Metropolitan Railway

Metropolitan Railway
Construction of the Metropolitan Railway close to King's Cross station in 1861

The Metropolitan Railway (MetR) was the first underground railway to be built in London, creating the world's first metro system.



[v · d · e]Metropolitan Main line
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Jubilee Line
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To Circle Line
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Urban tunnel station on track + Hub
Urban station on track + Hub
Baker Street Bakerloo roundel1.PNG Circle roundel1.PNG H&c roundel.PNG Jubilee roundel1.PNG
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London to Aylesbury Line (to Marylebone station)
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Wembley Park Jubilee roundel1.PNG
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Urban End station Urban straight track Straight track
Stanmore (1932-1939)
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Preston Road (1908-1932)
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Preston Road (1932-)
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Northwick Park
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Harrow-on-the-Hill National Rail
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Uxbridge Piccadilly roundel1.PNG (1938-)
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North Harrow
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Northwood Hills
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Moor Park
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Watford Curve
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Rickmansworth National Rail
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Chorleywood National Rail
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Chalfont & Latimer National Rail
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Amersham National Rail
Dates relate to Metropolitan Railway operations        

The first railways to be built in the United Kingdom were constructed in the early 19th century. By 1850 there were 7 separate railway termini located in the London area: London Bridge, Euston, Paddington, King's Cross, Shoreditch, Waterloo and Fenchurch Street. Only Fenchurch Street was located within the City of London itself. London had also seen a large increase in road traffic congestion in this period. This was due in part to the fact that most people travelling to London by rail had to complete their journeys into the city centre by cab or omnibus.

Coat of arms of the Metropolitan Railway

The concept of an underground railway linking the City of London with the mainline termini had first been proposed in the 1830s. But it was not until the 1850s that this idea was taken seriously. Charles Pearson, Solicitor to the City of London, was a leading promoter of several of these schemes. He helped set up the City Terminus Company in 1852 to build such a railway, but neither Parliament nor the City of London Corporation was willing to fund it. The Bayswater, Paddington and Holborn Bridge Railway Company was more successful. In January 1853 it held its first directors' meeting and appointed John Fowler as its engineer.[1] Parliamentary approval for their "North Metropolitan Railway" project was secured in the summer of 1853. They soon acquired the City Terminus Company and came to an agreement with the Great Western Railway whereby the GWR would help fund the scheme provided that a junction was created with its Paddington terminus. In 1854 an Act of Parliament was passed approving the construction of an underground railway between Paddington and Farringdon Street via King's Cross, renaming the line the Metropolitan Railway. Construction finally began in February 1860, by which time Pearson had persuaded the City of London Corporation to give money to the project.

The construction of the line encountered its fair share of problems. Fowler's use of the "cut-and-cover" method caused massive traffic disruption in north London and during the work the Fleet Sewer burst into the diggings and flooded the partially built tunnels. This is not to mention the number of buildings that had to be demolished on the surface. However the railway eventually opened to the public on 10 January 1863. In its first few months of operation, an average of 26,500 passengers used the line every day.[2] Pearson did not live to see the completion of the project. He died in September 1862. But his hard work and perseverance during his lifetime ensured that the Metropolitan Railway would be the start and not an end of underground railway building in London.

Initially the railway was worked using GWR broad-gauge rolling stock. But in August 1863, after massive disagreement between the two companies, the MetR found itself having to work the line. With assistance from the Great Northern Railway this was achieved using standard gauge rolling stock: the broad gauge was removed in 1869.

By the turn of the century the MetR had its foot in both the main-line and in the underground system for London. On 1 July 1913 the Metropolitan Railway bought the Great Northern and City Railway, which ran from Moorgate to Finsbury Park.[3]

Line openings

West and Central London

Metropolitan Railway steam locomotive number 23, one of only two surviving locomotives from the world's first underground railway, is preserved at London's Transport Museum

The MetR began extending into West London and further into the City:

  • Hammersmith and City Railway: this first extension to the MetR was also brought about in cooperation with the GWR; the section between Westbourne Park and Edgware Road, giving access to the MetR, was already the property of the GWR and was constructed without Parliamentary sanction. Although the through line opened in 1864 some stations opened later:
  • 1 July 1864 Curve from Latimer Road to Uxbridge Road station on the West London Railway
  • City extension: by 1864 the District (see below) had been sanctioned, and the MetR gradually extended its City line from Farringdon Street to meet it:
    • 23 December 1865: to Moorgate Street (now Moorgate)
    • 12 July 1875: to Bishopsgate (now Liverpool Street)
    • 18 November 1876: to Aldgate, with an impressive terminus there.


Locomotive 67, a Kodak circular snapshot from between 1890 and 1900

Shortly after its west and central London extensions MetR began expansion to the north and north-west. Railways always had a great deal of influence on the areas through which they ran, not least in this case. In the 1920s the term Metro-land was coined by the MetR's marketing department: advertisements extolling the benefits of healthy and bracing air and a train service unequalled for frequency and rapidity ... to and from the City without change of carriage appeared; and the railway provided a broad-sheet for House Seekers. Shortly after World War I estates were being laid out (at Neasden, Wembley Park, Pinner and Rickmansworth), and places such as Harrow Garden Village came into existence. John Betjeman was a great follower of this form of suburbia and made a celebrated television documentary called Metro-land in 1973.

The official opening train at Ruislip station on 30 June 1904.
  • Branch extensions
    • 4 July 1904: westwards from Harrow to Uxbridge
    • 4 November 1925: northwards from Moor Park to Croxley and Watford
    • 10 December 1932: northwards from Wembley Park to Kingsbury, Canons Park (originally with the suffix "(Edgware)"), and Stanmore
  • Progressive line quadrupling
    • Quadrupling of the tracks from Finchley Road first to Preston Road, then in 1900 to Harrow South junction, to accommodate the GCR traffic following the London Extension. In 1906 the extra pair of tracks was formally leased to the GCR for its exclusive use.
    • Extra lines added later from Finchley Road to Harrow. The fast lines were on the eastern side south of Wembley Park and on the western side to Harrow. In 1938 the lines were rearranged with the slow lines on the inside and the fast lines on the outside.[4]
      • 1913, from Finchley Road to Kilburn
      • 1915, to Wembley Park
      • 1932, to Harrow
  • Additional stations
    • 21 May 1908: Preston Road Halt (later resited), between Wembley Park and Harrow
    • 1 October 1909: Dollis Hill between Willesden Green and Neasden
    • 22 March 1915: North Harrow, between Harrow and Pinner
    • 28 June 1923: Northwick Park and Kenton (now Northwick Park), between Preston Road and Harrow
    • 13 November 1933: Northwood Hills, between Pinner and Northwood
    • 16 December 1934: Queensbury, between Kingsbury and Canons Park

Aylesbury-Verney Junction

The Aylesbury and Buckingham Railway (A&BR) between Aylesbury and Verney Junction was incorporated on 6 August 1860 and opened on 23 September 1868. It served intermediate stations at Waddesdon Manor (renamed Waddesdon on 1 October 1920), Quainton Road, Grandborough (renamed Granborough Road on 6 October 1920), and Winslow Road.[5] The A&BR was never extended to Buckingham.

In the late 1880s the MetR had plans to extend its projected Aylesbury line northwards to Morton Pinkney,[6] to make a junction with the East and West Junction Railway. Instead the A&BR was amalgamated with the MetR on 1 July 1891, and it was that line which formed the northward progress of the MetR. The section of line from Morton Pinkney to just north of Quainton Road railway station was built later as part of the London Extension of the Great Central Railway (GCR), joining the, by then, MetR tracks into London, forming the Great Central Main Line which opened for passenger traffic on 15 March 1899.

In April 1906 the MetR section from Harrow to Verney Junction was leased to a Joint Committee of the MetR and GCR: it was worked on a five-yearly basis alternately by the joint lessees.

Passenger services on the line were withdrawn between Quainton Road and Verney Junction from 6 July 1936, and the intermediate stations of Granborough Road and Winslow Road closed. The last through service, a parcels train from Verney Junction, was on 6 September 1947.

Brill Tramway

For full information see Brill Tramway.

North of Aylesbury, at Quainton Road, a 6½-mile (10 km) branch railway ran to Brill. It started life as the Wotton Tramway built and run under the auspices of the Duke of Buckingham. The Brill Tramway closed to all traffic on the night of 30 November / 1 December 1935.

Steam locomotives

Concern about smoke and steam in the tunnels led to new designs of locomotive. In 1861 (before the line opened) trials were made with the experimental "hot brick" locomotive nicknamed Fowler's Ghost. This was unsuccessful and the first public trains were hauled by GWR Metropolitan Class condensing 2-4-0 tank engines designed by Daniel Gooch. The above were broad gauge. They were followed by standard gauge Great Northern Railway locomotives and then by the Metropolitan Railway's own standard gauge locomotives:


Electric locomotive and train on the Metropolitan Railway in the 1920s

Electrification had been considered by the MetR as early as the 1880s, but such a method of traction was still in its infancy, and agreement would need to be reached with the District because of the shared ownership of the Inner Circle. Experiments were later carried out on the Earl's Court-High Street Kensington section, and a jointly-owned train of six coaches began a passenger service in 1900. As a result of those tests a MetR/District committee in 1901 recommended overhead AC traction on the Ganz three-phase system. This was accepted by both parties but when an American led group, the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL), took control of the District there was disagreement. The group was led by Charles Yerkes, whose experience in the United States led him to favour DC, with third-rail pickup similar to that in use on the City & South London Railway and Central London Railway. After arbritration by the Board of Trade the latter system was taken up and the railways began electrifying the routes, using multiple-unit stock.

  • In 1902 the District commenced building the Lots Road Power Station to supply power to their network, which opened in 1905. The MetR built its own power station at Neasden.
  • 1 January 1905: Baker Street - Uxbridge. The line opened in July 1904, and was worked by steam for the first six months
  • 1 July 1905: Aldgate-Whitechapel, initially for the District service
  • 13–24 September 1905: gradual electrification of the Inner Circle
  • 31 March 1913: East London Railway. MetR provided the service.

Services on the "Extension line" in the open remained steam-hauled for some years, necessitating change of locomotives:

Two branches were built with electric traction from the outset:

Later history

The Railways Act 1921, which became law on 19 August 1921, did not list any of London's Underground railways among the other companies which were to be grouped; although at the draft stage the Metropolitan had been included.[9]

The MetR and District were taken over by the London Passenger Transport Board in 1933, becoming the Metropolitan and District lines of the London Underground.

Services north of Aylesbury were withdrawn in 1936, though services did get to Quainton Road again between 1943 and 1948. In the same year a Metropolitan line service extension from Whitechapel to Barking was implemented along the District line tracks.

In 1939 the Bakerloo Line was extended in new deep-level tunnels from Baker Street to the surface at Finchley Road. The Bakerloo then took over the slow lines and stations from Finchley Road to Wembley Park and thence the Stanmore branch, while Metropolitan line trains ran non-stop on the fast lines to Wembley Park. In its turn that section from Baker Street to Stanmore became the northern section of the Jubilee Line.

In 1961 the section between Rickmansworth and Amersham (including the Chesham branch) was electrified thus eliminating the final London Transport operated steam-hauled passenger trains. At the same time London Transport ceased running any passenger trains north of Amersham. British Railways operated passenger steam trains continued to operate over this section on the Marylebone- Nottingham service until 1966. Maintenance trains ran beyond Amersham as late as 1971. In addition, an annual "Steam on the Met" event ran until 2000, when it was suspended prior to the reorganisation of London Underground in readiness for the introduction of the new "Public-Private Partnership" (PPP) maintenance contracts for the network, though the London Underground Railway Safety Case does permit running future specials.

Preserved Metropolitan Railway carriages

The Vintage Carriages Trust has three preserved MetR Dreadnought carriages.

The Bluebell Railway has four of the older MetR Ashbury and Craven Carriages, and a fifth, built at Neasden, is at the London Transport Museum.

The Spa Valley Railway is home to two later MetR T Stock carriages.


  1. ^ Green 1987, pp.3-4
  2. ^ Green 1987, p.5
  3. ^ Day 1979, p. 59
  4. ^ Clive's Underground Line Guides, Metropolitan Line
  5. ^ Dow 1965, p. 191
  6. ^ Dow 1962, p. 210
  7. ^ Clive's UndergrounD Line Guides, Metropolitan Line, Dates
  8. ^ Davenport (1991), p. 167
  9. ^ The Reorganisation of British Railways (1922), p.11


  • Davenport, Neil (1991) Days of Steam, Patrick Stephens Ltd, ISBN 1-85260-335-6
  • Day, John R. (1979) [1963]. The Story of London's Underground (6th ed.). Westminster: London Transport. ISBN 0 85329 094 6. 1178/211RP/5M(A). 
  • Dow, George (1962) Great Central; Vol. 2: Dominion of Watkin, 1864-1899, Ian Allan
  • Dow, George (1965) Great Central; Vol. 3: Fay sets the pace, 1900-1922, Ian Allan ISBN 0710002630
  • Green Oliver (1987) The London Underground - An illustrated history Ian Allan
  • Wolmar, Christian (2004) The Subterranean Railway : how the London Underground was built and how it changed the city forever, Atlantic ISBN 1-84354-022-3
  • The Reorganisation of British Railways: The Railways Act, 1921 (3rd ed.). London: Gray's Inn Press. 1922. 

Further reading

  • Foxell, Clive (2010). The Metropolitan Line. History Press. ISBN 978 0 7524 5396 5. 

External links

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