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Puget Sound Transportation Projects

Special Projects: London Underground

In April of 2008 I attended training outside of London for work. Because of how the trip scheduling worked out, we were able to spend a couple days in London. With only having a car for the classes and with the fees and traffic to travel into Central London (including the congestion fee), we made great use of the extensive London Underground system.

Paddington Station

Upon arriving at Heathrow we took the Heathrow Express to Paddington Station. From there we went to our hotel (a short 4-5 block walk away). This was our base of operations for the next couple days. Most of our travels around Central London took place on the Circle line, although we also used the Piccadilly and Central Lines at times.

Trains were fast and comfortable. I don’t believe we had to wait more than a few minutes for a train. The tunnels and stations, while serviceable, were old. This is to be expected, since this was the world’s first subway system. Most interchange stations were color coded and easy to move through. Once you were in the system you could go anywhere.

We were able to use an all-day pass to travel around the system. This was similar to the all day passes available on Tri-Met and the Skytrain, and better than the 1 ticket per ride system used on the Paris Metro and with Sound Transit’s Link. Costs were far less than driving and parking. All major attractions and locations were easily accessible via one or more of the train lines.

Many sections of the Circle line were actually cut and cover tunnels; however the deeper lines (such as the Central line) were bored tunnels. All were brick lined, as were the stations. Nothing felt or appeared unsafe, just old.

One interesting thing was taking the Piccadilly line from Heathrow and back, as much of the line is aboveground, not something I expected in an “underground” system. The line received heavy usage. We got on a train at Piccadilly Circus Saturday evening and had to crush on board.

As with my experience with the Paris Metro and even the Seattle/Central Link having access to a good rail system inside a major city makes it much easier to do business, work, and travel around the city. London’s system uses many good ideas, especially in the interchanges between lines, that should be studied for future systems.


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London Underground - April 2008 from Ben Brooks on Vimeo.

Pictures and video © Ben Brooks