Last April I spent 15 days in London. It was my second time there, but at this opportunity, I had more time to explore the city in depth. And when I say depth, I really mean it. I mean the London underground. Also known as the Tube, it is one of the oldest and most extensive metro systems in the world. Its history dates back to the mid-19th century, or the Victorian London, when the city was experiencing rapid growth and overcrowding on its streets.
The first underground line, the Metropolitan Railway, opened in 1863, running between Paddington and Farringdon. The line was a huge success, with more than 30,000 people using it on the first day. In the following years, other lines were built, including the District Railway and the Central London Railway.
Despite its early success, the Tube faced many challenges in its early days. The system was plagued by technical problems, including steam engines that produced dangerous levels of smoke and fumes. Additionally, the deep tunnels and complex network of tracks made it difficult to expand the system.
During World War II, the Tube played an important role in sheltering Londoners from the bombing raids. Many stations were converted into air-raid shelters, and the government used the Tube to transport troops and supplies.
In the post-war years, the Tube underwent significant expansion and modernization. New lines were built, including the Victoria Line, which opened in 1968, and the Jubilee Line, which opened in 1979. The system also underwent a major overhaul in the 1980s and 1990s, with many stations being renovated and modernized.
Today, the London Underground is a vital part of the city’s transport infrastructure. It serves more than 5 million passengers every day and has more than 270 stations and 11 lines. The system has come a long way since its humble beginnings in the 19th century and continues to be an essential part of life in London.
The construction of the London Underground system was a major engineering feat of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The first lines were built using the “cut and cover” method, which involved digging a trench in the street, building the tunnel walls and roof, and then covering the tunnel with earth and paving stones. This method was effective for building shallow tunnels, but it was disruptive to traffic and caused a lot of disruption to the city.
As the system expanded, engineers began to use the more challenging “tunneling” method, which involved drilling tunnels deep beneath the city’s streets. This method was much more difficult and expensive than the cut-and-cover one, but it allowed for the construction of deeper and more complex tunnels.
To drill the tunnels, workers used steam-powered tunneling machines, which were capable of digging through the hard London clay. The machines would excavate the soil and rock, which was then hauled away on carts or conveyor belts. As the tunneling machines advanced, workers would lay tracks, build the tunnel walls, and install electrical and ventilation systems.
The construction of the London Underground was a dangerous and challenging undertaking. Workers faced numerous hazards, including collapsing tunnels, flooding, and toxic fumes from the steam engines. Despite these risks, the construction crews worked tirelessly to build one of the world’s most extensive underground transit systems.
Today, the construction methods used to build the London Underground have evolved significantly. Modern tunneling machines are computer-controlled and use advanced drilling techniques, allowing for faster and safer tunneling. Nevertheless, the construction of the early lines remains an impressive feat of engineering and a testament to human ingenuity.
The depth of the London Underground system varies depending on the location and the line. Some stations are built at ground level or just below, while others are deep underground.
The deepest station on the London Underground is Hampstead Station on the Northern Line, which is located 58.5 meters below ground level. The Central line also has several stations that are more than 50 meters deep, including Bank, St. Paul’s, and Chancery Lane stations.
On average, most stations on the London Underground are around 20 to 30 meters deep. However, the depth of the tunnels also varies depending on the terrain and the geology of the area. Some parts of the system, particularly those in central London, have multiple layers of tunnels at different depths.
The depth of the tunnels has both advantages and disadvantages. Deep tunnels are generally safer during air raids or other disasters, but they also require longer escalators and more ventilation systems to maintain air quality. Overall, the depth of the London Underground system is an impressive engineering feat that has allowed millions of people to travel safely and efficiently through one of the world’s largest cities.
And now I bring to you ten interesting facts about the London Underground:
- The London Underground is the oldest underground railway network in the world, opening in 1863.
- The Tube has its own roundel logo, which was first introduced in 1908. It was designed by a man named Edward Johnston, who also created the iconic typeface used across the system.
- The London Underground is home to some unique station names, including “Bank,” which is named after the Bank of England, and “Shepherd’s Bush,” which was named after a common pasture for shepherds in the area.
- The Tube network is home to more than 40 abandoned stations, some of which are used for storage or as filming locations for movies and TV shows.
- The Tube system is so vast that it takes longer than a full day to travel on every line and visit every station.
- The London Underground was the first metro system to use electric trains, which were introduced in 1890.
- The Tube system is home to the longest escalator in Western Europe, located at Angel Station on the Northern Line. It is 60 meters long and takes about 100 seconds to ride from top to bottom.
- We know that during World War II, the Tube was used as a shelter for Londoners during bombing raids. But some stations were also used to store precious artifacts from the British Museum.
- The London Underground is one of the busiest metro systems in the world, serving more than 5 million passengers every day.
- The London Underground has its own unique smell, which is a combination of brake dust, sweat, and the ventilation system. It’s so distinctive that some people have even created perfumes and candles inspired by the scent.
So, if you have the chance to visit London, you’ll most probably make use of its fantastic metro network, just follow the maps and mind the gap!