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Nicknamed the Tube by generations of Londoners, underground transit has grown to 270 stations and 11 lines stretching deep into the city’s suburbs and beyond. The mobility provided by these railways is responsible for London’s development into the preeminent world city that it has been since the 19th century.

The beginnings of London’s underground railways

In 1863, the world’s first underground railway, the Metropolitan Railway, began its services. It stretched from Paddington Station to Farringdon, with six intermediate stations. When the structures were completed, workers constructed routes in shallow, cut-and-cover tunnels dug and then covered with backfill material. For fifty years, private development finished most of the central London network. During this period, the first group of routes was carved out in shallow tunnels along existing thoroughfares. Workers installed vents to permit the escaping of the steam and smoke from the engines. 

In the 20th century, as electric traction allowed much deeper tunnels to be dug in the heart of London, there was a second stage of construction. Lines were extended farther in the city and out to the growing suburbs, making them accessible to public transportation. Many railway companies were started at this time. In 1933, these private companies were integrated into a single body and nationalised, becoming the London Passenger Transport Board.

New train lines started

After more than 60 years, a new line, the Victoria line, was constructed across central London. It opened in 1968. Later, in 1979, the Jubilee line opened. In 1982, four trains that ran at peak periods between Queen’s Park and Watford Junction were ended, but in 1989, trains restarted the Central Line.

Later, in 1999, this line was extended to the Docklands of London, an action that regenerated the growth of the Canary Wharf business district. In 2003, the London Underground became a subsidiary of TfL [Transport for London] that began an improvement plan for the Tube. Many stations were updated as lines were upgraded with step-free access to many locations. Recently, because some central London stations have become too small, they are being rebuilt to hold more passengers and updated with step-free access and more reliable services. There are now 270 stations; new lines have also been added that stretch well into London’s suburbs and even farther.

Local legend has it that workers constructed the Bakerloo line after many people in business complained that they could not travel with enough expedience to and from Lord’s Cricket Ground. But, when the line improved its swiftness on 10 March 1906, more than 36,000 passengers used it, even though cricket season had not yet begun. More recently, in the 1990s, the Central line obtained automatic operation, upgrading its process. Now, it is second only to the Victoria line in the 1960s to use this technology.