London Underground turned 150 years old last week. That’s older than most African sovereign states. Over one seventh of the world’s population travels on the transport network every year – 1.1 billion journeys in fact. For a country whose population is roughly 70 million, that’s astonishing.
Over the years, the aptly nicknamed Tube has transformed from lumbering steam locomotives to electric cattle carriages. Classic wooden interiors gave way to stucco-style plastic sweatboxes.
Yet, for all its foibles where else in the world can you catch a train roughly every two minutes.
It’s an astonishing feat of engineering, gusto and patience. There is nothing quite like the Tube, from the people who ride it, to the trains which rumble along its platforms.
It’s provided refuge, warmth, death and tragedy, but no matter what happens on it, to it or in its labyrinth of tunnels, it’s a unique microcosm of humankind.
London is truly multicultural; perhaps the only city in the world that has grasped the concept so solidly and lovingly. Providing the world’s people a transport system so extensive is no mean task and to think, it began when mankind was still without electricity, computers, mechanical engineering or oil.
Could you imagine what people must have felt like when the Metropolitan Line rolled by for the first time? “There’s a train. Underground.” Those who ventured deep under London must have marvelled at the concept and wondered just what the future held.
The Future Is Automated
Fast forward a century-and-a-half and the lifeblood of London ferries people to work at a rate of roughly 4 million people a day. Its rate of expansion gives no indication it’s going to slow down any time soon.
The result is an ‘only-on-the-Tube’ mentality found nowhere else in society. Many have poetically summarised the experience of a rush hour crush, and not the romantic kind.
Personal space is non-existent, decency is an alien term and patience is tried to mammoth lengths.
Pit-to-face throngs of people, never looking and never talking, line the lines. It’s the only transport system that completely debunks the car. You can get anywhere in London with the Tube (granted you stay north of the River Thames).
It’s a circulation system which looks complex to strangers, but to regulars is as warm as the musty air that ventilates its corridors.
Anyone who’s travelled on the Tube is part of a special club; if you commute on it, even more exclusive. It cannot be described, explained or revealed just what effect it has on this select group of people.
Put simply, it is a wonder of the modern world and it’s extremely sad that the world will unlikely see such innovation for many years to come.
All that’s left to say is Happy Birthday you rickety, loveable, disgustingly rude piece of epic crap. Here’s to another 150 years.