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London Regional Transport Business Information, Profile, and History

underground railway line buses

55 Broadway
London SW1H 0BD
United Kingdom

History of London Regional Transport

London Regional Transport, more generally known as London Transport (LT), has a statutory duty in the United Kingdom to provide passenger transport--mainly bus and underground railway service--within Greater London. LT is the holding corporation for three wholly-owned subsidiaries: London Buses Limited, London Underground Limited, and Victoria Coach Station.

London Transport considers 1933 as its formal date of incorporation, but some of the original routes of its bus and underground lines were developed in the 19th century. The bus lines evolved first. Horse-drawn coaches (which had originated in France) were introduced in London in 1829. The first route of the omnibus, as it was called, was set up between Paddington and the Bank by an English coachbuilder named George Shillibeer. The service was such a success that soon several new companies followed Shillibeer's lead.

The omnibus, which looked like a small stagecoach, was much like the bus of today in that it traveled set routes whether it was full or not so that passengers did not have to reserve a seat in advance. Later, benches were added to the top of the coach, making room for even more passengers. After a business slump in the 1850's, a French company called the London General Omnibus Company (LGOC) took over most of the independent companies. By 1856 LGOC operated 600 of the 810 buses in London and had become the largest omnibus operator in the world.

Tramways, which had originated in the United States, were introduced to London in 1861, some 30 years after they first began travelling the streets of cities like New York and New Orleans. A tramcar rode on iron rails and was pulled by a pair of horses. In 1861, a short-lived effort with horse trams ended after protruding tram rails proved to be too dangerous to other traffic. A decade later, trams returned after builders learned to sink the rails parallel to the ground. In 1870, horse tram service began operations between Brixton Station and Kennington Church, and also between Bow Church and Whitechapel Church. Through the years, battery-powered, electric and motorized trams ran in London. The last year of operation for any type of tram was 1952.

The next major development in transportation in the city was the forerunner to modern subway systems. The underground--LT's second, enduring mode of rapid transit--developed during the middle of Queen Victoria's reign. Because street congestion was such a serious problem for Londoners, one company proposed building an underground railway between existing above-ground railway stations and the downtown. Parliament approved the idea and the first underground line in London--and the first in the world--opened in 1863 between Paddington and Farrington Street (now a part of LT's Hammersmith Line). Despite dire predictions from the press, the innovation--the Metropolitan Railway--enjoyed immediate success with its steam-driven trains running just below ground level. To prevent the train's steam from filling the tunnel, the train engine was equipped with a special device which condensed much of the steam back to water. An additional line was built by Metropolitan in 1865, extending service to Moorgate. By 1875 the line went as far as Liverpool Street. Roughly 20 months later, the line reached Aldgate.

The booming underground railway business in London attracted entrepreneurs as demand for this new service grew. In 1868, the Metropolitan District Railway Company (often referred to as the District Railway) opened a route between Westminster and Gloucester Road. That same year, the St. John's Wood Railway Company joined the fray, opening a line between Baker Street and Swiss Cottage. A year later, Metropolitan merged with St. John's after a route was built to West Hampstead and Willesden Green. By 1880 it had reached Harrow-on-the-Hill. Underground railway company operators also expanded outside of London. The main difference was that, once service was extended beyond the city proper, railways were constructed over ground.

While the steam trains beneath London's streets eased the city's traffic dilemmas, the actual construction of the deep, wide pits required for extending the line created severe disruptions. In those days, the projects involved the 'cut and cover' method of construction. A huge gouge would be made in the earth and once work was completed, the displaced earth would be shoved back into the hole. Whenever the planned route deviated from the street, demolition of existing buildings would have to take place.

The next major development in underground transportation came in 1890 when the first electric, deep-level 'tube' railway opened in London. This project involved tunnelling as opposed to the old 'cut and cover' method. Tunnelling was possible because of three key developments. A technique for deep tunnelling was devised; a method of vertical transport to bring passengers to and from the railways; and a nonpolluting power source was found that could be used safely in the tunnels. Measuring about 3.25 miles in length, the first tube was developed by the City & South London Railway and ran between King William Street and Stockwell. (This is now part of London Transport's Northern Line.) The name 'tube' came from the tunnels' cylindrical shape. Passengers entered and exited the trains using hydraulically operated elevators. As with previous transportation innovations, the idea of deep-level underground rail was soon copied. Between 1898 and 1907, six new lines were opened, each operated by a different business. One route, which still exists, is the Bakerloo, built by Americans to serve Baker Street and Waterloo.

A new business incorporated in 1902 came to dominate public transportation in the London area. The Underground Electric Railways Company, more commonly known as the Underground Group, was shrewdly managed by Albert Stanley, and later Lord Ashfield. Under this corporation's control was the bulk of London's transport industry including the District Railway, the Bakerloo, Piccadilly and Hampstead, and the London United Tramways Company. The only major line left independent was the Metropolitan. In 1903, the Metropolitan and District underground companies began converting their steam-driven system to electricity.

The Metropolitan was the only railway to become involved in land development. The growth of public transportation allowed an increasing number of people to live a distance away from their place of work. By the turn of the century, new housing estates had appeared on railway property close to stations such as Wembley Park and Pinner. Metropolitan even came up with 'Metro-land,' to publicize the districts served by the railway and an attempt to cash in on the expected post-WWI housing boom. Metro-land was billed as an unspoiled Nirvana for people living in inner London. The romantic image was conveyed in numerous publicity materials--'Metro-land, London's nearest countryside ... charm and peace await you. Those who visit it for the first time are enchanted by its beauty and never lose their love for it.'

The love and romance did not exist among the competing transportation lines. The symbol of today's London Transport--the red circle with the horizontal bar--was introduced by the LGOC in 1905. The turn of the century also brought the introduction of motorized vehicles. By 1910, the first dependable motor buses appeared on London's streets. Developed by the LGOC, early motor buses looked much like stagecoaches without horses. They were painted bright red (a color which has come to symbolize London buses and remains to this date) and held 34 passengers. In 1912, the LGOC was acquired by the Underground Group. The buses gradually evolved into London's familiar double-decker. In 1925, the top decks were approved by the government. By 1930, driver's cabs were enclosed. LGOC buses became the preferred method of mass transit with statistics indicating that, after 1923, they carried more passengers than trams or the underground.

Between the world wars, the underground railway extended to Ealing Broadway. By 1924 it reached Edgware. Two years later service was in Morden. Picadilly extended to Uxbridge, Cockfosters, and the District to Upminster in 1932-33. The Underground Group opened its headquarters at 55 Broadway in Westminster in 1929, the present site of LT's office. In 1933, the London Passenger Transport Board was incorporated, merging the Underground Group and the Metropolitan Railway. Under the LPTB were more than 170 bus, railway, tram, coach and trolleybus (introduced in London in 1931) systems. Lord Ashfield retained power, serving as the group's first chairman. Frank Pick, the old Underground Group's managing director, was chosen vice chairman and chief executive.

During World War II, the underground was, in effect, called into service. Civilians often fled to underground stations during air raids, just as they had during the First World War. The railways adapted to the influx, often having bunk beds and food available for the people driven there. Five miles of an unfinished tunnel extension was turned into an underground aircraft component factory. The British Museum even stored some of its treasures in the Aldwych branch. The city was bombed every night for seven weeks, and then intermittently until May 1941. In 1944-45 a second prolonged assault took place using Hitler's infamous 'Buzz Bombs.' More than 15,000 civilians were killed, including 426 LT staff. Countless more were injured or homeless, or both.

The British government had taken over the LPTB system during the war and then, in 1948, LT and other main line railways were nationalized. The LPTB became the London Transport Executive, part of the British Transport Commission. Fifteen years later in 1963, the London Transport Board was formed, eliminating the London Transport Executive. The new body was required to report to the Minister of Transport.

LT passenger totals were never again as high as they were in the late 1940s. More people came to rely on private transportation. Between 1950 and 1965, the number of private cars licensed in the London Transport area quadrupled. The increased traffic on the roads led to congestion, making daytime bus service less reliable and encouraging even more travellers to turn to private transport. Another technological advance also had an effect on ridership. Television began to dominate the entertainment scene. More and more, people were staying at home instead of boarding the bus to enjoy an evening out. This in addition to the Green Belt planning legislation which preserved an undeveloped band of countryside around London, combined to slow the need for further rail expansion.

It wasn't until 1968-69 that the first new underground line since 1907 was constructed. Named the Victoria Line, it ran on advanced automatic controls and served the route between Walthamstow Central to Highbury and Islington. It provided a direct West End link for north-east and south London as well as a rapid crosstown connection between four of the main line railroad terminals. When it was introduced, the Victoria Line was the most advanced underground railway in the world.

The Heathrow Central Line began operations in 1977. This made London the first capital city to have underground service to its international airport. Two years later, the Jubilee Line was opened for business. Its route ran north to southeast through central London.

In 1984, London Regional Transport was created. Regulations now state LT is responsible to the Secretary of State for Transport. A year later, London Buses Limited and London Underground Limited were named operating subsidiaries of the London Regional Transport.

In 1987 self-service ticket machines were installed systemwide. In 1988, LT acquired Victoria Coach Station, London's main bus terminal for longer distance bus travel, located on Buckingham Palace Road. About 150 staff members assist the station's annual 10 million passengers. (Note: LT does not operate the buses using this terminal.) London Regional Transport became known as London Transport for all but legal purposes in 1990.

London Underground Limited employs about 21,000 persons, and maintains nearly 500 trains (traveling approximately 20.5 mph) which serve 250 stations. Eleven lines (e.g., Central, Jubilee) carry about 2.7 million customers each day. About 5,000 buses carry nearly 4 million passengers each day. The present chairman of LT is Wilfrid Newton. He is also chairman of London Underground Limited.

Automobiles, one of the primary factors that first brought about such a sharp decrease in the number of passengers using mass transportation, could ironically also prove to be the singularly most important item in bringing mass transportation to greater popularity than it has ever known. The number of automobiles on the roads leads to ever-increasing congestion. Traffic jams lead to added driver frustration which leads to the search for alternative methods of transportation. LT is looking at ways of diminishing traffic jams and the ever-increasing anxieties of the commuter. The obvious response to congestion is to build more roads. To many, that is an unpalatable response. During the past 15-20 years, public pressure has grown against proposals for major road schemes through areas that are already felt to be over-built in and around London. Alternative ways of meeting the demand for transportation are being looked at and light rail has become more and more attractive.

Light rail cars utilize tracks either on the streets or on their own private way. One light rail car can hold up to 250 people, double the number a bus can hold. Rather than be affected by traffic, the light rail passengers will move through it with priority at signals and segregated tracks. In an era when environmental factors are increasingly important, there are other things to consider--there are no fumes to damage the urban environment and the vehicles are extremely quiet. Light rail projects continue to be studied. One area under consideration is Croydon, southeast of central London, where a proposed Supertram network would connect East Croydon and New Addington.

Principal Subsidiaries: London Buses Limited, London Underground Limited, and Victoria Coach Station.

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