Some people truly love it while others truly hate it. Some just ignore it, treating the Tube as simply one more way of getting from point A to point B. It’s eccentric, old, smelly, sooty (ok, it used to be like that), stifling, enigmatic and spellbinding (I’m afraid the list of adjectives describing the London Underground is endless…). Whether you live in London or just visit it for a couple of hours, you’re bound to use it. If you think the Tube is just another system of rails and trains located underground just give it a go and keep reading to find out more about this absolutely fascinating transport system.
- One date: 1863. The world had never seen anything like that before. That was when the Metropolitan Underground Railway opened in London. The very first time in history people could travel longer distances underground. Of course there were no electric trains yet so steam locomotives were in use. And steam means smoke, soot and pollution. So a ventilation system was installed and you can still see some of its elements at the Baker Street station.
- One more number: 55. Number of tube stations? No, there are 270 stations. Number of passengers who use the Tube every day? Nope, it’s about 5 million. Surprise, surprise, 55% of the London Underground is …. actually over ground.
- Harry Beck. Thanks to this gentleman we can buy today a whole array of souvenirs with the Tube map. Ok, he probably didn’t think about all those mugs, bags and magnets while designing it back in 1933. To be honest, it’s not a real map since it doesn’t show real distances between stations. We should rather call it a diagram. At first the design was rejected and considered to be too radical but it finally made its own way to Londoners’ hearts. Reproduced ever since 1933 it’s one of the London icons. It’s hard to imagine Beck was paid peanuts for his design …
- Giving birth on the Tube? It doesn’t sound very appealing, I know. But it turns out it’s sometimes inevitable. The London Underground takes pride in having 3 girls and 2 boys born there! I wonder if the kids will have a free transport pass for life.
- Busking places for talented artists. The Tube is not only about transport but also about art. There are 39 busking pitches across the stations where licensed performers can give their shows. As a passenger you can enjoy professional music played on your way to work/ next landmark. Stay tuned and keep your eyes wide open – some buskers become world-famous stars. Ed Sheeran used to sing his songs on the Tube as well!
- The shortest distance between the Tube stations? It’s only 260 metres and the journey goes from Leicester Square to Covent Garden. Still, you have to pay a standard fee of 4.60 pounds. Well, maybe you should consider a short walk?
- Flora and fauna of the Underground. Let’s face it – not only people travel on the Tube every day … Insects and bugs find their homes there as well. Mosquitoes living in the tube tunnels had to adapt to unique living conditions and are genetically different from their cousins living elsewhere. They are ‘so distinct that they can no longer interbreed with other mosquitoes!’ *
So the next time you top up your Oyster card and hop the Tube train look around carefully – maybe you’ll discover more London Underground mysteries?
** My knowledge (and inspiration) comes from: Andrew Martin ‘Underground Overground’ and a fantastic guided tour across the London Underground (thank you, Fiona!)