As the rail network in Britain grew, many lines would terminate in London, but despite often being close to other lines, connections were few and far between. Rivalries between companies meant interchanges, even within stations, were hard to come by. It was therefore something of a nightmare for anyone traveling through London to get from one station to another (horse and carriage or walking were the only options available, and this took time especially with heavy luggage!). There was also the matter of traveling across the ever-increasing urban area that was London – getting to and from any one area was becoming increasingly difficult.
An opportunity was spotted as far back as the 1830s, and permission to construct an underground railway was granted in 1854. The Metropolitan Railway (the oldest in the world, and maroon on the Tube map) first opened in January 1863, and a piece of history was made. The line connected the major London termini of Paddington, Euston and Kings Cross and connected them to the City – it also ran into what would become the Middlesex suburbs, and was soon expanded to run to Baker Street, with a line to Hammersmith.
At first the line used steam trains, and did not adopt electric traction until the early 1900s, in part as a response to other, rival lines.
The Underground’s history is complex. It’s genesis as a number of different, competing companies is similar to the initially difficult situation that mainline rail services faced. Over time however, the network was intergrated, and interchange made possible between both rival underground lines and the mainline stations they connected to. In some cases Underground services have replaced suburb mainline services in parts of London, and Transport for London (Tfl) has developed an interlinked system involving the Underground, Overground, the Docklands Light Railway, Tramlink and London Buses.
Today London has a well-developed mass transit system that can transport people across London and beyond quite quickly. The various services Tfl offers also include airport links and links with a number of other services.
The Underground does not encompass all of London. When the lines were first constructed, some areas were missed, and it was not practical or cost effective to return to them, years later, and dig up large holes to construct tunnels and lines. The Overground is a network of suburban services that run on existing or newly-built ground-level lines that can serve areas previously without good rail links. Likewise, the Docklands provides a similar service in the Canary Wharf and Docklands region.
This isn’t to say that new Underground lines are never going to happen. Indeed, one of London’s biggest construction projects right now is Crossrail.
Crossrail isn’t part of the Underground per se, but it will be running an east-west service through London and connecting with several major stations (such as Paddington and Liverpool Street). Crossrail 2 is a proposed line running south-west – north-east, that may begin construction after High Speed 2 (not related to the Underground but certainly impacting it) is finished.
It goes without saying that any major city needs a strong, interconnected mass transit system to move large numbers of people around in a short span of time. A good system will incorporate links with air travel, mainline rail services, major bus services and even ferry travel (where possible). For a train enthusiast, such a system is quite exciting – it’s a chance to see how trains have impacted the way we move, to such a profound degree that we cannot imagine them not being there.