Friday, 21 June 2013

21/06/13 - TubeFacts

The fact that the London Underground is celebrating its 150th birthday this year is a bit of a mindblower. While the network may seem a little outdated here and there, it usually feels at worst like something from the 1960s, not the 1860s. I mean, look what else was happening in Britain when the first train trundled down the line between Paddington and Farringdon in 1863 – Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum opened, the Football Association was founded, Linoleum was invented, scarlet fever was ripping through the country like wildfire (well, wildfever), David Lloyd George was born, William Makepeace Thackeray died. This was the decade of the American Civil War, when Dimitri Mendeleev drew up the modern periodic table, when Lincoln was assassinated, when War & Peace, Crime & Punishment, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Das Kapital were published, when Florence Nightingale was founding nursing schools… the Tube is that old.
The first Tube line saw steam locomotives running along gas-lit tunnels, and it carried 38,000 passengers on its opening day, with trains having to be diverted from overground lines to cope with the demand. It clearly fulfilled a want as well as a need, and has been an intrinsic part of London culture ever since.
The convenience, the typography and symbolism, the iconic electrical-diagram map, the myriad quirks and cheats of getting around on the Underground… there’s a wealth of history behind the Tube, as diverse and evolutionary as the greater urban culture that surrounds it, and whose inhabitants it exists to serve. But rather than waffle on in the usual JuicyPips fashion, this week I’m going to distil the salient points into a list of interesting, bite-sized facts. Enjoy.


When the Victoria Line was under development, one of the suggested names was ‘the Viking Line’. Which would have been much cooler.

55% of the Underground network isn’t underground.

The Russian word for ‘railway station’ is вокзал (vokzal), supposedly after a nineteenth-century Russian delegation visited the under-construction Tube station at Vauxhall and mistook the signs to be displaying a general word for stations, rather than an actual place name.

Chances of any given Tube journey ending in death: 1 in 300m.

During World War II, the British Museum stored lots of their valuable exhibits – including the Elgin Marbles! – in a branch of the Piccadilly Line, to keep them safe from bombs.

Also during World War II, a subterranean aircraft factory was set up within the tunnels of the Central Line, between Leytonstone and Newbury Park. The main body of the factory was just 13 feet in diameter. Its existence was an official secret until the eighties.

West Ashfield is a fake station mocked up within a building in West Kensington – TfL staff use it for training purposes.

Aldgate station was built over a seventeenth century plague pit – there are more than a thousand bodies under there.

The average speed of a Tube train is 20.5mph, and that includes station stops… and those on the Metropolitan Line can reach 60mph.

Queen Victoria never rode the Victoria Line. (Obviously. It opened 68 years after she died.) Queen Elizabeth II was the first monarch ever to take the Tube – she was there for the opening of the Victoria Line in 1969, minding the gap in her inimitable regal fashion.

The total combined distance travelled by all Tube trains in a year is around 43 million miles. That’s nearly halfway to the sun.

The Jubilee Line is the only one that connects with all other lines.

The distance between Covent Garden and Leicester Square on the Piccadilly Line is just 260 metres – the shortest on the network. It only takes about twenty seconds, and costs the standard £4.30. Might as well walk it, tourists…

The Jubilee line was so-named to celebrate the Queen’s 1977 Jubilee… although its construction was so delayed, it didn’t open until 1979.

There is, on average, one suicide a week on the Tube. Usual time is 11am. In 1926, suicide pits were dug out under lines at stations due to the increasing number of people throwing themselves in front of trains. The eastern extension of the Jubilee Line is the only section that has glass screens to stymie the jumpers.

Fewer than 10% of Tube stations are south of the Thames.

Just five Tube stations are outside the M25.

Aldwych station closed in 1994, and is now used as a film set. It’s featured in V for Vendetta, 28 Weeks Later, and The Prodigy’s Firestarter video, among much else. One of the levels in Tomb Raider 3 is set there too, with Lara Croft killing rats.

The longest continuous tunnel is on the Northern Line, running 17.3 miles from East Finchley to Morden.

The Underground sequences in Skyfall were filmed at night over a number of months at Charing Cross.

Over 47m litres of water are pumped from the Tube every day.

The Guinness World Record for visiting every station on the Underground network – known as the ‘Tube Challenge’ – is currently held by Andi James and Steve Wilson, who completed the challenge in 16 hours, 29 minutes and 13 seconds in May 2011.

During the three-hour weekday morning peak, the busiest station is Waterloo, serving around 57,000 passengers.

Jerry Springer was born on a Tube platform. His mother was taking shelter from the Luftwaffe at Highgate station in 1944.

The least-used station on the network is Roding Valley.

When the Circle Line opened in 1884, The Times panned it as ‘a form of mild torture, which no person would undergo if he could conveniently help it’.

Shortest escalator: Stratford (vertical rise of 4.1m). Longest escalator: Angel (27.5m).

The Tube’s first escalator was installed at Earl’s Court in 1911.

There are just two Tube station names that contain all five vowels - Mansion House and South Ealing.

Every week, Underground escalators travel the equivalent distance of circling the globe twice.

Tube mosquitoes are genetically different to overground mosquitoes, and will bite mice and rats as well as humans.

Bank station has no above-ground buildings – its ticket halls were built within the crypt of St. Mary Woolnoth church.

In 1909, Selfridges unsuccessfully campaigned to have the name of Bond Street station changed to ‘Selfridges’.

The northbound Northern Line platform at Embankment is the only place on the network where you’ll hear the original ‘Mind the Gap’ announcement, voiced by Oswald Laurence. It was reinstated at his widow’s request, so that she could still hear his voice.

…and on that lovely note, I’m off to ride the Tube. (Which is not a euphemism.)

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