Early London Underground escalator

PhotoEssay: London Underground

Londoners have been experiencing the advantages and frustrations of underground rail travel for 150 years.

London Underground Ltd was formed as recently as 1985, but its history dates back to 1863 when the world’s first underground railway opened. The oldest sections of the network completed 150 years of operations in January 2013.

1 The Underground is the fourth-largest metro system in the world in terms of route miles. Colloquial references to ‘the Tube’ originally applied only to the deep-level lines with trains of a smaller and more circular cross-section, and served to distinguish them from early sub-surface ‘cut-and-cover’ lines. Escalators were introduced at many deep stations in the 1920s and 1930s.

2 Wi-Fi came to the Underground in 2012 to coincide with London hosting the Olympic Games. A partnership with Virgin Media allows passengers to go online in ticket halls, corridors and platforms at more than 90 stations free of charge until the end of January 2013.

3 The network carried just under 1.2 billion passengers in 2011/12 and the traditional ‘rush hour’ now extends through much of the day. Keeping the subterranean tunnels cool in summer is notoriously difficult, but air-conditioned trains are being introduced on the shallower sub-surface lines.

4 Curved glass canopies cover the entrances and allow daylight into the ticket hall at Canary Wharf Station in London’s Docklands. Opened in September 1999, it was designed by Sir Norman Foster, and constructed in a drained arm of the former dock.

5 Some station names have a confusing history. When the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway was extended under Charing Cross station in 1914, the original terminus was renamed Charing Cross (Strand). A year later, it became Strand but, to avoid confusion, the existing Strand station on the Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway at the other end of The Strand (which had been open since 1907) became Aldwych.

6 1933 saw a major change to maps of the London Underground when engineer Harry Beck drew his own version as a diagrammatic representation of the system. He realised that commuters did not need to know the exact route the trains took, just the order of the stops.

7 Today’s Underground still incorporates the oldest section of underground railway in the world, which opened in 1863 and now forms part of the Circle, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan lines. The first stretch of passenger line, the Metropolitan, opened on 9 January 1863, measured 6km, and ran between Paddington (Bishop’s Road) and Farringdon Street, taking in Baker Street Station, pictured here  in 1865.

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