Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Underground

What is it about the London Underground? Your Paris Metro and New York Subway don't engender passion like London's underground railway system. Melbourne's own City Loop certainly doesn't.

This fascination with the Tube is infectious. I have just printed out a map of the London Underground with a key to each station on the back. Now whenever a tourist in Melbourne asks me, I will have all the information to direct them to the appropriate Tube station in London. What????

You want some Tube trivia? I am sure I heard you ask.

This, I think teenage, lass used to write a blog about her adventures on the London Underground. Now she only seems to post photos to her Flickr site. Pity, I enjoyed reading her blog.

Clapham Junction is the busiest railway station in Europe. I just checked my map and I can't see why.

The Tube is hot and stuffy. Electric motors whirring. Friction from brakes. Other associated equipment and people generate a lot of heat to the point where the temperature on trains or at stations can rise on an extremely hot day to 47 degree Celsius. (It was damn hot when we were travelling on it last year).

The first London underground railway opened in 1863. The first real Tube was opened in 1890.

The last new line built was the Jubilee Line in 1979.

The much loved Maggie Thatcher removed control of the Tube from the Great London Council in 1984.

Who owns London's underground train system and who runs it and who maintains it is a mystery I have not been able to solve. Cheers Maggie.

I recall a blog mate's son being very interested in the Tube, and probably poured over the map as I am doing. I am not sure why we in Australia need to know about the Tube.

Back to the lass Version 3 point 1. Doesn't the architecture at Uxbridge Station excite.


How about the fantastic use of colour on the metalwork at the station where the Eurostar departs? Forget your traditional black at St Pancras. Great use of blue. London to Paris by train from St Pancras to Garde du Nord in two hours and fifteen minutes.

St Pancras has the Barlow Shed over it. The largest single span structure of its time.

You are still doubtful about the passion for London's underground railway? Give me the url of New York Subway blogs or Paris Metro blogs. Here are a couple for London.

One Stop Short of Barking.

I haven't worked out why the Tube aka the Underground generates so much passion, but it is a pretty good train system to get about on.


  1. google image moscows underground network, some of those stations are amazing. Same with Barcelona. Very pretty.

  2. I'm mildly curious about how some of the Underground stations got their names. Names like 'Elephant and Castle'. And Cockfosters never ceased to cause a chuckle when the station name was announced over the PA system. But I agree using the underground isn't the most comfortable experience. In fact it can be quite claustrophobic especially walking through the maze of tunnels in the middle of large crowds. And if nature calls, you got to be lucky to be at a station that has a public toilet!! But I do love the Oyster system, and amazes me that London with its spaghetti-mapped transport system can have Oyster but little Melbourne is struggling to come to terms with Myki! it should be a no-brainer!!

  3. ooh or the Pyongyang Metro.
    Getting back to the London Underground, I loved it and I have a huge aversion to public transport. I think because it's so extensive... you can get almost anywhere on the tube. Unless of course you live there when terrorists attack and your home station is blown up :(

  4. Hullo Andrew,

    I am not quite sure where the fascination begins, but I think that because the railways are such an important part of British heritage, helping to shape Britain the way it has, the Underground attracts a significant amount of attention because of that.

    Some purists might say that the Tube isn't really a 'railway' anymore as such, but its roots are in its beginnings – it has played a long part in London's history, along with the rest of London Transport. And for something to start off and then claim to be the first Underground railway system in the world, well, it's destined for some sort of attention. The Metropolitan Railway was something to talk about – and it still is. For workers on the Underground that still work on the part remnants of the Metropolitan Railway (now the Metropolitan Line), they consider themselves to be working on a 'proper' railway, and there is a strange culture of elitism within the company. You have a lot of old hands working on that line who have been with the company for 40-odd-years and they've seen the changes – they've seen rolling stock come and go and stations change their faces.

    Then there's our world class design heritage – something I am keen to protect as being a Metro system, some bods of London Underground want to upgrade it to that standard and make everything flush, clean and shiny, at the sacrifice of the quirky imperfections of stations that have their individual and line-based looks. Shame. But our map is world famous (and should Beck still be here, he would've gotten the recognition he was seeking for all those years of his life) and the typeface that masters like Johnston had created live on, and is studied by people beyond the transport world.

    The experience is different too. It has been in the company's history to serve the people – we have more staff manning and running this Metro than any other in the world, something which makes us unique. No station or train is ever unmanned and neither ever has been. Ever. There has always been a face and a uniform to the Underground, and so there is a long line of working history that comes with all its stories. I love listening to my more experienced and older colleagues of how things were when they first started out on the iron road. It's somewhat warming.

    Now, the warmth isn't so much there anymore. The workforce morale is mixed (what with the current climate) and we feel that privatisation of the Underground's maintenance has ruined us. We're angry that Gordon Brown allowed it to happen and couldn't foresee the problems it would cause. The two maintenance companies formed to look after the Underground have earned themselves pitiful reputations and they've divided a lot of the workforce within London Underground (a lot of people don't realise that those who went off/were forced to work for Metronet or Tube Lines are actually London Underground staff from what was our own maintenance and engineering departments). Now Metronet have come back 'in-house', Tube Lines is set to do the same at some point, as their money is slowly running out thanks to the saps that run it. Just goes to show what a waste of money the PPP was – Gordon Brown spent all that money dividing up the company, only for it to come back together again. There's too much politics and red tape – something which has always doomed the British Railways since the dawn of time – and something which is ever more present now. I can't honestly tell you who runs the Tube for sure, even though I work for the company. I know we have a Managing Director, but then there's a Transport Commissioner, the Mayor of London (who I believe has a say in how London Transport is run) and there are probably countless other people involved.

    The fat cats are forever feeding us the drivel that we should be more 'customer focused' and thus nobody really knows how a railway should be run anymore – only how to achieve targets, quotas, numbers. And amidst all the financial troubles, our hard-working Managing Director Tim O'Toole (who has done a lot to balance the number crunching with protecting our heritage) has suddenly decided to announce his resignation.

    Yes – the Underground has come a long way, and though the tourists enjoy the change and the different, what made the Underground what it is slowly disappears from under their noses, which, for people like me who have had the Underground play an important part in one's 'growing up', is sad.

    Still, I'll revel in the fact the history and some of the magic is still there. You just have to know where to look. :)

  5. As for the Elephant and Castle...

    It gets its name from the local area (like a lot of other Tube stations). As for how the area got its name; it's said that it came from a vision that someone had on London Bridge when they saw an elephant with a castle on its back in the clouds. Sort of became a local legend.


  6. Saying all that, I've always wanted to come to Melbourne to see Flinders Street Station! Looks awesome! I mean – what station has got a disused ballroom?! :P

  7. Well yes dear 3:1 the lovely ballroom is there and a wreck, and not open for commuters waiting for the 5:37 to Frankston constantly announced as "cancelled due to defective train".

    I loved the London underground. Got on the Cockfosters line.

  8. I always found that the London Underground resembled a yellowing, oversized 'U' bend, the trains sliding through it being massive turds and the passengers parasitic organisms.

    This possibly says more about my attitude towards London than it does about the Tube itself.

  9. As the Feral Beast reminded me - Flinders Street Station used to also have a bowling alley, a school, a dance school, a child care/creche during the war and, strangely, it used to have trains that ran to a timetable....

  10. Fenz, there are many beautiful railway stations in the world and probably more efficient systems, but none stimulate the public like London's. Yes, terrible terrorist attack and I recall earlier a bad fire.

    Yep TVAU. Generally English place names are quite interesting and often odd. I saw a bus in Praed Street showing Cockfosters. I elbowed my partner to take note.

    Hi 3.1. What a surprise. Welcome and I hope you didn't mind the links. Thanks for all the extra information. It is a sad situation and not great for the staff. We can only hope the passion the general public has for it, will protect it. Flinders Street Station is very much a facade. I know a lot of the offices within have been modified. I guess you know about the 'clocks' and how they used to be changed by a man with a long hook before they were electrified. Let me know if you want more info.

    Connex was promising to fix up the ballroom years ago Ann. Perhaps the new company will.

    Great analogy Brian, not.

    And the funny thing Jayne, they used to make the trips more quickly fifty years ago than they do now.