Photo: KnowInsiders
Photo: KnowInsiders

What Is The Oldest Subway in the World?

From London to Budapest, from Chicago to Paris, from Glasgow to New York City: even the subway has its pioneers. The first subway lines that kicked off urban rail transport date back as far as the mid-19th century, more than one hundred years before this form of mobility became widespread — and above all appreciated for its ability to reduce congestion and air pollution.

There are now 178 cities running subways (also called “underground” or “metro” systems) across the globe, together capable of transporting 168 million passengers every day.

This achievement was made possible thanks to those who first believed in the success of this means of transport, and with great foresight and dedication were the first to create what today are recognized as the oldest metro lines in the world, We build values cited.

London - The world’s first subway

Photo: Visit London
Photo: Visit London

The underground or tube in London is the oldest transport system of its kind in the world. It opened on 10th January 1863 with steam locomotives. Today, there’s an underground network of 408 kilometers of active lines that will take you anywhere in the city. If you fancy finding out more fun facts about one of the oldest subways, don’t miss the London Transport Museum.

History of Underground in London

The world’s first underground railway opened in London in 1863, as a way of reducing street congestion. It was soon followed by a related railway company, in 1868, but their owners fell out and the railways became rivals rather than partners, delaying progress. These were what we call sub-surface lines, built by digging a long trench, laying track and covering it over again. Initially, these early underground railways used steam trains, according to London Transport Museum.

The technology for the safe tunneling of tubes deeper below London had been developed by 1870, but the first successful tube railway was not practical until electric power and safe lifts were perfected in the late 1880s. There was interest in this novel mode of transport, but investors were still cautious. The next Tubes did not open for nearly 10 years. Later schemes also struggled to raise money but were helped by the intervention of an American financier. These new linked lines opened in 1906-7, completing the core of the modern Tube system.

Photo: London Top Sight Tours
Photo: London Top Sight Tours

Today, London’s underground transport system is served by 540 trains, with 270 stations. Over the years there have been many modifications and considerable investments to grow and modernise the network, so much so that today only 45% of the system is actually underground. The remainder of trains run above ground, reaching the furthest outskirts of the sprawling capital.

Initially, the London Underground was not publicly owned, and the lines were owned by several private companies. From 1933 things changed, the London Passenger Transport Board was introduced and a public authority began to purchase an infrastructure that became strategic for everyone.

Steam trains start operating under the Thames river

7th December, 1869

Marc Brunel and son Isambard Kingdom Brunel built the Thames Tunnel as a foot tunnel in 1843, but by 1869 enough money had been raised from visiting tourists to develop it into a transport cargo right under the Thames river.

However, due to the lack of ventilation shafts in the tunnel, too much smoke built up, making for a very unhealthy environment for train drivers and passengers alike – though it wasn’t made electric until 1913.

The first electric underground railways opens

18th December, 1890

The first deep electric railway opened, running from King William Street in the City of London, under the River Thames, to Stockwell. The underground became known as ‘the tube’ at this point, as it’s been known ever since.

The UERL is formed

April, 1902

Charles Tyson Yerkes forms The Underground Electric Railways of London, which then builds Lots Road power station completes three new tube projects and electrifies the District Railway – all in just 5 years.

The famous ‘Underground’ sign was first used


The world-renowned underground sign (known as the Roundel) and name ‘Underground’ were first used. This was also the year that the underground introduced the first electronic ticket machine to stations.

The first escalators are introduced


The first escalators were installed at Earl’s Court tube station into the underground system.

Black Escalator Near Red Wall Tiles

Harry Beck designs the tube map


What image comes to your mind when you think of the tube? We’re guessing it’d either be the sign or the colourful map. Harry Beck presented the first diagram of the Underground map, basing his design on an electrical circuit.

500 copies were distributed from stations across London, followed by a further 700,000 copies the year after. They were a hit with the public, and though the design of the map would be tweaked over the years, the one we know today is still based on Harry’s original diagram

World War II hits the underground

1940 – 1945

During the turbulent second World War, many tube station platforms were used as air raid shelters. Members of the public spent entire nights sleeping on the platforms to avoid the bombs which were falling on the Capital above them.

Today’s tube and the new Elizabeth Line

In 2007, it was the first year that one billion used the underground in just one year. The tube has come a long way in 155 years, with the most recent development being Crossrail.

The new Elizabeth line, named after the queen, will stretch over 60 miles from Reading and Heathrow in the West, through the central tunnels and across to Shenfield and Abbey Wood in the East.

The new line, launching in December 2018, will stop at 41 stations, 10 of which will be purpose-built and 30 upgraded. It’s expected to serve an impressive 200 million people every year.

Some interesting facts about the London Underground:

  • The shortest distance between two adjacent stations on the network is only 260 meters and the longest is 6.3 kilometers.
  • The tunnels on the Central line twist and turn because they follow the curves of London's medieval street plan.
  • There is a prevalent north/south divide on the Underground; less than 10% of stations are south of the Thames.
  • The Underground was funded entirely by private companies until the 1930's.
  • Alcohol was banned on the Tube and all London Transport from June 2008.
  • During the three-hour morning peak, the busiest Tube station is Waterloo, with around 57,000 people entering.
  • Every week, Underground escalators travel the equivalent distance of going twice around the world.
  • Penalty fares were only introduced in 1994.
  • The Jubilee Line is the only one to connect with all the other Underground Lines.
  • Over 1,000 bodies lie beneath Aldgate station, which is built over a plague pit from 1665.
  • The London Underground has a staggering 270 stations.
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