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London's Tube Reaches One-And-A Half Centuries

5 years ago248 views

The world's oldest underground rail network - London's "tube" - is 150 years old. The Victorian artery of the British capital, which enabled the city to boom, served as shelter during World War II and has been copied around the world.

London's underground rail network, known as the "Tube" is 150-years-old this week.

On January 9, 1863, London Underground opened the world's first underground railway in central London.

It opened to the public the next day.

[Christian Wolmar, Railway Historian]:
"London was very crowded in the 19th century, there were market stalls on the street....So the idea came to try to unblock the London streets with an underground railway."

London's mayor tributes the city's massive population to its underground railway.

[Ken Livingstone, London Mayor]:
"Literally without the Tube London could not have grown to the size it is. Two hundred years ago there were only about a million people in London and you went to eight million. But you had to have a really high intense underground railway in order to be able to do that, that's why all the world's cities, like Beijing, Shanghai, Delhi, are all now putting in tube systems."

He added that while London was the first to build subways, it turned out to be a disadvantage when other cities caught up.

[Ken Livingstone, London Mayor]:
"Like so much the Victorians did, Britain found a solution and the rest of the world has copied it. The down side of that is because we went first, we weren't able to learn from mistakes of others, so almost all the other systems have got two tracks each way so you can keep one running through the night while you work on the other, so you don't have the problem we've got of always having to have a four or five hour shut down."

During World War II and the German bombing of London, the Tube's tunnels provided a safe haven from bombs.

In July 2005, the Tube became a place of terror when Islamic fundamentalists blew themselves up on three trains.

Fifty two civilians were killed in the incident.

Today Londoners rely heavily on the tube. It carries more passengers in one day that the any of the UK's other rail networks.

Decades of underinvestment and political wranglings though, mean the Tube is still in need of vital repair and upgrades.

Current London Mayor, Boris Johnson, has promised new technologies, partly funded by yearly ticket rises.

But historian Christian Wolmar says London needs much more than that to continue to meet growing demand.

[Christian Wolmar, Railway Historian]:
"London doesn't actually have enough tube lines, we are going to get Crossrail, we've got Thameslink improvements, but we really need to get cracking on devising at least two more tube lines to cope with the demand in the 21st century."

This week London Underground will recreate the first Tube passenger journey on Sunday January 13.

A series of specially restored steam trains, including the oldest operational carriage in existence, will travel part of the original route.

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