London Tube - The Oldest Subway in the World

Whenever I find myself in a big city, I try to use an underground railroad widely known as a subway or a metro. Why? Because it's a che...

Whenever I find myself in a big city, I try to use an underground railroad widely known as a subway or a metro. Why? Because it's a cheap and reliable mode of transportation. Also, it's hard to get lost (at least I haven't yet) whether it's a smaller city like Minsk or Tbilisi, or a gigantic metropolis like New York, Istanbul or Seoul. But the number one reason I like to use an underground railroad is because that's the best way to get to know a city you're in - its people, its vibe, its failures, its successes. It's a mirror of a city's real face you cannot hide behind shiny facades or tall fences. I decided to kick off a series of articles about underground systems in different cities across the world, and the London Underground or simply the Tube would be the first one of them.

I picked London for a reason since it's a birth place of an underground railroad.
By mid-1800s, London already had over 3 million in population making it the most populous city in the world. Increasingly popular commuter trains, that popped up like mushrooms after a good rain, would bring even more people from all over England. But London's by-laws prohibited trains into the city. So people often had no alternatives to water taxis and horse-powered cars to get from a train terminus into the city. It must have been a nightmare to navigate in London without modern forms of transportation (old pictures below from the London Transport Museum show how bad the traffic was). 
River Thames became so polluted and congested, it was unbearably hard to even breath near it. But adding more water taxis could not solve the problem. It actually did the opposite: a number of collisions skyrocketed often taking people's lives.
It was clear that London's problems could only be solved with innovations. And such a vital innovation came in a form of an underground railroad using tunnels - both in the city and under River Thames.
Opened in 1863, the stretch between Paddington and Farringdon stations became the world's first underground railroad which immediately won people over and ensured its continued expansion. First stations were not too sophisticated, and were basically dug with a cut and cover method.
Despite its success and ever-growing popularity, the underground railroad's operation had a serious drawback: all trains were powered by steam locomotives, and, as a result, coal exhausts would remain underground poisoning passengers and especially train operators. It also goes without saying that in 1800s there was no air conditioner, so you can imagine how hot a ride must have been.
It all changed with the introduction of electric locomotives in 1890. It's amazing how innovative people can be if there is a real problem that must be solved. 
It eliminated a need to keep extra underground space for exhausts, which allowed digging circular tunnels that resembled tubes. Hence the informal name of the London Underground to date.
The Tube train's appearance hasn't changed much in the past 100 years. Of course, trains became faster, more comfortable and reliable, but, except maybe a few lines, the cars are still small as they were many years ago. Below is the train from 1960s.
The train on the Bakerloo Line in 2017.
The train on the Piccadilly Line in 2017. If I want to stay by the doors, I will have to bend my head a bit. 
Interesting posters from 1960s on the Victoria Line. Do you also get automatic doors and fast trains for granted like me? But it hasn't always been the case.
The Tube stations tell the history of London. For example, Baker Street is the one of the oldest stations that preserved its look and feel from that time when the Tube was first opened.  
It actually has ten platforms servicing five different lines. The above-ground platform for the Circle and Hammersmith & City lines is the one from 1863.
Coat of arms that belonged to the Metropolitan Railways that introduced the underground railroad to London.
Another famous station - Paddington (opened in 1868) where a cute bear from Peru was found in the movie "Paddington".
Farringdon station, the oldest surviving station of the London's first underground railroad.
Another interesting one and a bit confusing as different lines criss cross here at the same level - Earl's Court.
Fast-forward the first half of the 20th century when Piccadilly Circus station was opened. It looks way different from the old brick stations mentioned above. Leslie Green designed the tiling patterns under the influence of Charles Tyson Yerkes, an American financier famous for investing in subways in Chicago and London.
Another station influenced by Yerkes - Elephant & Castle.
Tottenham Court Road station lost the look from 1920s after its redecoration in 1984 by Eduardo Paolozzi, one of the pioneers of the pop art. The Tube back then had a bad reputation, so the revitalization project started from this station.
Stations on the Jubilee Line that opened in 1979 have dark colours and heavy forms with excessive use of metal and concrete.
My favourite station on this line is Westminster.
I had no idea what lies beneath the Palace of Westminster, a parliament of the UK, while I was walking by it aboveground.
I think it's a very brave architectural decision.
London keeps adding new stations and lines to its Tube network. Canary Wharf is where the Tube interchanges with The Docklands Light Railway (DLR).
To conclude this article, I'd like to say that the Tube is a living museum of London. And like London itself, it's diverse, vast, old yet ever changing, and very vibrant place with so much energy. Plus that's a great and safe place for people watching, so I highly recommend you spend some time there while in London.

My other posts about subway systems:

Kyiv Metropolitan - The Most Punctual Subway in the World

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