Dad talked about catching the new Victoria Line when it opened in the late 1960s. He kept one of the new tickets that you put in an automated barrier rather than gave to a guard. Only many people couldn’t get the hang of this technology so the queues rather defeated the idea of automation speeding things up.
When I started working in London I’m the early 1980s, they opened the Jubilee line only they didn’t build much of it, just the stretch from Charing Cross by the river to Baker Street where they rebranded part of the Metropolitan Line. Still there were some new stations across central London to get excited about.
Later, when Canary Wharf was commissioned as London’s answer to New York mahusive trading floors the inadequate public access that was the Docklands Light Railway had to be enhanced and the Jubilee Line Extension was commissioned. It was delayed and over budget and its elongated programming had a part to play in the collapse of Canary Wharf Group into administration – a form of corporate bankruptcy – in the early 1990s. I still remember the first of many negotiations in the Canary Wharf Tower in 1995, looking down on the hole in the ground that eventually became the Canary Wharf station. From 26 floors up it looked small and unremarkable; at ground level it is cathedral sized. We acted for a large American bank who commissioned two towers to house their European Middle Eastern and Asian HQs. The client needed an assurance the tube would be running by the time the first building was occupied. That confirmation wasn’t in Canary Wharf’s gift. It led to several irresolvable standoffs. Eventually there had to be a measure of trust in the British Government that they would complete it. Oddly the Americans took that punt and they were rewarded. Probably the last time that’s happened.
They opened much fanfare, even if on opening the trains couldn’t run as fast as they’d said. The old Metropolitan section was just too old to be capable of handling the speed requirements, without a pretty major rebuild and no one intended taking the line out of action to do that.
That was 25 years ago. A lot of the system was decrepit back then. It shut at weekends for repairs and cleaning . The tonnage of human hair and skin that is dug out each time a piece is serviced would supply several cannibal delis. But a side benefit of the Olympics in 2012 was the need to accelerate the upgrades. No government wants the Olympics bollixed by its transport system. That has paid some dividends since but no doubt we will fall behind again.
And now, in 2022, 4 years late but squeakily close to the Queen’s Jublee – a mistake on some memento plates has it as the Jublee, which is close enough to Lovely Jublee, a well known catch phrase hereabouts – the Elizabeth Line has opened, linking Heathrow and Maidenhead in the west with Shenfield and Abbeywood in the east. It looks very… purple and I’ll have to ride it soon. On the news tonight, a woman from South Carolina travelled especially to enjoy it on its first day.
And I thought we were bonkers…
Train travel in all its many forms is my favourite, though overcrowded fetid tube trains on a sweaty Monday when you share the journey with a tandoori flavoured armpit is well avoided. Maybe it’s a boyhood thing. Maybe it’s the fact that unlike cars and planes the delays are generally far fewer and unlike boats I don’t get sick.
I’m glad we built it as I’m glad we’re building the new train route north and I hope we find the investment to keep improving what we have. Toot toot!
And just to show that we sometimes do neat things around transport here are some murals that line the entrance to Leytonstone Station. Alfred Hitchcock was born in that rather drab bit of east London serviced by the central line. When I saw them back in 2016 (this explains the poorish quality of the pictures) I thought I’d remember more films than I did (I managed six). I wonder how many you might get. The last picture is a list if you need a memory jogger.