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October 21, 2013 9:53 AM   Subscribe

"In the 1960s and 1970s London Transport had a flourishing international consultancy arm which made money by advising other cities on on how to go about setting up and running a metro service with a particular emphasis on advising far eastern countries how to plan their fledging metros. Rumour has it their first bit of advice was always: Never, ever run your trains in a circle!" -- So why did it take almost a century and a half for the London Underground to get rid of the Circle Line? Let Pedantic of Purley at London Reconnections explain the history of the Circle Line and why having a circle route is bad news as well as how the Circle Line was uncircled and recreated as a teacup.
posted by MartinWisse (30 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
The whole London Reconnections site is a public transport geek's cornucopia of delights, to be honest.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:56 AM on October 21, 2013 [5 favorites]


This is totally fascinating (I love the comparison of the problem to other systems' ring/circle topologies), and the writing style is really good too. Thank you, I think I've found my new favourite site.
posted by carbide at 10:28 AM on October 21, 2013


That was great in an overwhelming-amount-of-detail-on-issues-that-had-never-even-occurred-to-me kind of a way. Also, it's probably worth mentioning that London Reconnections is edited by MeFi's very own garius.
posted by Len at 10:39 AM on October 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


On the south side of today’s Circle Line its bitter rival, the District Railway, had opened as far as the woefully misnamed Mansion House station, where it had a four platform terminus, as early as 1871. The station was located at the junction of Cannon Street and the fairly recently-built Queen Victoria Street. This was not the originally intended location for this station. It should not be hard to guess where that was.
This is Mornington Crescent level inscrutability to me, and I've been to London and ridden on the Underground several times, but it is a really fascinating article -- I wish I knew more about the Underground and metro services in general so I could fully appreciate it.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:02 AM on October 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Great article! But in what way was the Mansion House station "woefully misnamed"?
posted by Triplanetary at 11:19 AM on October 21, 2013


"Morning Crescent."
"That's Number Wang!"
posted by IAmBroom at 11:20 AM on October 21, 2013 [6 favorites]


A further problem with running trains in a circle is an increased likelihood of invoking the dark Lord Cthulu, as should be perfectly obvious.
posted by iotic at 11:21 AM on October 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Triplanetary: Great article! But in what way was the Mansion House station "woefully misnamed"?

It's not quite a mansion and it's not quite a house, but maaaan....

To answer your question, I don't know.
posted by dr_dank at 11:27 AM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's not actually the nearest tube station to Mansion House.
posted by dng at 11:43 AM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


It looks like the new Crossrail will allow trains from the west that currently terminate at Paddington to continue east through central London to Liverpool Street and beyond. Going from Paddington to Liverpool Street today requires a two transfers and trip on the crowded Circle Line.

Anyway: this might be kind of a dumb question, but because the Circle Line is a subsurface line (mainline railway-sized), was through-running from Paddington to Liverpool Street ever possible at some point in history? Even if it never happened because competing companies owned different stations and stretches of track, do the track connections exist?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 11:58 AM on October 21, 2013


Shh, no-one tell Glasgow..
posted by sarahdal at 11:59 AM on October 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


The two rival companies could have probably seen that completing the circle was going to be expensive hard work which was probably very convenient for passengers but not something that was going to bring in much additional revenue.

Yeah, because fuck the passengers.
posted by Segundus at 12:34 PM on October 21, 2013


Yup - I am indeed the Editor of LR as "John Bull." This piece about the 1952 Harrow Disaster is probably my personal favourite thing I've written there over the years, and I'm quite chuffed that we've now made the blue twice. Not least because the level of sanity that I enjoy in MetaFilter's comments is a big influence in how we try to manage our own comment threads over there.

Pedantic has been musing on those Circle line articles for a good year now, he'll be chuffed to know that people here are enjoying them.

Anyway: this might be kind of a dumb question, but because the Circle Line is a subsurface line (mainline railway-sized), was through-running from Paddington to Liverpool Street ever possible at some point in history? Even if it never happened because competing companies owned different stations and stretches of track, do the track connections exist?

You can go from Paddington to Liverpool Street directly - on the Circle/Hammersmtih. The problem is that people actually forget that there are effectively two Paddington stations split apart by the mainline station.

This is actually something Pedantic covers in what was sort of his addendum to the Circle line articles - Paddington: Bearer of Many Names.

Yeah, because fuck the passengers.

This was the Victorian era. Let's be honest, the motto for pretty much that entire period of British history was "fuck everyone"
posted by garius at 12:41 PM on October 21, 2013 [15 favorites]


A further problem with running trains in a circle is an increased likelihood of invoking the dark Lord Cthulu, as should be perfectly obvious.

That would certainly explain a lot of what's going on in Glasgow.
posted by Sourisnoire at 12:49 PM on October 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


Pedantic has been musing on those Circle line articles for a good year now, he'll be chuffed to know that people here are enjoying them.

As soon as I read the first paragraph I knew it had to go on the blue. Just the sort of in depth, slightly anoraky subject that you want to read on a monday morning.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:50 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


You can go from Paddington to Liverpool Street directly - on the Circle/Hammersmtih. The problem is that people actually forget that there are effectively two Paddington stations split apart by the mainline station.

What I meant to say was, was it ever possible (in terms of track connections) to take a train from e.g. West Ealing to Maryland, running through both Paddington and Liverpool Street, like you will be able to do in the future on Crossrail?
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 1:01 PM on October 21, 2013


This was the Victorian era. Let's be honest, the motto for pretty much that entire period of British history was "fuck everyone"

No, I think that's wrong, both as a generalisation and in this particular case; in the Victorian era they built it and ran it, didn't they? Only in our own era has unpicking it into something broken (but who cares, we've got a monopoly) been allowed.
posted by Segundus at 1:01 PM on October 21, 2013


they built it and ran it, didn't they? Only in our own era has unpicking it into something broken (but who cares, we've got a monopoly) been allowed

Certainly not in the context of the Underground. Whilst its post-centralisation period has contributed its share of idiocies a number of the real underlying, unsolvable problems can be traced back to its origins as a network built up by a variety of companies each focused solely on their own bottom line.

The Circle Line was one example, although the tea-cupping has proven to be a big success in rectifying that situation. The narrowness of the tunnels on the Central Line is another.

There are others - but in fairness many of these (such as the fact that the lines are single-bore only each way) are more a product of the Underground's pioneering nature than anything else. If you're doing things first then you're always going to make mistakes that other networks can note down and avoid.
posted by garius at 1:18 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


In the comments, how Tokyo's Yamanote loop line is able to operate.
posted by grobstein at 1:21 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well these are all very nice theories, but let's see what happens in the real world! /me fires up Transport Tycoon, revs engines
posted by freebird at 2:03 PM on October 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


Shh, no-one tell Glasgow..

I think the circle in Glasgow (and Moscow) works because it's self-contained. There's no other train routes switching on and off the ring.
posted by Pruitt-Igoe at 4:56 PM on October 21, 2013


Segundus: The two rival companies could have probably seen that completing the circle was going to be expensive hard work which was probably very convenient for passengers but not something that was going to bring in much additional revenue.

Yeah, because fuck the passengers.

If you operate a business where you do something very expensive that doesn't bring in much additional revenue, you go out of business.

Honestly, I'd like to live in your dream world where companies exist to spend more money than they take in making everything better for others... but I don't.

None of us do.
posted by IAmBroom at 5:49 PM on October 21, 2013


The whole London Reconnections site is a public transport geek's cornucopia of delights, to be honest.

For some reason opening a page brought my quad core i5 laptop to its knees, despite pretty much being just text, and my phone refused to load the page full stop.
posted by kersplunk at 8:40 PM on October 21, 2013


This is wonderful and what I'd really like is to make friends with all the writers over there and travel the world, riding different trains and visiting the museums devoted to them. If you like this stuff and visit NYC, btw, the transit museum is great. It's in a real station on a never-used spur line and features cars from every era on its track level, down to contemporary ads. So good.
posted by dame at 9:47 PM on October 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


MartinWisse wrote: The whole London Reconnections site is a public transport geek's cornucopia of delights, to be honest.

You're not wrong. This one is especially fantastic and deserves its own FPP for all sorts of reasons:
Angels and Errors: How the Harrow & Wealdstone Disaster Helped Shape Modern Britain
posted by Joe in Australia at 2:07 AM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


Joe - one of the things that will always stick in my memory about that piece is that Abbie Sweetwine's great niece found it and commented on it.
posted by garius at 4:49 AM on October 22, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you operate a business where you do something very expensive that doesn't bring in much additional revenue, you go out of business.

Honestly, I'd like to live in your dream world where companies exist to spend more money than they take in making everything better for others... but I don't.

None of us do.


However, you apparently live in a dream world where the London Underground is run for profit by a private company.
posted by Segundus at 7:00 AM on October 23, 2013


Segundus: However, you apparently live in a dream world where the London Underground is run for profit by a private company."

Try reading the article. It won't kill you to learn that's exactly the way it was in the 1800s when companies in question existed.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:21 PM on October 23, 2013


There is of course the fatal flaw that as a whole (and I'm not sure if this is true of the Underground lines) the 19th century British railway lines made quite a large net loss.
posted by ambrosen at 2:27 PM on October 27, 2013


Didn't the ones in New York make a loss too, which is why the government acquired them?
posted by Joe in Australia at 3:14 PM on October 27, 2013


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