Best Use the London
The London underground train system is a
great way to travel around central London.
Wherever you are in central
London, there's a Tube station (this is what many Londoners
often call their underground or metro train system) nearby.
Part of a two part
series on London's Underground - see also
How to Find the Best
London Underground Ticket Pricing.
Very frequent trains, and if
you have an unlimited journey Travelcard, very low journey
costs, make the London Underground a great choice when traveling
around the city.
Using the information on this
page, and the related information on how to choose the best
value tickets will make your time and travels in London much
more convenient and affordable.
London Tube Facts and
The London Underground
network is a combination of various formerly independent train
services. The earliest of these was the 'Metropolitan
Railway', running on a four mile section of what is now called
the Bakerloo line, running between Paddington and Farringdon St.
This line first started service on 10 January, 1863.
New lines and new stations
have been continually added, and from time to time, some
stations have also been closed. The most recent addition
to the underground network is an extension to the Jubilee line
from Green Park to Stratford. This ten mile extension took
six years to complete and cost £3.5 billion pounds - a cost of
£66,000 ($120,000) per foot!
In total, there are
currently 275 stations on 12 lines, and 253 miles of route,
mainly double tracked, of which 20 miles are in shallow tunnels
and 93 miles in deep tunnels. More than half the
'underground' track runs above ground (primarily out of the
central city area).
To get between the surface
and the underground stations there are 408 escalators and 112
lifts. The longest escalator is at Angel Station, and is
197 ft long, with a vertical rise of 90 ft. The deepest
lift shaft is at Hampstead, going down 181 ft. The
shortest lift is at Westminster, going down only 8 ft.
The shortest distance
between stations is 0.16 miles (between Leicester Square and
Covent Garden on the Piccadilly line) and the longest distance
is 3.9 miles (between Chesham and Chalfont & Latimer on the
In 2003, 19 million
people made, between them, just under 1 billion journeys on the
a fun version of the famous 'Beck' style map of London's
Underground. Click on this image to open up a copy of the
map, but in anagram format.
And here's another spoof on the Underground, this time joking
about what would happen if Underground stations were sponsored
by commercial organizations, so as to
change their current names to reflect the sponsoring company
And, as further amusement for lovers of trivia, here
is an interesting series of comparable maps of
different subway systems around the world, all shown on the
And here's a wonderful
lots of Tube information and trivia, including a collection
of more silly maps.
Where are Stations
Underground stations are not
always easy to find, and sometimes their signage is subtle
rather than obvious. Stations are closely
spaced in central London, but it is better to know where the station is and then go
directly to it, than to walk aimlessly until you randomly
This is particularly so
because two stations, while close to each other on the street,
might be far apart in terms of being on two different lines with
many stops and changes of line required to travel between them.
Your choice of which station you start your journey from can
make a huge difference to how quickly and easily you can travel
to your destination.
The Two Key Decisions For Any
Many times, when traveling
from one place to another around London, you will have a choice
of stations to start your journey from, and a choice of stations
to end your journey at, with several stations each being a
similar distance from where you actually start and stop your
These different stations
might be on different lines, and so one choice of departure and
arrival stations will give you a
shorter journey time than other choices.
So, when planning
your journey, don't just look for the closest stations to where
you are and where you want to go above ground; consider also the below ground
traveling time implications of your station choices.
How Long Does it Take to
Travel by Tube?
Stations are more closely
spaced in central London than in the outer suburbs, and while
there is a fair amount of variation in distance between
stations, it is possible to use some approximate 'rules of
thumb' for guesstimating how long a journey might take.
Because tube travel times
are not much affected by traffic, travel times are reasonably
consistent and predictable.
Trains generally depart
every 3 or 4 minutes, less frequently at weekends and late at
The total time for a journey
is much more than the minute or two that the train takes from
leaving one station until arriving at the next. You also
have to allow time to travel from the surface down to the
underground area, to walk to your platform, and to wait for your
train, and then to repeat the process back to the surface at the
completion of your journey.
The simplest way of
calculating travel times in central London is this :
Allow ten minutes for your
PLUS two minutes for each
stop the train makes between the start and finish of your
PLUS five minutes every
time you need to change trains
This simple calculation will
usually prove accurate, plus or minus a few minutes.
For slightly more accurate
information, you'll notice at most Tube stations they have maps
of the line that show travel times from that station to other
stations on the same line.
You can also use this
helpful website to calculate very accurate travel times and
details for you.
Accessing Stations - Not
Disabled (or Suitcase) Friendly
Many of the older stations
were constructed long before providing universal disabled access
was mandatory. This means you may find yourself having to
climb up and down several flights of stairs, which is fine if
you're fit and unencumbered, but not so good if you're
struggling with two heavy suitcases or mobility impaired.
Even if there are no stairs,
wheelchair users will find the escalators a problem.
Note that if you are at one
of the few stations with elevators, these are double doored -
you go in through one set of doors and then exit through the
other set of doors on the opposite end.
Squeeze on in and move as
far forward as possible.
If you are using an
escalator, please observe the frequent signs reminding you that
if you're standing on a step, to do so on the right hand side,
so that people in a hurry can walk down (or up!) on the left
Note that if you are
traveling with suitcases (eg to/from Heathrow) you should go
through the manual entry/exit gates rather than through the
automatic ticket barriers.
Using the Underground
You must have an appropriate
ticket for every journey. No rides are free. You
will need to use the ticket to be admitted in through the
automatic barrier gates at the start of your travel and then you
will need to use the ticket a second time to be allowed to leave
through similar gates at the end of your journey.
Most of the time, you'll be
using a ticket with a magnetic stripe. You feed the ticket
in to the gate (through a slot on the right hand pillar) and the
machine reads it to confirm your ticket is valid, and then feeds
it out through a second slot. Take the ticket and go
through the barrier gate (which will open for you when you
remove your ticket).
If your ticket was for a
single journey and you're leaving a station at the end of the
journey, the barrier gate will not return the ticket to you,
because it has now been used up.
Note that you can feed your
ticket into the barrier gate as soon as the person before you
has taken their ticket back. You don't need to wait for
the person to get through the gates and for them to close again.
If you're talking about a
journey on the tube, everyone refers to the different lines by
their name (eg, 'the Bakerloo line', 'the Piccadilly line'), not
by their color or number (the lines are colored, but aren't
numbered, unlike some other cities).
Try and be courteous and
make using the system convenient for everyone. If a train
is crowded, move into the middle of the carriage, even though
this is away from the doors. At the station before your
stop, go with the flow of people toward the exit doors and then
stop by the door, and so when it is your stop, next, you'll be
able to easily exit.
If waiting for a train on
the platform, when the train arrives stand to the side of the
doors to make it easy for passengers to get out of the train
Hours of Operation
This is a more complicated
subject to explain than you might think. Every different
line has slightly different times for when the first and last
trains start and finish operation.
And the start and finish
times vary by station. Obviously the first train that
might start at one end of the line at, eg, 5.30am, will not
arrive at a station six stops down the line until perhaps
5.45am, so the time of the first and last train varies from
station to station.
Generally, most trains start
sometime between about 5.00am - 5.30am Monday to Saturday, and
between 6.30am - 7.30am on Sundays.
This means that stations in
the middle and towards the end of the longer lines might not see
the first train for another 30 - 45 minutes or more.
The last train each night is
about 11.30pm for outlying stations and sometime around 12.30am
- 1.00am for the central stations.
Take the Correct Train
There is an obvious and a
more subtle thing to keep in mind when getting on a train.
The obvious issue is 'Am I
going in the right direction?'. Make sure that the train
you are on is heading in the direction you intend to travel.
Usually trains are described as 'northbound' or 'southbound' (or
east/west), but on the Circle and District lines, this can be a
more complicated issue.
The other issue is to be
sure that the train is actually going where you want to go.
Some platforms have trains for several different lines all
stopping there, and so you'll need to be sure that the train you
need is the train you're getting on.
Even if you're sure the
train you're boarding is on the correct line, there is one
remaining possible problem. While not so much an issue for
travel within Zone 1, if you are traveling further out, be aware
that some of the lines split and branch out in two or more
directions. If your destination is on one part of a split
line, be sure your train is traveling to that side of the line,
not the other side.
A related issue is that not
all trains travel the entire length of the line. Make sure
the train is going as far as you are.
Some Problems and
London's underground system
suffers from being the oldest in the world. Trains are
smaller than you'll find in more modern systems, and the entire
system is somewhat unreliable.
When you first enter a
station, look for a whiteboard type noticeboard that will have
information about any current stoppages or problems. It is
probably fair to say that at any given minute of any day, there
is some sort of problem somewhere on the tube.
Note that the underground
trains do not have toilets on board. Some, but not many,
of the stations might have toilets, and some of these might be
pay toilets rather than free toilets.
The overall system is
carrying more passengers every day than ever before, and so will
sometimes be very crowded - especially if there are delays and
fewer trains than normal are collecting passengers. While
rush hour crowding isn't as bad as in some cities, if you have a
chance to avoid traveling at obvious peak periods, you'll
probably be pleased to spare yourself the experience.
One growing problem on the
underground is the heat. The trains generate heat from
their motors and from the lighting, and all the people also
generate heat (the average person is radiating 600W of heat all
the time). All this heat is gradually warming up the
tunnel walls (which formerly used to soak up the worst of the
summer heat) and so each year sees higher temperatures in mid
and late summer than the previous year.
It is now possible to
sometimes encounter temperatures of 100°F
(38°C) on some lines in mid-summer, and even in mid-winter, you
may find temperatures over 70°F(21°C). Wear layered
clothes so, if sensitive to the heat, you are able to take off
some clothing while on the trains.
Best Price Tickets to Travel on
the London Underground
how to choose the best
value fares on the London Underground in the other part of
this two part series. Using the information in that
article can potentially save you a huge amount of money on your
travels on what can otherwise be one of the most expensive metro
systems in the world.
Related Articles, etc
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4 Jul 2004, last update
21 Jul 2020
You may freely reproduce or distribute this article for noncommercial purposes as long as you give credit to me as original writer.