Part 2: A brief history of British Rail – The London Underground
It wasn’t just British rail that was developed in the 1800’s, the first parts of the London Underground were also established during this time. The first component of the London Underground, the Thames Tunnel, opened in 1843. The construction was led by Sir Marc Brunel, assisted by his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel and a team of miners. The tunnel went between Rotherhithe and Wapping under the River Thames, with horizontal tunnel shafts travelling from either end of the tunnel in treacherous conditions. Many workmen were killed and injured in the process as a result of serious flooding.
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In 1865 the East London Railway Company purchased the Thames Tunnel for £200,000, and in 1869 the first train passed through the tunnel. It went on to become part of the London Underground system, and remains in use today, incorporated into the London Overground.
The first train to run on the London Underground was between Paddington and Farringdon Street in 1863. The Metropolitan Railway was granted permission to build this 6km track at the cost of £1 million. The train which made the first journey was a steam locomotive hauling wooden carriages. On its opening day, the train carried 38,000 passengers and over the course of the year this number reached 9.5 million.
Some other key milestones in the development of the London Underground include:
- 1884 – Completion of the Circle line
- 1890 – The first deep-level electric railway opens
- 1900 – Central line opens, travelling from Shepherd’s Bush to Bank
- 1905 – Electrification of the District and Circle lines
- 1906/1907 – This period saw the addition of numerous lines including parts of the Bakerloo, Piccadilly and Northern.
- 1933 – The Underground Group and the Metropolitan Railway become part of the London Passenger Transport Board.
- 1948 – The London Passenger Transport Board is nationalised to become the London Transport Executive
- 1969 – Victoria line opens
- 1971 – The last steam locomotive runs
- 1979 – Jubilee line is added to the network
- 2003 – The Oyster card is introduced
- 2007 – passenger number hits 1 billion over the year for the first time
The history of British Rail has been remarkable, beginning with the ingenuity of a few engineers in the early 1800s, and morphing into one of the most complex and advanced systems in the world. Today, the rail network is central to British transportation, and is a key method in the daily commutes of many. It continues to develop thanks to the innovative work of engineers across the world, and the future of rail looks incredibly exciting.
Part 1: A Brief History of British Rail