Oh, daddy, when did the London Underground open?

On Thursday, January 10, the London Underground is 150 years old. It is a fantastic milestone, the anniversary of the world’s first underground railway and the only one ever to have been operated by steam. The first line, between Praed Street and Farringdon was operated by the Metropolitan Railway, which has given its name to this wonderfully effective mode of transport that has ensured, in many ways, that cities retain their integrity and their density. The Underground’s amazing influence on London, its instant popularity, its rapid spread and its remarkable safety record are all to be celebrated and, indeed, I will be giving two talks on Thursday at separate events to make the occasion. And on Sunday 13th, there will be a special steam ride along the Circle Line which will clearly give a few passing tourists a bit of a surprise.

However, there is one slightly irritating aspect of the celebrations. For some reason, Transport for London has hooked on the idea that January 9th is the key date. There was, indeed, a train with MPs and dignitaries, and a banquet at Farringdon station, on January 9th 1863, but the official opening was the following day when more than 30,000 Londoners travelled, for free, on the railway that was just under five miles long. Why TfL has chosen to celebrate a bigwigs booze up rather than the real openning of the world’s first mass transit system is something of a mystery. Is it, perhaps, reflective of these elitist times? Diamond Geezer, a great name for a blog, has clarified it in much more detail – scroll down http://diamondgeezer.blogspot.co.uk/?m=1

Book plug: My book, The Subterranean Railway, how the Underground changed London, has just been updated and reprinted for the anniversary, but is still a bargain at £9 99.  Email me via this site if you want a signed copy.

  • RicPou

    Even now with Overground openings, TfL only invite the bigwigs. Mere mortals like me who put forward some of the ideas back in 1997, YES 1997, are brushed aside, and then their PR people get upperty when I wander up and castigate Boris, McLoughlin or Hendy about the failure to secure electrification of the Gospel Oak to Barking line or correctly prioitise further incremental improvements on the North London Line.
    TfL are a law unto themselves, and occasionally have their head in the clouds, £150 or £180 for a steam train ride is just a disgraceful rip off.

  • Greg Tingey

    RicPou is probably correct
    They (especially LUL) are much more interested in loud, repetitive useless “announcements” than actually helping mere passengers, for example.
    Can’t & won’t be told is very much their current ethos.

  • Steve

    “Why TfL has chosen to celebrate a bigwigs booze up rather than the real opening of the world’s first mass transit system is something of a mystery.”

    Because the current mayor would approve? 🙂

  • Steve

    While I understand your frustration, without TfL there would be no Overground. Watch this space re electrification and capacity enhancements.

  • It seems that by quoting the 9th, they are commemorating the first passenger carrying trip.

    Pedantically they are correct. But as you say, what a shame they are not celebrating the opening to the public.

    Since it would have been “toffs” on the first run, and attending the celebratory soiree-up, I’d guess that why Boris and his ilk approved it.

  • Phil

    I believe the link you want to provide to readers is this: http://diamondgeezer.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/150.html

  • Bresm

    I am not sure you can say London Underground was the only underground railway to be operated by steam. The Mersey Railway, which opened in 1886 between Liverpool and Birkenhead was operated by steam up to 1903, when the line was electrified.

  • RicPou

    BUT Steve, who started the lobbying for it? Note my date, 1997! I was discussing the outline long before the first Mayor’s Transport Strategy was published. I met Dave Wetzel shortly after his appointment in 2000, and Susan Kramer who was on the TfL board. I also briefed Mayor Ken’s first Deputy, Nicky Gavron, who tagged it Orbirail, at her request before the May 2000 elections; the joint RDS – T2000 Briefings had gone back to the old name, Outer Circle. Our diagram, which suggested various other orbital routes was published in several magazines back in 1997!
    I agree TfL became the prime mover, and I have backed the principle every inch of the way. A roaring success and overcrowded already.

  • The only problem is whether it was the 9th or 10th it was not the world’s first Underground railway as I thought for many years. That title actually belongs to the Ficelle of Lyon, a totally underground funicular railway which opened in passenger service in June 1862. This article explains;


  • Paul Holt