The earlier lines of the present London Underground network were built by various private companies. Apart from the main line railways, they became part of an integrated transport system in 1933 when the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB) or London Transport was created. The underground network became a single entity in 1985, when the UK government created London Underground Limited (LUL). Since 2003 LUL has been a wholly owned subsidiary of Transport for London (TfL), the statutory corporation responsible for most aspects of the transport system in Greater London, which is run by a board and a commissioner appointed by the Mayor of London.
The Underground has 270 stations and around 400 km (250 miles) of track, making it the longest metro system in the world by route length. It also has one of the highest number of stations. In 2007, more than one billion passenger journeys were recorded, making it the third busiest metro system in Europe after Paris and Moscow.
The tube map, with its schematic non-geographical layout and colour-coded lines, is considered a design classic, and many other transport maps worldwide have been influenced by it.
Railway construction in the United Kingdom began in the early 19th century. By 1854 six separate railway terminals had been built just outside the centre of London: London Bridge, Euston, Paddington, Kings Cross, Bishopsgate and Waterloo. At this point, only Fenchurch Street Station was located in the actual City of London. Traffic congestion in the city and the surrounding areas had increased significantly in this period, partly due to the need for rail travellers to complete their journeys into the city centre by road. The idea of building an underground railway to link the City of London with the mainline terminals had first been proposed in the 1830s, but it was not until the 1850s that the idea was taken seriously as a solution to traffic congestion.
Construction of the Metropolitan Railway near King's Cross station, 1861
In 1854 an Act of Paliament was passed approving the construction of an underground railway between Paddington Station and Farringdon Street via King's Cross which was to be called the Metropolitan Railway. The Great Western Railway (GWR) gave financial backing to the project when it was agreed that a junction would be built linking the underground railway with their mainline terminus at Paddington. GWR also agreed to design special trains for the new subterranean railway.
A shortage of funds delayed construction for several years. The fact that this project got under way at all was largely due to the lobbying of Charles Pearson, who was Solicitor to the City of London Corporation at the time. Pearson had supported the idea of an underground railway in London for several years. He advocated plans for the demolition of the unhygienic slums which would be replaced by new accommodation for their inhabitants in the suburbs, with the new railway providing transportation to their places of work in the city centre. Although he was never directly involved in the running of the Metropolitan Railway, he is widely credited as being one of the first true visionaries behind the concept of underground railways. And in 1859 it was Pearson who persuaded the City of London Corporation to help fund the scheme. Work finally began in February 1860, under the guidance of chief engineer John Fowler. Pearson died before the work was completed.
The Metropolitan Railway opened on 10 January 1863. Within a few months of opening it was carrying over 26,000 passengers a day. The Hammersmith and City Railway was opened on 13 June 1864 between Hammersmith and Paddington. Services were initially operated by GWR between Hammersmith and Farringdon Street. By April 1865 the Metropolitan had taken over the service. On 23 December 1865 the Metropolitan's eastern extension to Moorgate Street opened. Later in the decade other branches were opened to Swiss Cottage, South Kensington and Addison Road, Kensington (now known as Kensington Olympia). The railway had initially been dual gauge, allowing for the use of GWR's signature broad gauge rolling stock and the more widely used standard gauge stock. Disagreements with GWR had forced the Metropolitan to switch to standard gauge in 1863 after GWR withdrew all its stock from the railway. These differences were later patched up, however broad gauge was totally withdrawn from the railway in March 1869.
On 24 December 1868, the Metropolitan District Railway began operating services between South Kensington and Westminster using Metropolitan Railway trains and carriages. The company, which soon became known as "the District", was first incorporated in 1864 to complete an Inner Circle railway around London in conjunction with the Metropolitan. This was part of a plan to build both an Inner Circle line and Outer Circle line around London.
A fierce rivalry soon developed between the District and the Metropolitan. This severely delayed the completion of the Inner Circle project as the two companies competed to build far more financially lucrative railways in the suburbs of London. The London and North Western Railway (LNWR) began running their Outer Circle service from Broad Street via Willesden Junction, Addison Road and Earl's Court to Mansion House in 1872. The Inner Circle was not completed until 1884, with the Metropolitan and the District jointly running services. In the meantime, the District had finished its route between West Brompton and Blackfriars in 1870, with an interchange with the Metropolitan at South Kensington. In 1877, it began running its own services from Hammersmith to Richmond, on a line originally opened by the London & South Western Railway (LSWR) in 1869. (Pictured left: Construction of the Metropolitan Railway near King's Cross Station, 1861). The District then opened a new line from Turnham Green to Ealing in 1879 and extended its West Brompton branch to Fulham in 1880. Over the same decade the Metropolitan was extended to Harrow-on-the-Hill station in the north-west.
The early tunnels were dug mainly using cut-and-cover construction methods. This caused widespread disruption and required the demolition of several properties on the surface. The first trains were steam-hauled, which required effective ventilation to the surface. Ventilation shafts at various points on the route allowed the engines to expel steam and bring fresh air into the tunnels. One such vent is at Leinster Gardens, W2. In order to preserve the visual characteristics in what is still a well-to-do street, a five-foot-thick (1.5 m) concrete façade was constructed to resemble a genuine house frontage.
On 7 December 1869 the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR) started operating a service between Wapping and New Cross Gate on the East London Railway (ELR) using the Thames Tunnel designed by Marc Brunel, who designed the revolutionary tunnelling shield method which made its construction not only possible, but safer, and completed by his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel. This had opened in 1843 as a pedestrian tunnel, but in 1865 it was purchased by the ELR (a consortium of six railway companies: the Great Eastern Railway (GER); London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR); London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR); South Eastern Railway (SER); Metropolitan Railway; and the Metropolitan District Railway) and converted into a railway tunnel. In 1884 the District and the Metropolitan began to operate services on the line.
By the end of the 1880s, underground railways reached Chesham on the Metropolitan, Hounslow, Wimbledon and Whitechapel on the District and New Cross on the East London Railway. By the end of the 19th century, the Metropolitan had extended its lines far outside of London to Aylesbury, Verney Junction and Brill, creating new suburbs along the route—later publicised by the company as Metro-land. Right up until the 1930s the company maintained ambitions to be considered as a main line rather than an urban railway.
Following advances in the use of tunnelling shields, electric traction and deep-level tunnel designs, later railways were built even further underground. This caused much less disruption at ground level and it was therefore cheaper and preferable to the cut-and-cover construction method.
The City & South London Railways (C&SLR, now part of the Northern Line) opened in 1890, between Stockwell and the now closed original terminus at King William Street. It was the first "deep-level" electrically operated railway in the world. By 1900 it had been extended at both ends, to Clapham Common in the south and Moorgate Street (via a diversion) in the north. The second such railway, the Waterloo and City Railway (W&CR), opened in 1898. It was built and run by the London and South Western Railway.
On 30 July 1900, the Central London Railway (now known as the Central line) was opened, operating services from Bank to Shepherd's Bush. It was nicknamed the "Twopenny Tube" for its flat fare and cylindrical tunnels; the "tube" nickname was eventually transferred to the Underground system as a whole. An interchange with the C&SLR and the W&CR was provided at Bank. Construction had also begun in August 1898 on the Baker Street & Waterloo Railway, however work came to a halt after 18 months when funds ran out.