England - Periods - Victorian 1831-1913

The London Underground

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The London Underground, also known as the Tube, is one of the world's oldest and largest metro systems. It was opened on January 10, 1863, and has since grown to become an integral part of London's transport infrastructure.


The idea of an underground railway system in London was first proposed in the early 19th century. In 1854, Charles Pearson, a solicitor and member of the Metropolitan Board of Works, proposed a plan for a railway line that would run from Farringdon to Paddington, passing through the City of London. However, his proposal was met with skepticism and opposition from many quarters, including the public, who feared that the construction of an underground railway would cause buildings to collapse and the air to become unbreathable.

Planning and construction:

Despite these objections, work on the first section of the underground railway began in 1860, and the line was opened to the public on January 10, 1863. The line ran between Paddington and Farringdon, passing through seven stations along the way. It was initially known as the Metropolitan Railway, and was operated by steam trains.

Over the next few decades, several other underground lines were constructed, including the District Line (1868), the Circle Line (1884), and the Central Line (1900). These lines were built using a variety of construction methods, including cut-and-cover and tunneling, and were powered by steam, electricity, or a combination of both.

Opening: The opening of the London Underground was a significant event in the history of London. The first day of operation saw a total of 30,000 passengers using the service, and within a year, the number had grown to over 9 million. The success of the underground railway led to the construction of other metro systems in cities around the world, including New York, Paris, and Tokyo.

The cost of building the London Underground is difficult to estimate due to the different lines and phases of construction over the years. However, it is known that the first line, the Metropolitan Railway, cost around £1.3 million to build, which is equivalent to around £160 million in today's currency.

The construction of the London Underground was initially financed by private companies, who raised capital through the sale of shares and loans. The Metropolitan Railway was built by a private company called the Metropolitan Railway Company, while the District Railway (now part of the District Line) was built by a separate company called the Metropolitan District Railway.

Over time, the ownership and operation of the Underground became more consolidated. In 1933, the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB) was established as a public corporation to manage the various transport systems in London, including the Underground. The LPTB was funded by fares and government subsidies, and was responsible for the construction, maintenance, and operation of the Underground.

The London Underground has benefited a wide range of people over the years, from commuters and tourists to businesses and residents of London. The Underground provides an efficient and convenient way to travel around the city, and has played a key role in connecting different parts of London and promoting economic growth.

These days the London Underground is operated by Transport for London (TfL), a government agency responsible for the transport system in London. TfL is funded by a combination of fares, government subsidies, and other revenue sources, and is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the Underground, as well as the maintenance and improvement of the network.

Today, the London Underground is one of the busiest metro systems in the world, with over 1.3 billion passenger journeys made each year. It has expanded to include 11 lines, serving 270 stations across London, and has become an essential part of the city's transport infrastructure.

Additional detail

Additional details about the London Underground:

The first line of the London Underground, the Metropolitan Railway, was initially built using cut-and-cover construction. This involved digging a trench in the ground, building the railway, and then covering it up again. However, this method was disruptive and caused significant damage to the streets above. Later lines were built using tunneling techniques, which were less disruptive to the surface.

The first trains on the Metropolitan Railway were steam-powered, which caused problems with smoke and soot. In 1890, the line was electrified using a third rail system, which allowed for cleaner, quieter trains.

The Tube played an important role in World War II, with many of the stations being used as air-raid shelters. The government also used the tunnels to store valuable artwork and other treasures to protect them from bombing.

The London Underground has had several notable accidents and incidents over the years, including a collision at Moorgate station in 1975 that killed 43 people. In recent years, the Tube has implemented new safety measures, such as automatic train control systems and improved emergency communication.

The Tube has also been featured in many movies, TV shows, and books over the years, including "Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone," "Skyfall," and "Neverwhere" by Neil Gaiman.

The London Underground has gone through several major upgrades and modernizations over the years, including the introduction of new trains, new signalling systems, and station improvements. In recent years, there has been a push to improve accessibility on the Tube, with new step-free access stations being built and older stations being retrofitted with lifts and ramps.

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Reference: Article by Greg Scott (Staff Historian), 2023

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