Friday, 11 January 2013

150 years of the London Underground

On 9 January 2013, London Underground celebrated 150 years since the first underground journey took place between Paddington and Farringdon on the Metropolitan Railway. This weekend a train which carried passengers on the Underground in the 19th century will once again return to the tunnels under the capital. The Metropolitan Railway Jubilee carriage No 353, was built in 1892, and on Sunday will be pulled along by the Metropolitan Locomotive No 1 for crowds of people to watch.

The first stretch of the Tube, the Metropolitan or Met line as it was known, opened on January 9th 1863 and was the world's first underground railway. On that first day, 30,000 people took a trip on the Metropolitan Railway between Paddington and Farringdon, the temporary terminus of the line.To quash any fears passengers might have had about travelling underground, stations were designed to make use of natural light and carriages were brightly lit with gas lamps. Despite the smoke and poor ventilation, the steam underground soon became an essential feature of life in the capital. The first stretch of track was just 6km in length - tiny in comparison to the 408km of track used today - and ran between Bishop's Road and Farringdon Street.

The idea for the underground railway was first seeded by Sir Marc Brunel and son Isambard, with the world’s first underwater tunnel, the Thames Tunnel (from Rotherhithe to Wapping), built between 1825 and 1843. This passage was originally designed for horse-drawn carriages but was later used for pedestrians, and is now part of London Overground.

The Metropolitan line, the first of what we now know as the underground network, was later built, travelling a mere 4 miles from Paddington to Farringdon Street. It soon received high demand, carrying up to 26,000 passengers a day after only a few months of operation. After the success of the Underground, the Hammersmith and City line was opened in 1864 by rival company GWR, travelling between Hammersmith and Paddington. In 1890 the first network to use electric trains was built, what is now part of the Northern Line.

Increased development meant that by the 20th Century there were six different companies operating underground lines in London. Fees were exorbitant, and making changes between lines was confusing, and so in 1933 the rival companies were merged by the government into the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB), which later became simply known as London Transport.