The Waterloo & City Line has the notorious distinction of being the shortest of the Underground lines in London. It’s so short, in fact, that it only goes between two stations (Waterloo and Bank) with no stops. Its name, coupled with its status as a glorified shuttle train, has earned it the nickname “The Drain” since it flushes commuters down the Tube to one station or the other. The Waterloo & City Line can be found on the Underground map thanks to its turquoise color and is just under 1.5 miles long. You wouldn’t think such a short railway would have much in the way of history, but that’s where you would be wrong. Join us as we examine the long and short of the Waterloo & City Line’s history.
The line’s history begins in 1864 with the proposal of a pneumatic railway dubbed “The Waterloo and Whitehall Railway” that would run between Waterloo and Great Scotland Yard. Work began in 1865 with great enthusiasm, but the overall cost proved to be too much, and the project was ultimately abandoned by 1868. Thirteen years later, another project was promoted called the Waterloo and City Railway, which would have been an overground line to Queen Street, but that project also floundered when the cost was projected to be £2.3 million. The third try was the charm, however, and the Waterloo & City Railway Bill was introduced in 1891 with financial backing from the London & South Western Railway at a cost of roughly £500,000.
Progress on the bill was slow-going, though, and the London County Council objected to the proposed railway, concerned that the Tube line would be too small and wanting instead a mainline terminus the size of Waterloo under Bank. Ultimately, the bill received Royal Assent in 1893, and the construction of the Waterloo & City Line began the next year in 1804. Using a tunneling shield system, it took approximately four years to construction the railway line. A new station was constructed under the overground Waterloo Station with arches to support its upstairs neighbor, while the opposite terminus was constructed in the heart of the city and known as City. The name of the station would later change to Bank around 1940.
Waterloo & City Line opened to passengers on August 8, 1898, and proved to be an almost immediate success with the business commuters who put the line at capacity at the beginning and end of the day (also referred to as “the rush”). It proved so popular that more cars were ordered in the next year and put into service in 1900. By 1906, the London & South Western Railway purchased the W&CL and began operating it. As the line was owned by one of the big railway companies, it was not absorbed into the London Underground in 1933 when the London Passenger Transport Board was formed. The line continued to operate independently of the Underground until 1994, after which it was operated by the Central Line.
In the 21st Century, Waterloo & City Line experienced a refurbishment in 2006 when the Londoner Underground was partially managed by Metronet. While the train doesn’t normally run on Sundays, this changed for the 2012 Olympics to help with the capacity increase during the games. In the late 2010s, Bank Station got its own upgrade that tied its entrance into Bloomberg’s London headquarters. Come 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic shut the line down for a total of fifteen months due to lockdowns and the decreased demand for the service. The Waterloo & City Line came back into operation in June 2021 and remains an integral commuter train for workers returning to their offices.