30 Interesting Facts About The London Underground

London Underground facts

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Last Updated on January 17, 2022 by London City Calling

Brushing up on your London Underground trivia? With over 150 years of history, there’s certainly no shortage of fascinating London Underground facts and stories. These are a few of my favourite facts about the London Underground…

30 Interesting Facts About The London Underground

London has the Oldest Underground System in the World

Opened on 10th January 1863, the London Underground is the oldest transport system of its kind in the world.

It was originally called the Metropolitan Railway.

The first trains ran between Paddington and Farringdon, with 6 stops in between.

The First London Underground Trains were Powered by Steam

When it first opened, the only trains running on the London underground were steam-powered. Despite special pipes to condense the exhaust steam, smoke was a big problem within the tunnels and stations.

In 1890, the London underground began its move to electric trains.

Steam locomotives still ran on the Metropolitan line right up until 1961.

‘The Tube’ is short for ‘The Twopenny Tube’

One of my personal favourite facts about the London Underground is that ‘The Tube’ is an abbreviation of ‘The Twopenny Tube’. This was a nickname given to the Central Line by the press in the early 1900s because all fares cost a tuppence (two pennies).

There’s Cockney Rhyming Slang for the Underground

In Cockney Rhyming Slang, the London Underground is known as the Oxo Cube (Tube).

There are 272 Stations on the London Underground

The London Underground has 272 stations, 11 lines and 250 miles (400 km) of track.

More than 50% of the Underground Runs Overground 

Despite being an underground network, over half of London Underground stations are overground and only 45% of the network is actually in tunnels.

The Victoria and Waterloo and City are the only lines that are wholly underground.

The Central Line has the most tube stations with no surface buildings.

Fewer than 10% of Underground Stations are South of the River Thames

There are 241 stations north of the River Thames but only 31 to the south. So why is this?

When the network was first being built, there was far more opportunity for development north of the river. At this time, suburban railways were already providing adequate transport routes south of the river, meaning there would be more competition for these first private tube companies.

The Map Design was Based on a Circuit Board

Harry Beck, the designer of the London underground map, based his design on an electrical circuit diagram. It was originally deemed too radical as it wasn’t geographically accurate, but went on to become the iconic symbol of London still used today. In fact, the underground map was voted a national design icon in 2006.

1.35 Billion Passengers Ride the Underground Every Year

Over 1.35 billion use the London Underground every year. That’s around 3.5 million people per day.

While it may not feel like it for those who have ever been stuck on the tube at rush hour, London doesn’t even make it into the top 10 busiest metro systems in the world. Cities including Shanghai, Tokyo, and Moscow see roughly twice the annual footfall that London does.

London Underground Busy

Waterloo is the Busiest Underground Station

Waterloo Station sees over 100 million passengers pass through it every year, making it the busiest station on the London Underground.

Kings Cross, Oxford Circus, and Victoria stations follow closely behind.

Canary Wharf is the busiest single line station.

The Least Used Station is Roding Valley

Roding Valley on the Central Line is the least used station on the London Underground network, with around 360,000 passengers per year.

The Shortest Distance Between Two Stations is 0.3km

The distance between Covent Garden and Leicester Square on the Picadilly Line is a mere 0.3km. This is around a 3-minute walk above ground.

A mistake that many first time visitors to London make is jumping on the underground for every journey when it’s actually quicker to walk many shorter routes.

The Furthest Distance Between Two Stations is 6.3km

Chesham to Chalfont & Latimer on Metropolitan Line sit 6.3km apart. That’s is the furthest distance between two stations on the London Underground network. You won’t want to walk that one!

Five Underground Stations are Named after Pubs

Angel, Royal Oak, Elephant & Castle, Manor House and Swiss Cottage stations were all named after popular pubs nearby, not the other way around. Londoners really love their pubs after all.

Many Stations are Built on Top of Mass Graves From the Plague

Yep, you read that correctly. Many sections of the London Underground network had to be built above or around plague pits.

There are believed to be over 1,000 corpses underneath Aldgate Station. And in 2015, over three thousand skeletons were unearthed under Liverpool Street Station. Try not to think about that one when you’re travelling on the tube late at night.

Many London Underground Stations are Haunted

With its 150+ year history, it’s no surprise that the London Underground has its fair share of ghost stories. Many creepy and unexplainable goings-on have been reported by both staff and passengers on the network.

Some of the most haunted underground stations in London include:

  • Liverpool Street – strange happenings and figures believed to be the ghosts of plague victims from the mass grave
  • Bethnal Green – screaming women and crying children, thought to be the ghosts of the many who died in stampede when the station was doubling as an air raid shelter during WW11
  • Bank – bad smells, sense of dread and sighting of a sinister black figure known as the Black Nun, who walks the tunnels mourning her executed brother who worked at the old bank
  • Covent Garden – a tall man in a hat and a cloak wandering the corridors of the station at night, beleieved to be actor William Terriss who was murdered in 1897

There are 49 Disused ‘Ghost’ Stations in London

Talking of ghosts, there are 49 disused ‘ghost’ underground stations in London. The majority of these stations were closed due to low passenger numbers or re-routes.

Many stations were fully abandoned and remain completely derelict today. However, some have been given new purposes. Historic Aldwych station is now used as a filming location for many TV shows and movies, and on occasion can be visited by the public on an organised Hidden London tour. There’s also a unique Mission Breakout escape room in the abandoned South Kentish Town station in Camden.

 Only 5 Babies Have Been Born on the Tube

With billions of people using the tube each year, it’s a rather surprising London Underground fact that only five babies have ever officially been born on the tube network.

The first-ever London Underground birth happened at Elephant and Castle in 1924, while the other four took place a lot more recently in the 2000s.

Although, former chat show host Jerry Springer also claims that his mother gave birth to him at Highgate tube station in 1944 when many stations were being used as air-raid shelters during the Blitz. So there could in fact be many more undocumented tube births during this time.

The London Underground was the First Public Transport Network to Introduce Contactless Payment

Contactless bank card payments were introduced on the London Underground in 2014. It was the first public transport system in the world to do so.

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Interesting facts about the London Underground
London City Calling

Emily is a born and raised London girl, starting life in the north of the capital then moving down to Fulham in the southwest. She has a master’s degree in Social and Cultural Anthropology from University College London and now works full-time running this blog and as a freelance travel writer, splitting her life between London and travelling the world as a digital nomad.

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