London Underground

This article is about the Greater London public transit system. For the suburban London rail network, see London Overground. For the album by Herbie Mann, see London Underground (album).
London Underground
London Underground logo, known as the roundel, is made of a red circle with a horizontal blue bar.

A deep level train stops to the right of a platform as some people (left) wait to board it.

A deep-level Central line train at Lancaster Gate bound for Ealing Broadway

A train is slowing to stop at a platform on the right. Although there is a roof, sunlight can be seen through gaps; another platform and track can be seen on left. People are standing or walking on both platforms.

A larger sub-surface Metropolitan line train at Farringdon bound for Aldgate
Locale Greater London, Buckinghamshire, Essex, Hertfordshire
Transit type Rapid transit
Number of lines 11[1]
Number of stations 270 served[1] (260 owned)
Daily ridership 4.8 million [2]
Annual ridership 1.34 billion (2015/16)[3]
Website London Underground
Began operation 10 January 1863 (1863-01-10)
Operator(s) London Underground Limited
Reporting marks LT (National Rail)[4]
System length 402 km (250 mi)[1]
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in) standard gauge
Electrification 630 V DC fourth rail
Average speed 33 km/h (21 mph)[5]

The London Underground (also known simply as the Underground, or by its nickname the Tube) is a public rapid transit system serving Greater London and some adjacent parts of the counties of Buckinghamshire, Essex and Hertfordshire in the United Kingdom.

The world's first underground railway, the Metropolitan Railway, which opened in 1863, is now part of the Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines; the first line to operate underground electric traction trains, the City & South London Railway in 1890, is now part of the Northern line.[6] The network has expanded to 11 lines, and in 2015–16 carried 1.34 billion passengers,[3] making it the world's 11th busiest metro system. The 11 lines collectively handle approximately 4.8 million passengers a day.[2]

The system's first tunnels were built just below the surface, using the cut-and-cover method; later, smaller, roughly circular tunnels – which gave rise to its nickname, the Tube – were dug through at a deeper level.[7] The system has 270 stations and 250 miles (400 km) of track.[8] Despite its name, only 45% of the system is actually underground in tunnels, with much of the network in the outer environs of London being on the surface.[8] In addition, the Underground does not cover most southern parts of Greater London, with less than 10% of the stations located south of the River Thames.[8]

The early tube lines, originally owned by several private companies, were brought together under the "UndergrounD" brand in the early 20th century and eventually merged along with the sub-surface lines and bus services in 1933 to form London Transport under the control of the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB). The current operator, London Underground Limited (LUL), is a wholly owned subsidiary of Transport for London (TfL), the statutory corporation responsible for the transport network in Greater London.[7] As of 2015, 92% of operational expenditure is covered by passenger fares.[9] The Travelcard ticket was introduced in 1983 and Oyster, a contactless ticketing system, in 2003. Contactless card payments were introduced in 2014.[10]

The LPTB was a prominent patron of art and design, commissioning many new station buildings, posters and public artworks in a modernist style. The schematic Tube map, designed by Harry Beck in 1931, was voted a national design icon in 2006 and now includes other TfL transport systems such as the Docklands Light Railway, London Overground and TfL Rail. Other famous London Underground branding includes the roundel and Johnston typeface, created by Edward Johnston in 1916.


Early years

The Metropolitan Railway opened using GWR broad gauge locomotives[11]

The idea of an underground railway linking the City of London with some of the railway termini in its urban centre was proposed in the 1830s,[12] and the Metropolitan Railway was granted permission to build such a line in 1854.[13] 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.[14] The world's first underground railway, it opened in January 1863 between Paddington and Farringdon using gas-lit wooden carriages hauled by steam locomotives.[15] It was hailed as a success, carrying 38,000 passengers on the opening day, and borrowing trains from other railways to supplement the service.[16] 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 termini.[17] The Metropolitan and District railways completed the Circle line in 1884,[18] built using the cut and cover method.[19] Both railways expanded, the District building five branches to the west reaching Ealing, Hounslow,[20] Uxbridge,[21] Richmond and Wimbledon[20] 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.[22]

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.[23] The Waterloo and City Railway opened in 1898,[24] followed by the Central London Railway in 1900, known as the "twopenny tube".[25] These two ran electric trains in circular tunnels having diameters between 11 feet 8 inches (3.56 m) and 12 feet 2.5 inches (3.721 m),[26] 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.[27]

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.[28]

The Underground Electric Railways Company years

Sketch showing about a dozen people standing on an underground railway platform with a train standing at the platform. Several more people are visible inside the train, which has the words "Baker St" visible on its side.
Passengers wait to board a tube train in the early 1900s

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.[29][30] When the "Bakerloo" was so named in July 1906, The Railway Magazine called it an undignified "gutter title".[30] By 1907 the District and Metropolitan Railways had electrified the underground sections of their lines.[31]

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.[32] 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 of the Underground Group's control.[33]

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 outside stations in Central London.[34] 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.[35] An extension of the Central line west to Ealing was also delayed by the war and completed in 1920.[36] 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,[37] although the combined service was not named the Northern line until later.[38] 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.[39][40] The Piccadilly line was extended north to Cockfosters and took over District line branches to Harrow (later Uxbridge) and Hounslow.[41]

The London Passenger Transport Board years

Aldwych tube station being used as a bomb shelter in 1940

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.[42] The Waterloo & City Railway, which was by then in the ownership of the main line Southern Railway, remained with its existing owners.[43] In the same year that the London Passenger Transport Board was formed, Harry Beck's diagrammatic tube map appeared for the first time.[44]

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.[45] 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.[46] 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.[47] 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.[48] After work restarted on the Central line extensions in east and west London, these were complete in 1949.[49]

During the war many tube stations were used as air-raid shelters.[50] 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 tube 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.[51]

The London Transport Executive / Board years

A 1959 Stock train at Barons Court

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 organisation of the British Transport Commission, which was formed on the same day.[52][53][54] 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.[55]

However, the District line needed new trains and an unpainted aluminium train entered service in 1953, this becoming the standard for new trains.[56] In the early 1960s the Metropolitan line was electrified as far as Amersham, British Rail providing services for the former Metropolitan line stations between Amersham and Aylesbury.[57] 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.[53][58] Also during the 1960s, the Victoria line was dug under central London and, unlike the earlier tubes, the 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.[59]

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.[60]

On Friday 28 February 1975, a southbound train on the Northern City Line failed to stop at its Moorgate terminus and ploughed into the wall at the end of the tunnel. In the resulting tube crash, 43 people died and a further 74 were injured, this being the greatest loss of life during peacetime on the London Underground.[61] 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.[62]

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.[63] Under the control of the Greater London Council, 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.[64]

The London Regional Transport years

Platform edge doors at Westminster

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, whilst still retaining the London Transport brand.[65] One person operation had been planned in 1968, but conflict with the trade unions delayed introduction until the 1980s.[66]

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.[67] 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.[68][69]

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.[43] 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.[70]

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.[71] The TfL Board is appointed by the Mayor of London, who also sets the structure and level of public transport fares in London. However the day-to-day running of the corporation is left to the Commissioner of Transport for London.[72]

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.[71][73] 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.[74] One infraco went into administration in 2007 and TfL took over the responsibilities, TfL taking over the other in 2010.[75]

Electronic ticketing in the form of the contactless Oyster card was introduced in 2003.[76] London Underground services on the East London line ceased in 2007 so that it could be extended and converted to London Overground operation,[77][78] and in December 2009 the Circle line changed from serving a closed loop around the centre of London to a spiral also serving Hammersmith.[79] From September 2014, passengers have been able to use contactless cards on the Tube,[80] the use of which has grown very quickly and now over a million contactless transactions are made on the Underground every day.[81]



The Underground serves 270 stations.[1][82] Fourteen Underground stations are outside Greater London, of which five (Amersham, Chalfont & Latimer, Chesham, and Chorleywood on the Metropolitan line, and Epping on the Central line), are beyond the M25 London Orbital motorway. Of the 32 London boroughs, six (Bexley, Bromley, Croydon, Kingston, Lewisham and Sutton) are not served by the Underground network, while Hackney has Old Street and Manor House only just inside its boundaries. Lewisham used to be served by the East London Line (stations at New Cross and New Cross Gate). The line and the stations were transferred to the London Overground network in 2010.[83]

A geographic London Underground map showing the extent of the network (Amersham and Chesham stations, top left, are omitted)

London Underground's eleven lines total 402 kilometres (250 mi) in length,[1] making it the third longest metro system in the world. These are made up of the sub-surface network and the deep-tube lines.[1] The Circle, District, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan lines form the sub-surface network, with railway tunnels just below the surface and of a similar size to those on British main lines. The Hammersmith & City and Circle lines share stations and most of their track with each other, as well as with the Metropolitan and District lines. The Bakerloo, Central, Jubilee, Northern, Piccadilly, Victoria and Waterloo & City lines are deep-level tubes, with smaller trains that run in two circular tunnels (tubes) with a diameter about 11 feet 8 inches (3.56 m). These lines have the exclusive use of a pair of tracks, except for the Piccadilly line, which shares track with the District line between Acton Town and Hanger Lane Junction and with the Metropolitan line between Rayners Lane and Uxbridge; and the Bakerloo line, which shares track with London Overground services north of Queen's Park.[84]

Fifty-five per cent of the system runs on the surface. There are 20 miles (32 km) of cut-and-cover tunnel and 93 miles (150 km) of tube tunnel.[1] Many of the central London underground stations on deep-level tube lines are higher than the running lines to assist deceleration when arriving and acceleration when departing.[85] Trains generally run on the left-hand track. However, in some places, the tunnels are above each other (for example, the Central line east of St Paul's station), or the running tunnels are on the right (for example on the Victoria line between Warren Street and King's Cross St. Pancras, to allow cross-platform interchange with the Northern line at Euston).[84][86]

The lines are electrified with a four-rail DC system: a conductor rail between the rails is energised at −210 V and a rail outside the running rails at +420 V, giving a potential difference of 630 V. On the sections of line shared with mainline trains, such as the District line from East Putney to Wimbledon and Gunnersbury to Richmond, and the Bakerloo line north of Queen's Park, the centre rail is bonded to the running rails.[87]


The London Underground was used by 1.34 billion passengers in 2015/2016.[3]

Name Map colour[88] Opening Date Type Length No.
Current Stock Trips
per annum
Avg. trips
per mile
2011/12 figures[89]
Bakerloo line Brown 1906 Deep
23.2 km
14.5 mi
25 1972 Stock 111,136 7,665
Central line Red 1900[lower-alpha 1] Deep
74 km
46 mi
49 1992 Stock 260,916 5,672
Circle line Yellow 1871[lower-alpha 2] Sub
27.2 km
17 mi
36 S7 Stock[92] 114,609[lower-alpha 3] 4,716
District line Green 1868 Sub
64 km
40 mi
60 D78 Stock
S7 Stock[92]
208,317 5,208
Hammersmith & City line Pink 1864[lower-alpha 4] Sub
25.5 km
15.9 mi
29 S7 Stock[92] 114,609[lower-alpha 3] 4,716
Jubilee line Grey 1979 Deep
36.2 km
22.5 mi
27 1996 Stock 213,554 9,491
Metropolitan line Purple 1863 Sub
66.7 km
41.5 mi
34 S8 Stock 66,779 1,609
Northern line Black 1890[lower-alpha 5] Deep
58 km
36 mi
50 1995 Stock 252,310 7,009
Piccadilly line Dark Blue 1906 Deep
71 km
44.3 mi
53 1973 Stock 210,169 4,744
Victoria line Light Blue 1968 Deep
21 km
13.3 mi
16 2009 Stock 199,988 15,093
Waterloo & City line Turquoise 1898[lower-alpha 6] Deep
2.5 km
1.5 mi
2 1992 Stock 15,892 10,595
  1. Known as the Central London before 1937.[38]
  2. The Metropolitan and District railways joint inner circle service started in the shape of a horseshoe, a complete loop was formed in 1884[90] and the current spiral in 2009. The line has been referred to as the Circle line at least since 1936 and first appeared separately on the tube map in 1948.[91]
  3. 1 2 Passenger figures for both Circle and Hammersmith & City lines combined. The Avg. trips per mile figure has been calculated using a combined route length of 24.3 miles.[93]
  4. Originally a joint Great Western and Metropolitan railways service, the line first appeared separately on the tube map in 1990.[77]
  5. The name dates from 1937.[38]
  6. Until 1994 the Waterloo & City line was operated by British Rail and its predecessors.

Services using former and current main lines

An accurate geographic map of the entire system

The Underground uses a number of railways and alignments that were built by main-line railway companies.

Main line services that use LU tracks

Some tracks now in LU ownership remain in use by main line services.


A sub-surface Metropolitan line A Stock train (left) passes a deep-tube Piccadilly line 1973 Stock train (right) in the siding at Rayners Lane.

London Underground trains come in two sizes, larger sub-surface trains and smaller deep-tube trains.[99] Since the early 1960s all passenger trains have been electric multiple units with sliding doors[100] and a train last ran with a guard in 2000.[101] All lines use fixed length trains with between six and eight cars, except for the Waterloo & City line that uses four cars.[102] New trains are designed for maximum number of standing passengers and for speed of access to the cars and have regenerative braking and public address systems.[103] Since 1999 all new stock has had to comply with accessibility regulations that require such things as access and room for wheelchairs, and the size and location of door controls. All underground trains are required to comply with the The Rail Vehicle Accessibility (Non Interoperable Rail System) Regulations 2010 (RVAR 2010) by 2020.[104]

Stock on sub-surface lines is identified by a letter (such as S Stock, used on the Metropolitan line), while tube stock is identified by the year of intended introduction[105] (for example, 1996 Stock, used on the Jubilee line).


The Underground is served by the following depots:

Ventilation and cooling

A Northern line deep-tube train leaves a tunnel mouth just north of Hendon Central station.

When the Bakerloo line opened in 1906 it was advertised with a maximum temperature of 60 °F (16 °C), but over time the tube tunnels have warmed up. In 1938 approval was given for a ventilation improvement programme, and a refrigeration unit was installed in a lift shaft at Tottenham Court Road.[106] Temperatures of 47 °C (117 °F) were reported in the 2006 European heat wave.[107] It was claimed in 2002 that, if animals were being transported, temperatures on the Tube would break European Commission animal welfare laws.[108] A 2000 study reported that air quality was seventy-three times worse than at street level, with a passenger breathing the same mass of particulates during a twenty-minute journey on the Northern line as when smoking a cigarette.[109][110] The main purpose of the London Underground's ventilation fans is to extract hot air from the tunnels,[106] and fans across the network are being refurbished, although complaints of noise from local residents preclude their use at full power at night.[111]

In June 2006 a groundwater cooling system was installed at Victoria station.[112] In 2012, air-cooling units were installed on platforms at Green Park station using cool deep groundwater and at Oxford Circus using chiller units at the top of an adjacent building.[113] New air-conditioned trains are being introduced on the sub-surface lines, but space is limited on tube trains for air-conditioning units and these would heat the tunnels even more. The Deep Tube Programme, investigating replacing the trains for the Bakerloo and Piccadilly lines, is looking for trains with better energy conservation and regenerative braking, on which it might be possible to install a form of air conditioning.[103][114]

In the original Tube design, trains passing through close fitting tunnels act as pistons to create air pressure gradients between stations. This pressure difference drives ventilation between platforms and the surface exits through the passenger foot network. This system depends on adequate cross sectional area of the airspace above the passengers’ heads in the foot tunnels and escalators, where laminar airflow is proportional to the fourth power of the radius, the Hagen–Poiseuille equation. It also depends on an absence of turbulence in the tunnel headspace. In many stations the ventilation system is now ineffective because of alterations that reduce tunnel diameters and increase turbulence. An example is Green Park tube station, where false ceiling panels attached to metal frames have been installed that reduce the above-head airspace diameter by more than half in many parts. This has the effect of reducing laminar airflow by some 94%, Hagen–Poiseuille equation.

Originally air turbulence was kept to a minimum by keeping all signage flat to the tunnel walls. Now the ventilation space above head height is crowded with ducting, conduits, cameras, speakers and equipment acting as a baffle plates with predictable reductions in flow.[115] Often electronic signs have their flat surface at right angles to the main air flow, causing choked flow. Temporary sign boards that stand at the top of escalators also maximise turbulence. The alterations to the ventilation system are important, not only to heat exchange, but also the quality of the air at platform level, particularly given its asbestos content.[116]

Lifts and escalators

Escalators at Canary Wharf station

Originally access to the deep-tube platforms was by a lift.[117] Each lift was staffed, and at some quiet stations in the 1920s the ticket office was moved into the lift, or it was arranged that the lift could be controlled from the ticket office.[118] The first escalator on the London Underground was installed in 1911 between the District and Piccadilly platforms at Earl's Court and from the following year new deep-level stations were provided with escalators instead of lifts.[119] The escalators had a diagonal shunt at the top landing.[119][120] In 1921 a recorded voice instructed passengers to stand on the right and signs followed in World War II.[121] Travellers were asked to stand on the right so that anyone wishing to overtake them would have a clear passage on the left side of the escalator.[122] The first 'comb' type escalator was installed in 1924 at Clapham Common.[119] In the 1920s and 1930s many lifts were replaced by escalators.[123] After the fatal 1987 King's Cross fire, all wooden escalators were replaced with metal ones and the mechanisms are regularly degreased to lower the potential for fires.[124] The only wooden escalator not to be replaced was at Greenford station, which remained until October 2015 when TfL replaced it with the first incline lift on the UK transport network.[125]

There are 426 escalators on the London Underground system and the longest, at 60 metres (200 ft), is at Angel. The shortest, at Stratford, gives a vertical rise of 4.1 metres (13 ft). There are 164 lifts,[1] and numbers have increased in recent years because of a programme to increase accessibility.[126]

Wi-Fi and mobile phone reception

In summer 2012 London Underground, in partnership with Virgin Media, tried out Wi-Fi hot spots in many stations, but not in the tunnels, that allowed passengers free internet access. The free trial proved successful and was extended to the end of 2012[127] whereupon it switched to a service freely available to subscribers to Virgin Media and others, or as a paid-for service.[128] Even without subscribing to paid-for Wi-Fi services, the free signals can be used by smartphones to alert a traveller that they have arrived at a specific station.[129] It is not currently possible to use mobile phones underground using native 2G, 3G or 4G networks, and a project to extend coverage before the 2012 Olympics was abandoned because of commercial and technical difficulties.[130] UK subscribers to the O2 or Three mobile networks can use the Tu Go[131] or InTouch[132] apps respectively to route their voice calls and texts messages via the Virgin Media Wifi network at 138 London Transport stations.[133] The EE network also has recently released a WiFi calling feature available on the iPhone.[134]

Proposed improvements and expansions

New lines

The Elizabeth line, under the project name Crossrail, is under construction and expected to open in stages until 2018, providing a new underground route across central London integrated with, but not part of the London Underground system.[135][136][137] A part of National Rail which will become part of Crossrail, and which has already been completed, is currently running under the name "TfL Rail". The new line will use Class 345 trains,[138] currently build and tested by Bombardier in Derby, UK, and serve 40 stations. Two options are being considered for the route of Crossrail 2 on a north-south alignment across London, with hopes that it could be open by 2033.[139]

Line extensions

Croxley Rail Link

Main article: Croxley Rail Link

The Croxley Rail Link involves re-routing the Metropolitan line's Watford branch from the current terminus at Watford over part of the disused Croxley Green branch line to Watford Junction with stations at Cassiobridge, Watford Vicarage Road and Watford High Street (which is currently only a part of London Overground). Funding was agreed in December 2011,[140] and the final approval for the extension was given on 24 July 2013.[141] Work is expected to start in 2016, with the aim of completion by 2020.[142]

Northern line extension to Battersea and Clapham Junction

It is planned that the Northern line be extended to Battersea with an intermediate station at Nine Elms. In December 2012, the Treasury confirmed that it will provide a guarantee that allows the Greater London Authority to borrow up to £1 billion from the Public Works Loan Board, at a preferential rate, to finance the construction of the line.[143] In April 2013, Transport for London applied for the legal powers of a Transport and Works Act Order to proceed with the extension. Preparation works started in Spring 2015. The main tunnelling is due to start in 2017. The stations could open in 2020.[144][145]

Provision will be made for a possible future extension to Clapham Junction by notifying the London Borough of Wandsworth of a reserved course under Battersea Park and subsequent streets.[146]

Bakerloo line extension to Lewisham or Hayes via Camberwell or Old Kent Road

In 1931 the extension of the Bakerloo line from Elephant & Castle to Camberwell was approved, with stations at Albany Road and an interchange at Denmark Hill. However, with post-war austerity, the plan was abandoned. In 2006 Ken Livingstone, the then Mayor of London, announced that within twenty years Camberwell would have a tube station.[147] Transport for London has indicated that extensions, possibly to Camberwell, could play a part in the future transport strategy for South London over the coming years.[148] However, no such planning of an extension has been revealed. There have also been many other proposals to extend the line to Streatham, Lewisham, and even beyond Lewisham, taking over the suburban Hayes line via Catford Bridge to relieve some capacity on the suburban rail network.

Bakerloo line extension to Watford Junction

In 2006, as part of the planning for the transfer of the North London Line to what became London Overground, TfL proposed re-extending the Bakerloo line to Watford Junction.[149][150]

Central line extension to Uxbridge

The London Borough of Hillingdon has proposed that the Central line be extended from West Ruislip to Uxbridge via Ickenham, claiming this would cut traffic on the A40 in the area.[151]


New trains for deep-level lines

Main article: New Tube for London

In Summer 2014 Transport for London issued a tender for up to 18 trains for the Jubilee line and up to 50 trains for the Northern line. These would be used to increase frequencies and cover the Battersea extension on the Northern line.

In early 2014 the Bakerloo, Piccadilly, Central and Waterloo & City line rolling-stock replacement project was renamed New Tube for London (NTfL) and moved from the feasibility stage to the design and specification stage. The study had showed that, with new generation trains and re-signalling:

The project is estimated to cost £16.42 billon (£9.86 bn at 2013 prices). A notice was published on 28 February 2014 in the Official Journal of the European Union asking for expressions of interest in building the trains.[164][165] On 9 October 2014 TFL published a shortlist of those (Alstom, Siemens, Hitachi, CAF and Bombardier) who had expressed an interest in supplying 250 trains for between £1.0 billion and £2.5 billion, and on the same day opened an exhibition with a design by PriestmanGoode.[166][167] The fully automated trains may be able to run without drivers,[168] but the ASLEF and RMT trade unions that represent the drivers strongly oppose this, saying it would affect safety.[169] The Invitation to Tender for the trains was issued in January 2016;[170] the specifications for the Piccadilly line infrastructure are expected in 2016,[164][165] and the first train is due to run on the Piccadilly line in 2022.[167]



The Oyster card, a contactless smart card used across the London transport system

The Underground uses Transport for London's zonal fare system to calculate fares. There are nine zones, zone 1 being the central zone, which includes the loop of the Circle line with a few stations to the south of River Thames. The only London Underground stations in Zones 7 to 9 are on the Metropolitan line beyond Moor Park, outside Greater London. Some stations are in two zones, and the cheapest fare applies.[171] Paper tickets, the contactless Oyster cards, contactless debit or credit cards [172] and Apple Pay smartphones and watches can be used for travel.[173] Single and return tickets are available in either format, but Travelcards (season tickets) for longer than a day are available only on Oyster cards.[174][175][176]

TfL introduced the Oyster card in 2003; this is a pre-payment smartcard with an embedded contactless RFID chip.[177] It can be loaded with Travelcards and used on the Underground, the Overground, buses, trams, the Docklands Light Railway, and National Rail services within London.[178] Fares for single journeys are cheaper than paper tickets, and a daily cap limits the total cost in a day to the price of a Day Travelcard.[179] The Oyster card must be 'touched in' at the start and end of a journey, otherwise it is regarded as 'incomplete' and the maximum fare charged.[180] In March 2012 the cost of this in the previous year to travellers was £66.5 million.[181] Contactless payment cards can be used instead of an Oyster card on buses, and this was extended to London Underground, London Overground, DLR and most National Rail services in London from 16 September 2014. The use of these has grown very quickly and now over a million contactless transactions are made on the Underground every day.[81]

A concessionary fare scheme is operated by London Councils for residents who are disabled or meet certain age criteria.[182] Residents born before 1951 were eligible after their 60th birthday, whereas those born in 1955 will need to wait until they are 66.[183] Called a "Freedom Pass" it allows free travel on TfL-operated routes at all times and is valid on some National Rail services within London at weekends and after 09:30 on Monday to Fridays.[184] Since 2010, the Freedom Pass has included an embedded holder's photograph; it lasts five years between renewals.[185]

In addition to automatic and staffed faregates at stations, the Underground also operates on a proof-of-payment system. The system is patrolled by both uniformed and plain-clothes fare inspectors with hand-held Oyster-card readers. Passengers travelling without a valid ticket must pay a penalty fare of £80 (or £40 if paid within 21 days) and can be prosecuted for fare evasion under the Regulation of Railways Act 1889 and Transport for London Byelaws.[186][187]

Hours of operation

The tube closes overnight. The first trains run from about 05:00 and the last trains until just after 01:00, with later starting times at weekends.[188][189] The nightly closures are used for maintenance,[188] but some lines stay open on New Year's Eve[190] and run for longer hours during major public events such as the 2012 London Olympics.[191] Some lines are occasionally closed for scheduled engineering work at weekends.[192]

The Underground runs a limited service on Christmas Eve with some lines closing early, and does not operate on Christmas Day.[190] Since 2010 a dispute between London Underground and trade unions over holiday pay has resulted in a limited service on Boxing Day.[193]

Night Tube

Main article: Night Tube
Route map of Night Tube

On 19 August 2016, London Underground launched a 24-hour service on the Victoria and Central lines with plans in place to extend this to the Piccadilly, Northern and Jubilee lines in the autumn starting on Friday morning and continuing right through until Sunday evening. This was originally scheduled to start on 12 September 2015, following completion of upgrades, but in August 2015 it was announced that the start date for the Night Tube had been pushed back because of ongoing talks about contract terms between trade unions and London Underground.[194][195] On 23 May 2016 it was announced that the night service would launch on 19 August 2016 for the Central and Victoria lines. This will be extended to the Piccadilly, Jubilee and Northern lines in the autumn of 2016.[196] The service is intended to operate on the:

The Jubilee, Piccadilly and Victoria lines will operate at 10-minute intervals, and the Central line between White City and Leytonstone, but will operate at 20-minute intervals from Leytonstone to Hainault/Loughton, and 20 minutes between White City and Ealing Broadway. The Northern line will operate at roughly 8-minute intervals between Morden and Camden Town via Charing Cross, and 15-minute intervals from Camden Town to Edgware/High Barnet.[197]

No services will operate on the other lines for the time being. When the upgrade of the Circle, Hammersmith & City, District and Metropolitan lines is complete and the new signalling system has been fully introduced, along with new trains, the Night Tube service will be extended to these lines.[198]


The gap between a train and the platform edge at Victoria. "Mind the gap" signs and announcements have been made at stations with curved platforms since 1926 and recorded messages have been used since the late 1960s.[46]

Accessibility for people with limited mobility was not considered when most of the system was built, and before 1993 fire regulations prohibited wheelchairs on the Underground. The stations on the Jubilee Line Extension, opened in 1999, were designed for accessibility, but retrofitting accessibility features to the older stations is a major investment that is planned to take over twenty years.[199] A 2010 London Assembly Report concluded that over 10% of people in London had reduced mobility[200] and, with an ageing population, numbers will increase in the future.[201]

Disabled person on the Tube train

The standard issue tube map indicates stations that are step-free from street to platforms. There can also be a step from platform to train as large as 12 inches (300 mm) and a gap between the train and curved platforms, and these distances are marked on the map. Access from platform to train at some stations can be assisted using a boarding ramp operated by staff, and a section has been raised on some platforms to reduce the step.[202][203]

As of December 2012 there are 66 stations with step-free access from platform to train,[204] and there are plans to provide step-free access at another 28 in ten years.[205] By 2016 a third of stations are to have platform humps that reduce the step from platform to train.[206] New trains, such as those being introduced on the sub-surface network, have access and room for wheelchairs, improved audio and visual information systems and accessible door controls.[206][104]

Delays and overcrowding

An overcrowded Northern line train. Overcrowding is a regular problem for Tube passengers, especially during peak hours.

During peak hours, stations can get so crowded that they need to be closed. Passengers may not get on the first train[207] and the majority of passengers do not find a seat on their trains,[208] some trains having more than four passengers every square metre.[209] When asked, passengers report overcrowding as the aspect of the network that they are least satisfied with, and overcrowding has been linked to poor productivity and potential poor heart health.[210] Capacity increases have been overtaken by increased demand, and peak overcrowding has increased by 16 per cent since 2004/5.[211]

Compared with 2003/4, the reliability of the network had increased in 2010/11, with Lost Customer Hours reduced from 54 million to 40 million.[212] Passengers are entitled to a refund if their journey is delayed by 15 minutes or more due to circumstances within the control of TfL,[213] and in 2010, 330,000 passengers of a potential 11 million Tube passengers claimed compensation for delays.[214] A number of mobile phone apps and services have been developed to help passengers claim their refund more efficiently.[215]


London Underground is authorised to operate trains by the Office of Rail Regulation, and the latest Safety Certification and Safety Authorisation is valid until 2017.[216] As at 19 March 2013 there had been 310 days since the last major incident,[217] when a passenger had died after falling on the track.[218] As of 2015 there have been nine consecutive years in which no employee fatalities have occurred.[219]

In November 2011 it was reported that 80 people had committed suicide in the previous year on the London Underground, up from 46 in 2000.[220] Most platforms at deep tube stations have pits, often referred to as 'suicide pits', beneath the track. These were constructed in 1926 to aid drainage of water from the platforms, but halve the likelihood of a fatality when a passenger falls or jumps in front of a train.[221][222][223]

Design and the arts


The left side shows the 1933 Beck map and the right side the map as it appeared in 2012
Main article: Tube map

Early maps of the Metropolitan and District railways were city maps with the lines superimposed,[224] and the District published a pocket map in 1897.[225] A Central London Railway route diagram appears on a 1904 postcard and 1905 poster,[226] similar maps appearing in District Railway cars in 1908.[227] In the same year, following a marketing agreement between the operators, a joint central area map that included all the lines was published.[228][229] A new map was published in 1921 without any background details, but the central area was squashed, requiring smaller letters and arrows.[230] Harry Beck had the idea of expanding this central area, distorting geography, and simplifying the map so that the railways appeared as straight lines with equally spaced stations. He presented his original draft in 1931, and after initial rejection it was first printed in 1933. Today's tube map is an evolution of that original design, and the ideas are used by many metro systems around the world.[231][232]

The current standard tube map shows the Docklands Light Railway, London Overground, Emirates Air Line, London Tramlink and the London Underground;[233] a more detailed map covering a larger area, published by National Rail and Transport for London, includes suburban railway services.[171] The tube map came second in a BBC and London Transport Museum poll asking for a favourite UK design icon of the 20th century[234] and the underground's 150th anniversary was celebrated by a Google Doodle on the search engine.[235][236]


An early form of the roundel as used on the platform at Ealing Broadway and the form used today outside Westminster tube station

While the first use of a roundel in a London transport context was the trademark of the London General Omnibus Company registered in 1905, it was first used on the Underground in 1908 when the UERL placed a solid red circle behind station nameboards on platforms to highlight the name.[237][238] The word "UNDERGROUND" was placed in a roundel instead of a station name on posters in 1912 by Charles Sharland and Alfred France, as well as on undated and possibly earlier posters from the same period.[239] Frank Pick thought the solid red disc cumbersome and took a version where the disc became a ring from a 1915 Sharland poster and gave it to Edward Johnston to develop, and registered the symbol as a trademark in 1917.[240] The roundel was first printed on a map cover using the Johnston typeface in June 1919, and printed in colour the following October.[241]

Roundel and "way out" arrow on a platform at Bethnal Green station

After the UERL was absorbed into the London Passenger Transport Board in 1933, it used forms of the roundel for buses, trams and coaches, as well as the Underground. The words "London Transport" were added inside the ring, above and below the bar. The Carr-Edwards report, published in 1938 as possibly the first attempt at a graphics standards manual, introduced stricter guidelines.[242] Between 1948 and 1957 the word "Underground" in the bar was replaced by "London Transport".[243] As of 2013, forms of the roundel, with differing colours for the ring and bar, is used for other TfL services, such as London Buses, Tramlink, London Overground, London River Services and Docklands Light Railway.[244] Crossrail, due to open in 2018, is to be identified with a roundel.[245] The 100th anniversary of the roundel was celebrated in 2008 by TfL commissioning 100 artists to produce works that celebrate the design.[246]


Seventy of the 270 London Underground stations use buildings that are on the Statutory List of Buildings of Special Architectural or Historic Interest, and five have entrances in listed buildings.[247] The Metropolitan Railway's original seven stations were inspired by Italianate designs, with the platforms lit by daylight from above and by gas lights in large glass globes.[248] Early District Railway stations were similar and on both railways the further from central London the station the simpler the construction.[249] The City & South London Railway opened with red-brick buildings, designed by Thomas Phillips Figgis, topped with a lead-covered dome that contained the lift mechanism.[250] The Central London Railway appointed Harry Bell Measures as architect, who designed its pinkish-brown steel-framed buildings with larger entrances.[251]

Russell Square, one of the UERL stations designed by Leslie Green clad in ox-blood tiles
St. James's Park, designed by Charles Holden in 1927, one of only two Grade I listed buildings on the Underground

In the first decade of the 20th century Leslie Green established a house style for the tube stations built by the UERL, which were clad in ox-blood faience blocks.[252] Green pioneered using building design to guide passengers with direction signs on tiled walls, with the stations given a unique identity with patterns on the platform walls.[253][254] Many of these tile patterns survive, though a significant number of these are now replicas.[255] Harry W. Ford was responsible for the design of at least 17 UERL and District Railway stations, including Barons Court and Embankment, and claimed to have first thought of enlarging the U and D in the UNDERGROUND wordmark.[256] The Met's architect Charles Walter Clark had used a neo-classical design for rebuilding Baker Street and Paddington Praed Street stations before World War I and, although the fashion had changed, continued with Farringdon in 1923. The buildings had metal lettering attached to pale walls.[251] Clark would later design "Chiltern Court", the large, luxurious block of apartments at Baker Street, that opened in 1929.[257] In the 1920s and 1930s, Charles Holden designed a series of modernist and art-deco stations some of which he described as his 'brick boxes with concrete lids'.[258] Holden's design for the Underground's headquarters building at 55 Broadway included avant-garde sculptures by Jacob Epstein, Eric Gill and Henry Moore.[259][260]

When the Central line was extended east, the stations were simplified Holden proto-Brutalist designs,[261] and a cavernous concourse built at Gants Hill in honour of early Moscow Metro stations.[262] Few new stations were built in the 50 years after 1948, but Misha Black was appointed design consultant for the 1960s Victoria line, contributing to the line's uniform look,[263] with each station having an individual tile motif.[264] Notable stations from this period include Moor Park, the stations of the Piccadilly line extension to Heathrow and Hillingdon. The stations of the 1990s extension of the Jubilee line were much larger than before[265] and designed in a high-tech style by architects such as Norman Foster and Michael Hopkins, making extensive use of exposed metal plating.[266] West Ham station was built as a homage to the red brick tube stations of the 1930s, using brick, concrete and glass.

Many platforms have unique interior designs to help passenger identification. The tiling at Baker Street incorporates repetitions of Sherlock Holmes's silhouette[267] and at Tottenham Court Road semi-abstract mosaics by Eduardo Paolozzi feature musical instruments, tape machines and butterflies.[268] Robyn Denny designed the murals on the Northern line platforms at Embankment.[267]

Johnston typeface

Main article: Johnston (typeface)

The first posters used a number of type fonts, as was contemporary practice,[269] and station signs used sans serif block capitals.[270] The Johnston typeface was developed in upper and lower case in 1916, and a complete set of blocks, marked Johnston Sans, was made by the printers the following year.[271] A bold version of the capitals was developed by Johnston in 1929.[272] The Met changed to a serif letterform for its signs in the 1920s, used on the stations rebuilt by Clark.[273] However, Johnston was adopted systemwide after the formation of the LPTB in 1933 and the LT wordmark was applied to locomotives and carriages.[274] Johnston was redesigned, becoming New Johnston, for photo-typesetting in the early 1980s when Elichi Kono designed a range that included Light, Medium and Bold, each with its italic version. The typesetters P22 developed today's electronic version, sometimes called TfL Johnston, in 1997.[275]

Posters and patron of the arts

1913 Underground poster by Tony Sarg

Early advertising posters proclaimed the advantages of travelling using various letter forms.[276] Graphic posters first appeared in the 1890s,[277] and it became possible to print colour images economically in the early 20th century.[278] The Central London Railway used colour illustrations in their 1905 poster,[279] and from 1908 the underground group, under Pick's direction, used images of country scenes, shopping and major events on posters to encourage use of the tube.[280] Pick found he was limited by the commercial artists the printers used, and so commissioned work from artists and designers such as Dora Batty,[281] Edward McKnight Kauffer, the cartoonist George Morrow,[277] Herry (Heather) Perry,[281] Graham Sutherland,[277] Charles Sharland[282] and the sisters Anna and Doris Zinkeisen. According to Ruth Artmonsky, over 150 women artists were commissioned by Pick and latterly Christian Barman to design posters for London Underground, London Transport and London County Council Tramways.[283] The Johnston Sans letter form began appearing on posters from 1917.[282] The Met, strongly independent, used images on timetables and on the cover of its Metro-land guide that promoted the country it served for the walker, visitor and later the house-hunter.[284][285] By the time London Transport was formed in 1933 the UERL was considered a patron of the arts[277] and over 1000 works were commissioned in the 1930s, such as the cartoon images of Charles Burton and Kauffer's later abstract cubist and surrealist images.[286]

Harold Hutchison became London Transport publicity officer in 1947, after World War II and nationalisation, and introduced the "pair poster", where an image on a poster was paired with text on another. Numbers of commissions dropped, to eight a year in the 1950s and just four a year in the 1970s,[277] with images from artists such Harry Stevens and Tom Eckersley.[287] Art on the Underground was introduced in 1986 by Henry Fitzhugh to revive London Transport as a patron of the arts with the Underground commissioning six works a year,[277] judged first on artistic merit. In that year Peter Lee, Celia Lyttleton and a poster by David Booth, Malcolm Fowler and Nancy Fowler were commissioned.[288] Today commissions range from the pocket tube map cover to installations in a station.[289] Similarly, Poems on the Underground has commissioned poetry since 1986 that are displayed in carriages.[290]

In popular culture

The Underground (including several fictitious stations[291]) has been featured in many movies and television shows, including Skyfall, Die Another Day, Sliding Doors, An American Werewolf in London, Creep, Tube Tales and Neverwhere. The London Underground Film Office received over 200 requests to film in 2000.[292] The Underground has also featured in music such as The Jam's "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight" and in literature such as the graphic novel V for Vendetta. Popular legends about the Underground being haunted persist to this day.[293]

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 has a level named Underground where most of the level takes place between the dockyards and Westminster while the player and a team of SAS attempt to take down cargo being shipped using London Underground. The London Underground map serves as a playing field for the conceptual game of Mornington Crescent[294] (which is named after a station on the Northern line) and the board game The London Game.

Notable people

See also


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