The London Underground

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Please refer to the Edited Entry
- Alex Ashman.

Since the first section of the Metropolitan line opened in central London in 1863, the Underground has grown into an unwieldy, sprawling mass which nevertheless comes in handy when trying to travel around the equally unwieldy and sprawling mass that is London. The network ranges from seemingly ordinary overground lines to the dark depths of the claustrophobic tubes of central London, and consists of over 400 escalators, 100 lifts, 113 miles of tunnel, and 253 miles (407 kilometres) of line which carry over 20,000 carriages. Known colloquially as 'the tube', it is the oldest underground railway in the world, having been shaped over the years by many different people, and has developed both its own etiquette and its own species of mosquito.

This Entry provides a guide to the different quirks and attributes of the tube, as well as some handy hints on how to contend with the various problems you will meet along the way. While the nitty-gritty of the individual lines and stations is the subject of other h2g2 Entries, this Entry exists to provide a less clinical guide to staying sane in a place where someone commits suicide every seven days.

The Basics

  1. Find a tube map at an Underground station - there is one outside of the barriers at each station. Alternatively, obtain a smaller copy from a leaflet rack or the ticket office that you can keep for reference during your journey. There are also maps on board trains and on platforms.

  2. Find your starting and finishing stations on the map, using the index at the bottom if you get stuck. Note that Central London lies at the centre of the map.

  3. Plan a route between them, preferably using three lines or less - interchanging adds time to the journey, but is sometimes inevitable. Make a mental note of:

    • The line and direction in which you will leave this station. This will be northbound vs southbound or eastbound vs westbound. Note that, for example, the Piccadilly line runs mostly north to south between Leicester Square and Cockfosters, but the general east to west direction of the line means that eastbound and westbound are used instead of northbound and southbound. On the tube map north is up.

    • Any interchange stations, and the line and direction to change to there.

    • The name of your destination (always useful).

  4. Before leaving the map, note the zones in which the two stations are.

  5. Buy a ticket. Tickets can be bought from electronic machines and from ticket office windows at the main entrances. Modern touchscreens which offer the entire range of tickets and accept coins, notes and cards are available at most stations.

    • If you plan to only make one journey, buy a single.

    • If you intend to return from your destination to your starting point later, buy a return - this will save you having to buy another single later.

    • If you want to make several journeys, buy a Travelcard. This allows you to make unlimited journeys between stations in certain zones, so make sure you buy one covering the zones in which your starting points and destinations will be. Provided you make the extra journeys later on, a Travelcard will save you money compared to a single or return.

    • If you have an Oyster Card, just relax and touch the card on the barrier at your starting and finishing stations, plus at any interchange where barriers are found between lines.

  6. Follow the signs to the appropriate platform, making use of stairs, escalators and lifts as necessary, and look at the electronic arrivals board.

  7. Some trains may terminate before your station or may take a different branch of the line to the one you want, so ensure you board a train that will call at your destination/next interchange.

  8. Find your way to your destination, and leave the station with the happy knowledge that you are still alive.

For Example

A passenger wants to travel from Caledonian Road to London Bridge station. Following the steps above, our protagonist:

  1. Looks at the tube map just next to the entrance.

  2. Finds Caledonian Road (B61) and London Bridge (D6) on the map.

  3. Notes that Caledonian Road is on the Piccadilly line and London Bridge is on the Northern and Jubilee lines. The Piccadilly line meets the Northern line at King's Cross St Pancras, and this appears to be the shortest route. They note that:

    • They will leave Caledonian Road via the westbound Piccadilly line.

    • They will change trains at King's Cross St Pancras, heading for the southbound Northern line.

    • Their final destination will be London Bridge.

  4. They note that the stations are in zones 1 and 2.

  5. They walk over to a touchscreen and buy a single to London Bridge.

  6. They make their way via the lifts to the westbound Piccadilly line platform.

  7. They board a train towards Rayners Lane, a destination further along the line than King's Cross St Pancras.

  8. They change at King's Cross St Pancras and follow signs to the southbound Northern line. Eventually, they reach their destination and the exit barrier 'swallows' their single ticket as they will not be able to use it again.

Which Way Do I Go?

Once underground, it can be quite confusing for those unaccustomed to the system, with all sense of direction being lost in the twisting passages. Luckily, there is no need to know which way is north, as each platform is labelled with both the name of the line and the direction in which trains travel from that platform. Provided you have looked at the tube map and worked out which line to take and in which direction, all you have to do is find the correct platform by following the signs.

Oyster Cards

As explained briefly above, passengers can buy a range of paper tickets that either cover a single journey, a return, or a series of journeys within a certain area for that day. However, these are all starting to become redundant with the advent of the Oyster Card, an electronic pass that has begun to replace paper tickets. Passengers using an Oyster Card simply touch it on the yellow readers at ticket barriers as they enter and leave the Underground. Stations without barriers have readers on the walls near exits. Oyster Cards can also be used on London buses, Croydon Tramlink and Docklands Light Railway, as well as on some suburban mainline routes.

Cards are applied for through the post or online, and once received they can be used in several ways. The most simple is pay-as-you-go, where the card is 'topped-up' online or at a touch-screen at certain stations and can then be used as a ticket, with the price of journeys being deducted from the card. If several journeys are made, the total deducted in one day is capped at the price of a daily Travelcard for the zones in which the user has travelled. Oyster Cards can also be charged up with various Travelcards for either the tube or just for bus travel, the latter being cheaper but only available from certain newsagents. If you ask for a zone 1-4 bus pass for your Oyster Card at a tube station, they will stare blankly at you.

The Trains

The tube system requires almost 4,000 trains to maintain all its services, and these come in the two varieties of deep-level and sub-surface. Sub-surface trains run on the Circle, District, East London, Metropolitan and Hammersmith & City lines, and have substantially more headroom than the smaller deep-level trains. The two types of train can be seen running side by side in various locations2, and even run on the same tracks for a short distance between Acton Town and Ealing. If you're over six foot tall then you should make every effort not to end up in a cramped deep-level carriage.


The Underground first began to be electrified bit by bit in the early 20th Century, and all open sections now have electrified third rails which supply power to the trains. This power was generated at the Underground's Lots Road power plant in Chelsea until 2002, when a more efficient turbine plant in Greenwich took over. The energy is generated by burning natural gas and low distillate oil, and the network uses a total of 1,091 gigawatt hours3 of electricity per year. The entire network now uses a fourth rail system, meaning that there are two power supply rails which run parallel to the running rails, and the train's electric engines draw power from these rails via contact with electric 'shoes'. The power rail to one side of the tracks is set at +420 V DC current, while the one between the two running rails is set at -210 V DC. This adds up to a total potential difference of 630 V, with trains on each line drawing from total current of 25,000 amps on average. It is a good idea not to touch the rails.

The use of electricity on the tube makes it the joint-third most environmentally friendly means of transport in London along with double-decker bus, with the Docklands Light Railway (DLR) and Croydon Tramlink coming second and cycling coming first.


Despite passengers managing perfectly well on the sub-surface lines for many years, ventilation was soon required with the advent of deep-level lines. The ventilation also helps reduce the increase in air pressure caused by trains acting like pistons in the tunnels. There are now 160 ventilation shafts throughout the underground parts of the system, the abandoned City Road station being one of them. However, in hot weather the tube can be nearly unbearable, and you should do the following:

  • Drink plenty of water before travelling, and carry a bottle with you.

  • Wear appropriate clothes for the tube, even if you are heading for the icy depths of North London.

  • Use deodorant - if not for your sake, then for the sake of others.

  • Open the air vents on the train. These are found just above the windows on deep-level trains, and most can still be slid open and shut using a small handle.

  • If needs be, open the window in the door at the end of the carriage to let in a stream of air4.

It is advisable not to travel on the tube if you are feeling unwell, especially during warm weather. It is likely that the tube may have to close during future heat waves.


When they were built, the tunnels of the Underground broke through the courses of many underground streams, and over 30 million litres of water now leak into the system each day. This is enough to flood the entire system in a few weeks, and so it is removed from the tunnels by 1,030 pumps. There is, however, an even greater threat to the system which is posed by the presence of the river Thames.

When it was closed in 1900, the Northern line branch to King William Street was sealed either side of its passage under the Thames, and so theoretically no longer poses a problem. More recently, the Brunel tunnel under the Thames which contains the East London line was 'shotcreted' to reinforce its walls. Despite these safeguards there is always a minor risk of flooding, with current lines passing under the Thames at nine locations and past many sewers and waterways, and Embankment station in particular lying perilously close to the river5. For this reason, 25 floodgates were constructed prior to the Second World War for fear that a bomb would breach the stations or tunnels.

Floodgates were installed at either end of Embankment station, and were designed to drop quickly under their own weight. Other gates were installed to protect the lines in central London from the flooding of the Thames, but the Thames Barrier should also help reduce the threat, though the Barrier's reliability is coming into question. Most other gates were based on sluice gates, and are raised and lowered by electric motors. The control centre was originally housed at Leicester Square station, but was moved in the 1950s to the abandoned North End station south of Golders Green.

Health and Safety

The Underground is remarkably safe, with the majority of deaths being due to successful suicides6, which occur at a rate of about one per week. However, the air in the system contains a mixture of soot from the steam trains that used to work the line, asbestos from the older buildings and construction, and fine particles of metal from the brake discs of modern trains. This mixture makes a forty-minute tube journey as healthy as smoking a cigarette.

Possibly one of the greatest health risks on the Underground is being unaccustomed to the system. Tourists are often seen to do extremely dangerous things such as loitering in front of the ticket barrier and escalators (only to be trampled on by commuters), getting in the way of the closing doors, and trying to climb the excessively long emergency spiral staircases just for fun. Meanwhile, they seem to go out of their way to break every rule of etiquette and incur the wrath of the locals, who when asked for directions will send them off towards Amersham7. Tourists would seem to be fated to perish in the bowels of London, but somehow they just manage to survive, only to return year after year to do it all over again.

The London Underground on Maps

The London Underground map which we all use today was invented by Harry Beck in 1933. Of course, the Underground has changed a lot since Beck's map was first used, and neither his map nor the current day map illustrate the true nature of the London Underground in terms of where it actually is. However, the array of stations on Beck's map can be used to form all sorts of interesting shapes, including various animals. There have since been parodies of the map, including the Great Bear, in which station names were replaced by names of famous people.

It is important to note that the London Underground is constantly being worked on, so that some current stations will be closed or have reduced functionality - see the Tube website for detailed information on engineering works. The London Underground is also supposedly changing, as demonstrated by this map of the tube for 2016 which shows the changes intended for the tube as of 2006, but has since become inaccurate.

Some Stations You Might End Up At


Apparently the best looking station on the Underground, and it has the added advantage of having the longest escalator on the whole tube system, which was constructed when the station was rebuilt in 1991. The change from lifts to escalators meant that the station entrance was moved uphill onto Islington High Street.

Angel is also probably London's ultimate fashion observatory, perhaps with the exception of Camden Town or Leicester Square at the weekend, or Sloane Square generally. All you have to do is go there on a Friday night, take the escalator and look down from the top. There's a wild assortment of people going out, so if you stand at the top of the escalator and look down it's like witnessing a fashion show on a vertical catwalk of styles, hairdos, attitudes and gimmicks.

Covent Garden

Covent Garden and Leicester Square stations are only 0.16 miles apart, and the route between the two along Long Acre or Floral Street is very easy to follow. It usually takes just as much time and effort to go by tube, but many tourists still waste their money on the fare.

Earl's Court

Most Underground stations seem to follow the same pattern without too much variation, and visitors to the system can be reasonably confident they know the ropes after just one trip. Unless, of course, they've been to Earl's Court.

  • You 'catch' a District Line train that has been waiting at Earl's Court for about five minutes already and is supposed to be going towards Edgware Road.

  • For ten minutes nothing will happen, apart from you continuously checking that you are on the right train.

  • A friendly voice will announce that 'This is Earl's Court.' Everybody puts on the 'as if I didn't already know' face.

  • The voice goes on to inform you that 'This is a District Line Train, calling at all stations to [...long break...] Edgware Road.' A few shocked tourists jump off instantly, others look bewildered, ask fellow passengers for advice and then jump off. The rest of the passengers show their 'As if we didn't know' faces.

  • After a further five minutes, the train departs. Slowly.

Edgware Road

Edgware Road is the grease that keeps the London Underground running. It is sticky, unpleasant and a difficult place from which to extricate yourself.

It is not uncommon for the normal laws of timetabling and schedules to bunk off for a quick cigarette here8. Trains will frequently stop for 15 minutes for no readily apparent reason; if a reason is given, it is likely to be untrue.

Avoid if at all possible, unless you like sitting in a carriage full of bored people trying to ignore each other.

Mornington Crescent

Due to the way in which the Northern line was formed from two separate underground railways, Mornington Crescent lies on only one of the two branches, the Charing Cross branch, of the Northern line between Euston and Camden Town. The station is well-known for its strange location, which led to the invention of the game named after it (see below), and the fact that during the 1990s it was closed for rebuilding for an extraordinary length of time.

Ex-tube stations

The Underground has many abandoned lines and stations, which are still sitting there in a strangely unnerving way - unnerving, anyway, for those who have seen Quatermass and the Pit. Many of the stations lie underground so that the disused platforms can be seen from the train, and retain a use as emergency exits.

Fictional Stations

Broad Street - Broad Street mainline station never had an associated tube station and was demolished in 1985, with the nearby Liverpool Street station taking over all its services. However, the station still managed to appear in the TV spy drama [spooks], where the mainline station contained an Underground station and was the target of Irish terrorists.

Cairo East - acted as the background of the cover for the single 'Baggy Trousers' by Madness.

Charnham - this station features in the TV soap Family Affairs.

Hobbs End - a station where some strange artefacts were found while the station was being 'built'. The station is supposed to lie somewhere near Knightsbridge, and featured in the BBC television series 'Quatermass and the Pit'.

New Bridge - this station appears in one of the Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six PC Games, and is essentially the American idea of what an Underground station looks like. The station features the usual ticket barriers and a cut-and-cover tube line, but features such anomalies as bizarrely named lines9, a waiting area, and a lack of the famous London Underground signs and decor.

Vauxhall Cross - this 'disused station' featured in the James Bond film 'Die Another Day', where Bond and M have a clandestine meeting and Bond is put back on the case. Maps in the background show that the station is the next station along from Hyde Park corner, and yet Bond enters the station through a staircase located next to the River Thames. This suggests that a ficticious line was invented purely for the movie, as a journey from Hyde Park to Vauxhall Cross and then on to Earl's Court would involve quite a large detour. The set used for the film was based on Aldwych, an abandoned station on a branch off from the Piccadilly line.

Walford East - this station is a facade used in the British soap East-Enders, and is supposedly located on the District line. Ficticious timetables in the 'station' show that it is meant to take the place of Bromley-by-Bow station.

Other Services in London

The Underground is just one of several services in London, with other transport networks also having stations. These include:

  • Croydon Tramlink - a tram service with a series of stops in South London.
  • Docklands Light Railway - a light railway service in East London with several interchanges with the tube.
  • Thameslink - a north-south mainline service passing through central London, with a handful of subterranean stations.
  • London Overground - a collection of suburban stations served by trains run by Transport for London.
  • North and south mainline termini, and various mainline suburban services.

Lines Named After Stations

Some of the lines take their names from the stations they serve:

  • Bakerloo Line - this is an amalgamation of Baker Street and Waterloo.
  • Hammersmith & City - this line runs from Hammersmith at its west end and through the City.
  • Piccadilly Line - named after Piccadilly Circus.
  • Victoria Line - named after Victoria station.
  • Waterloo & City - this runs from a station that used to be known as City, and is now part of Bank, to Waterloo station.

Interchange Stations

It has most likely caused many people a moderate amount of confusion as to why some stations are marked as interchanges and others not. For instance, you can change at both Rayners Lane and Uxbridge10, and yet while Rayners Lane is an interchange station, Uxbridge is not. At the most basic level, an interchange station is one at which you can change to a different train with a different destination. The following rules are thought to be used in determining whether a station is an interchange:

  • If the station is attached to a National Rail station, it is an interchange.

  • If all of the lines passing through a station are served by the same platforms, then the station is not an interchange.

  • If some of the lines or branches passing through a station are served by completely separate platforms, then the station is an interchange.

  • If the station is divided into two parts with the same or different names, but is linked by an enclosed passage, then the stations are grouped together as an interchange.

  • If two stations have the same name, but are completely separate, then either can be an interchange but they are not grouped together.

  • If two trains can leave from the same platform, but immediately follow different lines thereafter, then the station is an interchange.

  • However, a station at which some trains terminate but others on the same tube line do not11 is not an interchange.

Both Piccadilly and Metropolitan line trains can leave from any platform at Uxbridge, following the same route afterwards, and so Uxbridge is not an interchange. Rayners Lane is in the same situation except for the fact that the lines split immediately after the station, thereby making it an interchange. For those who are confused or bemused by this complicated system, the definition of an interchange is put much more eloquently by Peter B Lloyd12:

If the lines that pass through the station do not all share the same physical tracks, then it is an interchange station. (Conversely, if all these lines share the same physical tracks, all the way to each neighbouring station, then it is not an interchange station.)

Getting The Hang Of Interchanges

On maps, Hammersmith station is shown as a three-line interchange. However, while the Piccadilly/District interchange is merely a platform width, the Hammersmith & City line interchange is much further. Passengers have to leave the station via the stairs, walk past some shops and through the local shopping mall, then cross a street to make it into a separate tube station.

Due to the long history of the tube, there are a few good places to change lines, and many bad ones. As a rule, it will always take time to change from a deep-level (Bakerloo, Central, Jubilee, Northern, Piccadilly, Victoria, and Waterloo & City) to a subsurface line (These are the Circle, District, East London, Metropolitan and Hammersmith & City) in central London. It is also useful to note that some stations not marked as interchanges aren't actually that far apart. This includes Northwick Park and Kenton, which provide an interchange between the Bakerloo and Metropolitan lines, and Ruislip and West Ruislip, which are a short bus journey away. Another important fact is that Mill Hill East is only a couple of miles from Edgware, and so a bus journey between the two is quicker than one by tube. Finally, Regent's Park station is a short way west of Great Portland Street, and Paddington station is 500 metres (550 yards) north of Lancaster Gate.

One particularly bad place to change is Shepherd's Bush, and passengers planning journeys should try not to include the pair of stations as a possible interchange. An escalator, a brisk six minute walk, four different roads and a set of stairs lie between the Central line and the Hammersmith & City line, although there are many cafes and snack shops on the way.

Good Interchanges

Some stations have exceedingly short interchanges, and apart from stations where lines share the same platforms, which include for example the District and Circle lines along the southern half of the Circle line. These are:

  • Finsbury Park (Piccadilly to Victoria)

  • Highbury and Islington (GN Electrics to Victoria)

  • Euston (Northern [City Branch] to Victoria)

  • Oxford Circus (Bakerloo to Victoria)

  • Baker Street (Bakerloo to Jubilee)

  • Stockwell (Northern to Victoria)

  • Hammersmith, Barons Court (Piccadilly to District)

  • Mile End (Central to District)

  • Edgware Road (District & Circle to Hammersmith & City)

  • Finchley Road, Wembley Park (Metropolitan to Jubilee)

Bad Interchanges

Meanwhile, some stations are marked as interchanges when the change is very difficult, and you should change at the alternative if practical:

  • King's Cross St Pancras, Green Park

    • Interchange: Piccadilly to Victoria

    • Alternative: Finsbury Park

  • Earls Court, South Kensington, Gloucester Road

    • Interchange: Piccadilly to District

    • Alternative: Barons Court or Hammersmith

  • Paddington

    • Interchange: Hammersmith & City to District or Circle

    • Alternative: Edgware Road

  • Edgware Road

    • Interchange: Hammersmith & City to Bakerloo

    • Alternative: Paddington

  • Waterloo

    • Interchange: Jubilee to Bakerloo

    • Alternative: Baker Street

  • Baker Street

    • Interchange: Metropolitan to Jubilee

    • Alternative: Wembley Park or Finchley Road

  • Euston, Warren Street

    • Interchange: Victoria to Northern

    • Alternative: Stockwell

  • Monument / Bank

    • Interchange: District to Central

    • Alternative: Mile End

  • Canary Wharf

    • Interchange: Jubilee to DLR

    • Alternative: Heron Quays

Travelling from Heathrow to Sloane Square via Hammersmith

Are you laden with heavy baggage from Heathrow and wanting Sloane Square, or somewhere nearby? Here's a handy tip. Change from the Piccadilly Line to the District Line at Hammersmith, which just means lugging your suitcase the width of the platform: no stairs or anything. You can do the same at Barons Court, but it's a bit deserted there, and there are no fancy destination boards to (mis)guide you.

You may ask why I chose Sloane Square as the destination. To be honest, South Kensington would have been closer (and no line changes), but my wife has a hip joint problem. Sloane Square is the only District/Circle station that I know of with an up-escalator rather than stairs. To be honest, my knowledge is limited to the 'southern' stations.

Penalty Fares and Fines

The penalty fare on London Transport is kept at several times the cost of a daily Travelcard, with those not holding a valid ticket or Oyster card in a compulsory ticket zone being fined on the spot. Fines up to £1,000 are now also possible. It is still necessary to buy a platform ticket even if you are not travelling. One of the most notorious stations for ticket inspections is Finsbury Park, where the lack of width of the walkway tunnels means that there is no room for barriers. It is therefore not unusual to find a group of ten tube officials and policemen rigorously checking tickets and Oyster cards at the top of the stairs to the platforms, where they will often pick on the same passenger several times before they are allowed to pass.

Animals on the Tube

Pigeons have been observed to get on the Underground at one stop and then off at the next-but-one stop, and to repeat this journey regularly. This is the subject of quite a lot of research at the moment.

There are actually 'suburban' pigeons, who live in the north and west of London, who quite literally commute into town during the day to feed off the rich pickings provided by tourists, and then return to roost in the suburbs come nightfall.

Two questions arise from this unorthodox behaviour: how do they recognise the tube stations, and can this knowledge be written into tourist guide books?

Avoiding Nutters on the Tube

The tube network is full of nutters. They climb on and rant at the top of their voice about religion, beer or women that they hate. They enjoy shouting, often smell, and will always sit next to you. Here's a foolproof method of avoiding them:

  • Wear your sunglasses on the underground. This means you can look at everyone else without them seeing you and you can see nutters coming.

  • Listen to a personal stereo or MP3 player, but not too loud in case they come at you from behind.

  • Every now and again, sing along very quietly to the music or mouth the words to the song.

The result is that you will never have to put up with nutters, or anyone else. The moral of the story is that if you can't beat them, join them, especially as it has been pointed out that a sunglasses-wearing, Walkman-dirging person is most people's generic description of 'the Underground nutter'.


There are a wide variety of buskers in London Underground stations. You get the geeky herbert playing music by The Shadows over a backing tape, numerous Bob Dylan wannabe folkies, saxophonists, flautists, classical violinists and more. The quality is usually pretty good but, if they overplay their pitch, a whole month of the same tune can force commuters to seek other routes to work or instil deep-rooted psychosis. Buskers were originally outlawed on the tube, but there now exist official pitches where licensed buskers may perform.

My favourite busker was a guy who used to play in Tottenham Court Road station, lying on the floor near the main entrance with a battered acoustic and a can of Special Brew. He had absolutely no talent at singing or playing guitar, but his song lyrics changed daily and all centred around the common theme of 'Give me some bloody money so I can buy some more Special Brew, you suity gits.'

The absolute worst was the guy who used to be found on tube trains travelling to Hammersmith on a gig night. He'd hang a collecting bucket from the neck of his guitar and wander from carriage to carriage continually playing 'Maggie May' by Rod Stewart, out-of-key and out-of-time until he'd got his quota of 2p pieces.

Flashers and Gropers on the Tube

If you are a woman, you are at risk of being groped and exposed to on the tube on a fairly regular basis. Techniques include the blatant 'Oh sorry, I though your breast was a handrail' manoeuvre to the very sleazy sort of actions that may lead to a response of 'the train is crowded, but not that crowded and it isn't jiggling up and down as fast as you are either.'

You can also spot the 'I am playing with myself behind this newspaper and I bet you are too embarrassed to say anything', or even an occasional 'I am wearing shorts, with legs spread wide, and oh sorry I didn't spot my genitalia hanging out there.'

One great tip for dealing with the gropers and grabbers is a sharp stamp on the foot or a kick in the shins, with a loud 'Not another pervert'.

For flashers I find a peal of laughter and an 'Oh god, look how small his dick is!' encourages them to put it away sharpish.

The Tube's Automatic Doors

The tube's automatic doors tend to be less friendly than the average door, often deciding to close just too soon. Attempting to jam them open is not recommended, as the doors usually win. Most importantly, those blocking the doors repeatedly will incur the wrath of everyone around them.

The Tube's Information Systems

The Tube's indicator boards are occasionally inaccurate, mostly when you're quite keen to get somewhere on time. It has been suggested that during some periods the Underground minutes are decimalised so 1 minute = 100 seconds, but even this doesn't explain how a train that's due in one minute has still not arrived three minutes later.

Sometimes the information boards are broken or will tell you to 'check destination' instead of actually telling you where the next train is going. This means that you will be forced to rely on the destination sign on the front of the train, which has a reasonable chance of being wrong unless of course it says Circle line, though sightings of such trains are rare occurrences. If a Northern Line train says it is going to Morden, it may later change its mind and have a rest at Tooting Broadway. It is best not to assume that the train says it is going to a certain place or taking a certain branch until it actually gets there, especially if you are standing on a southbound platform at Camden Town.

Tube Games

Being such a large and unusual system, the Underground provides those interested with a wealth of games to play. Some, such as Mornington Crescent, can be played from the comfort of your own home, while others require the participants to leave the safety of the indoors and venture out into the bowels of the tube.

Mornington Crescent

Mornington Crescent is a game for two or more players where the aim is to be the first player to reach Mornington Crescent, and was made famous by the BBC radio show I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue. Players in turn call out the names of London Underground stations, until one player makes a mistake and gives another the opportunity to go in for the kill, by leaving them an opening to reach Mornington Crescent. The first rule of the game is not to ask what the rules are, and those who think about this for long enough may realise why this is.

The London Game

The London Game is a board game where the players are given cards with descriptions of various London attractions on them, along with the nearest tube stations. The object is to be the first to visit all the attractions, and the tube map, or the central part of it, is the board. Players must roll a six to move from station to station and take a hazard card when changing lines. The game also includes counters that can be used to strategically 'close' stations to slow opponents down.

The Tube Challenge

The tube challenge is probably both the widest known and most expensive game to play on the tube. Challengers must visit every station on the Underground network by using the Underground, public transport and their own two feet. It is not necessary to cover every section of track on the system, although some versions of the game stipulate that all lines, including the Waterloo & City line, should be used. The challenge can be infuriating at times, with past competitors missing out Aldwych13, Chiswick Park14 or Mornington Crescent15 by mistake.

The game has continually changed since the first record time was set in 1961, with various sections closing and others opening. The game has even featured in fiction, with the lead character of Keith Lowe's Tunnel Vision attempting to complete the entire network except for the 1999 Jubilee extension in one day. In fact, the current record stands just inside 18 hours and 36 minutes for the current Underground network.

The 50/50 Game

This game can be played by anyone who is making their way down towards a platform. The game starts when either a train is heard, or the trademark tube wind is felt. The player should then make their way as quickly as possible to the platform in the hopes that it is their train, and that they can make it in time. There is about half a chance they will make it, and half a chance that the train isn't going the wrong way.

Tube-Train Time Traveller

A fun game to play after all-day drinking. To start the game you have to pass out in a train on the Circle line, and in order to win you have to wake up with a start, find yourself at your intended destination and leave the station in a bemused state wondering why it's all gone dark at 1 o'clock in the afternoon.

Variations on this theme include the popular South-west trains version, which involves travelling from Waterloo to Richmond via Reading. Some people are so thrilled with this version that they play it quite regularly.

1This is the grid square on the tube map in which Caledonian Road lies. The number signifies the column, with the column numbers increasing from left to right, while the letter represents the row, starting with row A at the top and working downwards.2These include the line between Finchley Road and Wembley Park, the line between Uxbridge and Rayners Lane, and the line between Earl's Court and Turnham Green.3The same energy that a 100 watt bulb would use if lit for 1.25 million years.4This only works if the window on the door to the adjacent carriage is open, and no one is standing in the way.5Other stations also lie close to the river, but during the Second World War Embankment was seen as the greatest risk if hit directly by a bomb.6The overwhelming majority of these are due to people jumping in front of trains.7At over 25 miles west of the nearest public toilet, many consider Amersham to be a suitable purgatory for foreigners.8If you are going from Paddington to King's Cross, it's actually quicker to take the Bakerloo line and change at Oxford Circus onto the Victoria line. Really. Trust us.9The two platforms are marked as being 'Guiness Park South'(sic) and 'North Umberland'.10See the Metropolitan Line: West of Harrow section of this guide.11Such as Arnos Grove.12The web page which used to contain this quote is now no longer available.13The now-closed branch of the Piccadilly line from Holborn.14A station between Turnham Green and Acton Town which is served by the District line but bypassed by the Piccadilly line.15A station which lies on only one of the branches from Euston to Camden Town, and was closed for many years.

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