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.