Welcome to a new series on the histories of each of the London Underground lines. Of course, if we’re going to start anywhere, why not start with the line that began it all? The Metropolitan Line has been around since opening in 1863 and was the first underground transport railway anywhere in the world. This gives the Met the richest history of any public transport in London and on the planet. Join us as we take you on a journey through the history of the Metropolitan Line and kick off a fantastic new series on Londontopia.
The Metropolitan Line began as the Metropolitan Railway, a goods and services railway that went from the city’s heart to the Middlesex suburbs. With the advent of the Industrial Revolution, more and more people flocked to London from the countryside looking for work, growing the city exponentially. This, of course, also led to a massive amount of traffic and the need for new railways that helped carry people into the city. As Parliament searched for a solution, Charles Pearson became the champion of an underground railway, succeeding in the passage of the North Metropolitan Railway Act in 1854.
The next several years were spent raising funds for the railway’s construction which began in 1860. Construction used the “cut and cover” method, where a shallow trench was dug and then covered over. During construction, several accidents befell the line, including a Greater Northern Railway train running off the uncompleted tracks in 1860; in 1861 the excavation in Euston collapsed the tunnel and caused damage to surrounding buildings, and in 1862 a sewer burst flooded excavations of the tunnel. Construction finished towards the Spring of 1862 after costing a total of £1.3 million. The first trip across the entire line then took place in May 1862.
The coming of the new year marked the opening of the Met to the public, and the new transportation line was an immediate success. The original line was only 3.75 miles and ran from Paddington to Farrington Road, but the success meant the line quickly expanded to St. Pancras and Moorgate Street. The Met’s management didn’t see themselves as a commuter railway originally but a major competitor for the more traditional railway lines. Only ten years after opening, the Metropolitan Line expanded out to Hammersmith, Kensington, and South Kensington. The lines continued to shift as new underground railways were introduced to the city and the London Underground came to be more of a travel service between the suburbs and the city.
The 20th Century saw a number of changes to the line, including the introduction of electricity in 1900, though this was halted during World War II, and steam locomotives ran on the Metropolitan until 1961. In 1933, the Met was consolidated with all the other Underground railways to form the London Passenger Transport Board, officially changing its name from Metropolitan Railway to the Metropolitan Line. This effectively shut the door on the Met becoming a major railway in its own right, and as Greater London expanded further through the next few decades, new fast-service lanes were added to reach even deeper into the London suburbs.
In 1988, the East London and Hammersmith & City Lines split off to form their own branches of the Tube. Some parts of the line were privatized into a public-private partnership with Metronet in 2003, but that only lasted four years until Metronet went into administration (a process similar to bankruptcy in the US) in 2007 and Transport for London took full control once again. Today the Metropolitan Line runs all the way from Aldgate to Chesham in Buckinghamshire. Approximately 54 million riders use it every year, proving that the oldest of the Underground’s lines is still one of its most popular.