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London Underground
Locale Greater London, Chiltern, Epping Forest, Three Rivers and Watford
Transit type Rapid transit
Number of lines 11
Number of stations 270 served (260 owned)
Daily ridership about 3.23 million
Began operation 10 January 1863
Operator(s) London Underground Ltd; part of Transport for London
System length 402 kilometres (250 mi)
Track gauge 1,435 mm (4 ft 8 12 in)

The London Underground is a system of electric trains which are in London, United Kingdom. It is the oldest underground railway in the world. It started running in 1863 as the Metropolitan Railway. After the opening the system was copied in many other cities, for example New York and Madrid. Even though it is called the Underground about half of it is above the ground. The "Tube" is a slang name for the London Underground, because the tunnels for some of the lines are round tubes running through the ground. The Underground has got 274 stations and over 408 km of track. From 2006–2007 over 1 billion passengers used the underground.

Underground train systems in other cities may be called metros or subways (in North America). Subway is used in Britain to refer to underground walkways.


Why London Underground is nicknamed The Tube
The nickname "the Tube" comes from the round tunnels some trains use. The 'tube train' shown is in a tunnel near Hendon Central Station, London.


The Metropolitan Line was the first part of the Underground to be made. It was opened in 1863. It then ran between Paddington and Farringdon. It took 40,000 passengers per day. Later it was made longer. The District Line was built by a different company. In 1884, the Circle Line was finished. All these lines used steam engines at first.

In 1890, a line using electric trains was opened. It was much deeper below ground than the other lines. Now it is part of the Northern Line. More lines like this were opened. People liked them, so in 1905 the lines that used steam engines were changed to use electric trains.

Into the 20th century

Because the different lines were run by different companies, changing lines was difficult. Between 1900 and 1902 Charles Yerkes bought most of the companies and formed a company named Underground Electric Railways of London Company Ltd, short UERL.

In the 1930s and 1940s

In 1933 a company was formed of all the bus, tram and underground companies, called London Passenger Transport Board (LPTB). It planned to make the network longer, but the Second World War stopped this. In the war, some Underground stations were used as shelters against bombs.

After the war

After the war more passengers used the underground. Minor changes were made: Victoria Line was opened in the 1960s, and currently the Piccadilly Line was extended to Heathrow Airport in 1977. The Jubilee Line was opened in 1979, and extended to Stratford 20 years later. Night Tube was introduced in 2016.


London Underground Zone 1
Zone 1 (central zone) of the Underground network as it would look in reality


The system uses two kinds of trains, a big type - called sub surface trains and a smaller type - deep level trains. The big ones are used for the rectangular tunnels (District Line, Metropolitan Line, Circle Line), the small ones for the round tunnels. Most lines have different trains, although they fit into one of the two categories.


The Underground's trains usually drive to 270 stations. 14 Stations are outside of London.


Name Map colour First
Type Length No.
Current Stock Trips
per annum (×1000)
Avg. trips
per mile (×1000)
Bakerloo line Brown 1906 Deep
23.2 km
14.5 mi
25 1972 Stock 111,136 7,665
Central line Red 1900 Deep
74.0 km
46.0 mi
49 1992 Stock 260,916 5,672
Circle line Yellow 1871 Sub
27.2 km
17.0 mi
36 S Stock 114,609 4,716
District line Green 1868 Sub
64.0 km
40.0 mi
60 D78 Stock and S Stock 208,317 5,208
Hammersmith & City line Pink 1864 Sub
25.5 km
15.9 mi
29 S Stock 114,609 4,716
Jubilee line Silver 1979 Deep
36.2 km
22.5 mi
27 1996 Stock 213,554 9,491
Metropolitan line Dark Magenta 1863 Sub
66.7 km
41.5 mi
34 S Stock 66,779 1,609
Northern line Black 1890 Deep
58.0 km
36.0 mi
50 1995 Stock 252,310 7,009
Piccadilly line Dark Blue 1906 Deep
71.0 km
44.3 mi
53 1973 Stock 210,169 4,744
Victoria line Light Blue 1968 Deep
21.0 km
13.3 mi
16 2009 Stock 199,988 15,093
Waterloo & City line Turquoise 1898 Deep
2.5 km
1.5 mi
2 1992 Stock 15,892 10,595


The Oyster card, a contactless smart card used across the London transport system

The Underground received £2.669 billion in fares in 2016/17 and uses Transport for London's zonal fare system to calculate fares. There are nine zones, zone 1 being the central zone, which includes the loop of the Circle line with a few stations to the south of River Thames. The only London Underground stations in Zones 7 to 9 are on the Metropolitan line beyond Moor Park, outside London region. Some stations are in two zones, and the cheapest fare applies. Paper tickets, the contactless Oyster cards, contactless debit or credit cards and Apple Pay and Android Pay smartphones and watches can be used for travel. Single and return tickets are available in either format, but Travelcards (season tickets) for longer than a day are available only on Oyster cards.

TfL introduced the Oyster card in 2003; this is a pre-payment smartcard with an embedded contactless RFID chip. It can be loaded with Travelcards and used on the Underground, the Overground, buses, trams, the Docklands Light Railway, and National Rail services within London. Fares for single journeys are cheaper than paper tickets, and a daily cap limits the total cost in a day to the price of a Day Travelcard. The Oyster card must be 'touched in' at the start and end of a journey, otherwise it is regarded as 'incomplete' and the maximum fare is charged. In March 2012 the cost of this in the previous year to travellers was £66.5 million.

In 2014, TfL became the first public transport provider in the world to accept payment from contactless bank cards. The Underground first started accepting contactless debit and credit cards in September 2014. This was followed by the adoption of Apple Pay in 2015 and Android Pay in 2016, allowing payment using a contactless-enabled phone or smartwatch. Over 500 million journeys have taken place using contactless, and TfL has become one of Europe's largest contactless merchants, with around 1 in 10 contactless transactions in the UK taking place on across the TfL network. This technology, developed in-house by TfL, has been licensed to other major cities like New York City and Boston.

A concessionary fare scheme is operated by London Councils for residents who are disabled or meet certain age criteria. Residents born before 1951 were eligible after their 60th birthday, whereas those born in 1955 will need to wait until they are 66. Called a "Freedom Pass" it allows free travel on TfL-operated routes at all times and is valid on some National Rail services within London at weekends and after 09:30 on Monday to Fridays. Since 2010, the Freedom Pass has included an embedded holder's photograph; it lasts five years between renewals.

In addition to automatic and staffed faregates at stations, the Underground also operates on a proof-of-payment system. The system is patrolled by both uniformed and plain-clothes fare inspectors with hand-held Oyster-card readers. Passengers travelling without a valid ticket must pay a penalty fare of £80 (£40 if paid within 21 days) and can be prosecuted for fare evasion under the Regulation of Railways Act 1889 and Transport for London Byelaws.

Station access

Deep level escalator at bank
Escalators at Bank station on the Northern Line.

When most of the stations in the London Underground system were built, disabled and wheelchair access was not considered. While many above-ground stations have only a few steps to the platform, nearly all Underground stations have some of the systems's 410 escalators and 112 lifts (elevators). Newer stations include disabled access, and many older stations install disabled access when they are refurbished or rebuilt. Since 2004, maps inside the trains show which stations have step-free access from street level. Transport for London plan to have a network of over 100 fully accessible stations by 2020, which means that 75% of Tube journeys can be made with step-free access.

The escalators in the London Underground system are some of the longest in Europe. They run 20 hours a day, 364 days a year and are used by 13,000 people per hour, with 95% of them running at one time.



Westminster station barrier
Platform Screen Doors at Westminster Station.

There have been relatively few accidents in the Underground's history. Most happen if people accidentally fall onto the tracks. In some stations there are pits in the middle of the track to stop people being injured if they fall onto the track. Newly rebuilt parts of the system, especially on the Jubilee line, have platform doors. These doors only open when a train stops and prevent people falling or jumping onto the tracks.

Platform doors

In recent years, refurbished and rebuilt parts of the Underground, especially the Jubilee Line (around Westminster) have had sliding platform doors installed to prevent people falling off the platform onto the tracks, and discourage/prevent suicides.

Bomb attacks

In the 30s, 70s and 90s the Underground was bombed many times by the IRA, and for this reason there have been no wastebins in or around stations until very recently, when clear plastic sacks were introduced in some parts of the system. On 7th July 2005 there were three attacks by radical Islamic terrorists on two Circle Line trains and on one Piccadilly Line.


Smoking is not allowed in any part of the underground. It was banned after a fire in King's Cross Station in 1987.


The commuters of London often complain about the Underground. Even newspapers, especially the Evening Standard, often criticise the system.

Usually the complaints are about delays, overcrowding and the fares. Sometimes strikes of London Underground staff occur.


London Underground fares are now the most expensive of any rail system around the world, including the luxurious Orient Express, and they continue to rise at very high levels. Concern has also been raised over the huge difference between oyster card fares and cash fares, with the criticism that the high cash fares will discourage tourists and day visitors to London from traveling around the City.


Because the underground is a very old system, engineering work is often needed and often causes delays. There can be other reasons as well, for example signal failures or other breakdowns. Customers can claim a refund if their tube journey is delayed for more than 15 minutes due to problems within the control of Transport For London.


Because many more commuters use the underground than planned, overcrowding often happens. This can cause stress and frustration with the underground system among commuters. According to a report by MPs, commuters face "a daily trauma" and are often forced to travel in "intolerable conditions".

Industrial action

Because so many passengers travel on the London Underground network every day, strikes or industrial actions on the Underground network have a very high impact on London's traffic and can impact on London's economy. London Underground and the rail unions claim to be under high pressure from the working public, private businesses and government departments.

Strike actions on the London Underground occur for a number of reasons, including health and safety, working conditions and pay levels. There were several such strikes in the late 1970s.

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See also

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