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Ok well before I start, I know Im going ot get lots of comments saying 'I hate the tube' etc... Dont get me wrong, there are problems and it can get awfully busy, but I think we love to grumble and have to realise what an amazing facility the Underground is, especially when putting it into context of age, complexity and lack of funding from government. But this isnt going to be a political reivew. 976 million trips are made on the tube every year (thats close to one Billion!) and 2006 is set to be the busiest ever. This is surely an indicator of its success, albeit the alternative modes of transport in London are limited.
London's underground network, AKA the 'Tube' is the oldest in the world. That said there are some spanking new parts too. The first part of the tube was opened on 10th Jaunary 1863. Called the 'Metropolitan Railway,' it ran between Paddington (which was then called Bishop's Road) and Farringdon. These services were run by steam trains, which must have been ghastly underground! The Circle line was completed in 1880, and the Central line started life in 1900. The dreaded Northern line opened in 1907 (and to this day is the worst line on the netwok -the line I am dependent on, annoyingly!) By 1933, the network became complex enough to need a simplified map, and Mr Beck designed the original version of the world famous tube map, which has evolved so much today, and has been adapted by other tube networks worldwide. In 1940, the tube was a lifesaver as its deep shelters were used by thousands of londoners as air raid shelters. There have been a few accidents and fires e.g. in 1973 (43 people killed on the Northern line) 1987 (large fire at Kings X killing 31 people). In 1999 the futuristic extension of the Jubilee Line was opened. This part of the line is worth travelling just to see the amazing architecture. In 2005 the tube was the target of terrorist suicide bombers.
Despite the above, the tube is extremely safe, and most accidents or deaths are due to drunken activity or people deciding to take thier own lives (which is terrible for the tube drivers - must be very traumatising). Violent crime is actually pretty rare.
There are currently 12 lines on the tube. Some are simple and short (eg the waterloo and city line is only 2 stops long!) , others are long and compex with lots of branches and stations eg Northern and Picadilly. The circle line runs, erm.. in a circle (clockwise and anticlockwise), and the Metropolitan line runs out of London to Watford, RIckmansworth and beyond (well.. to Amersham!) Some lines merge for sections, and the Bakerloo shares track with National Rail at parts.
The lines are:
- Bakerloo - Central - Circle - District - East London - Hammersmith & City - Jubilee - Metropolitan - Northern - Piccadilly - Victoria - Waterloo & City
Each is line colour coded on the tube map.
There are currently 275 stations on the tube network, ranging from small one platformed suburban locations to complex main line station interchanges. In central london, there are few areas far from a station, but out in the suburbs, they can be miles apart. Some stations are connection points, where one can change lines. These are indicated by a round circle on the map.
Some stations are very shabby, but I have
noticed that most stations are currently in the process of being refurbished. Once completed they look great, and I am pleaed to see that the important architecture is being preserved. There are some great buildings o the tube network (as well as some awful ones!) I feel a real effort is being made here, and within a few years the stations will be birhgter, cleaner and safer. I thinkt hey are aiming to have CCTV in most stations within a few years.
Disabled passengers - a bit of a problem, as access to most stations invloves stairs. However, this is changing rapidly, and my local station is currently installing lifts to allow 'step free access' to the trains. If you look at the latest tube map, disabled friendly stops are clearly indicated. The list should be growing rapidly over the enxt few years. Blind passengers are now helped by announcements saying which is the next stop, and tube staff thend to be quite helpful if they need assistance.
Smoking - not allowed in any station or on the trains. Thank goodness!
Parking - some stations have parking lots on site, mainly those int he suburbs. They are listed on the tube map. There is a charge to park in them, about £3 a day
Only 40% of the netwrok is below ground. Those underground are usually accessed by escalator (which you hope are working!) or lift. A few have stairs only, but these tend to be the more shallow ones. When the escalators are out of service, you sometimes have to use the sprial staircase, which is a real pain!
More and more lines now have modern trains. Some are still using very old bangers, but most lines now have plans to upgrade in the next few years. They tend to be functional more than comfortable, and the newer trians then to have more of an emphasis on standing room, in view of the network becomming more and more crowded. But on the whole they tend to be clean, and increasingly graffiti free. They all have announcements saying which is the next stop, and some have visual displays too.
PRICES, TICKETS AND ZONES
The tube is dividedinto 6 zones. The centre of london is zone 1 and the zones radiate outwards. The more zones you use, the more expensive the journey. You can buy the following types of ticket: Single Return Day travelcards (for a variety of zone combinations) Week tavelcards Month travelcards Year travelcards Three day tickets Family travelcards
Pricing - is SO complex I couldnt possibly cover it here, and dont really understand it all myself. Essentially, if you are going ot use the tube a lot on day and its after 9.30 the best thing to do is buy a 1-day travelcard which costs about £4-6 depending on how many zones you need. Tourists usually only need Zones one and two. Travelcards can also be used on Busses, Docklands Light Railway, National Rail within the Zones, and gives you a discount on river transport. Sinlge tickets vary accoring to length of journey and when you use them - off peak is cheaper. If you pay with an Oyesercard (see below) you can make big savings!
Oyestercard is the new way to get your ticket. Essentially it is a plastic credit card sized card, which stores your ticket into. You keep it all the time. You cna load season tickets onto it, or 'pay as you go.' If you pay as you go, you load say £20 on, and then every time you make a journey, the correct amount is deducted. If you make lots of journeys in one day, it will only charge you for a travelcard if thats the cheapest option. You have to run your card over a reader as you go in and out of the tube stations. To ecourage people to use the, they are cheaper than buying conventional sinlges etc at the station. You have to buy a refundable £3 depsoit when you buy them. I think they are great. They allow flexibility (ie if you dont know if youll need a travelcard or not you can use it and itll do the hard maths for you), and if you preload enough money you wont need to waste time queueing at the ticket office every time you travel. In fact you can set it up to top its self up from your credit card automatically if you want. Season tickets can be bought online for the oystercards. Very clever!
WHEN NOT TO USE IT
The tube gets exceptionally busy! In rush hour, despite trian frequencies of approx every 2 mins, you may not get on and would be very lucky to not be under someone's sweaty armpit, let alone get a seat! The worst time to use the tube is at about 8-9AM. Busy busy busy. However, after 9 AM, things settle. The carriages can be busy at any time though!
Yes. They happen. Various excuses include, too hot, too much snow, 'passenger under train', suspect package, signal failure. We are all sick of it. However: - Most days there isnt a delay - You can now get your money back if you are delayed by a mere 15 min (fill in a form online or pick it up from any station) - There is better communication - both on the train and in stations. - Transport for London website displays travel info, and you can opt to be texted in advance to warn about delays.
Im no fan of the rail unions. Tueb drivers earn a fortune, and do very short working weeks. I certainly dont think their jobs are more responsible than eg nurses, who earn a lot less and study much longer. I used to think they deserved a good salary. Now they are getting a (very) good salary, and still threaten to strike on a frequent basis. I honestly believe there should be a law against tube drivers striking.
This is a fururistic line serving the docklands, but isnt technically the tube so I wont cover it here. Great for a little ride though!
The tube developments are now being funded by 'Public Private Parnterships.' Private companies put in the money, and the tube leases it all back. Its a very costly way of doing things, but for the first time, it looks like things are actually being done, albeit at a slow pace!
The tube is very hot, and it is an ongoing problem with no solution. Being so old, it wasnt designed for global warming, and there is no air conditioning at all. Sometimes I come off the tube totally wet through with sweat (sorry, that was more info than you needed to know!) There was a competition a few years ago to see if someone could come up with an idea of how to cool the tube. Unfortunately, no one could! They are still working on it. Their most effective technique at present is handing out free water when it is very hot!
There are currently a few huge developments happening onthe tube, including new trains, complete line refurbishments and station refurbishments. One of the biggest is Kings Cross, which was and still pretty much is in a dire state. It is being completely redone,
Pictures of London Underground
and a huge new ticket office has just opened which will make a big difference. SOUTH LONDON
Being a north Londoner, I forget that south London is a relative tube desert. The network is much more extensive in the north, and many south Londoners use the many National Rail lines which run into central London. Dont expect to be able to get everywhere in South London on the tube.
METRO ( I MEAN THE NEWSPAPER - NOT THE TUBE PARIS STYLEE!)
Just a quick mention. This has become a tube institution. Its a free morning paper, published by the same boys that produce the Daily Mail and Evening Standard. You can pick it up at most stations (oddly not mine!) and most people on the tube read it for a bit. Its a pretty dumb paper but gives the news as it is with little analysis. The best bits are the letters page (people get so angry!) and they have a good website with comments and peoples views. The ettiquette is to leave it on the train for others to read as they run out from the station early. Im sure the cleaners get very annoyed! Its now such a part of the tube experience that its hard to mention. Find it in the ticket office, or on / near your seat! There are plans for a free afternoon paper too. Whippee!
BUSKERS AND BUSKING
If you are thinking of doing it you now have to audition!! You used to be able to pitch up and most buskers were tolerated by tube staff. Nowdays there are a few official pitches and you have to be chosen to play! If you try without permission you may get into real trouble. The upshot for me is that the qulaity of busking is now, on the whole, quite good! I sometimes even give them a few coppers on my way by! Dont like it when they are loud thoug (Im getting so old!)
MY EXPERIENCES - SO WHY DONT I MIND IT?
London would not function at all if it wasnt for the tube! Imagine the traffic which would be caused if everyone drove. The bus system is cheap and now quite reliable, but if you are travelling far it will takes ages. When the tube works, it is great, and people take it for granted that you can get whisked into central london in no time at all. The prices arent too bad considering the cost of petrol, and car upkeep.
I used to live and work in Sheffield, a fine city indeed. However, transport was awful. The busses were infrequent and the traffic in some areas was dire, probably worse than central london, now that we have the congestion zone. I'd either spend ages waiting for a bus, or drive and sit in traffic for ages. My commute in London is actually much quicker.
On the tube yes, there are delays, but hopefully this will improve with the new investment. And most days it runs fine. You just dont think about it when it works well. Yes, it gets busy. Yes, there was a terrorist attack. But im sure it is safer than driving and surely its more environmental than selfish one person car journeys. My commute takes 25 min door to door. I choose to take the tube, as I could easily drive and park at the other end (rare for London!) When I lived in Sheffield it would often take me abotu an hour, and I would arrive stressed, having spent a lot of moeny on petrol, parking and polluted the environment in a non-sustainable way (sorry this is no refection on Sheffield - think it s a great city!) Now I spend less (only filled up my car once in 5 months!) can read books / news / journals on the way in, and feel Im not polluting the environment.
I have to say though, that there is still a long way to go before we can say London has a modern, efficient underground network.
Web www.tfl.gov.uk (excellent website!)
Snail mail London Underground 55 Broadway London SW1H 0BD
I've only been on the tube once and thought I was doing great, knowing when to change etc. It seemed so easy until the last part when I got confused and would definitely have ended up in the wrong place without help. Excellent review. :0
aestro 24.10.2006 12:15
Awesome review, descriptive and well written. I also find that the staff are how should we say, less then friendly. I've heard drivers tell 5 year olds to go and play in the traffic over an intercom, i've been yelled at, they have refused to let me out of the barriers if i went over my budget. Most days to be honest i just cant be f*cked with it, so i'll jump the barriers. With those prices its not like they need the money!
The seminal and pioneering London Underground is more than a mass transportation network - ... more
it is a style icon, its history involving some of the most important architects and artists of their time. From Frank Pick's vision to Metroland and Holden's innovative designs, David Long expertly weaves the story of the Underground - its abundance of characters (some good, some not so good), design firsts and brand identity - with Jane Magarigal's atmospheric photography. From suburban expansion to Blitz bombings and Soviet adulation, this book celebrates what remains a magnificent engineering and aesthetic achievement while providing an affectionate if slightly elegiac portrait of a London which is now gone for good.