the Central line opened an extension from Woodford to Loughton via Buckhurst Hill and also completed the Hainault loop by opening the line between Woodford and Hainault. The line was also extended from Greenford to West Ruislip. In 1949 the final eastern extension from Loughton to Ongar was opened, until 1957 the last stretch from Epping to Ongar was served by BR steam trains.

During the 1950s little changed on the Underground due to financial restrictions after the war. Stations were moved or changed names but there were no new stations opened or lines extended.

There was also a change of government and virtually all the railways in Britian were nationalised in 1948, amongst the companies nationalised was the LPTB which became the London Transport Executive, in turn in 1963, this became the London Transport Board, reporting directly to the Minister of Transport.

In 1966, Hammersmith became the first station to have fully automated ticketing, with machines which could issue appropiate tickets in return for the correct fare and change machines. Automated ticket gates were also installed, collecting and checking tickets, thus reducing fradulent travel and the queues at entrances and exits - this revolutionised ticketing and speed of travel on the Underground.

Work on the new Victoria line was begun over the August Bank Holiday in 1963 and involved erecting a huge steel umbrella over the busy Oxford Circus road junction to enable the reconstruction of the station below without disrupting the flow of traffic above. The line itself was opened in stages between 1968 and 1971, the first section opened on 1st September 1968 and ran from Walthamstow Central to Highbury & Islington. Extensions to Warren Street and then on to Victoria were opened later in the year. The line was officially opened by Queen Elizabeth II on 7th March 1969 and was commemorated by a book, GPO postmark and a series of films.

Boom and bust - 1970 - 1989

Political control of London passed to the Greater London Council in 1970 and with it control of the London Transport Board.

In 1971 the last steam shunting and freight locomotive was withdrawn from service and the Victoria line was extended to Brixton.

February 1972 saw work beginning on the new Fleet line (later to be renamed the Jubilee line in honour of The Queen's 25th year on the throne). The Jubliee line was formed from the Stanmore branch of the Bakerloo and a new tube was built between Baker Street and Charing Cross. It was opened in 1979 by the Prince of Wales.

In February 1973 the Ministry of Transport and the Greater London Council set up a London Rail Study to look at the problems facing London's railways before the end of the century. The following year a report was issued suggesting that £2 billion would need to be spent during the period and it recommended that the Fleet line be extended from Strand to the Docklands and on to Thamesmead. It also suggested that a line be built from Chelsea to Hackney to create a new south-west to north-east tube line and a deep level "CrossRail" link from Shenfield in Essex to Alesbury/Reading. Despite considerable debate neither of these two schemes have come to fruition.

In 1975 there was a fatal accident on the Northern line at Moorgate killing 43 people. At 8:46am on 28th February, the driver of the train failed to stop at the required signal and ploughed through the sand drag at the end of the dead-end platform. As a result, new safety measures were introduced, including a 10 miles per hour speed limit on approaches to terminus platforms.

London has long been a target of the IRA and the Undergroud with it. On 15th March 1976 a bomb exploded on the Hammersmith and City line just west of West Ham. It had still been in the possession of the terrorist who, realising that it was about to go off, threw the bomb down the car and tried to escape through the driver's cab. The driver gave chase only to be shot dead by the man. The following evening a bomb exploded on the Piccadilly line on a train at Wood Green. Fortunately nobody was seriously hurt but had the bomb exploded later (as was presumably intended) the train would have been packed with Arsenal supporters after a game at Highbury. As a security precaution, all litter bins were removed from Underground stations.

The extension of the Piccadilly line to Heathrow airport was opened on 16th December 1977 by The Queen, connecting Terminals 1, 2 and 3 to the Underground. By the end of 1978, 8 million passengers had chosen to "Fly the tube", way over the estimate of 1.2 million from London Transport. When Terminal 4 was opened on 1st April 1986 by the Prince and Princess of Wales, the line was extended into a loop to include a new station for the terminal.

In 1978 London Transport appointed its first female driver and also contacts were placed with Westinghouse Cubic Ltd for the design and construction of new ticket gates, issuing machines and automated ticket offices costing £86 million. By now it was estimated that ticket fraud was costing London Transport several million pounds a year. The designs which were produced were first introduced on 31st October 1982 when prototype equipment was brought into use at Vauxhall and by 1989 all stations were using the ticketing system.

From 4th October 1981 the zone system was introduced. Initially, only the central zone (roughly the area bounded by the Circle line) was used at first and was divided into two overlapping zones with 17 stations in each zone. On 22nd May 1983 zones were introduced across Greater London. Five zones were put into place and tickets were priced depending on how many zones were passed through on each journey. The travelcard, which permitted travel on London Transport buses (also part of the zone system) was an immediate sucess.

Because of the London Regional Transport Act (1984) a coporation, London Regional Transport, was set up in 1984 and London Underground Ltd was set up as a subsidiary of LRT on 1st April 1985. This move was part of the dissolution of the Greater London Council and the new corporation reported directly to the Minister for Transport.

Smoking was banned on Underground trains on 9th July 1984 and was extended to cover platforms, ticketing halls and subways which were partly or all below ground after a fire at Oxford Circus, which was throught to have been caused by a discarded cigarette end.

In the Docklands (which was being extensively redeveloped as a business and high class housing district) a new transport system was needed costing no more than £77m. This was the start of Docklands Light Railway; with construction starting in 1984 it took only 3 years to complete and was officially opened by The Queen on 31 July 1987. The line was extended to Bank in 1991.

The fire at King's Cross on 18th November, 1987 killed 31 people. It began with a small fire on one of the escalators leading to the ticket hall. The evacuation procedure took a long time and as the ticket hall began to fill with smoke trains were still arriving at the platforms below. At about 7:45pm a huge fireball swept up the escalator shaft and raged throughout the station until the early hours of the next day. As a result, all wooden escalators were hurriedly replaced and the escalator renewal program was sped up.

The present day - 1989 -

Work commenced in 1993 on the the Jubliee extension from Green Park to Stratford to relieve some of the pressure on the Docklands Light Railway. Part funded by Canary Wharf Ltd, the extension took 7 years to complete with a cost of more than £3.5 billion.

In 1994 the Penalty Fares system was introduced, any passenger not found in possession of a valid ticket would be charged an on-the-spot fine of £10. During this time, London Underground took over the Waterloo & City Line and responsibility for the stations on the Wimbledon branch of the District Line from Putney Bridge to Wimbledon Park. Also in 1994, Aldwych Station and the Central Line branch from Epping to Ongar were closed.

During much of the 1990s modernisation of many stations took place - redecorating and redesigning platforms, ticket halls, trains and passages and also placing CCTV and help points in most stations along with better security measures. Amidst all this work, the tunnels underneath the Thames were also looked at, strengthened and made water tight. The whole East London Line was closed in 1995 while Brunel's Thames Tunnel was strengthened and other signalling and reconstruction was carried out. This was hampered by the then Secretary of State for National Heritage giving the tunnel Grade II* status just hours before work was to begin - the work took over twice as long to complete, taking the entire East London line out of service for 16 months.

One of the first steps towards the realm of the Public Finance Initiative was taken in 1994 when a £400 million contract was awarded to GEC Alstom for the maintainance and building of trains for the Northern line. The PFI extended in 1997 when Seeboard Powerlink was selected to run a 30-year contract to provide the high voltage electricity supply for the Underground.

During the same year, on 1st April, London Underground took over the Waterloo and City line from British Rail after nearly 100 years of separate management from LUL. 1994 also marked the beginning of the step free initiative for the Underground to help the mobility-impaired onto the tube with the modernisation of Tottenham Hale station, placing lifts to the platforms and modernising the platforms.

In 1997 a change of government occured from Conservative to Labour. The new government announced its plan for the future of London Transport with the formation of a new Greater London Authority and with it a new organisation Transport for London (TfL) to take over the roles of LRT and its subsidiaries, together with responsibilities for the Docklands Light Railway, Victoria Coach Station, taxis, roads and cycleways. The new authority took over after the mayoral elections in 2000.

In 1998 the government announced its preferred option for funding the Underground, a Public-Private Partnership. The public element being the operation of the train service while the private sector would provide and maintain the infrastructure used by the public operating body. In 1999 the London Underground restructured in preparation for PPP.

Also in 1999, the extended Jubilee line opened with through services from Stanmore to Stratford. The line was rushed to be finished in time for the celebrations for the Millenium - especially those at the Millenium Dome in Greenwich, which had been deliberately left without car parking facilities.

On 31st July 2000, operation Jackdaw was launched. By increasing the number of uniformed and plain clothes police officers on the Underground, the number of pick-pocketing offences has gone down by almost 50 per cent.

In December 2001, work began on the extension of the East London line the final details of East London Line services remain to be fully defined but destinations could include Highbury & Islington and Finsbury Park in North London, and New Cross, Wimbledon and West Croydon in the South. The plans also include the construction of new stations at Bishopsgate, Hoxton, Haggerston, Dalston and Surrey Canal Road. A scheme is also in the pipeline to build a crossrail link running east to west across London and also better connect Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire, Essex and possibly Kent to London's transport network.

The Underground continues to be improved and extended into the new millenium, with the PPP initiative being finalised on 4th April 2003. The private sector consortia, Metronet - led by Atkins, Balfour Beatty, Bombardier, SEEBOARD and Thames Water – signed a 30-year-deal with London Underground for the maintenance and upgrade of two major sections of the Tube; the Bakerloo, Central, Victoria and Waterloo & City lines (BCV) and the Sub Surface lines (SSL).

Art and design

The map of the Underground used to be designed based on the actual locations of the stations in relation to the streets of London, as extensions were built and stations were opened, moved and closed the map became confused and difficult to understand. Henry Beck was charged with redesigning the map in 1933 and came up with the diagrammatic form which is still used today, he was only paid 5 guineas for his trouble. Beck was frustrated by London Transport's failure to never acknowledge his contribution to not only the London Underground but route maps all over the world. Eventually, a grey plaque (the Underground equivalent of London's Blue Plaques which show where famous people lived) was put up at Finchley Central Station in the late 1990s, together with a replica of his orginal map.

The simple, bold typeface used across the Underground was designed by calligrapher Edward Johnston and was used from 1916. Johnston also designed the familiar red circle and blue bar (roundel) design for the London Underground signs, during the expansion of the Underground in the 1920s and 30s it was incorporated into exterior designs and now is an instantly recognisable sign for Underground stations.

Stations vary greatly in design, from the open and airy (for example Canary Wharf) to small and pokey (Covent Garden). Perhaps the most recognisable design for stations are from architect Leslie Green. He was responsible for the deep-red terracotta tiled stations of the tube extensions between 1906 and 1917 - excellent examples are Mornington Crescent, Russell Square and Gloucester Road.

Stanley A. Heaps was the Underground's own architect during the 1920s and 30s - exmaples of his work can be seen at Brent Cross and Burnt Oak. The early 30s produced fine, large circular or rectangular brickwork structures such as those at Sudbury Hill, Arnos Grove or Southgate. The introduction of automated ticket gates in the 1980s - 90s meant that many stations had to be internally completely redesigned or have new ticket halls built.

The Underground is also a breeding place for art, be it paintings, murals or performing arts. Since 1908 (after Frank Pick, the Underground Group's publicity officer, who later became Chief Executive first commissioned a poster), London Underground has been commissioning publicity posters from artists and designers and the murals are more often than not especially commissioned by the corporation. In fact, Frank Pick's attention to detail was such that he commissioned artists such as Enid Marx to design fabrics for seat coverings.

The London Transport Art collection comprises over 5,000 images and in the 1920s and 1930s (generally regarded as the heyday of the Underground poster), the company was displaying up to 40 new works each year, successfully promoting leisure travel by extolling the virtues of using the Underground when visiting such places as the theatre, museums or the Zoo. During the Second World War, posters were commissioned to provide advice and morale boosting ideas to passengers and staff alike. Although there have been rises and falls in the number of commissioned works, the Underground has always displayed new and original art through its posters and now, with a new direction, art is being taken to the commuter for free. About six new works are being commissioned every year and in another new initiative, the disused District and Circle Line platform at Gloucester Road has been home to a wide variety of sculpture and photography as part of the Platform for Art series since 1999.

London Underground sponsors Poems on the Underground by donating advertising space to the scheme, which was launched in 1986. The brainchild of American writer Judith Chernaik the programme's aim is to bring poetry to the wide ranging audience of passengers on the Underground. Together with poets Cicely Herbert and Gerard Benson, Judith Chernaik continues to select poems for inclusion in the programme. Sponsorship is also received from The British Council, London Arts, The Poetry Society and The Arts Council of England and new sets of poems generally appear three times a year.

Busking on the Underground was illegal until 2000, when a move by London Underground set in motion a scheme to have some big name brands sponsor buskers at West End, City and Canary Wharf Tube stations. Building on the sucess of Pop Idols, the nicknamed "Tube Idols" sees performers competing for the perfect pitch, which could, in turn, lead to recording contracts and more. Some experts see buskers as a threat to safety as they block passageways and corridors and some commuters dislike the intrusion of being pestered for cash. Whatever people's feelings, the echos of a sax or guitar along the passages and halls of the Underground are as much a part of the culture of London as Buckingham Palace or Marble Arch.

Trains and tracks

All Underground passenger trains are powered by DC electricity. They run on an unusual four track system, the two running rails are used for signalling and as a traction earth. The two conductor rails have a nominal pole to pole voltage of 630v DC.

           running rail
 ___       _         ___            _   
 |*|      /*/        |-|           \*\ -------- rails
|   |   _|  |_      |   |         _|  |_
.............................................. ground level
   +ve                -ve  

                                    A (much) simplified schematic of the rail layout
Both rails are equally dangerous and can kill but the advantage of this system is that should one rail have an earth fault on it (for example a can gets stuck under one earthing that rail) the trains will still run as all 630 volts will be transferred to the other rail. On the main line a power failure to its single ‘traction’ rail would simply stop the train. Most track sections are also fed from two sub-stations (one at each end) should there be a supply problem at one sub-station then the other sub-station can still feed the section of track and trains will continue to run.

Tube stations in tunnels sections are provided with "suicide pits", which were put in during the 1930s because of the high rate of suicides during the economical depression. As the floor of a tube train is low, the underneath is very cramped and is packed full of equipment the pits provide much needed space underneath the train. Unfortunately, the Underground gets around 100 suicides a year. A further prevention measure was taken with the Jubilee extension stations, where the platform edges are lined with glass partitions.

The shape and size of the trains are dictated by the size of the tunnels and station platform lengths. The subsurface lines (generally those built by "cut and cover") run with trains which are similar in size to main line trains as the tunnels are wide enough to accomodate them, running two tracks in the same tunnel. Tubes (those built by boring through the London clay) have a smaller diameter and only run one track through each tunnel and therefore, have smaller trains. Where-ever they run, trains generally have a "shelf life" of 35 - 40 years.

Brakes, door operation and other ancillary equipment are run with compressed air. Lighting and other electrical control equipment are run by a locally generated voltage.

All trains on the modern Underground system run with a one-person operation system, which was introduced in 1968 on the Victoria line and eventually ran across the board by 2000 (as the last trains on the Northern Line were replaced with suitable stock). Before this measure, guards operated from the gangway at the leading end of the last car and had control over the door, lighting and heating controls.

When trains began to run on the subsurface lines back in 1868, the interior design of the carriages was remarkably similar to that of main line trains. When the first proper tube trains were introduced, the carriages were produced with very small windows running across the top of the walls, the rest of the walls being devoted to padding for the seats (leading to the nickname of "padded cells") because it was difficult for passengers to see the name of the station through the tiny windows the name of each station had to be shouted down the carriages by each gateman and many complained. Larger windows became standard and over time the gateman's job of closing the doors at stations was replaced with compressed air operated doors managed from a central point.

The basic design of the interior of the carriages has changed little over the years, the tube and some subsurface trains generally have seats lining the sides of the carriages and the surface trains generally are laid out in a similar formation to main line stock - with seats placed horizontally across the carriage. Most changes have been made to better accomodate wheelchairs, luggage and standing passengers.

A few facts about the London Underground

  • The average speed of a London Underground train is 33 miles per hour.
  • The deepest station is at Hampstead which is 58.5m (192ft) below ground level.
  • There are 417 escalators on the Underground, 15 at Bank (Waterloo has 25 but it also serves as a mainline station).
  • When escalators were first introduced on the Underground at Earl's Court in 1911, the company employed Bumper Harris to travel up and down the escalator to prove that it was safe. Oddly though, Harris had a wooden leg.
  • The longest escalator is at the Angel station on the City branch of the Northern Line with 318 steps and a rise of about 90 feet.
  • Greenford Station is the only one which has escalators which take passengers up to the trains instead of down.
  • Julian Lloyd Webber was London Underground's first official busker.
  • Victoria is the tube's busiest station with 85 million passengers each year.
  • The now closed Aldwych station is featured on level 12 of Tomb Raider (with Lara Croft killing rats).
  • When Blake Hall station (some 30 miles from Oxford Circus) became part of the Underground, there was no housing in the immediate vicinity apart from the station house. The station was eventually closed on 31st October 1981 after a mere 17 people per day had been using the station.
  • Around three million gallons of water have to be pumped out of the Underground every day.
  • Some ex London Underground trains, built in 1938, are still in use on the Isle of Wight's railway.
  • Lost property goes to an office based at 200 Baker Street. Some odd items left behind include a wedding dress, a lawnmower, a stuffed eagle and a grandfather clock.

Sources :
Underground - Official Handbook by Bob Bayman
The Story of London's Underground by John R. Day and John Reed

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