January 10, 2013
The first underground railway began operating in London on Jan. 10, 1863, with a 3.75-mile rail line from Paddington Station, near Central London, to Farringdon Street Station north of the city. Nearly 40,000 people rode the line that day.
As the London Underground celebrates its 150th birthday that first short line has expanded to about 3.5 million passengers a day over 250 miles track serving 270 stations.
During the first half of the 19th century, railroads began connecting London to other cities in England with the railroad stations located at the outskirts of the city. As railroad passenger traffic grew the congestion it caused as they converged into the city prompted calls for an underground railway into the City of London.
Charles Pearson, Solicitor to the City of London, took up the cause, beginning in 1846 with the first of a series of proposed investments that would make an underground railway feasible in the future. In 1854, he made a proposal for an underground railway to a Royal Commission charged with railway planning. His presentation included the first survey of traffic coming into London. He said, “the overcrowding of the city is caused, first by the natural increase in the population and area of the surrounding district; secondly, by the influx of provincial passengers by the great railways North of London, and the obstruction experienced in the streets by omnibuses and cabs coming from their distant stations, to bring the provincial travellers to and from the heart of the city. I point next to the vast increase of what I may term the migratory population, the population of the city who now oscillate between the country and the city, who leave the City of London every afternoon and return every morning.”
In 1855, Parliament authorized the construction of an underground railway. The Metropolitan Railway was incorporated with financial assistance from the City of London Corporation (municipal governing body) and Great Western Railway (GWR), which from Paddington Station linked London with the southwest and western parts of England and to Wales; it was known as the “Holiday Line” for its connections to the country’s resort towns. GWR also agreed to design special trains to run underground.
Construction began in March 1860 using tunneling and “cut and cover” methods From Paddington Station to King’s Cross a huge trench was dug, 33 feet six inches wide, for the running tunnels, which were made of brick retaining walls with an elliptical brick arch. The running tunnels were buried.
Construction and testing were completed in December 1862 at a cost of about 1.3 million British Pounds (approximately $100 million in 2011). In addition to the terminus stations at Paddington and Farringdon Street, there were stops at Edgware Road, Baker Street, Portland Road, and Gower Street (Euston Square). The Metropolitan Railway quickly expanded its track mileage and the number of trains running. In the first year of operation, 9.5 million passengers rode their trains, and over 12 million in the second year.
Metropolitan’s success spurred other lines to be built: Hammersmith and City Railway in 1864; Metropolitan District Railway in 1868; London, Brighton and South Coast Railway in 1869; London and North Western Railway in 1872; and the City & South London Railway in 1890. When the Central London Railway opened in 1900 its route was called the “Twopenny Tube” for its flat rate fare and the shape of its tunnels. The “tube” nickname was eventually applied to the entire system.
The railway companies began a slow process of combining in the early 1900s, and in 1933 they were all merged into the London Passenger Transport Board. The merger enabled the lines to be connected, though slowly, into one network.