The London Underground train system, affectionately known by Londoners as 'The Tube', has been celebrating it's 150th birthday. London's Metropolitan Railway was the first underground rail network and the original 4 miles between Paddington and Farringdon opened in January 1863.
To celebrate the 150th anniversary, one of the original steam trains and it's carriages were restored to their former glory. Ordinary 21st century commuters got quite a shock to see their modern electric trains replaced with the elegantly crafted steam engine from a bygone era.
However, the trains and tunnels of the 1860's wouldn't have been possible without the many engineers, mathematicians and scientists who worked on the original project to bring affordable transportation to the city of London. The restoration work for the birthday celebrations took over 3 years of planning and co-ordination. The restoration team found one of the original passenger carriages.. but found that it had been used as a garden shed! However, it was gently brought back to life with the help of historians and craftsmen.
The original opening of the London Underground was a huge success. From it's beginnings in 1863, it transported 26,000 passengers a day. Today it is used by over 3.23 million people a day.
The early tunnels were dug using the cut-and-cover method which was slower than the eventual tunnelling shield method that was used to finish the project. The original pedestrian tunnel under the river Thames was built by Marc Brunel and his son, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, and was eventually taken over for use by the steam trains in 1865. The building project had many technical difficulties and ventilation was a cause of much concern. It was imperative that the tunnels could be cleared of steam from the trains and fresh clean air allowed to enter the tunnels from above ground. Steam vents at street level were the answer but some neighbourhoods weren't so keen on these intrusions. The wealthy addresses in Leinster Gardens had their steam vent disguised as the facade of an ordinary house in order not to upset the residents.
Electric traction, tunnelling shields and deep level tunnel designs all helped to make the London Underground the mass transit service it is today. The City & South London Railway opened in 1890 and was the first electrically operated railway in the world. Although the underground rail system continued to develop, plans were halted abruptly by World War II. From 1940, the London Underground helped to evacuate 200,000+ London children to the safety of the countryside.
During The Blitz, the remaining people of London sought shelter
from the bombs in the Underground. Over 177,500 people took refuge from the relentless bombing raids and whilst their homes and workplaces were destroyed above their heads, the London Underground kept them safe. 22,000 bunk beds, latrines and catering facilities were installed in order to make life below ground a little more bearable.
10 Things you didn't know about the London Underground:
- 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.
- There were cases reported of builders working on the Bakerloo Line suffering 'the bends' (decompression sickness) as the tunnels took them beneath the River Thames.
- A discarded match was thought to have been the cause of the horrific fire at King's Cross underground station in 1987 - 31 people died. Since then, smoking has been banned on the London Underground.
- In addition to people taking shelter in the Underground during the Second World War, artifacts from the British Museum were also stored there to keep them safe.
- There is a mosquito named after The Tube - during the Blitz a particular type of mosquito was found to target the many Londoners sleeping in the Underground. The mosquito was named the 'London Underground mosquito'.
- Alcohol was banned on the London Underground in 2008
- In the Harry Potter films the Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore, has a scar on his knee that resembles an almost exact copy of the map of the London Underground.
- Passengers on the first journey of the first Central Line train, in 1900, included the Prince of Wales and Mark Twain.
- The complete length of the London Underground tracks equals 249 miles.
- The London Olympics in 2012 caused the single busiest day in the history of the Tube, carrying 4.4 million passengers.
The London Underground was, and is, an extraordinary feat of science and engineering. The anniversary steam train is a reminder of an era rich in scientific discoveries and engineering accomplishments that the world still looks at in awe. Happy Birthday to the London Underground ... don't you just wish you could have a ride on that Steam Engine?