Last week was the 150th birthday of the London Underground.
It was way back in 1863 that the first passenger train chugged its way out of Kensington Olympia station on its way to Moorgate – a journey recreated on its anniversary, using a steam train no less.
Since then ‘the Tube’ has grown considerably and is now undeniably the heart of London’s transport system, pumping millions of people along its congested arteries each day.
I used to be a regular Tube user when I last lived in London, but since returning to the UK, and subsequently the workforce, my usage has been more sporadic, especially since it is now not a part of my daily commute.
I’m sure it helps that I don’t have a daily battle with the Northern Line to contend with, but that said, and based on my admittedly infrequent journeys, I am very much a fan of the Tube and for several good reasons.
For me, it all begins with the Tube map – undeniably one of the great pieces of iconic design work ever created. It makes the task of navigating a path across London’s intricate network of tunnels remarkably easy.
The Tube stations themselves are a mixed bag. Some are sparkling and modern, whereas others are beginning to show their age, albeit retaining a certain art deco, tile-lined charm. Nevertheless, the familiar red, white and blue signs at their entrances are another classic part of the London cityscape.
But in renewing my relationship with the London Underground after all this time, I have also discovered some unexpected surprises.
Firstly, punctuality. Maybe I have just been lucky, but in the 100+ Tube trips I have made since returning to the UK, I haven’t once had to wait longer than 5 minutes for a train. And if I do miss one, there is usually another one following close behind.
And secondly, courtesy. Many tourists during the Olympics talked about just how polite and friendly Londoners were when travelling on the Tube. However, I’ve also witnessed similar behaviour both before and since – people giving up their seats, stepping aside, smiling, chatting (occasionally)…and obviously saying “Sorry” a lot.
All-in-all, I think that London has a lot to be proud of as its transport system reaches such a significant milestone.
Who knows what London town will look like in another 150 years, but I dare say that every day there will still be millions of people going about their business far beneath its bustling streets.