The Metropolitan Railway opened using GWR broad gauge locomotives
The idea of an underground railway linking the City of London with the urban centre was proposed in the 1830s, and the Metropolitan Railway was granted permission to build such a line in 1854. To prepare construction, a short test tunnel was built in 1855 in Kibblesworth, a small town with geological properties similar to London. This test tunnel was used for two years in the development of the first underground train, and was later, in 1861, filled up. The world's first underground railway, it opened in January 1863 between Paddington and Farringdon using gas-lit wooden carriages hauled by steam locomotives. It was hailed as a success, carrying 38,000 passengers on the opening day, and borrowing trains from other railways to supplement the service. The Metropolitan District Railway (commonly known as the District Railway) opened in December 1868 from South Kensington to Westminster as part of a plan for an underground "inner circle" connecting London's main-line stations. The Metropolitan and District railways completed the Circle line in 1884, built using the cut and cover method. Both railways expanded, the District building five branches to the west reaching Ealing, Hounslow, Uxbridge, Richmond and Wimbledon and the Metropolitan eventually extended as far as Verney Junction in Buckinghamshire, more than 50 miles (80 km) from Baker Street and the centre of London.
For the first deep-level tube line, the City and South London Railway, two 10 feet 2 inches (3.10 m) diameter circular tunnels were dug between King William Street (close to today's Monument station) and Stockwell, under the roads to avoid the need for agreement with owners of property on the surface. This opened in 1890 with electric locomotives that hauled carriages with small opaque windows, nicknamed padded cells. The Waterloo and City Railway opened in 1898, followed by the Central London Railway in 1900, known as the "twopenny tube". These two ran electric trains in circular tunnels having diameters between 11 feet 8 inches (3.56 m) and 12 feet 2.5 inches (3.72 m), whereas the Great Northern and City Railway, which opened in 1904, was built to take main line trains from Finsbury Park to a Moorgate terminus in the City and had 16-foot (4.9 m) diameter tunnels.
While steam locomotives were in use on the Underground there were contrasting health reports. There were many instances of passengers collapsing whilst travelling, due to heat and pollution, leading for calls to clean the air through the installation of garden plants. The Metropolitan even encouraged beards for staff to act as an air filter. There were other reports claiming beneficial outcomes of using the Underground, including the designation of Great Portland Street as a "sanatorium for [sufferers of ...] asthma and bronchial complaints", tonsillitis could be cured with acid gas and the Twopenny Tube cured anorexia.
With the advent of electric Tube services (the Waterloo and City Railway and the Great Northern and City Railway), the Volks Electric Railway, in Brighton, and competition from electric trams, the pioneering Underground companies needed modernising. In the early 20th century, the District and Metropolitan railways needed to electrify and a joint committee recommended an AC system, the two companies co-operating because of the shared ownership of the inner circle. The District, needing to raise the finance necessary, found an investor in the American Charles Yerkes who favoured a DC system similar to that in use on the City & South London and Central London railways. The Metropolitan Railway protested about the change of plan, but after arbitration by the Board of Trade, the DC system was adopted.
The Underground Electric Railways Company years
Passengers wait to board a tube train in 1906
Yerkes soon had control of the District Railway and established the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL) in 1902 to finance and operate three tube lines, the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway (Bakerloo), the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway (Hampstead) and the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway, (Piccadilly), which all opened between 1906 and 1907. When the "Bakerloo" was so named in July 1906, The Railway Magazine called it an undignified "gutter title". By 1907 the District and Metropolitan Railways had electrified the underground sections of their lines.
In January 1913, the UERL acquired the Central London Railway and the City & South London Railway, as well as many of London's bus and tram operators. Only the Metropolitan Railway, along with its subsidiaries the Great Northern & City Railway and the East London Railway, and the Waterloo & City Railway, by then owned by the main line London and South Western Railway, remained outside the Underground Group's control.
A joint marketing agreement between most of the companies in the early years of the 20th century included maps, joint publicity, through ticketing and UNDERGROUND signs, incorporating the first bullseye symbol, outside stations in Central London. At the time, the term Underground was selected from three other proposed names; 'Tube' and 'Electric' were both officially rejected. Ironically, the term Tube was later adopted alongside the Underground. The Bakerloo line was extended north to Queen's Park to join a new electric line from Euston to Watford, but World War I delayed construction and trains reached Watford Junction in 1917. During air raids in 1915 people used the tube stations as shelters. An extension of the Central line west to Ealing was also delayed by the war and was completed in 1920. After the war government-backed financial guarantees were used to expand the network and the tunnels of the City and South London and Hampstead railways were linked at Euston and Kennington; the combined service was not named the Northern line until later. The Metropolitan promoted housing estates near the railway with the "Metro-land" brand and nine housing estates were built near stations on the line. Electrification was extended north from Harrow to Rickmansworth, and branches opened from Rickmansworth to Watford in 1925 and from Wembley Park to Stanmore in 1932. The Piccadilly line was extended north to Cockfosters and took over District line branches to Harrow (later Uxbridge) and Hounslow.
The London Passenger Transport Board years
In 1933, most of London's underground railways, tramway and bus services were merged to form the London Passenger Transport Board, which used the London Transport brand. The Waterloo & City Railway, which was by then in the ownership of the main line Southern Railway, remained with its existing owners. In the same year that the London Passenger Transport Board was formed, Harry Beck's diagrammatic tube map first appeared.
In the following years, the outlying lines of the former Metropolitan Railway closed, the Brill Tramway in 1935, and the line from Quainton Road to Verney Junction in 1936. The 1935–40 New Works Programme included the extension of the Central and Northern lines and the Bakerloo line to take over the Metropolitan's Stanmore branch. World War II suspended these plans after the Bakerloo line had reached Stanmore and the Northern line High Barnet and Mill Hill East in 1941. Following bombing in 1940 passenger services over the West London line were suspended, leaving Olympia exhibition centre without a railway service until a District line shuttle from Earl's Court began after the war. After work restarted on the Central line extensions in east and west London, these were complete in 1949.
During the war many tube stations were used as air-raid shelters. On 3 March 1943, a test of the air-raid warning sirens, together with the firing of a new type of anti-aircraft rocket, resulted in a crush of people attempting to take shelter in Bethnal Green Underground station. A total of 173 people, including 62 children, died, making this both the worst civilian disaster of World War II, and the largest loss of life in a single incident on the London Underground network.
The London Transport Executive / Board years
On 1 January 1948, under the provisions of the Transport Act 1947, the London Passenger Transport Board was nationalised and renamed the London Transport Executive, becoming a subsidiary transport organisation of the British Transport Commission, which was formed on the same day. Under the same act, the country's main line railways were also nationalised, and their reconstruction was given priority over the maintenance of the Underground and most of the unfinished plans of the pre-war New Works Programme were shelved or postponed.
The District line needed new trains and an unpainted aluminium train entered service in 1953, this becoming the standard for new trains. In the early 1960s the Metropolitan line was electrified as far as Amersham, British Railways providing services for the former Metropolitan line stations between Amersham and Aylesbury. In 1962, the British Transport Commission was abolished, and the London Transport Executive was renamed the London Transport Board, reporting directly to the Minister of Transport. Also during the 1960s, the Victoria line was dug under central London and, unlike the earlier tunnels, did not follow the roads above. The line opened in 1968–71 with the trains being driven automatically and magnetically encoded tickets collected by automatic gates gave access to the platforms.
The Greater London Council years
On 1 January 1970 responsibility for public transport within Greater London passed from central government to local government, in the form of the Greater London Council (GLC), and the London Transport Board was abolished. The London Transport brand continued to be used by the GLC.
On 28 February 1975, a southbound train on the Northern City Line failed to stop at its Moorgate terminus and crashed into the wall at the end of the tunnel, in the Moorgate tube crash. There were 43 deaths and 74 injuries, the greatest loss of life during peacetime on the London Underground. In 1976 the Northern City Line was taken over by British Rail and linked up with the main line railway at Finsbury Park, a transfer that had already been planned prior to the accident.
In 1979 another new tube, the Jubilee line, named in honour of Queen Elizabeth's Silver Jubilee, took over the Stanmore branch from the Bakerloo line, linking it to a newly constructed tube between Baker Street and Charing Cross stations. Under the control of the GLC, London Transport introduced a system of fare zones for buses and underground trains that cut the average fare in 1981. Fares increased following a legal challenge but the fare zones were retained, and in the mid-1980s the Travelcard and the Capitalcard were introduced.
The London Regional Transport years
In 1984 control of London Buses and the London Underground passed back to central government with the creation of London Regional Transport (LRT), which reported directly to the Secretary of State for Transport, still retaining the London Transport brand. One person operation had been planned in 1968, but conflict with the trade unions delayed introduction until the 1980s.
On 18 November 1987, fire broke out in an escalator at King's Cross St. Pancras tube station. The resulting fire cost the lives of 31 people and injured a further 100. London Underground were strongly criticised in the aftermath for their attitude to fires underground, and publication of the report into the fire led to the resignation of senior management of both London Underground and London Regional Transport. To comply with new safety regulations issued as a result of the fire, and to combat graffiti, a train refurbishment project was launched in July 1991.
In April 1994, the Waterloo & City Railway, by then owned by British Rail and known as the Waterloo & City line, was transferred to the London Underground. In 1999, the Jubilee line was extended from Green Park station through Docklands to Stratford station, resulting in the closure of the short section of tunnel between Green Park and Charing Cross stations, and including the first stations on the London Underground to have platform edge doors.
The Transport for London years
Transport for London (TfL) was created in 2000 as the integrated body responsible for London's transport system. TfL is part of the Greater London Authority and is constituted as a statutory corporation regulated under local government finance rules. The TfL Board is appointed by the Mayor of London, who also sets the structure and level of public transport fares in London. The day-to-day running of the corporation is left to the Commissioner of Transport for London.
TfL eventually replaced London Regional Transport, and discontinued the use of the London Transport brand in favour of its own brand. The transfer of responsibility was staged, with transfer of control of the London Underground delayed until July 2003, when London Underground Limited became an indirect subsidiary of TfL. Between 2000 and 2003, London Underground was reorganised in a Public-Private Partnership where private infrastructure companies (infracos) upgraded and maintained the railway. This was undertaken before control passed to TfL, who were opposed to the arrangement. One infraco went into administration in 2007 and TfL took over the responsibilities, TfL taking over the other in 2010.
Electronic ticketing in the form of the contactless Oyster card was introduced in 2003. London Underground services on the East London line ceased in 2007 so that it could be extended and converted to London Overground operation, and in December 2009 the Circle line changed from serving a closed loop around the centre of London to a spiral also serving Hammersmith. Since September 2014, passengers have been able to use contactless cards on the Tube. Their use has grown very quickly and now over a million contactless transactions are made on the Underground every day.