The Online Encyclopedia and Dictionary






London Underground

Slight modifications to the famous London Underground indicate the name of each station on platform and outdoor signs.
Slight modifications to the famous London Underground roundel indicate the name of each station on platform and outdoor signs.

The London Underground is a public transport network, composed of electrified railways (that is, a metro system) that run underground in tunnels in central London and above ground in the city's suburbs. The oldest metropolitan underground network in the world, first operating in 1863, the London Underground is usually referred to as either simply "the Underground" by Londoners, or (more familiarly) as "the Tube".



Since 2003, the Tube has been part of Transport for London (TfL), which also schedules and lets contracts for the famous red double-decker buses. Previously London Transport was the holding company for London Underground.

There are currently 274 open stations and over 253 miles (408 km) of active lines, with three million passenger journeys made each day (948 million journeys made 20032004); there are a number of stations and tunnels now closed.

Lines on the Underground can be classified into two types: sub-surface and deep level. The sub-surface lines were dug by the cut-and-cover method, with the tracks running about 5 metres below the surface. Trains on the sub-surface lines have the same loading gauge as British mainline trains. The deep-level or "tube" lines, bored using a tunnelling shield, run about 20 metres below the surface (although this varies considerably), with each track running in a separate tunnel lined with cast-iron rings. These tunnels can have a diameter as small as 3.56 m (11 ft 8.25in) and the loading gauge is thus considerably smaller than on the sub-surface lines, though standard gauge track is used. Lines of both types usually emerge onto the surface outside the central area, the exceptions being the Victoria Line which is in tunnel for its entire length save for a maintenance depot, and the Waterloo & City Line which, being very short, has no non-central part and no surface line.


The table below describes each of the lines, giving the colour presently used to represent the line on the ubiquitous Tube maps, the date the first section opened and the type of tunnel used.

London Underground lines
Line Name Map colour Opened Type Length
Bakerloo Line Brown 1906 Deep level 23 km / 14 miles
Central Line Red 1900 Deep level 74 km / 46 miles
Circle Line1 Yellow 1884 Sub-surface 22 km / 14 miles
District Line2 Green 1868 Sub-surface 64 km / 40 miles
East London Line3 Orange 1869 Sub-surface 8 km / 5 miles
Hammersmith & City Line4 Pink 1864 Sub-surface 14 km / 9 miles
Jubilee Line Silver 1979 Deep level 36 km / 23 miles
Metropolitan Line Purple 1863 Sub-surface 67 km / 42 miles
Northern Line5 Black 1890 Deep level 58 km / 36 miles
Piccadilly Line Dark Blue 1906 Deep level 71 km / 44 miles
Victoria Line Light Blue 1969 Deep level 21 km / 13 miles
Waterloo & City Line6 Teal 1898 Deep level 2 km / 1.5 miles
  1. The Circle Line became known as such in 1949 although a long-established service on the system. The Circle line was not built as a separate line, but was instead created as a service using parts of the District and Metropolitan Lines.
  2. Originally called the Metropolitan District Railway
  3. Originally a separate line operated by a consortium of companies including the Metropolitan. The line was owned by London Underground from 1948 but British Railways goods trains continued to run on it until 1966. It was for many years regarded as a branch of the Metropolitan Line, and was shown on the map as a purple and white striped line. The line gained its own identity in the late 1980s.
  4. Originally part of the Metropolitan Line, the line became known as the Hammersmith & City Line in 1990.
  5. The busiest line on the system, with two branches in central London.
  6. Came under control of London Transport in 1994.

The Piccadilly Line now runs to Heathrow Airport. Although it is slow (52 minutes nominal to Green Park) and often crowded, it is a far cheaper way to travel to the city centre than the Heathrow Express, which is not part of the tube network.

The Tube interchanges with the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) at several stations, including Bank, Canary Wharf and Stratford, and with the Tramlink system at Wimbledon. The Tube interchanges with international Eurostar trains at Waterloo.

The lack of lines in the south of the city is sometimes attributed to the geology of that area, the region being almost one large aquifer; additionally, it is impossible for cut and cover lines to go under the River Thames. Rather, the reason seems to be that during the great period of tube-building around the end of the 19th century, South London was already well-served by the electrified and efficiently-run suburban lines of the London and South Western Railway and the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, and so there was no need for tubes. Indeed, to this day, the area is well served by a large number of suburban rail services run by the South West Trains, Southern and South East Trains franchise holders (see Rail transport in the United Kingdom).


See History of the London Underground.


London Underground uses Transport for London's Travelcard zones for all fares, including Underground only fares. Travelcard Zone 1 is the most central, with a boundary just outside the Circle Line. Most of inner London is within Travelcard Zone 2 though some is in Travelcard Zone 3. Zones 1 to 6 cover all of Greater London and a few extra stations; the remaining zones are named A, B, C and D, of which zone D is the most remote and consists of Amersham and Chesham out in the Chiltern Hills on the Metropolitan Line. These lettered zones cater for the rural extremities of the tube and do not encircle the capital.

In general, the more zones travelled through, the higher the fare. Journeys through zone 1 are more expensive than those only involving outer zones. The zone system works well because most of the stations where lines cross are in zone 1, meaning that most journeys over similar distances will cost the same.

There are assistance booths open for limited periods and ticket machines usable at any time. The machines will accept coins and English paper money — though not Northern Irish or Scottish notes — in good condition and usually give change. Most machines now accept major credit and debit cards.

In 2003 London Underground launched the Oyster card, a proximity card that a traveller swipes over a reader on the automatic gates rather than feeding it through a card ticket reader. Unlike the card tickets, the Oyster Card is not disposable, but value can be added to it at computerised ticket machines and at ticket offices.

Transport for London also sell daily, 3-day, 7-day, monthly and annual Travelcards, allowing unlimited rides in one or more zones on the London Underground; these are a good deal for commuters or anyone else who rides the tube daily. Travelcards also permit travel on National Rail within the zones they cover and bus travel for the whole of Greater London. "Off-Peak" Travelcards, also known as "One-Day Travelcards", are only sold from machines after 9:30 am, but a "Peak" Travelcard is available at a higher price. Many shops, usually newsagents, sell bus passes and Travelcards; these are identified by a "Ticket Stop" sign, usually in a door panel or front window. A day pass is valid until 4:30 am the next morning. Passes can be bought from these agents during a day prior to travel.

Station access

Not all Underground stations are accessible by people with mobility problems. Many have some of the 410 escalators (each going at a speed of 145 feet per minute) and 112 lifts, but not all of them. New stations are designed for accessibility, but retrofitting accessibility features to old stations is considered prohibitively expensive.

The escalators in London Underground stations are both an asset and a liability. They are among the longest escalators in Europe and all are custom-built for each station. They must run 20 hours a day, 364 days a year and cope with 13,000 people per hour, with 95% of them operational at any one time.

London Transport now produces a map specifically indicating which stations are accessible and more recent line maps are noting which stations provide step-free access to street level. However, step height from platform to train is often as high as 20 cm on older lines, and there can be a large gap between the train and some curving platforms. Only the Jubilee Line Extension is completely usable by the unassisted wheelchair-using traveller.

Safety, reliability and cost

The London Underground has an excellent passenger safety record. Suicides are nonetheless common, at roughly one per week across the network, though it is estimated that only one in three attempts of this nature end in a fatality. Delays resulting from a person jumping in front of the train as it pulls into a station are announced as "passenger action" or "a person under a train", but by staff they referred to as a "one under".

Surprisingly few accidents are caused by overcrowding on the platforms; one explanation suggested for this — presumably by people who have never visited London or the Tube — is that Londoners are too polite to push!

For its employees, however, the record is less good. In January 2002 London Underground was fined 225,000 for breaching safety standards for workers. In court the judge said the company was "sacrificing safety" to keep the trains running "at all costs." He continued that the company, "despite the lip service they paid to health and safety issues, fell lamentably short of the proper safety standards and, objectively, simply ignored their obligations in this respect." Workers had been ordered to work in the rain, in the dark, while the track current was still switched on. [1]

Smoking was banned on the trains in July 1984. The ban was extended to all subsurface stations in February 1985 after the Oxford Circus fire.

The worst recent incident was a fire at King's Cross station on November 18, 1987, caused by a burning match falling onto a wooden-tread escalator panel. Thirty-one people died in the fire, which prompted the phasing out of wooden escalators and improved safety training for staff.

However, there have also been a number of high profile de-railings in recent years, mostly on the Central Line.

The system has suffered from significant under-funding in the past two decades and consequently has far older carriages and signals compared with its contemporaries in such cities as Barcelona, Madrid and Paris.


London Transport's roundel logo and tube map are instantly recognisable by any Londoner, almost any Briton, and many people around the world.

The logo was designed by Edward Johnston in 1913. It resembles part of the mark legally required to be painted on the sides of ships, called the Plimsoll line, a previous British invention. The logo refers to travel through a circular opening as well. Johnston also designed London Transport's distinctive sans-serif typeface in 1916. The typeface is noted for the curl at the bottom of the minuscule "l", which other sans-serif typefaces have discarded. Much of the reason for the widespread recognition of the London Transport logo is its ubiquitous usage on London Transport documents and signage. It is used for all tube station signs (where the station name appears on the horizontal bar), for example, as well as on in-carriage maps.

Since TfL took control of London's transport the roundel has been applied to other transport types within the city (bus, taxi, tram, DLR etc) in different colour pairs. The roundel has become a symbol for London itself.

Station identification

Each station displays the Underground logo containing the station's name in place of the word "Underground", both at entrances to the station and repeatedly along the station walls so that they can easily be seen by passengers on arriving trains. In addition, many stations' walls are decorated in tile motifs that are unique to the station, such as profiles of Sherlock Holmes' head at the Baker Street station or a cross containing a crown at the King's Cross station.

Tube map

Original maps were often street-maps with the location of the lines superimposed, but the stylised Tube map as we now know it evolved from a design by electrical engineer Harry Beck in 1931. See Tube map for an in-depth analysis of its history and its topological nature.

London Transport is known for taking legal action against unauthorised use of its trademarks, in spite of which unauthorised copies of the logo continue to crop up worldwide.

The future


The London Underground is currently part way through partial privatisation, where all the infrastructure is maintained by private companies but the Underground is still owned and controlled by Transport for London.

The network was split into three parts — JNP (Jubilee, Northern and Piccadilly Lines), BCV (Bakerloo, Central and Victoria Lines) and SSR (the sub-surface lines — District, Metropolitan, East London, Circle and Hammersmith & City Lines). One company, Metronet, has taken over maintenance on both BCV and SSR, while another, Tube Lines, has taken over maintenance on JNP. These companies are known as Infracos — Infrastructure Companies — and are made up of consortia of different companies.

The aim of this "Public-Private Partnership" (PPP) is to accelerate investment in the sadly neglected aspects of the London Underground, commissioning new trains and installing safety features such as ATP, automatic train protection. The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, was sceptical about the practicality of the PPP plan. However, he dropped a legal challenge against PPP, and refurbishment works were expected to be carried out from the end of 2002 onwards.

The UK government has promised 16 billion of funding over the years until 2030, with early priorities to cut delays and improve reliability including refurbishments of lifts and elevators, more thorough cleaning and a new station serving the new Wembley Stadium. The Victoria line will receive new signalling systems and seven new trains, along with renewal of track and equipment on many other lines. The Jubilee line will receive 160 million for new signalling equipment and new trains, bringing the total to 63 seven car sets built by Alstom, although they will not be built in the UK. The Victoria and sub-surface lines will receive 1,738 new cars between 2008-2015, to be built in Derby. The Bakerloo line will not receive new trains until 2019. The Metropolitan, District, Circle and Hammersmith & City lines will receive 190 new trains, built by Bombardier, meaning all sub-surface trains will be of the same design giving easier maintenance. The trains will feature inter-car gangways enhancing passenger safety, and improved acceleration and braking allowing an increase in train frequency, in the case of the Victoria line from 28 trains per hour to 33. The last trains to be replaced, 75 District line trains, will get interim refurbishments.

Westinghouse will continue to supply signalling equipment; already 75% of installed control equipment has been supplied by Westinghouse.


East London Line

Preparations are underway to extend the East London Line (ELL) both northwards and southwards while replacing the current 'sub-surface underground' service with one resembling "Metro" surface trains. Due to the impending changes the line was uniquely omitted from the partial privitisation of the Underground. The northern extension will see the current Shoreditch station closed and the line run on the old Broad Street viaduct to Dalston and then Highbury & Islington to connect with the Victoria Line. This would bring a non-National Rail service to Hackney for the first time. To the South, two branches are planned, mainly using existing railway lines. The first will run to West Croydon, with a spur to Crystal Palace, while the second would run to Clapham Junction. These changes will by 2010 transform the line from a small stub in the network to a major transport artery.

It is also proposed that together with the existing West London Line and North London Line, the extended ELL could by 2016 form the basis of the long sought 'Orbital Rail route'.

Piccadilly Line

A new station is being built on the Piccadilly Line to serve Terminal 5 of Heathrow Airport. The extension (called PiccEx) consists of: a two-platform station, two sidings where trains can be stabled, approximately 3 km of 4.5 m diameter bored tunnels, a ventilation shaft and two escape shafts. Civil works for one of the two tunnels, the vent shaft, one escape shaft and the primary structure of T5 station have been completed. The extension is due to be opened in 2007.

Metropolitan Line

TfL, together with Hertfordshire county council, also plans to connect the Watford branch of the Metropolitan Line to the disused Croxley Green railway branch. This will bring the Underground back to central Watford and the important main line station Watford Junction, but the current Watford (Metropolitan) station will probably close.

More detailed information on all projects can be found at


In the summer weather, temperatures on the Tube can become very uncomfortable for passengers. Normal air conditioning has been ruled out because of the lack of height to install units on trains and the problems of dispersing the heat generated. Heat pumps were trialled in 1938 and were proposed again several years ago to overcome this, and following a successful demonstration in 2001 funds were given to the School of Engineering at London's South Bank University to develop a prototype; work began in April 2002. A cash reward of 100,000 was offered by the Mayor of London in 2003 for a solution to the problem.

The new fleet of trains for the sub-surface lines (Circle, District, H&C, Metropolitan and East London lines) will come with air-cooling. The first air-cooled trains are due to arrive in 2009.

There are posters on the Underground suggesting that passengers carry with them a bottle of water.

Underground stations

London Underground currently serves 274 stations, which are listed, along with DLR stations, at List of London Underground stations. Stations formerly served by the Underground or its predecessor companies can be found at List of closed London Underground stations.

The Underground actually serves 275 stations, but with Heathrow Terminal 4 currently closed, it means that the currently served stations is 274. The closure of Heathrow Terminal 4 is for the Heathrow loop to be modified for servicing of Terminal 5, a new 2 platform Piccadilly Line terminus. It is planned that services will run in the following pattern:

  • Hatton Cross - Heathrow T1,2,3 - Heathrow T5 - Heathrow T1,2,3 Hatton Cross
  • Hatton Cross - Heathrow T4 - Heathrow T1,2,3 - Hatton Cross


  • An estimated half million mice live on the underground system, mostly running around the tracks.
  • The Underground does not run 24 hours a day because all track maintenance must be done at night after the system closes (unlike other metro systems, such as the New York City subway, the Underground does not have express tracks which would allow trains to reroute around maintenance sites).
  • Only two people have had their coffins transported on the tube: William Gladstone and Dr. Barnardo.
  • Regent's Park, Piccadilly Circus, Hyde Park Corner, Westminster, and Bank stations have no associated buildings at or above ground level, the stations, except for access stairs, being entirely underground.
  • The 1967 film Quatermass and the Pit (US Title: Five Million Years to Earth) revolves around alien bodies and spacecraft being discovered in the fictional Hobbs End tube station.
  • According to Kevin Kline's character Otto in the movie A Fish Called Wanda, the London Underground is a political movement.
  • Neil Gaiman's novel Neverwhere, and the BBC television production of the same name, are set in a fantasy world that parallels the structure of the London Underground.
  • On May 13, 1924, a woman named Daisy Hammond gave birth on a Bakerloo Line train at Elephant and Castle. Press reports that the baby had been named Thelma Ursula Beatrice Eleanor were widely reprinted, and not debunked until 2000 when she was traced for a TV interview. In fact she was named Mary Ashfield Eleanor; the chairman of the Underground Group, Lord Ashfield , was her godfather.
  • The record for visiting all 275 stations in the shortest possible time currently stands at 18 hours, 35 minutes and 43 seconds. It's held by Geoff Marshall and Neil Blake.
  • Albus Dumbledore, headmaster in the Harry Potter book series, has a scar above his knee that is a perfect map of the London Underground.
  • St John's Wood is the only station which contains none of the letters of the word 'mackerel'.
  • Amateur Transplants has written and performed a song, also called London Underground , which deals with many of the gripes commuters encounter while taking the Tube

See also

External links

Last updated: 05-13-2005 07:56:04