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Useful Notes / The London Underground

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"Mind the gap!"

The London Underground is the oldest rapid transit system in the world (its oldest section opening in 1863) and one of the best known. As such, it features prominently in British Media.

Entire books have been written about the Underground, and as Useful Notes is meant to be useful to aspiring writers and critics (and not railfans), we're here to tell you what you need to know about the Underground so as to not look like a complete idiot.

Why's it so prominent? Not only is it very old, but it's also London's lifeblood. It reaches most parts of the city, millions of people use it every day, and unless you want to brave London traffic, it's the most reliable way to get around town. If you want to portray typical London life, you're going to be looking at the Tube. Though do be aware, Underground coverage is lacking in most southern parts of Greater London; fewer than 10% of the stations are south of the River Thames.

Wait, the "Tube"? Yep. The Underground is commonly nicknamed the "Tube" because of the tubular shape of its tunnels. It was one of the first underground railways to be built by tunnel-boring machine (i.e. a big drill); this led to the trains travelling in cylindrical tunnels with remarkably little room to spare. The trains themselves are also remarkably cylindrical. The station platforms are housed in bigger tubes, the walkways between them are made of tubes, and even newer stations have the "tube" aesthetic just for tradition. Granted, the oldest lines were made with the "cut-and-cover" method (i.e. dig up the entire street and cover it up again), and quite a bit of the network (mostly in the suburbs) is out in the open, but its most distinctive sections are tubes.note 

Okay, anything else distinctive about it? Probably the most distinctive symbol of the tube is the roundel logo. On the outside, they mark the locations of the stations. On the inside, on the platforms, they have the station's name on them. Every Underground station has its name on a roundel in it somewhere. London's city transport authoritynote  has adopted the logo for use everywhere, but only the red circle and the blue bar mean the Underground. It's a much-imitated symbol as well (but it's copyrighted, so Don't Try This at Home).

The phrase "Mind the Gap" is commonly repeated on the Underground, and it's become emblematic of the system (partly because the phrasing is just so very British). It's a frequently-heard announcement to watch out for the space between the train and the platform — as many stations are curved (but the trains are made of a series of straight lines), you could end up quite a big gap to mind. The "Mind the Gap" announcement was first used in 1968 and has been a mainstay ever since.

It serves a civil defence role, too — in World War II, Underground stations doubled as bomb shelters. This wasn't the original plan (the government built all those nice communal shelters for you to use, and you're hopping into the Tube station?), but people preferred them because they were familiar and less scary. They were arguably safer, but there were six direct hits on stations, three (Bounds Green, Bank and Balham) resulting in a total of 140 deaths. The Tube's worst accident occurred during the war, when 173 people died in a fatal crush at Bethnal Green in 1943 - the government covered it up at the time so as not to dissuade people from hiding there. This may have inspired later metro systems to be designed to double as bomb sheltersnote .

Also, it has a smell all its own, thanks to the combination of metal, urine, and anxious sweat.

Ew. So it's dirty? Well, yeah — it's been around for a while. In fact, it's far from uncommon to see rats and mice happily scampering around on the lines (and even sometimes on the platform). They survive on whatever they can find, which often includes food dropped by people passing through. There are also rumours of a colony of mosquitoes that's been living in the Tube for so long, they've evolved such that they're now unbreedable with any other kind of mosquito (sort of London's version of the sewer alligator). It is also largely free of AC and, these days, hot - cosily so in winter and sometimes unbearably so in summer (prompting frequent public service announcements to carry water in hot weather - although not to actually drink it, oddly). It started out cool, but decade after decade of human and machinery warmth has sunk so much heat into the surrounding clay-heavy earth it has baked it and left no where further for heat to escape. This is slowly changing; S-stock trains introduced on the subsurface lines brought air conditioning to the Underground for the first time. 2024 will see the "New Tube for London" trains debut on some of the deep level tube lines; thanks to lighter weight and new braking and propulsion technology, it will be possible for the trains to be air conditioned without overheating the tunnels.

Nice colorful map up there. Indeed, the map itself is also kind of famous — it was designed by engineer Harry Beck in 1931 to be like a circuit diagram. The idea is that you don't need to know the line's exact shape, just where the stations are in relation to each other, so you can make everything clean and geometric.note  The disadvantage is that sometimes the map will make stations look farther apart than they really are (meaning you could easily walk the distance instead).

Each line of the Underground is a different colour — but they're never referred to by their colours. If you say "Green Line", no one will know what you're on about — you have to call it the "District Line", etc.

Confusingly, the modern Tube map includes a lot of lines that aren't technically part of the Underground proper — the orange lines are London Overground lines (former commuter lines that were shifted to be more integral to the system), and the Docklands Light Railway is an automated light metro system that's not part of the Underground but really might as well be, serving an area of East London that is very lacking in Tube service. On some maps, you might get lucky and see the Croydon Tramway or the IFS Cloud Cable Car (formerly the Emirates Air Line) (a gondola across the Thames that was really just a tourist thing for the 2012 Olympics). Lines have shifted a lot over the years — not only have new ones been built, but some stations have been decommissioned or moved to other lines, so it's not so easy to make the map period-accurate.

Also, thanks to the city's considerable age, you might also come across several stations with wonderfully evocative names, such as East India, Seven Sisters, Elephant & Castle, Tooting Bec, White City, and Cockfosters. Try not to coo too much, because it will make you look even more like an obvious tourist.

Okay, so how do I not look like a tourist? The standard Londoner behaviour on the Underground is to not look at anybody else. (This is not easy to do, as the seats face each other.) Read a book, read the newspapers people leave on the seats, or else stare at nothing in particular. Part of this may stem from the high value the British place on personal space, which diminishes very quickly in a crowded train car — it's like a prolonged, sideways Uncomfortable Elevator Moment.note 

So then is there anything that I shouldn't do on the Tube to avoid annoying the locals? "Walk Left, Stand Right" — a common admonition seen on Tube escalators. Many people using the Tube are in a hurry, and the left side of the escalator is for those people, to pass the ones standing on the right. Don't stand on the left or leave your luggage on the left. Also, don't hang around at the end of the escalator, and wait for people to disembark the train before getting on. The English being English, they won't call you out on it per se, but you might hear them muttering under their breath about you being a bloody tourist.

All right then. So does it feature in fiction often? Indeed it does — and sometimes it's the real thing, as Transport for London will let you film down there, as long as you ask for permission first. This allows them to nix anything that's a bit too much like a terrorist attack (the Tube being a high-profile target and having suffered several over the years). The Tube has its share of closed or disused stations where they'll let you film without risk of disrupting the actual system (most commonly the abandoned Aldwych on the Piccadilly Line for period scenes or the old Jubilee Line platforms of Charing Cross for modern settings). But if that's not good enough, filmmakers have been known to mock up Tube stations (with varying degrees of accuracy).

Any more advice? Check the map — make sure you know what's where. Railfans are persistent (even more so than nitpicky Londoners), so they'll call out any obvious mistake you make. The map is your friend.

Current lines in the system are:

    Subsurface lines 

Four of the eleven London Underground lines are subsurface lines. They are best defined by featuring tunnels just below the surface and of a similar size to those on British main lines. They also all radiate off a circular loop around Central London, sharing tracks with one another. The Hammersmith & City and Circle lines share all their stations and most of the track with other lines. All four subsurface lines share a uniform fleet of trains, the S Stock, which are also the only trains on the system to allow you to move between cars while the train is in motion.note 

  • Circle Line: The Circle Line's name is a misnomer, as the line actually travels in a spiral. Initially, the line was a true circle around fare zone 1, but in 2009, the loop was broken as the line was extended over the Hammersmith & City line to Hammersmith, to increase service frequencies on the Hammersmith branch. Trains begin at Hammersmith, join the circle at Edgware Road, then do a circuit around the circle before terminating back at Edgware Road.
  • District Line: The District Line has a more complicated arrangement of service patterns. The line originates in far east London at Upminster in the borough of Havering, and runs as a single line all the way to Earl's Court. From here, there is a branch that travels south to Wimbledon and a weekends-only branch to Kensington (Olympia).note  The main route continues west from Earl's Court to Turnham Green after which it divides again into two western branches, to Richmond and Ealing Broadway. The line serves 60 stations over 40 miles of tracks, and with bridges across the River Thames on the Wimbledon and Richmond branches it is the only Underground line to cross the river in this way. From Barking to Aldgate East, it co-operates with the Hammersmith & City line, and between Tower Hill and Gloucester Road and on the Edgware Road branch with the Circle line. From South Kensington to Ealing Common, the District line shares a right of way with the Piccadilly line, though the Piccadilly line does not stop at every station. Ealing Common is one of only two areas where subsurface and deep tube trains stop on the same tracks, as the Ealing Broadway branch briefly interlines with the Uxbridge branch of the Piccadilly line. The Richmond branch shares tracks with the London Overground's North London line. Mile End in the east offers the only below-ground cross-platform transfer between subsurface and deep tube lines, as the District line has a cross-platform transfer to the Central line here.
  • Hammersmith & City Line: The newest of the subsurface lines, technically. For the longest time, this line, which runs from Hammersmith to Barking, was originally marked on the Tube map as a branch of the Metropolitan Line. It was only in 1990 that the line was given its own color designation and separate identity. The entire line shares tracks and stations with other Underground lines: with the Circle Line from Hammersmith to Aldgate, and the District Line from Aldgate East to Barking. Until 2009, the stations from Edgware Road to Hammersmith were all exclusive to the H&C, but at the end of the year, the Circle line was reconfigured to run to Hammersmith as well to increase train frequencies.
  • Metropolitan Line: The longest of the subsurface lines and the oldest. This line bears the distinction of being the only Underground line with express services. It is one of only two Underground lines to cross the Greater London boundary and exit the M25 perimeter, the other being the Central Line. This line originates at Aldgate, sharing tracks with the Circle and Hammersmith & City Lines through Baker Street, where it branches off to head northwest. It then travels nonstop to Finchley Road. From Finchley Road to Wembley Park, the Metropolitan Line trains run along a quadruple tracked line that they share with the Jubilee Line, with the Jubilee Line functioning as the local service while Metropolitan Lines run nonstop to Wembley Park. After Wembley Park, the Jubilee Line splits off to run north to Stanmore while the Metropolitan Line takes on a quadruple track form with two tracks for "fast" and "semi-fast" trains, and two more for "all stations" trains. After Harrow-on-the-Hill, a branch line to Uxbridge splits off, which is shared with the Piccadilly Line west of Rayners Lane, and the only one of the branches to terminate within Greater London. After Moor Park, the next branch line, the Watford branch, splits off, terminating at Watford in Hertfordshire while the main line continues into Buckinghamshire. Then at Chalfont & Latimer, a 3.89 mile long single track branch to Cheshamnote  splits away, before the main line terminates at Amersham.

    Deep tube lines 
The deep tube lines are the lines which give the London Underground its nickname of "the Tube". They run with cylindrical shaped trains that are designed to fit in narrow circular tunnels with a diameter of about 11 feet 8 inches (3.56 m), lined with cast-iron or precast concrete rings, which were bored using a tunnelling shield. For the most part, the deep-tube lines run on their own tracks and do not share them with any other line. Three exceptions exist: the Uxbridge branch of the Piccadilly line shares track with the District line between Acton Town and North Ealing, and with the Metropolitan line between Rayners Lane and Uxbridge; and the Bakerloo line shares track with the London Overground's Watford DC Line north of Queen's Park.

  • Bakerloo Line: This line runs from Harrow & Wealdstone in suburban northwest London to Elephant & Castle in south London, via the West End. It is so named because it serves Baker Street and Waterloo. Most trains only run the underground section from Elephant & Castle to Queen's Park, with only a third of trains going the rest of the way to Harrow & Wealdstone. The above-ground section is shared with the London Overground's Watford DC Line. Originally, the line travelled all the way to Watford Junction, but was cut back to Stonebridge Park in 1982, then restored to Harrow & Wealdstone in 1984. The line also used to have a second branch from Baker Street to Stanmore, which was severed to form the Jubilee Line in 1979. The line is equipped with the 1972 Stock, which are the oldest trains in operation on the Underground.

  • Central Line: The longest line on the Underground, the Central Line appropriately is the one that cuts right through the circle at the hub of Central London, and the only deep tube line to exit the Greater London boundaries. The main line runs from West Ruislip in Hillingdon to Epping in Essex, a distance of over 34 miles, and is the longest journey one can take on the system without changing trains. Not all trains use the main line route, instead originating off a two stop branch that originates at Ealing Broadwaynote  and joins the main line at North Action; and rather than run to Epping, split from the main line at Leytonstone, turn east, and travel around a large loop through Hainault that feeds them back into the mainline heading south into Woodford, where they terminate. Greenford station on the West Ruislip mainline was the last escalator in the system with wooden treads until its replacement with an inclined elevator in March 2014. The Central Line is operated with 1992 Stock.

  • Jubilee Line: Originally planned to be known as the Fleet Line, the Jubilee Line is the newest of the deep tube lines, and is a blend of some of the oldest and newest sections of Underground tracks. The Jubilee Line can trace its roots back to 1932, when the Metropolitan Railway built a branch from their main line at Wembley Park to Stanmore. The line, as with many others in the northwest London area, was designed to absorb commuter traffic from the new and rapidly expanding suburbs. This became a branch of the Bakerloo line in 1932, and operated that way until 1979, when it was split off from the Bakerloo line with a new section of tube track from Baker Street to Charing Cross and given its own identity. The Jubilee Line was named in honor of Queen Elizabeth II's Silver Jubilee, hence the silver color on the Tube map. The line originates at Stanmore in northwest London, and travels along a four stop double-track line until Wembley Park, where it meets the Metropolitan Line. It then runs locally along the shared right-of-way to Finchley Road,note  where it descends underground. After Baker Street, where nonrevenue track connections to the Bakerloo Line still exist, the Jubilee line enters the 1979 segment and continues south to Green Park, the last stop of the original 1979 section. Here, trains originally turned east to terminate at Charing Cross. This was how the line worked until 1999, when Charing Cross was bypassed by another extension.note  From here, the Jubilee Line tunnels under the Thames four times as it travels through East London, Canary Wharf, and North Greenwich. After North Greenwich, the line comes above ground near Canning Town and runs parallel to a Docklands Light Railway line the rest of the way to Stratford. The underground stations on the 1999 extension are unique for being the only stations in the Underground network to have platform edge doors.note  The Jubilee Line is operated with 1996 Stock.

  • Northern Line: The Northern Line is a bit of a misnomer. It does not serve the northernmost stations on the network,note  though it does serve the southernmost station, Morden, as well as 18 of the system's 31 stations south of the River Thames. The line was formed from the merger of three older railways: the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway, the City & South London Railway, and the Edgware, Highgate & London Railway. As a result, it has a very complex configuration where there are three northern branches and two branches through central London. The Bank branch covers the former C&SLR track. It originates at Morden in far south London, and travels north along an underground route until Kennington, where it meets the Charing Cross branch. From Kennington to Camden Town, it travels via the Financial District and Bank, reconvening with the Charing Cross branch at Camden Town. Meanwhile, the Charing Cross branch makes up the former CCE&HR trackage. It originates at Battersea Power Station south of the Thames. After stopping at Nine Elms, it interchanges with the Bank branch at Kennington. From here, it travels to Camden Town via the West End. After the central branches merge at Camden Town, the line splits into the two northern branches, one traveling northwest on former CCE&HR trackage to Edgware while the other goes due north on former EH&LR trackage to High Barnet, with an additional shuttle spur from Finchley Central to Mill Hill East. In the current service pattern, half the trains from each northern branch are routed onto the Bank branch and travel all the way to Morden, while the other half are routed via the Charing Cross branch and terminate either at Battersea Power Station or on a balloon loop at Kennington.note  It is the location of the system's most recent addition: an extension of the Charing Cross branch from Kennington to the aforementioned Battersea Power Station with an intermediate station at Nine Elms. The Northern Line uses 1995 Stock trains, which have identical car bodies to the Jubilee Line's 1996 Stock but are internally different.note 

  • Piccadilly Line: The Piccadilly Line originates at Cockfosters in suburban north London, and after traversing through Central London, comes above ground at Hammersmith. From here, the line runs express, to the inside of the "local" tracks of the District Line, until Acton Town, where it splits into two long branches. Half of the trains operate on the Uxbridge Branch; they head northwest to Rayners Lane, where they join the Metropolitan Line's Uxbridge Branch and operate over that to Uxbridge (making for the only stretch of Underground track where subsurface and deep tube trains operate on the same tracks as opposed to just have cross-platform transfers). The other half turn southwest and travel out to London Heathrow Airport. Due to the complex arrangement of the tube tracks at Heathrow as well as the fact that Terminal 4 is separated from the airport's other terminals by a runway, the Heathrow branch splits into two separate branches after Hatton Cross. Half of the branch's trains serve a station for Terminals 2 and 3 before terminating at Terminal 5, while the other half travel onto a balloon loop that services Terminal 4 before looping back to Terminals 2 and 3 (as such, passengers having to make a connection from Terminals 2, 3 or 5 to Terminal 4 have to travel to Hatton Cross and backtrack if using the tube to change terminals). The line operates with 1973 Stock.

  • Victoria Line: The Victoria Line runs from Walthamstow Central in the north to Brixton in the south. It bears the distinction of being one of only two lines to run completely below ground, the other being the Waterloo & City Line. It was opened in 1969 as a reliever line to take traffic off the adjoining Northern and Piccadilly Lines. This is evident in that only a single station on the line, Pimlico, does not have interchanges with any other Underground or rail line, and that station was only added to the plans after construction on the line began. This line is also noteworthy for the fact that several existing stations were rearranged to allow for cross-platform interchanges with it (to the Bakerloo Line at Oxford Circus, to the Northern Line Bank Branch at Euston, the Northern City Line at Highbury & Islington, and the Piccadilly Line at Finsbury Park). The Victoria Line uses 2009 Stock.

  • Waterloo & City Line: The shortest Underground line. It is a shuttle line from Waterloo to Bank with no intermediate stops. Its primary traffic consists of commuters from south-west London, Surrey and Hampshire arriving at Waterloo main line station and travelling forward to the City of London financial district, and for this reason it also sees no service on Sundays. Although opened in 1898, the line was not officially a London Underground line until 1994, when it was bought out from British Rail. It was at this point that the line was outfitted with 1992 Stock, almost identical to the 1992 Stock being delivered to the Central Line, but were designated as British Rail Class 482 trains and painted in the blue colors of Network SouthEast. They retained these colors for the trains until 2006 when a refurbishment saw the trains get repainted in the London Underground corporate livery (a blue skirt, white carbody, and red cabs and doors). This is because unlike the Victoria line, the Waterloo & City line is completely isolated from the rest of the Tube network and its trains don't even have an aboveground yard.

    The Overground 
Established in 2007, the London Overground was created to provide some much-needed attention to London's various orbital and periphery lines, which during the previous decades were left wanting for serious investment and steady levels of service. It is owned by Transport for London, but operated via a concession currently held by Arriva; a model that served as a major inspiration for the reform of the wider national railway system in the 2020s. Taken as a whole, the London Overground can be a bit confusing to decipher as there are few transfers and connections between lines of the kind that you may expect if you imagine the Overground just a second tube network, but it is best as a collection of separate lines which serve some of the lesser-known parts of the city.

  • East London Line: Redevelopment of the East London Line is the genesis of the Overground's existence, and brings with it a long and convoluted history. First opened in phases between 1869 and 1884 as a north-south railway line in the east of London, it effectively served as a branch of the Metropolitan Line and its predecessors. In 1933, it became its own quasi-independent Underground line, which over time became further separated from the Metropolitan to the point where it eventually became fully independent from its parent line. For several decades it was the red-haired step child of the Underground, served by whatever spare trains the Underground had at any one time while seeing poor investment and service cutbacks. In 2007, the line was closed in order to significantly extend the line on both ends and create a connection with the South London Line; the new, improved East London Line opened as part of the Overground in 2010. Services today start in the north at either Dalston Junction or Highbury & Islington, and travel south to the choice of New Cross, West Croydon or Crystal Palace, or alternatively west to Clapham Junction as part of the now-integrated South London Line. The Underground-era color assigned to the East London Line was orange, which served as the inspiration for the Overground's color scheme as a whole. The East London Line features the Overground's main section of in-tunnel running, and at Whitechapel you can even catch a glimpse of Overground trains running underneath Underground trains. The East London Line also features the Overground's 'secret' station at Battersea Park, which sees one late-night service per day as a relic of the South London Line's former service pattern.

  • North London Line: Joining the Overground in 2007, this is an orbital line that goes from Stratford in the east to Willesden Junction in the west across the north of London, before travelling south to Richmond. A branch also takes many services along the West London Line to Clapham Junction; when combined with the East London Line this forms a proper orbital loop around the city. Between Richmond and Gunnersbury, the North London Line shares tracks and stations with the Underground's District Line. As North London is largely electrified with overhead wires while South London uses third rail, trains on this line switch between the two modes mid-service.

  • Watford DC Line: Opened in 1912 and joining the Overground in 2007, this is the commuter line from Euston Station to the suburb of Watford, taking its name from the fact that it is electrified by DC third rail in contrast to the West Coast Main Line it runs alongside. It is noteworthy for sharing a significant portion of its track with the above-ground portion of the Bakerloo Line; seeing the Overground and Bakerloo trains side-by-side is a great way of illustrating just how tiny the latter are. In the period when the line was part of Network SouthEast, it had the far more fun name of the "Harlequin Line", referring to the Harlesden and Queen's Park stops on the line.

  • The GOBLIN: That's the Gospel Oak to Barking Line. It is a combination of many random lines built since 1868, with its current alignment not being solidified until 1981. An unloved periphery route for much of its life, it was a candidate for closure in the 1960s and saw poor service in the decades since. It joined the Overground in 2007, when it was given more importance and investment as a crucial orbital line in the north of the city. It was electrified in 2018, and is also the location of the Overground's newest addition with Barking Riverside station, built to serve a new neighbourhood on the bank of the Thames.

  • Lea Valley Lines: The Lea Valley Lines refer to several commuter lines which run from Liverpool Street to the Lower Lea Valley north of the station, The lines were electrified in the 1960s, and partially joined the Overground in 2015. Services to Enfield Town, Chingford and Cheshunt are all operated by the Overground, while longer services from Hertford East to Liverpool Street or Stratford are still operated on the National Rail network.

  • Romford-Upminster Line: The odd one out of the bunch. The line opened in 1893 as a small branch line built primarily to allow goods trains to transfer between the Great Eastern Main Line and the London, Tilbury and Southend Main Line. It joined the Overground in 2015, where it sees a half-hourly shuttle service between the titular stations with a single stop in between at Emerson Park. It is the shortest Overground line at just 5.4km, and the only one that does not interchange with any other Overground line.

    And everything else... 
While the London Underground is the only railway in London according to works set in the city, focusing solely on that is cutting the scale of the city's rail network far short.

  • Thameslink: The biggest transit network in the city not owned or operated by Transport for London. Thameslink is a commuter network that serves a large number of surrounding towns and cities, seeing trains travel as far north as Peterborough and as far south as Brighton. Within London, services are centred on the Snow Hill tunnel, which opened in 1866 to allow freight and passenger services to travel straight through the City of London, connecting railways south of the Thames to the Metropolitan Railway's widened lines in the north. The vision to take advantage of the potential of this route was acted on in the 1980s, with the line being electrified in 1982 and Thameslink services beginning in 1988. A massive further overhaul in the line began in 2007, creating the line as it exists today. It operates in the style of a German S-Bahn system, with trains north and south of the central section diverging to serve a wide net of different stations, before converging in the middle to provide a high frequency in the city core between St. Pancras and Blackfriars that reaches as high as 24 trains per hour in the off-peak, a rate that rivals or even surpasses many sections of the Underground. As part of the 2007 refurbishment, a branch that takes the Thameslink line alongside the subsurface Underground lines to Blackfriars and Moorgate were abandoned in order to facilitate longer 12-car trains on the remainder of the line; these abandoned platforms are still very clearly visible today. Over the years, Thameslink has been on and off the Tube map depending on the whims of the map makers at any given moment; in 2020 the system returned to the map where it is represented in light pink.

  • Elizabeth Line: The newest major addition to London's railways, and a successor of sorts to Thameslink. The Elizabeth Line, known prior to opening as Crossrail, involves major improvements to the commuter sections of the Great Western and Great Eastern Main Lines, and then connecting the two with a tunnel under the city designed to serve as an express and relief line for the Underground. Two branches also see the line serve Heathrow Airport on its western end, and the London Docklands with a connection to Abbey Wood in the south. The line opened on the 24 May 2022, with full end-to-end service due to begin within a year from then.

  • Docklands Light Railway: When containerisation and the decline of heavy industry hit Britain, the London Docklands was one of the hardest hit areas and it became a symbol of urban decline in the city: Full Metal Jacket used the London Docklands to film its Vietnam War scenes, to give an idea of how far things had fallen. The London Docklands Development Corporation was created in 1981 to reverse this decline, and as part of the vast new developments they planned a transit solution was needed for the area. As budgets kept an Underground extension unviable, the Docklands Light Railway was opened in 1987 to fill this need: It is a driverless light rail system initially built with ease of construction in mind, reusing freight right of ways whenever possible to keep costs down. It was an immediate success right out of the gate, with higher-than-expected ridership resulting in a connection to the Underground at Bank being commissioned as soon as possibly, which by itself cost more than the entire system had initially cost to build. Today, the DLR has more than doubled from its initial size, serving areas beyond the Docklands and south of the Thames, and has become an influential model for light railways and transit-oriented development around the world.

  • London Trams: London once had a streetcar as vast as any major European city, but it was steadily dismantled between the 1930s and 1950s in favor of first trolleybuses (electric buses running on the roads but powered by overhead wires) and later motor buses. Trams made a return to the city in 2000 when a line was opened in the town of Croydon south of the city, serving it and its surrounding areas. The line covers the former train line from Wimbledon to West Croydon, before running on streets through the town center. In the west, the trams take over the former Woodside and South Croydon Joint Railway and split into three branches: Two go north to terminate at Beckenham Junction and Elmers End, while the other goes south to serve New Addington, a post-war "new town" which at the time was the biggest area of London with no railway link.

  • Northern City Line: This line is operated as part of the national rail network, but it is so functionally unique that it deserves its own spot here. Officially dubbed the "Moorgate Line", it opened in 1904 with the objective of providing a way for trains coming in from the East Coast Main Line to arrive at a terminus closer to the City of London, which it would do via a branch just off of Finsbury Park before going through tunnels to Moorgate, with several intermediary stops. Most notably, it was constructed using the same methods as the deep level Underground lines, but scaled up in order to allow full-size mainline trains to use it. Unfortunately, the Great Northern Railway, which owned the southern part of the ECML, quickly lost interest, and the line was opened as simply a short underground route between Moorgate and Finsbury Park. This makes the Northern City Line a bizarre hybrid of an Underground and a national rail line, included on the Tube map at times. The original company was taken over by the Metropolitan Railway in 1913, later on under London Transport it was treated as a branch of the Northern Line, hence its newer name, before finally being connected to the ECML and taken over by British Rail in 1975, over seventy years after it was originally planned. The Moorgate tube crash actually took place on this line during the "Northern City Line" period, and as such remains the deadliest railway accident on the Underground.note  It is the best thing London has to an actively used Sinister Subway: It sees poor frequency and was often home to outdated rolling stock, the stations themselves tend to be fairly run-down with outdated branding decorating the platforms, and there's the architectural Uncanny Valley effect of seeing a line which looks and acts like an Underground line, but has none of the stylistic touches or trains of one. Things have improved a bit recently with new rolling stock and a stated ambition by Transport for London to acquire and operate the line themselves, something that appears likely in the coming years.

  • South London Railways: Looking at a Tube map, you may notice that the vast majority of the Underground is located above the Thames. South of the river, railroad tycoons of the day recognised both the much lower building density and the soil conditions of the area made constructing traditional railways the way to go.note  Railway barons of this era were also not the most collaborative sort, with almost all of the projects that sprung up during the 1800s being business ventures that often competed with each other for passengers and traffic. The result today is spaghetti, with an often nonsensical but vast commuter network springing from London's various south-facing railway termini. This is a double-edged sword, as South London has a railway network that counts itself as one of the densest in the world, but it is held back by a jumbled layout and a need to share sections with intercity services and other lines, which limits frequencies and can easily create a set of cascading delays if just one thing goes wrong somewhere in the region. It is part of Transport for London's long-term ambition to acquire all of these commuter lines and sort them into a more reliable and well-organised railway network, whether as part of the Overground or as a more distinct metro system, but time will tell when this will happen. Fairly uniquely by world standards, much of Southern England as a whole is electrified using third rail, a contrast to the preference for overhead wires for the vast majority of main line operations.

Works significantly featuring the London Underground are:

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  • The K-On! movie features the girls passing through Camden Town station on the Northern Line.

    Comic Books 
  • In Hellblazer, a magician called Map is shown to live in the Underground tunnels, happily clearing away the tracks for the London Council, who are quite unaware of his power, which is linked to locations and places (hence his affinity with the city).
  • X-Men character Jubilee, in many early appearances, wore silver Roundel logos — which the system uses to mark the Jubilee Line.
  • In The Invisibles, Tom O'Bedlam puts Jack Frost through a stage of his initiation in a disused Tube station with hallucinogenic "Blue Mould" growing on the walls.
  • In V for Vendetta, the final showdown takes place in Victoria Station.
  • The underground gods from The Wicked + The Divine, Morrigan and Baphomet, reside here. Their concerts are also here, and people come down to hear them.

    Fan Works 
  • In Profesor Layton Vs Jack The Raper, Watari takes control of the Tube in order to get the British Royal Guards from King Shakespeer to guard the entire railway, so Jack The Raper won't be able to get a train.
  • In Child of the Storm:
    • Loki, Sif, and the Warriors Three go down into the Tube system via the Victoria Station during Operation Overlord (the name was intentional) to hunt the Veirdrdraugar.
    • About twenty chapters later, it's revealed that MI13 under Peter Wisdom's command have taken up residence in some of the old, disused Tube stations, using them as a new and somewhat creepy HQ following the destruction of their previous one.
    • And in chapter 71, Agent 13 and two MI13 Agents evacuate the Prime Minister in response to a HYDRA assault via a train leaving from one of these stations and passing through a kind of portal network linking multiple underground lines, while being pursued by the Red Hood and a group of the Veidrdraugar.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Billy Elliot takes place mostly during the 1984 miners' strike, but has a coda set in the present day. The transition in time between the past and the present is indicated by Billy's family arriving at the Canary Wharf station on the Jubilee Line extension.
  • Creep (2004)'s poster featured a woman's bloodied hand against the front of a Tube train. The Underground famously banned the poster from the system for this reason.
  • James Bond films:
    • Die Another Day makes the rather big mistake of having a Piccadilly Line station south of the river (it doesn't go there).
    • Skyfall has Bond pursuing Silva between Temple and Embankment stations on the Circle and District lines, and tries to depict those lines as using Jubilee Line deep tube stock. A plan's codename is also derived from a former Metropolitan Railway station, "incorrectly" described as an old Tube station — it's well out of London and left the network before London Underground was fully created.
  • Thor: The Dark World has most of its Earth sequences set in London, and during the final battle in Greenwich, Thor is unexpectedly teleported to the Underground and has to take the Jubilee Line back to the battle. (They botched the geography as well — he needed just three stops to go from Charing Cross to Greenwich, but there isn't even a direct connection between the two.)
  • V for Vendetta prominently features a defunct Underground line near the end, where the whole network is closed by the Norsefire Coalition.
  • The plot of Sliding Doors diverges at the main character catching or missing her train at Embankment station, setting off events for the rest of the film (which shows us two parallel lives from that point on). The actual scenes underground were filmed on the Waterloo and City Line (which is one of those "quasi-Tube" lines).
  • Death Line features cannibals on the Underground who have grown up completely apart from other human contact and can only say "mind the doors". It sounds goofy, but it's a British horror classic.
  • Atonement features Keira Knightley and a considerable number of other people drowning in the real-life bombing of Balham station that broke water pipes and flooded the tunnels, killing 68 people.
  • 28 Days Later was filmed at Canary Wharf. Jim, Serina, and Mark walk along the Docklands Light Railway line. 28 Weeks Later had a whole section of going through the Underground, in the pitch-black.
  • In An American Werewolf in London, the eponymous werewolf commits one of his murders in Tottenham Court Road station. Later, when the dead start advising him to end it all (in a porn cinema in Piccadilly), one of them suggests, "You could throw yourself in front of the Tube."
  • In A Fish Called Wanda, Otto, the dim-witted American in London, needs a few things explained to him:
    Wanda: Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not "every man for himself". And the London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes, Otto. I looked them up.
  • Three And Out is about a Tube driver who is involved in two "one unders" in a month ("one under" being a grim colloquialism for someone hit by a train). He discovers that a third gets him 10 years' wages and retirement, so he persuades a suicidal guy to jump under his train. The Tube drivers' trade union protested the film heavily (and the critics and audience were not kind to it either).
  • In the film of Prince Caspian, the Pevensie children's gateway to Narnia is shifted from the book's unnamed countryside station to Strand station on the Underground (now known as Charing Cross station).
  • In The Escapist, Brian Cox's escape plan relies on breaking through a wall near a stormwater drain to get through to an abandoned area of the Underground (left after World War II), and getting onto a station platform before the tracks start up and electrify.
  • In Quatermass and the Pit, the artefacts are found during the construction of a fictional Central Line station called Hobbs End.note 
  • Split Second (1992), a 1992 film featuring Rutger Hauer in the far future of 2008, ends with him chasing a creature though the Global Warming-flooded Underground tunnels.
  • The 1968 British film Otley features a standoff between Tom Courtenay and Leonard Rossiter on the Central Line platform at Notting Hill Gate.
  • Total Recall (2012) features characters travelling on what is supposed to be the abandoned Underground, with roundels and posters visible, but the trains don't look a thing like the real ones.
  • In The Blue Lamp, a cop killer tries to escape from the police across the Central Line open-air tracks near White City. A pursuing copper is nearly run over by a Standard Tube Stock train.
  • The Accidental Tourist: In both the novel and the movie, Macon (who writes travel books for people who hate to travel) writes in his book about London that he recommends the London Underground for tourists getting around in the city, even if they're afraid of heights.

  • The Underground is so old that it features in the Sherlock Holmes canon, being a major plot point in "The Adventure of the Bruce-Partington Plans". The Bakerloo and Jubilee Line platforms at Baker Street are decorated with silhouettes of the detective with his iconic deerstalker and pipe. (Sherlock had to make another station double as Baker Street to avoid a Celebrity Paradox.)
  • In the Nightside novels by Simon R. Green, the way to the Nightside involves entering the Underground, finding a station sign written in Enochian (the language men use to communicate with angels), and boarding that train.
  • Albus Dumbledore in Harry Potter claims to have a scar in the shape of a map of the Underground. That must be one hell of a scar.
  • As noted in the Live Action TV section, a great deal of Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere is set in these tunnels (and the other service and sewer tunnels of London), and the fantastical spaces that take their name from (or somehow inspired the name of) stations on the Tube network. Hence, there really is an Earl who who holds court at Earl's Court, there really are Seven Sisters, there really is an order of Black Friars at Blackfriars, and there really are Shepherds at Shepherd's Bush (but pray you never meet them).
  • Martha Grimes' The Anodyne Necklace starts in the Underground, with a busker becoming involved in a mugging, and the resemblance of the Tube map to a Role-Playing Game dungeon becomes a plot point.
  • In the Len Deighton novel SS-GB, a man attempts to murder Douglas Archer in a Tube station.
  • Discworld
    • In Thud!, dwarven tunnels under Ankh-Morpork are marked with the sign of the Long Dark — described identically to the London Underground roundel. At the end of the novel these are gifted to the city — the next novel set there mentions "The Undertaking", a government project to convert these to civilian use.
    • In Sourcery, it's briefly mentioned that the spider-skin bound version of the Fullomyth (a Filofax for yuppie supernatural beings) contains an insert showing the London Underground with the three stations they never dare show on the public maps.
  • The Doctor Who New Adventures novel Transit by Ben Aaronovitch is set in a future where the Tube has combined with the T-Mat teleporter network from "The Seeds of Death" to form a network of trains that "hop" through teleportation fields, linking all the planets in the solar system. There's even a holographic version of the famous map, which clearly shows how the subspace tunnels connect by ignoring the planets themselves. The novel is about the attempt to make the first interstellar link, known as the Stellar Tunnel, or "Stunnel" (a parody of the Channel Tunnel). King's Cross is still the major interchange for different lines.
  • Ben Aaronovitch clearly loves the Underground, because the third book in his Rivers of London series Whispers Under Ground (the clue is in the title) not only features the system heavily, but all but one of the chapters is named after an Underground station.
  • The whole plot of the novel Tunnel Vision is a bet the main character, Andy, does with his best friend that he can ride the whole system in a day (which is possible — people have done it). Him being a "trainspotter", his internal monologue features a lot of useless trivia about the system.
  • A character called Fenchurch in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish is named after Fenchurch Street station, which adjoins Tower Hill tube. She insists that Arthur get the joke of her being found there out of the way early on, as she's Never Heard That One Before. No, she was not found there. She was not born there either. She was conceived there.
  • The novel Mind the Gap has a group of runaways living in abandoned tunnels of the London Underground.
  • In Child of the Hive, Will, Ben, and Alex attempt to escape from Drew, who is chasing them, by going into the Underground and moving between lines.
  • In Rogue Male, a fight to the death in a deserted tunnel of the now-disused Aldwych Underground station ends with the "hideous, because domestic, sound of sizzling."
  • The non-fiction book Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson suggests a fun game to play with someone who's unfamiliar with London: You challenge them to see who can get from Bank to Mansion House faster. They will consult the map (which favours clearly showing connections over conveying distance), take the Central Line to Liverpool Street, and then change to the Circle line to get to Mansion House. You, meanwhile, have left the station and walked a little way down Queen Victoria Street. There are several other points where this works.
  • The climax of Across the Dark Metropolis, the final novel in The Borrible Trilogy, takes place in the Bakerloo Line tunnels and Queens Park depot during the night, and ends with the trilogy Big Bad being killed by a train.

    Live Action TV 
  • Doctor Who features the Tube several times, with varying degrees of accuracy — but in "The Web of Fear", the mock-up was so convincing, London Transport thought that their property had been used without permission.
    • Four of the six parts of the story were missing for years and turned up to join the existing Episode 1; the third part remains missing, possibly stolen before it could be recovered from Nigeria, but off-air telesnaps along with the audio survive. This has allowed keen eyed Who fans to spot that Monument station is depicted as a deep level station when it is in reality sub-surface.
  • EastEnders is set beside an Underground viaduct (in one of the open-air suburban parts of the system) and its fictional station Walford East (shown on maps in-universe in place of Bromley-by-Bow). There's even a set for the station house (although not the platforms themselves).
  • Primeval's second episode has giant prehistoric bugs getting into the Underground via time anomaly and killing people. However, the station is very clearly a mock-up, as it doesn't even have the station-name roundels on the wall.
  • Neverwhere had many scenes set in underground stations, including the long-closed British Museum station. Aldwych station was used for much of the filming. Several of the locations and characters are literalisations of the names of Underground station, such as the Angel called Islington, the monastery of the Black Friars (which location was itself named after a real, long gone, monastery), and the Earl's Court.
  • At the end of part one of The Sarah Jane Adventures episode "The Temptation of Sarah Jane Smith" when London is shown to have been destroyed, a London Underground roundel labelled "Greenford" (an actual station on the Central Line in the Ealing area) can be seen next to Clyde and Rani.
  • In the seventh series finale of Spooks, Lucas, Ros, and Connie use a mix of abandoned and active Underground lines to cross the Thames while trying to get to a nuke at the U.S. Embassy. A Russian hit squad is also down there, trying to chase down and kill them all.
  • The Sherlock episode "The Empty Hearse" heavily features the London Underground. It was much mocked for severe confusion between the sub-surface and tube lines, including one pivotal scene in which the train carriage featured is a tube car in the exterior scenes and a full-size sub-surface car when the characters get on board.
  • Series one of Fleabag features a memorable scene on a tube carriage where the unnamed main character perceives or imagines the other passengers suddenly breaking from their cam, bored insular modes into dramatic and anguished contortions and grimaces that express their real existential/emotional horror - or maybe just her own.

  • On the back cover of Frank Zappa's One Size Fits All some constellations are named after stations from the London Underground.
  • In 1978, The Jam released a single in which the narrator is attacked by thugs while "Down in the Tube Station at Midnight".
  • Comedy duo the Amateur Transplants turned The Jam's "Going Underground" into London Underground, a song about the problems of commuting during a strike. It was rather profane.
  • Also in 1978, 10cc released "Shock on the Tube (Don't Want Love)" on their Bloody Tourists album. The singer thinks he's seen his dream girl on the Underground, but it turns out to be All Just a Dream.
  • There have been British rock bands named after the London Underground, like Subway Sect, Tubeway Army (led by Gary Numan), and Bakerloo.
  • Duffy's "Warwick Avenue" mentions the Tube station of the same name in the lyrics.
  • Music videos filmed at Underground stations include Howard Jones' "New Song" and Aqua's "Turn Back Time" (from the Sliding Doors soundtrack), both filmed at Holborn station; Boris Gardiner's "I Want To Wake Up With You", filmed at Westbourne Park station; and both Everlast's "Black Jesus" and The Prodigy's "Firestarter", filmed on the Aldwych branch.
  • Madness is associated with a roundel for the invented Cairo East station, which appeared on the cover of their second album Absolutely and shows up in concerts and music videos every so often.
  • Godsmack's song "Someone in London" consists solely of a sweet guitar riff and sound samples from the Tube, including "Mind the gap!".
  • Judge Dread (no, not that one) recorded a reggae song called "Mind the Gap".
  • Marillion's song "Fugazi" contains references to "drowning in the liquid seize on the Piccadilly Line" while "sheathed within the Walkman, wear a halo of distortion/an aural contraceptive aborting pregnant conversation".
  • Jay Foreman's "Every Tube Station Song" is a list of every Tube station (at the time it was performed).
  • Part of the video for Madonna's "Hung Up" involves breakdancing on a Jubilee Line train.
  • The music accompanying the London New Year's Day fireworks invariably begins with the iconic "Mind the gap!" sound clip.
  • "853-5937" by Squeeze describes Mill Hill as "the end of the Earth on the Northern Line".

  • I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue features the Calvinball game "Mornington Crescent", where they "players" name Underground stations according to a "complex system of rules and strategies", the first to call "Mornington Crescent" being the winner. The stations are called randomly and there's no logic to it; the "gameplay" consists of convincing uninformed observers otherwise. Then again, that might be what they want you to think, so that they can catch you in an arcane trap. Mornington Crescent has the distinction of being one of the most illogical stations to reach by Tube, partly because it has erratic opening hours, and partly because of its position on the Northern Linenote 
  • The Undone episode "Underground" is set mostly on the tube system.
  • The Museum of Everything" The London Underground features in the last of the "insanely dangerous ride" sketches.
  • The payoff of The Goon Show episode "The Scarlet Capsule" (a Quatermass parody) is that the mysterious relic dug up under Notting Hill Gate is not, in fact, an alien spaceship but an Underground train.

    Tabletop Games 
  • In The London Game, players compete to travel around the Underground map, visiting a list of randomly-selected stations. Rail Enthusiasts have been known to play it by actually taking trains to the stations, rather than moving counters on a board.
  • In On The Underground, players compete to get points by building Underground lines and having the passenger (yes, there's just one) ride their trains. One variant ending rule, in a reference to I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue, involves ending the game when the passenger token reaches Mornington Crescent.
  • Scotland Yard players can ride on the Tube, though tickets are few in number and there are fewer stations than there are in Real Life, even within the game's restricted map of London.

    Video Games 
  • In Hellgate: London, the London Underground is the base for the humans who have survived the Demon Invasion. Shame none of the overground stuff remotely resembles London.
  • Tomb Raider III has one level set in the abandoned Tube station Aldwych, and it's very aesthetically accurate, albeit a much larger version than reality.
  • The video game of The World Is Not Enough has part of a level set on an Underground platform and an Underground train.
  • A map in the Half-Life mod The Specialists takes place in a run-down London Underground station, complete with cheerful "Mind the gap!" reminders when approaching the (stationary) subway car.
  • Broken Sword 2 has a section set in the defunct station underneath the British Museum — with a ghost, and also a train coming through (which makes sense, because the station might be closed, but the line itself is very much open).
  • Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception has the heroes escape from an underground base in London by breaking out into an abandoned Tube station.
  • In Modern Warfare 3, one level involves the SAS being drawn into a chase through an Underground tunnel between a train and a pickup truck, then a violent crash and a running gunfight through the station.
  • One of the four areas of the shareware game MasterSpy was themed after the London Underground, with screens having punny names such as "Eastminster" or "Henfosters".
  • Mini Metro has a minimalist aesthetic inspired by the Tube and similar transit maps; naturally, its first level is the London Underground. The game also has an alternate London 1960 level, made to resemble an older iteration of the map.
  • The Bakerloo line is a playable route in Train Sim World 2 (the console version of the Train Simulator series) and can be purchased for TSW's later sequels as DLC.

    Web Comics 
  • Gunnerkrigg Court has a subway system which is clearly not the London Underground (for one, the trains all use magnetic levitation), but both the sign and the general design of the station are unmistakable Shout Outs to the Underground.

    Web Original 
  • Geoff Ryman's hypertext novel 253 is a description of all of the passengers on a Bakerloo Line tube train, leading up to a disastrous crash (based on the real-world Moorgate disaster of 1975).
  • Mornington Nomic is an attempt to construct an actual, playable version of "Mornington Crescent".
  • The Londonist YouTube channel includes videos of the several attempts (some successful) of channel member Geoff Marshall to claim (or to claim back) his record for visiting all the stations in the shortest amount of time, as well as several videos on things to notice around the network. Marshall now has his own channel ("Geoff Marshall") where he more recently did a series where he visited every station on the National Rail network.

    Western Animation 
  • Underground Ernie is a little-kids CGI cartoon starring Gary Lineker (former football star and now Match Of The Day presenter) as the driver of a train-with-a-face on the fictional "International Underground", which is clearly modeled on the London one, complete with roundel logo, and the living trains being named after Tube lines.
  • Tube Mice was a cartoon in the 1990s about a group of mice living in the London Underground. It was notable mainly for the villains being played by George Cole and Dennis Waterman, in a clear parody of their Minder characters.
  • In Thunderbirds, the episode "Vault of Death" involves Scott and Virgil having to use abandoned London Underground tunnels in order to get into the Bank of England's vault. This is surprisingly realistic, as the Central Line goes right past there (following the streets above). Then they go and ruin it by starting at Piccadilly Circus.

Alternative Title(s): The Tube, London Underground