In our next entry on the history of the various Tube lines, we explore the history of the Piccadilly Line, which hits some important spots in London from Heathrow Airport to Buckingham Palace. As with many of the Underground’s lines, the Piccadilly Line has its start in the old underground railways that preceded the creation of the London Passenger Transport Board and the London Underground as we know it. From its earliest days at the turn of the 20th century through to the 21st Century, we’ll take you on a journey down the dark blue line of Piccadilly and share its fascinating history.
The Piccadilly Line got its start at the advent of the first electric underground railways in 1906 with the creation of the Great Northern, Piccadilly, and Brompton Railway. This railway itself was actually the merger of two railways that hadn’t been built and were linked with another section between Piccadilly Circus and Holborn. An additional deep-level tube line was added between South Kensington and Earl’s Court to finish the GNP&BR route, with the line first opening in December 1906. At the time, the ridership figures ended up being quite low as they were overtaken by the prior introduction of electric trams and busses.
Not too many years after the line opened, the GNP&BR found itself merged with other electric railways into the London Electric Railway Company in 1910. Also, that year, the line’s station at Earl’s Court had the first escalators installed on any underground line. In 1912, the line got its first extension when it went past Hammersmith to Richmond along the District Railway line. The act granting the extension received Royal Assent in 1913, but the outbreak of World War I caused the construction to be delayed until the 1930s. Around the same time, an extension north past the terminus at Finsbury Park was discussed, and the London Electric Railways Company was absorbed with other Underground lines by the London Passenger Transport Board.
It was with the formation of the London Underground that the railway transformed into the Piccadilly line, with its dark blue color denoting it on the map. A year before, the first extensions opened westward, resulting in the Piccadilly Line splitting into two lines that went to Hounslow West and Uxbridge. During World War II, at least a couple of stations were fitted with blast walls and converted into use by various governing boards. In the decades post-war, the line was further extended northwards to Cockfosters, and in the 1970s, a new extension was made all the way to Heathrow Airport.
The Piccadilly Line experienced its first major tragedy in 1987 when a fire began in the escalator shaft of the line’s still-wooden escalators at King’s Cross Station. Within minutes, flame and smoke billowed out into the ticket hall, resulting in injury or death to nearly everyone there. Thirty-one lives were lost that day, and shortly after, the escalators were rebuilt with metal to prevent another disaster. In 2005, the Piccadilly Line experienced another loss when a suicide bomber detonated on the train between King’s Cross St Pancras and Russell Square as part of the 7/7 terrorist attacks. The attack on the line resulted in the largest number of casualties that day at twenty-six lives lost.
But in spite of these terrible events, the Piccadilly Line celebrated its 100th anniversary in December 2006. A couple of years later, the Piccadilly Line welcomed an extension to Terminal 5 at Heathrow, making it easier for airline passengers to get off their flight and head straight to the heart of the city. Today the Piccadilly Line serves 210 million riders per year, making it the fourth-busiest line in the London Underground.