Well, I’ve finally done it. After just over four years, I’ve managed to traverse all 250 miles of the London Underground network. I haven’t been trying to do this – after all, it can be done in just a bit more than 16 hours (as has been done as part of the Tube Challenge). But, piece by piece, through a combination of random trips and occasional days off or weekend excursions, I believe that I have travelled to the outer ends of each of the 11 lines, from Zone 1 all the way out to Zone 9.
One of the delays in doing this was, of course, not living on the Underground for more than 3 ½ years. That made the extra effort to get the train from Earlsfield in to connect to the Underground – and even more painful, the thought of having to reverse that journey after a long day – a bit too much. But that is different now that we live in zone 1, adjacent to the King’s Cross St. Pancras Underground Station, which is the third-busiest station complex in the system (serving 81 million entering and exiting customers per year, which is nearly 123,000 entries per weekday) and the largest interchange serving 6 of the 11 lines.
As of 2014, there were just three sections I was missing, and I took advantage of Astrid’s business trip to Dubai to tackle two of them – the famously named Cockfosters at the opposite end of the Piccadilly Line from Heathrow Airport, and Mill Hill East, an odd one-station stub off the Northern Line High Barnet Branch, which interestingly has the highest point on the Underground on its short length, a viaduct about the ground. Finally, last weekend Astrid and I decided to take a ride on a new Metropolitan Line train to the last remaining outer terminal, Uxbridge.
Below is a brief photo journey of some of the outer terminals and obscure locations that I’ve visited.
Starting with the end – the front of Uxbridge Station, the last part of the Underground to see. This is a classic LU design, by prolific and well-loved architect Charles Holden, that opened just before the war in 1938.
This Zone 6 station (about 15 miles to the west-northwest of the center of London) serves both the Metropolitan (big train) and Piccadilly (little train) lines. It is odd to see here that the little train is in the middle track with the high roof, while there are big trains on either side with low roofs! This is primarily Metropolitan Line turf, where there are 8 trains an hour all day (half only to Baker St, half around the top of the Circle to Aldgate). The regular Piccadilly Line service is only one train every 20 minutes.
Cockfosters is the frequently heard funny name at the north end of the Piccadilly Line, that is a 99-minute one-seat ride past 40 stations from Uxbridge.
The station opened in 1933 at the end of the Piccadilly Line extension, adjacent to a new depot in Zone 5. Can you tell that it was designed by the same architect??
Just three stops down the line, Arnos Grove in Zone 4 was the temporary terminal of the line from 1932 to 1933 and is probably the finest example of the modern London Underground architecture of the time. In the cutting below it has three tracks with two island platforms, and some trains still terminate here (during the day, 3 of 21 trains per hour turn back here with the rest going on to Cockfosters).
This is one of the two northern terminals of the Northern Line, High Barnet (you’d better say BARNet, not BAR-NET!). Interestingly, this northernmost station on the Northern Line is south of stations on both the Metropolitan and Central Lines – yet the southern end of the Northern Line at Morden is the southernmost station on the network! Though it opened as a railway in 1872, it didn’t become part of the tube until 1940.
Mill Hill East is a short stub on the High Barnet Branch of the Northern Line, which is typically served by a shuttle every 15 minutes that only goes one stop to Finchley Central (with some peak through trains to Central London). Interestingly, this sleeply single-platform dead-end terminal used to be a through station on the main railway to Edgware. It would still be that on the tube today if it weren’t for the events of September 1939, it seems.
Moving to one of the two other single-track stations (all terminals) on the Underground, the Heathrow Terminal 4 station is on an underground single-track loop that travels under the runways. This odd configuration was added in 1986 to the 1977 Heathrow Central extension, when presumably no one thought there would be further expansion at Heathrow. Of course, 22 years later Terminal 5 opened, along with a new extension from Heathrow Central (T1,2,3) that is separate from the T4 loop, leading to a split service with a train every 10 minutes to T4 and T1,2,3 and every 10 minutes to T1,2,3 and T5 – no, not confusing at all for the world’s busiest international airport!
Rounding out the three, this is Chesham – the most remote point on the Underground that is the furthest north and west that the system goes. Chesham is a small country town with a population of about 21,000 that is about 25 miles northwest of the center of London at Charing Cross. The station is nearly 4 miles from the next one (the longest distance), nearly all of which is single-track. Until the end of 2010 Chesham only had a shuttle train every 30 minutes to that next station, Chalfont and Latimer; but with the introduction of the new fixed-length 8-car S Stock trains there is a through train to Central London, through all 9 zones to Aldgate. The fact that this tiny little place has “underground” service is merely an artifact of history.
I had the chance to ride in a train pulled by this bad boy last September out to Amersham, the other outer terminal of the Metropolitan Line. I even got a personal tour of the loco by its owner, an eccentric British Empire Man who seemed to have made a fortune in the late 80s S&L crisis on Wall Street and never looked back. This was one of the steam locomotives in use to celebrate the Underground’s 150th birthday last year.
Harrow and Wealdstone is the current outer end of the Bakerloo Line, but is just an intermediate stop on the West Coast Main Line, with 6 tracks here (including London Overground local services that share tracks with the Bakerloo, London Midland suburban services, and Virgin Trains intercity services). The real claim to fame, if you can call it that, is the horrendous 1952 crash that killed 112 people. I highly recommend you read the “harrowing” story from the excellent London Reconnections local transit blog – interestingly some of the key first responders were from the US Air Force who were stationed nearby, and African-American nurse Abbey Sweetwine introduced the modern concepts of triage to Britain.
Holy CCTV! This is the platform at West Ruislip, the western end of the Central Line. From here in Zone 6, the trip to the other end of the line (also Zone 6, but having passed through 5-4-3-2-1-2-3-4-5!) is the longest journey on the Underground on one train, about 34 miles, with 35 stations that takes about 83 minutes (so much shorter than Uxbridge to Cockfosters!). West Ruislip is one of ten stations that start with “West” and one of five (all nearby!) stations with “Ruislip” in the name.
Hainault is on the opposite side of the Central Line, on a loop that opened in 1948 on a former railway line, with an appealing sort of art deco / moderne combination look to it. Beyond here only one train every 20 minutes around the last part of the loop, which has the least-used station on the whole network (Roding Valley, with an average of just 575 total passengers per day).
This is Bank Station on the Waterloo & City Line, one of the line’s only two stations (you can call it “City” if you’d like, and I’ll let you guess the other station!). This oddball 1.5-mile shuttle line that opened in 1898 to link mainline railway passengers at Waterloo to the City of London financial district is colloquially known as “The Drain”, and plays an important role in getting bankers to and from their suburban trains.
Finally, last but not least, I had to include a picture of my favorite line – the Victoria Line. The 13.3-mile, 16-station express metro line is fully underground and primarily serves Central London (with 8 stations in Zone 1, 4 stations in Zone 2, and 4 stations in Zone 3 only). It is fast and frequent, with a train every 2.5 minutes almost all the time (most hours 7 days a week) and a peak frequency of 33tph. The other key factor is its excellent cross-platform interchanges at Finsbury Park (with the Piccadilly), Highbury & Islington (with the National Rail route to Moorgate), Euston (with the Northern Line Bank Branch, where the lines travel in opposite directions to go the same ordinal direction), Oxford Circus (with the Bakerloo), and finally Stockwell with the Northern Line’s southern branch to and from Morden. You might be confused because I said that the line was totally underground – well, it is apart from the depot. This shot is the end of the line for the staff train from Seven Sisters station to the depot, which I rode with a work group back in 2012. No regular passengers ever see the light of day from one of these trains!