On this day in 1863, that’s 150 years ago, the first section of the London underground opened in the form of the Metropolitian line between Paddington Station and Farrington. The reason the the line was built in the first place is that there were a series of main lines that terminated at what was then the edge of the city and a combination of property prices and local laws prevented them from being linked up on the surface. Going under the road corridors was a way around this problem and the first tunnels were built using cut and cover methods. Over the 150 years since that time, new lines and extensions have turned the system into what exists today along the way becoming one of the most famous systems in the world.

Crucially thought those original tunnels are still in use today which is not only impressive but also shows how long the benefit of this type of infrastructure lasts. It probably provides a hell of a lot more economic benefit to the city now than it did even 30 year after it was built.  This is especially important as we debate projects like the CRL as it will have a very very long lasting impact on the city yet the current assessment guidelines only look it giving benefits over a 30 year period.

Congratulations London

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  1. Only assessing the benefits over 30 years is sensible, you can justify almost any infrastructure project if you look at benefits over 150 years. If the benefits over the next 30 years aren’t enough to justify building it now then it can be delayed until it will.

    1. Actually it isn’t sensible as particularly large and transformative projects like the CRL or even some motorway projects are often disadvantaged. Part of that is due to the fact that the assessment period starts from the time the project starts get if they take 5 or 6 years to complete before any benefits can even start being realised which is a severe disadvantage vs projects that might only take a year to complete. Most of the world uses 50-60 years as their assessment period so we are actually the odd one out in this regard however the NZTA is considering changing it to 60 years http://greaterakl.wpengine.com/2012/11/14/changing-the-ground-rules/

  2. The Tube is a ‘thing to do’ or attraction in its own right, aside from doing things in the city. I miss it. Although it can get a little hot down there.

    1. Indeed, from memory it’s up to 10C hotter on the Tube than outdoors, which can be painful. Happily however, the new trains for the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines are air-conditioned.

      1. 10C hotter is bloody great for most of the year in London!
        I love the tube: I was a guard on the Northern Line back in the seventies. I was in London in October and I was astounded at how clean it was down there! A legacy of the Olympics I imagine.

        1. Ive lived in London 5 years and have always found the Tube pretty spotless, even well before the Olympics – while people seem happy dropping litter on the street here, there’s perhaps more social opprobrium attached to doing so inside crowded trains and stations! I’ve personally upbraided someone recently for dropping a banana skin on a platform (not just unsightly but potentially rather dangerous!)

          1. Are they really as slippery as cartoons would have us believe?

            On the topic of air conditioning on the actual tube lines (as opposed to the larger cut and cover lines), apparently the next generation of rolling stock will be cooled. They say that it’s basically an issue of dissipating heat energy into a sealed system, but the new vehicles will be lighter weight composites with accordingly lower powered motors which frees up enough energy in the system to cool the air.

  3. I have always had to transfer from the underground to rail at either London Bridge or Victoria to get to Crystal Palace to stay at the camping ground. So there is a new line which wasn’t there three years ago when I last visited. Is that right.

    1. Not quite, TfL took over and extended the east london line down to Crystal Palace and West Croydon (and north to Highbury via previous tracks out of Broad Street) over the national rail metals via a new connection at New Cross Gate. The “outer circle” has been on the drawing boards for many years and a missing link across to Queens Road Peckham means you can circle the capital a bit further out, though having to change a couple of times.

      1. Branded the ‘London Overground’. Along with the North London Line, West London Line, Euston to Watford Local (DC) Line and the Gospel Oak to Barking Line. Note that since the opening of the Clapham Junction link the core section of the East London Line had SIXTEEN TRAINS PER HOUR in each direction on the core section between Surrey Quays and Dalston Junction until 22.00hrs. (Auckland transport planners please note).

  4. Matt, the following statement is slightly inaccurate:

    “… along the way becoming one of the most famous systems in the world.”

    The Tube is THE most famous system in the world. No-one else has a network quite like the Tube. The branding, the distinctive maps, the design of the stations – all instantly recognisable as the culture of the Tube.

  5. This post got me thinking if New Zealand has an infrastructure project of a similar vintage that is still functioning today. The best I can come up with is the Lyttleton Railway Tunnel. Conceived in 1859 when the population of Canterbury Province was only 10,000. Opened 1867. At the time it was a remarkable engineering feat given the limited resources avaliable at the time. However, almost 150 years later it continues to haul freight through the hillside to the Port.

  6. Does testify to the longevity of a good dose of capex…

    Can anyone imagine London prospering without it in the modern age??

    Now apply that to Auckland…in an APAC region where new metros, light rail lines and HS rail are popping up all over.

  7. The Overground orbital is great. The Tube does seem to have improved a lot in the last few years. In addition to the Tube and other local expenditure, Network Rail are spending around $75b over five years http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-20938280. New Zealand seems to be way behind on transport infrastructure, as even Scotland which has a similar population, having rail capex of over $8b over five years (excluding the Subway and tram).

  8. Ah, my Mastermind topic. The big project which has been completed in the last few years has been the re-instatement of part of an old line which was lost at the time of the Beeching cuts. So, a branch line which goes into Glasgow, was connected to a branch line which goes into Edinburgh, and electrified as well. The next big project to come will be to electrify the line between Glasgow and Edinburgh, which are some 50 miles apart (a little less than Hamilton to downtown Auckland). Another line being “re-instated” is a single-track line into the Scottish Borders area. These are the big-ticket items, there’s lots of small fixes being put in place as well.

    The work is being paid for by the devolved Scottish Government rather than the UK Government as a whole; we are fortunate in having a government that is prepared to sign some seriously large cheques for railway infrastructure. There are some big roading projects underway as well.

    1. Scotland looks to be reasonably well served by rail services per capita. From the official gateway to Scotland website, which looks to be broadly in line with the 2012 census, it has a population of 5.2 million. Of the two largest cities Glasgow has 592,820 and Edinburgh, 486,120. Both significantly lower than Auckland at 1.4 million, or 32 percent of NZ’s population and yet these Scottish cities are much better served by rail services. They have of course had the resources of the United Kingdom for funding. I’m guessing they are better patronised than Auckland’s rail is. I took a train from Glasgow to Scotland (4:30 pm, so peak time) and it was full. Love to work in Scotland. About time they opened up to more kiwis!

  9. Yes, that wonderful show we saw here recently, ‘The Tube’ illustrated just how useful it was to the city, and how any system needs regular maintenance, and when this is deferred the cost doesn’t go away, they’re just there later. In the meantime you suffer poor infrastructure. This is something we know well.

  10. @JeffT; Glasgow to Scotland? I’m interested to know which one you messed up on, not getting at you just curious.

    As for 150 years of London underground Matt’s original comments about forethought paying off sums up what’s not happening here with the CRL!

  11. Here’s Christian Wolmer on the subject: http://www.christianwolmar.co.uk/2013/01/at-150-years-old-the-tube-needs-growth/

    “The politicians are always looking at ‘business cases’ or suggesting new lines ‘need to pay their way’ when, in fact, it is so obvious that a healthy and growing Underground is the very basis for a health and growing London economy. Even 150 after years of success and worldwide imitation, that lesson has still to be learnt.

  12. The Tube will be even better when Crossrail is finished – estimates of around a 10% increase in capacity which is good news for rush hour. Is the reason for the ticket prices being so expensive now due to the past lack of capital expenditure or is it the operating costs, such as the high wages ($90k+) paid to drivers?

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