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10 weird and wonderful facts about 150-year-old London Underground

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Top tube facts to impress your fellow commuters as London Underground celebrates its 150th birthday

Our dearest tube is turning 150 today. In some ways it has shortened all of our lives. It has caused millions of Londoners over the decades to likely shed blood, but almost certainly sweat and even tears over the scores of delays, engineering work, overcrowding and, of course, the lack of aircon.

In the summer, descending into the belly of the tube beast is widely seen as tantamount to entering the ninth circle of Hell.

At the same time, however, London Underground has made all our lives so much easier and a whole lot quicker – even if it might have made them a little shorter.

In the 150 years, the tube has allowed us to experience so much more than we should have done otherwise. After all, how else would you ship your derrière from Brixton to Epping in a little over an hour?

It has made the sprawling mass that is London an actual city, not a collection of scattered villages, and for all its faults, somehow manages to get millions of people to work, school, the shops or the doctors, each and every single day. This is truly a Herculean feat for a 150-year-old, and means we should all be celebrate our cherished tube today – even if it often passes dangerously close crossing the love/hate.

To help you start up a conversation with your fellow passengers we give you 10 things you probably didn’t know about the tube: 

1) The average tube train travels a whopping 114,500 miles/184,269km every year.

2) Waterloo must be avoided at all costs during rush-hour. It is not only London’s busiest tube station annually, receiving 82 million visitors, it also sees 57,000 people just enter during the three-hour-long morning rush hour.

Waterloo station 1937

Overcrowding at Waterloo station has not changed all that much since 1937

3) Two tube station names contain all the vowels? Can you guess? No…. alright then – it’s Mansion House and South Ealing.

4) The tube is the oldest section of underground railway in the world. Oh, you already knew that clever clogs, but did you also know London was also the first to operate electric trains? Yeah, we didn’t think so, but next time you’re asked – the Uxbridge line went electric in 1905. You’re welcome.

5) Thirty percent of us take longer routes because of the misrepresentations in the tube map we usually see – and we’re not just talking tourists here…

London underground Map 1933

London underground Map 1933, traced along actual landmarks

6) Mark Twain was one of the inaugural passengers on the Central Line when it embarked on its maiden voyage across London in 1900. Since then the red bullet, as it is lovingly known to Notting Hillers, has grown to London Underground’s longest line. 

7) The name Underground is a farce. Excluding the aptly named Overground, the London “Underground” is actually open air for some 60% of the time.

8) The Underground has its own coin! A special edition, commemorative £2 piece is being rolled out to celebrate the 150th anniversary. If only that coin could get you a fare…

London tube coin

9) London Underground may daily ferry three million passengers, but only three babies are known to have ever been born on the tube. The last one was in 2009. Could it be down to so few people actually giving up the highly fought for priority seating?

10)  When the Circle line opened in 1884, The Times called it “a form of mild torture which no person would undergo if he could conveniently help it”. As it spins you around today, you might be forgiven for having a sense of déjà vu, but people have been feeling that for decades. In 2004, for example, a Parliamentary report called it “a daily trauma,” condemning commuters to “intolerable conditions.”

With that in mind – here’s to another 150 years! 

Hungry for more Tube trivia? Take a look at this infographic:



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