London Underground

The Tube

Useful Information

The bullseye symbol Sign, London Underground, Great Britain. Public Domain.
Inside the tube.
Bank station.
Location: All over London, look out for Underground signs.
Open: All year daily 5-1.
Central, Jubilee, Northern, Piccadilly, and Victoria lines all night on Friday and Saturday nights.
Fee: we recommend day tickets.
Classification: SubterraneaUnderground Railway
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Guided tours: n/a
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: partly
Address: TfL Customer Relations, Floor 23, Empress State Building, Empress Approach, London SW6 1TR, Tel: +44-20-7222-5600. E-mail: contact
London Underground Customer Service Centre, 55 Broadway, London SW1H 0BD, Tel: +44-845-330-9880. E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.


1830s idea of an underground railway linking the City of London with the urban centre first proposed.
1854 Metropolitan Railway granted permission to build such a line.
1855 test tunnel was built in Kibblesworth.
10-JAN-1863 public service of the Metropolitan Railway started.
1870 Tower Subway opened.
1884 inner circle completed.
1890 City & South London Railway opened, which is now part of the Northern line.
1902 Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL) established.
1933 London Transport formed by merging sub-surface lines and bus services.
01-JAN-1948 London Passenger Transport Board nationalised and renamed the London Transport Executive under the provisions of the Transport Act 1947.
1962 London Transport Executive renamed the London Transport Board.
1983 Travelcard ticket introduced.
2000 Transport for London (TfL) created.
2003 contactless ticketing system Oyster.
2015 completion of the upgrade of the four major lines.


Metropolitan Railway, Bellmouth Praed Street. Chromolithograph, Samuel J. Hodson. Public Domain.
Trial Trip on the Underground Railway, 1863. Public Domain.
Embankment station.
Embankment station.
Train entering Embankment station.
Inside the tube.

The London Underground or simply Underground is the first public underground transport system of the world. It was created with the first line, between Paddington and Farringdon, in 1863. It was operated by the company Metropolitan Railway and is today a part of Circle, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines. At first it was a sort of partially underground broad-gauge railroad for the inner city center. The first tunnels were right below the ground, built using the cut-and-cover method, in other words a ditch was dug, walled and then covered. The ceiling of this tunnel became the new road level. But there were many difficulties in operating steam locomotives inside a tunnel. Nevertheless, the construction was continued and by 1884 the inner circle, today's Circle Line, was completed.

The main technical difficulty of building railroads in a city is the lack of space, which was solved by building underground. The next problem was the stability of the tunnels, but new developments in deep-level tunnel design allowed stable tunnels to be constructed deep underground using tunnelling shields. The world's first underground tube railway was opened in 1870, the Tower Subway beneath the River Thames south of Tower Hill. At this time the technology to build tunnels was still restricted, and the most stable tunnels were circular. The tunnels had a diameter of 3.10 m and the trains were built to fit this tube-like tunnels, While normal trains waggons had a rectangular profile, the special trains used on those lines were almost circular. As a result even the inside was circular, it was only possible to stand in the middle, the bow to the side was used for benches. Soon the underground was called The Tube by the public.

The next step was the replacement of steam engines by electric traction trains. The City & South London Railway was opened in 1890, today it is part of the Northern line. It was the first deep-leve line with electric trains, but during the next 20 years the other lines were electrified too. Electricity was clean, there were no poisonous gases and no grime. Also the danger of fire and explosions was much lower. But it was also the time of the quarrels between AC and DC systems, the "Edison/Tesla war". A joint committee recommended an AC system but the American investor Charles Yerkes favoured a DC system. After arbitration by the Board of Trade the DC system was adopted.

The early tube lines were owned by different private companies. In the early 20th century they were brought together under the UndergrounD brand and the new bullseye symbol. But this was only marketing and ticketing. In 1933 most underground railways, tramway and bus services were merged to form the London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB). It became publicly known as London Transport as it used the London TransporT brand. In 1948 the London Passenger Transport Board was nationalised and renamed the London Transport Executive under the provisions of the Transport Act 1947. Today the public transport network is operated by Transport for London (TfL). Its wholly owned subsidiary London Underground Limited (LUL) operates the London Underground.

Today the London Underground is an all electric railway system that covers much of the conurbation of Greater London and some neighbouring areas. The system has 270 stations and 400 km of tracks. 11 lines cover an area inhabited by almost 6 Million people, 1.357 billion passenger journeys per year [2017] make it the world's 12th busiest metro system. They also connect the city with Heathrow Airport. While the lines in the center are underground, much of the network in the outer parts of London are on the surface. For some reason the Underground does not cover most southern parts of Greater London. There are only 29 stations south of the River Thames.

Since the early days there are actually two types of lines, the sub-surface lines and the deep-tube lines. The sub-surface lines are close to the surface, built using the cut-and-cover method, a huge tunnel containing tracks for both directions, and often additional tracks as required. The tunnels are higher and so the trains are too. The deep-tube lines have two tunnels, one for each direction, with a circular profile and a diameter of 3.1 m. The trains are lower and almost cylindrical in order to fit into the circular tube. Both use the standard gauge with 1.4 m width and all trains are fixed-length with between six and eight cars. Only the Waterloo & City line uses four cars. Despite those restrictions the technology has been continually developed during the last decades. Both kinds of trains have multiple doors which open hydraulically, regenerative braking and public address systems. They are wheelchair accessible, and several lines have now air condition.

A special restriction for trains is always the radius of curves. Especially in the city center stations are very close and often oriented to the needs of the access from the surface. In some cases it was necessary to build train stations with a curve, which is uncommon. The problem is that the cars are straight and do not bend. The result is a gap of changing width between the train door and the station platform. For security reasons the phrase mind the gap was first introduced in 1968. It is continually announced by an automated announcement system on the station and in the train when the doors open. It became quite popular because of the particularly British word choice. So actually tourists go to the respective station just to hear the announcement.