Freelance travel writer and Policy Adviser for the UK government living in Brixton. View my blog www.my-big-fat-carbon-footprint.blogspot.com for ethical and budget travel inspiration
Published March 2nd 2013
The sleekest, smoothest transportation in the capital
London is riddled with underground rivers, passageways and railways. The tube transports 1107 million passengers every year, which puts a huge amount of strain on the subterranean public transport network.
Not all tubes were created equal however, but I feel that as it's the 150th year since its conception in 1863, we should celebrate those that help out London's inhabitants. The tube that was founded in 1863 now forms parts of the Circle, the Hammersmith and City Lines and the Metropolitan lines. Tube stations have been open, closed, bulldozed and refurbished. It's not uncommon to see a building that looks like a tube station operating as a high street coffee chain or a newly renovated apartment block. It all adds to the constantly evolving city that makes London so exciting to live in.
Understandably for a tube network that boasts the third largest network after Shanghai and Beijing, some journeys (especially during the summer months) can be pure torture. The London Underground is yet to develop air-conditioned carriages, and it's not uncommon to see beautiful made-up women necking out of the tiny windows at the end of either carriages trying to avoid the inevitable make-up slide as perspiration levels increase.
As 'Transport for London' expands, so does its choice of vessels. Commuters can now travel to work by tube, bus, train, tram, riverboat and cable car. The latter, funded by Emirates, is used by only 19 commuters per month and runs at a significant loss: the same journey takes only 2 minutes to complete by tube and comes in at around £4 less expensive.
So what tube lines have Londoners rolling their eyes in despair, and which make the commute less painful?
Top tube lines:
1. Ok, so the orange Overground East London Line has to win hands-down. Though not 'technically' a tube (although for a piece of useless trivia the Overground runs below the tube line at Whitechapel) it has provided relief for all of those living south of the river. The South London extension mean that finally people living in Dulwich and Forest Hill can pretend that they live at the epicentre of cool by being joined up to an Overground line that runs all the way to cooler than thou Hackney.
Many of the trains are driverless and the new fleet of carriages has air-conditioning. The lines are smooth and are dog, cycle and pushchair friendly-to the joy of the large Golden Retriever that travels frequently between Surrey Quays and New Cross, there is idiomatically room to swing a cat. With the exception of the East London Line on Saturday nights, I have never been pushed for space on the Overground lines and getting a seat has never been a real issue. Best of all, the lines connect places that it's actually fun to visit, from late nights in Dalston to vintage furniture shopping in Highbury and Islington.
2. The Victoria line. This gets top marks purely for frequency. At no point are you ever left waiting at a Victoria Line tube station. I get on at Pimlico and there is always a train. The frequency is obscene compared to some lines (say the district). You can expect a train ever 2 minutes at normal running hours. Even at reduced working hours, the trains are at most 6 minutes apart.
I know a lot of people who complain about the tubes on the Victoria Line being smelly and crammed: the plus side is that you are unlikely to be on the train for very long as they are so speedy. They run through the centre of London running from affluent Highbury all the way to alternative Brixton and Stockwell: a true vivisection of London society. Best of all, everyone alights at Victoria so if you're going past that there will be a guaranteed seat.
3. Jubilee. This nomination is mainly for the fact that I just love Westminster Tube station. The stations along the Jubilee Line all have pretty sleek finishes: anywhere that manages to get a door to open at the same time and the same place as when the carriage door slides open earns my vote. Westminster Station looks like (and I'm sure this was intentional, given what's above it) it was built to withstand nuclear explosions.
Grey pillars metres wide prop up craterous ceilings and escalators propel you up to the top floors with little hassle. I'm certain that the swishness of the Jubilee Line is totally down to the fact that it whisks customers between the centre of the British Government and one of the world's most influential financial centres in Canary Wharf. Nevertheless, it's a good line.
And the worst?
Oh the district line is so useful but so awful. Discovering that your friend's new job requires a trip on the district line in order to make after work cocktails is always met by a little inward groan. The trains are rattly, uncomfortable, hot and stuffy. There are frequent delays, and, like the escalators at my local, are almost always 'under construction'.
That said, there's a chance that the District Line relies on karma, so as it's the most useful (it stretches all the way from Ealing to Upminster) I won't criticise it too much. It's old, it's over-used, but like every line in London, it gets the job done, and we don't thank the tube enough!