London Underground – the Tube – turned 150 years old on 9th January. That makes it the oldest underground train system in the world, or at least parts of it are. The system serves a large part of London, as well as some parts of Essex, Hertfordshire, Middlesex and Buckinghamshire.
Serving a total of 270 stations and covering 402 kilometres (249 miles), it is today the third largest metro system in the world, behind Beijing and Shanghai. Even so, it is only the third busiest metro system in Europe, after Moscow and Paris.
Travelling on the Tube is not cheap. Fares can cost up to £4.30 if you buy a single ticket in zone 1. But in 2008 Transport for London (TfL), which administrates the Underground, introduced the Oyster Card, a magnetic smart card now also accepted in buses and trains, offering cheaper rates.
Below is a compilation of 25 curious facts about London Underground that I hope will make for an interesting reading.
1. Only 45% of the system runs in underground tunnels.
2. The London Underground trains were originally steam powered.
3. Around 30,000 passengers went on The Metropolitan Line, its first day of public business on January 10, 1863.
4. London Underground has been known as the Tube since 1890 due to the shape of the tunnels.
5. The average speed on the Underground is 20.5 miles per hour including station stops.
6. The total number of carriages in London Underground’s fleet is 4134.
7. The first lines to operate were the Metropolitan and the Hammersmith & City.
8. The Tube’s logo is known as the roundel (a red circle crossed by a horizontal blue bar).
9. Many tube stations were used as air-raid shelters during the Second World War, but the Central Line was even converted into a fighter aircraft factory that stretched for over two miles, with its own railway system. Its existence remained an official secret until the 1980s.
10. The shortest distance between two adjacent stations on the underground network is only 260 metres. The tube journey between Leicester Square and Covent Garden on the Piccadilly Line takes only about 20 seconds, but costs £4.30. Yet it still remains the most popular journey with tourists.
11. The longest continuous tunnel is on the Northern line and runs from East Finchley to Morden (via Bank), a total of 17.3 miles.
12. Every week, Underground escalators travel the equivalent distance of going twice around the world.
13. The American talk show host Jerry Springer was born at East Finchley during the Second World War: his mother had taken shelter in the station from an air raid.
14. The first crash on the Tube occurred in 1938 when two trains collided between Waterloo and Charing Cross, injuring 12 passengers.
15. Busking has been licensed on the Tube since 2003. Sting and Paul McCartney are both rumoured to have busked on the Underground in disguise.
16. Smoking was banned on the Underground as a result of the King’s Cross fire in November 1987 which killed 31 people. A discarded match was thought to be the cause of that inferno.
17. In the film Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, the Hogwarts headmaster has a scar that resembles a map of the London Underground on his knee.
18. A macabre statistic is that the most popular tube suicide time is around 11 am.
19. In January 2005, in an attempt to alleviate a problem with loitering young people, the London Underground announced it would play classical music at problem stations.
20. Covent Garden is believed to be haunted by the ghost of William Terris who met an untimely death near the station in 1897.
21. Finsbury Park station has murals that show a pair of duelling pistols, harking back to a time when men would visit the park after hours to defend their honour.
22. According to a 2002 study air quality on the Underground was 73 times worse than at street level, with 20 minutes on the Northern Line having “the same effect as smoking a cigarette”.
23. Filming on location in the Underground costs £500 per hour (plus VAT) unless you have a crew of less than five.
24. The London Underground Film Office handles over 200 requests a month.
25. The most common location for filming is Aldwych, a disused station.