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(C) TRANSPORT FOR LONDON

Wednesday 09 January 2013

Happy birthday to the London Underground!

Today is the 150th anniversary of the London Underground!

Opened on 9th January 1863, our Tube is the third largest - and the oldest - in the world (which is why it can be such a temperamental form of transport at times). More than 1 billion journeys are made on this granddaddy of a network each year, beaten only by similar systems in Paris and Moscow.

No matter how much time you've spent in London, the Tube has a wealth of fascinating trivia to delve into. Here are just a few facts to whet your appetite...


  • As it stands today, the Underground incorporates 270 stations; only seven existed at its opening, carrying passengers from Paddington to Farringdon via Baker Street and Kings Cross.

  • One of the London campus' local stops, Swiss Cottage, dates back to 1939. The striking design you can see on the escalators and platforms is just the same as it was back then - take a detour via Swiss Cottage on your next trip into Central to admire this surprising gem!

  • Another local stop, Hampstead, is the deepest station on the network. Catching a train there means you are 58.5 metres below street level.

  • If you ever travel to Angel, you'll be impressed (or slightly daunted, depending on your fear of heights) by the huge escalator you take to and from street level. It's 60 metres long, coming in third in Western Europe after Västra skogen on the Stockholm Metro and Kamppi of the Helsinki Metro. Several years ago, Angel's escalator gained worldwide fame when a thrill-seeker filmed themselves skiing all the way down.
    For obvious reasons we do not recommend imitating this stunt!


  • The iconic Tube map was first designed by Harry Beck, a network employee, in 1931. It has gone through several redesigns over the years to accommodate added stations, but the basic design has remained the same. It is also said to be the template for metro and urban rail maps the world over.

  • Unbelievably, it was legal to smoke on Underground trains until 1984. You could smoke on platforms until 1985. Despite the ban, many people would still light up on escalators, and 31 people died at Kings Cross in 1987 after a match set alight the old wooden escalators there. In 2007, the smoking ban extended to all outdoor stations.

  • There are 40 'ghost' stations on the network - that is, stations that are no longer in use. You can see one of these, the original Swiss Cottage, when travelling between Baker Street and Finchley Road. You can also take a look at the period ticket hall at Aldwych station (originally known as Strand, due to its location on the street of the same name) by peering through the shutters.

  • During the Blitz, up to 170,000 Londoners used the Underground's deep-level platforms to shelter from bombings, most of whom slept on the platforms and in tunnels all night. According to TFL's website, "six 'Tube refreshments special' trains shuttled between the stations with pies, cakes and chocolate and an estimated 12,000 gallons of tea for sale." Meanwhile, ghost station Down Street acted as the secret headquarters of the Emergency Railway Committee.

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