Review of "London Underground"

published 23/04/2007 | TheHairyGodmother
Member since : 10/02/2006
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Pro Convenient method of transport, frequent trains, Easy to get around
Cons Signal Failures, Broken Trains and Heat!
Frequency of trains
Reliability of trains
Speed of trains
Safety of trains
How extensive is their Rail Network?

"London Underground"

♣ The London Underground

Considering I travel on the London Underground at least 6 days a week, it seemed fitting that I came across this category to write under. On top of that, two years ago I spent two days raising money for St Helena Hospice by visiting all of the 275 stations on the network. By the way, if anyone ever feels the urge to do that, I would certainly recommend it as it is great fun. When I did it I wasn’t working to any time schedule but you may want to try and do it in the shortest time as possible for example. However, be aware that this may be affected by any engineering works or delays experienced.

I will begin with a history of the London Underground as a whole before moving on to look at each of the lines in more detail and give you some information regarding frequency of services, charges and ticket types.

♣ A Brief History of the London Underground ♣

There is nobody alive now that would remember the day the first trains ran on the underground. Of course, during the 1800s these would have been steam trains. However, if you thought about it now, if you thought about the trains that run up and down the underground being steam trains……

Yes, it really doesn’t bear thinking about. But in 1862 people would have thought the same thing as you have just thought! In actual fact, in 1862 an article was published in The Times describing the introduction of steam trains onto underground lines as “an insult to common sense”. But the fact remains, that despite it seeming like a stupid idea at the time, the London Underground was, and is, a prime example of modern engineering on a grand scale.

○ Fact: The London Underground was the world’s only steam-driven underground railway
○ Fact: The London Underground was the world’s first electrified underground railway

To be honest I think the only reason why London is thriving as it is today is because of the introduction of the London Underground. It has revolutionised the way people travel around the city. It is now easy to get around town, quickly and easily. Many millions of people use the Underground each year to get them to work on time, to get about their business, and to see the sights of London. On top of that, I believe the London Underground has become a massive cultural symbol of Britain. Most people living overseas will have at least heard of the London Underground, even if they have never ridden on it.

The fact remains though, that even though we have a fantastic underground rail system that we should be proud of, most Londoners would bite the bullet and say that they despise it. I don’t fall into that category, I am a little more sympathetic towards London Underground than most. However the one thing I do dislike is the increases in fares.

For most people, it is a culmination of factors which make them dislike the underground. These include (but are not limited to)

● The Underground in general is dirty, grimy and unclean
● The Underground consistently suffers from severe delays
● The Underground suffers from extreme heat, particularly in the summer. (It is not uncommon for temperatures to reach upwards of 50 degrees Celsius on some lines)
● The Underground, particularly during peak hours and late Friday and Saturday evenings, suffers severe overcrowding. Sometimes to the extent that I have seen people fall off the edge of platforms onto lines.

On top of all that, every year without fail, the cost of fares increases, often significantly. And so it is not surprising that a lot of people don’t like the Underground. But it doesn’t stop them using it! All that said, it is still one of the safest, and most convenient methods of transport in the capital.

The London Underground began in 1845 with a guy called Charles Pearson. He was the first of a number of people to dream up the idea of a city-wide underground railway system. At this time, trains had not been around for long, only about 15 years. After years of putting forward his plans, the government finally approved the development of the first part of the tube, between Farringdon and Paddington.

Of course, the development of something on this scale caused disruption for many thousands of Londoners who at the time were very poor, and they ended up losing there homes so development work could begin. Work began in 1960 and three years later the Metropolitan Line came into being. Perhaps surprisingly, given the negative feeling of the time, 30,000 people used the Metropolitan Line on its very first day! Sadly, Pearson died a year before the line opened so he was never to see the final result of his plans.

During its first year, the Metropolitan line went on to carry 11.8 million people, which is a pretty amazing feat considering the population of London at the time was only 3.2 million! Of course, in those days conditions on the underground would have been a lot worse than they are today. With steam trains running up and down enclosed underground lines, it is little surprise that the tunnels quickly filled up with dirt and smoke. This was made worse by the people of the time being allowed to smoke on the trains.

○ Fact: Smoking was banned on the Underground in an attempt to improve the conditions for travellers
○ Fact: After the initial ban, a member of parliament went against this and ordered that all trains must contain a smoking carriage
○ Fact: Smoking was permanently banned on trains in 1985 and at London Underground Stations after the Kings Cross fire in 1987.

The roaring success of London’s first underground Line swiftly opened up avenues for new lines to be built. Soon afterwards, the District Line came into being along the River Thames, and not long after that, the Circle Line was built to link the District Line in the South to the Metropolitan Line in the North. The Circle Line itself, took 20 years to reach completion, owing mainly to the constant fights between its two developers. In 1905 the Circle Line was electrified and this brought about new paths to explore. The rapidly advancing technologies and the use of electrical power opened up the possibility of building lines at a much deeper level. The first of the deep lines to come into being was the City and South London Line, which now forms part of the Northern Line between the City to Elephant & Castle. Before 1907 the Waterloo & City, Central, Bakerloo, Piccadilly and more branches of the Northern Line had all come into being. London was connected!

Today, The London Underground has become huge, servicing stations quite a long way outside London and helping many millions of people each year get about their business.

It is my aim within this review to try and give you a little information on each line individually whilst at the same time weighing up the advantages and disadvantages of a fully fledged underground system in modern times. Throughout the review, I have dotted a number of interesting facts about the Underground which you may not have known.

○ Fact: Each London Underground train travels 73,500 miles per year.
○ Fact: The London Underground currently carries in excess of 976 million passengers each year.

♣ Investment in The London Underground ♣

Up until 2003, the London Underground was under the control of the government and had become run down and the whole infrastructure was starting to fail after years of under-investment. On 15th July, 2003 the control of London’s Tube system transferred to Transport for London (TFL). Transport for London has pledged to spend in excess of £10bn over a period of five years to dramatically improve the experience for passengers and increase reliability of train services right across the network. Over the last few years this extra investment has produced noticeable results. Most of the lines are now reporting a higher level of “up time” than they were in 2003 and in general train services are more frequent now, than they were at any time in the past. The new PPP system for maintaining the Underground has seen different areas of the network outsourced. London Underground itself is still responsible for the physical running of the trains and for recruiting station staff. The tubes infrastructure, i.e. the tracks, tunnels and trains are now outsourced to two companies, Tube Lines, and Metronet. Unfortunately there has been some significant bad press about each of these companies in their failure to keep up with timetabled engineering works.

○ Fact: The total length of the London Underground Network is 253 miles!
○ Fact: Despite being called the “Underground”, the actual percentage of line that is underground is only 45%.
○ Fact: There are 412 escalators on the London Underground network

♣ The Bakerloo Line ♣

I don’t know how much truth there is in it, but rumour has it that the Bakerloo Line only came into being because there were a number of wealthy businessmen who wanted to get to Lord’s Cricket Ground in the shortest possible time. That aside, when the Bakerloo Line first opened in 1906, 36,000 people used it on its first day, in March, before the cricket season had started. When it first opened it was known as the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway and connected Lambeth North with Baker Street. Only four months later the name was changed to the Bakerloo Railway. Obviously this name is part of the two names of BAKER Street and WaterLOO!

○ Fact: The Bakerloo Line carries in excess of 95.9 million people each year

When everything is working as it should be, the Bakerloo runs peak time services between Elephant & Castle and Queens Park every 2 minutes and to Harrow and Wealdstone every 10 minutes.

Recently the trains on the Bakerloo Line have undergone something of a facelift and are now much brighter and cleaner than they used to be. I like travelling on the Bakerloo Line, the announcements on the trains announcing the next station and destination are clear and easy to understand, and are read in a friendly female voice.

○ Fact: When Maida Vale station opened on the Bakerloo line, it had an all female staffing structure. This consisted of two ticket collectors, two porters, two booking clerks and two relief ticket collector-booking clerks.

♣ The Central Line ♣

In 1900 the Central Line came into being, operating a service between Bank in the east to Shepherd’s Bush in the west. When it first opened it was known as the Twopenny Tube as there was a flat rate fare in operation of 2 old pence. This remained in place until 1907 when the cost for longer journeys rose to 3d.

Over the next 20 years the line was extended to Liverpool Street and Wood Lane. Plans to further extend the line had to be shelved with the onset of the Second World War, but after the war was over the line was further extended to Ealing Broadway, Leytonstone and Epping.

○ Fact: The Central Line carries in excess of 183.5 million people each year.

The Central Line is definitely one of my favourite lines, the trains are light and airy and there seems to be a lot of room on them. The Central Line underwent a major renovation project a number of years ago and this has dramatically improved the service and passenger experience. In fact, the longest possible journey on the London Underground without changing trains can be made on the Central Line, a distance of 34.1 miles between West Ruislip and Epping.

The Central Line is also home to Chancery lane Station which has the shortest escalator on the network with only 50 steps.

○ Fact: The Central Line is the longest line on the network at 46 miles. It covers 49 stations over the course of its route.

♣ The Circle Line ♣

The Circle Line was formed in order to link the Metropolitan Line in the north, with the district line in the west. The circle line was gradually extended until in 1884 it became the circle line that we know today. The lines on which the circle line runs, are shared for the most part by trains from both the metropolitan line and the district line and hammersmith and city line. The only sections that are served solely by circle line trains are between High Street Kensington and Gloucester Road in the west, and between Aldgate and Tower Hill in the east. Because the lines are shared I find that the frequency of circle line trains is hampered by the number of trains from different lines that are running on the tracks at the time. Generally I have found that the circle line is one of the worst performing lines on the network.

○ Fact: The Circle Line carries in excess of 68.5 million people each year.

The Circle Line only has 27 stations around its circumference and at peak times there are around 14 trains running on the line at any one time.

If you fancy a challenge, a fun thing to do is ride the circle line in its entirety. Depending on any delays experienced this will generally take around an hour to complete.

The Circle Line also has one distinctive feature…. It is the only line that links nearly all of London’s mainline stations, Kings Cross, St Pancras, Paddington, Liverpool Street and Faringdon among others.

The one gripe I have is that the circle line in general appears dirty and not very well cared for. There are frequent signal failures and often lengthy delays and suspensions of service.

○ Fact: The Circle Line is 14 miles long

♣ The District Line ♣.

The District Line first opened in 1868 running a short service between South Kensington and Westminster. Over the following years the district line was gradually extended and now stretches a long way both to the east, and the west. In 1883, the district line was extended using existing tracks to Windsor, but unfortunately in 1885 this service was withdrawn.

○ Fact: The District Line carries in excess of 172 million people each year.

The District line has the most stations of any underground line on the network. Currently the line serves 60 stations. I have found the district line to operate a generally poor service and the trains are in desperate need of upgrading. Many of the stations are falling apart and the general atmosphere on this line is glum.

The control centre for the District Line is located at Earls Court, and all trains on the line pass through here. Earls Court also provides a link to the Piccadilly Line.

Perhaps surprisingly, the District Line operates two different types of train. The main line services run D stock trains. The branches that run to Edgware Road and Olympia run C type trains. Don’t ask me what the difference is because I don’t know, but I thought it was quite remarkable that one line is capable of running two different types of rolling stock.

○ Fact: The District Line covers a distance of 40 miles!

♣ The East London Line ♣

Earlier in the review, I mentioned that the first part of the underground began with the construction of the metropolitan line between Paddington and Farringdon. In fact, although this was the first part of the underground, there is a small part of the East London Line which outdates this by two decades. The twin tunnels running under the Thames were the work of Sir Marc Brunel, 20 years before. Initially they were open for pedestrian traffic, but later were changed into lines which now form part of the East London Line.

○ Fact: The District Line carries in excess of 10 million people each year.

The East London Line is currently being extended and is scheduled to become fully operational by 2010.

As part of the extension the entire line will close in December 2007 to enable the whole line to be upgraded in preparation for its re-opening.

London Underground will be providing replacement bus services whilst the line is closed.

Like the circle and district lines, I find the East London Line to be quite shabby in appearance.

○ Fact: Canada Water station opened in 1999 and this linked the East London Line with the Jubilee Line.

♣ The Hammersmith and City Line ♣

Once the Metropolitan line had been extended to Hammersmith in the west and Whitechapel in the east, the Hammersmith and City line was born. I don’t think there is much more I can say about the Hammersmith and City line as my experiences are exactly the same as that for the district and circle lines.

The Hammersmith and City line covers a distance of 16.5 miles and serves a total of 28 stations.

○ Fact: The Hammersmith and City Line carries in excess of 45 million people each year.

During peak hours 17 trains are running on the line at any one time

I find that the service on the Hammersmith and City line is slightly better than that on the circle and district lines, although as they use the same tracks for most of their route, things such as signal failures on the shared track will disrupt all the lines.

♣ The Jubilee Line ♣

The latest addition to the underground network is the Jubilee line However, it does serve stations that have been around a lot longer than the Jubilee line itself!

The Jubilee line was opened in 1979 and links together a number of tunnels that were built across the capital.

During 1999 extra extensions opened up on the Jubilee line taking it as far east as Stratford and as far north as Stanmore.

○ Fact: The Jubilee Line carries in excess of 127 million people each year.

The Jubilee line is definitely one of my favourite lines. I get it every day to work and I find it has the best service on any of the underground lines. I particularly like the magnificent architecture of the stations on the main part of the line such as Westminster and Canary Wharf. They are all very modern and for once London Underground came up with the excellent invention of doors along the platform itself so gone are the days of poor souls falling under trains! The trains on the Jubilee line are very frequent and are comfortable and modern.

○ Fact: In 2000 the Jubilee Line was awarded the prestigious Railway Industry Innovation Award.

♣ The Metropolitan Line ♣

The Metropolitan has become perhaps one of the most complicated lines on the whole network. It branches off here there and everywhere and even someone with any kind of brains may find some of the maps showing the branches confusing. As well as the Jubilee Line, I also take the Metropolitan Line each day and am very happy with the service. For a short section it shares the same track as the Hammersmith and City and Circle Lines but tends to run a much better service than wither of these two lines.

The trains are comfortable, spacious and airy and generally very clean (apart from perhaps late Friday and Saturday night when they become littered with takeaway cartons and empty beer cans.

○ Fact: The Metropolitan Line carries in excess of 53 million people each year.

The Metropolitan line also contains a fast section of track where some trains do not stop at all the stations, this makes it much quicker to reach your destination if you are travelling as far north as, say, Watford.

The Metropolitan line covers a distance of some 41.5 miles, serving 34 stations. 44 trains operate during peak periods.

○ Fact: Only six miles of the Metropolitan Line are underground!

♣ The Northern Line ♣

The Northern Line is a deep level underground line linking High barnet and Edgware in the north, to stations south of the river.

The line is similar to the metropolitan line, in that it has a number of different branches which were all opened and built at different times. Among regular tube travellers, the Northern Line is well known as being one of the worst performing lines on the network. Quite why this is, I do not know, but many’s the time I have found myself stuck in a tunnel on the northern line due to a signal failure somewhere ahead.

○ Fact: The Northern Line carries in excess of 206 million people each year.

In 1994 a major rejuvenation project was announced that would see 106 new trains launched onto the line. This has happened and the new trains are very nice, but unfortunately I wish they would do more to improve the condition of the rails that they run on!

○ Fact: The deepest point on the underground is on the Northern Line, at Hampstead. A distance of 221 feet!

♣ The Piccadilly Line ♣

The Piccadilly Line opened in 1906 and at the time ran only between Finsbury park and Hammersmith. These days the line has grown dramatically and now runs from Cockfosters in the North as far as Heathrow in the west. Between 1906 and 1930 very little changed on the Piccadilly line. However, after 1930 developments happened very quickly and the Piccadilly line rapidly became what it is today.

○ Fact: The Piccadilly Line carries in excess of 176 million people each year.

The line now covers a distance of 44.3 miles and along its entire length serves a total of 52 stations.

Conditions on the Piccadilly Line can be unbearable, particularly in the summer. The heat can reach unbearable levels and as with the Northern Line, the Piccadilly Line is not without its share of sever delays and suspensions.

The Piccadilly Line is a well used line because it links all of the west end stations, Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square and Covent Garden to name but a few.

○ Fact: The Piccadilly Line contains the shortest distance between two stations, a distance of 0.16 miles between Covent Garden and Leicester Square.

♣ The Victoria Line ♣

The Victoria Line, in comparison to some of the other lines has very few stations. The Victoria Line is also another of the undergrounds deep level lines. Various parts of the line opened at different times and have gradually merged together to form the line as we know it today. Unlike most of the other lines, the Victoria Line is relatively new as construction did not start until 1962.

○ Fact: The Victoria Line carries in excess of 161 million people each year.

At 13 miles, the Victoria Line is one of the shortest deep level lines on the network and there are 16 stations along its length.

Perhaps amazingly, the Victoria Line wins the prize of being the first partially automated train service in the world. When the doors close on the train the driver needs to do very little as the train will run by itself until it reaches the next station.

The service on the Victoria Line is generally very good and the trains seem to run much faster than they do on other lines.

The layout of the carriages on the Victoria Line is different from those on other lines and I’m still not sure whether I particularly like them. They appear to be cramped and the line can become incredibly overcrowded at peak times.

○ Fact: The whole of the Victoria Line is underground with the exception of the depot at Northumberland Park!

♣ The Waterloo and City Line ♣

Oddly, the Waterloo and City Line has only two stations. It serves as a link between Waterloo and Bank stations and is only 1.5 miles long.

○ Fact: The Waterloo and City Line carries in excess of 9 million people each year.

The trains on the Waterloo and City Line are the same as those on the Central Line and are generally very modern and up to date. The line is also very clean.

Ok, so there we go, a little more information on each of the lines in turn!

♣ Ticketing ♣

Buying a ticket for your journey on the Underground is very easy. You can purchase tickets at any of the automatic ticket machines at stations, or from the assistance windows.

Recently LUL introduced a new type of ticketing system, the oyster card.

This has revolutionised the way people travel. The oyster card is a plastic card with an electronic chip inside that you can load with any amount of money up to £50 at a time and use as “pay-as-you-go” funds. However, it is worth noting that you must touch in and out at the start and end of every journey in order to pay the correct fare. If you fail to do this you will be charged the maximum possible fare.

The oyster card system makes it cheaper to travel on the underground as you get big discounts on the price of cash fares.

Whilst on the subject of fares I think it would be inappropriate to provide any sort of guideline as to costs as the prices of London Underground fares change every year, (recently dramatically). However more information on fares can be obtained from the ticket office or from Transport for London’s website.

Here are a few more interesting facts for you to chew over:

○ Fact: Across the network there are a total of 112 lifts, 412 escalators, 275 stations and 12,560 members of staff

○ Fact: Baker Street and Moorgate stations each have 10 platforms!

○ Fact: Over 30 million litres of water are pumped out of the underground system each and every day.

♣ The Future ♣

I think the future of the London Underground is looking good. LUL are constantly trying to find ways of reducing the problems with heat and overcrowding, and although these are difficult things to remedy on the deep level lines. I have heard that on the sub surface lines (Metropolitan, Circle, Hammersmith and City and District Lines) that new air conditioned trains will be coming into service within a few years. Hopefully the input of these new trains will in turn reduce delays and make journeys more comfortable during the hot summer months.

Who knows, maybe in time somebody will be able to come up with a practical solution for solving the problems of heat on the deep level tubes.

I hope you have enjoyed reading, and hope that you have found this review useful.

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Comments on this review

  • Praski published 01/11/2011
    Very informative review.
  • arnoldhenryrufus published 08/09/2011
    excellent review - lyn x
  • arnoldhenryrufus published 08/09/2011
    excellent review - lyn x
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Product Information : London Underground

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