London Underground Lessons for Australia

The London Underground railway has lessons for Australia.

London Underground celebrated its 150th anniversary in 2013. It was the first in the world. It was started in 1860, only 30 years after the first steam railway in the world, the Liverpool to Manchester was opened in 1830. It was completed and opened 3 years later as the Metropolitan Line in 1863.

Charles Pearson, Solicitor for London, was the visionary who proposed and fought for the establishment of the London Underground. Sadly, he died a few months before it was opened. He is remembered as the Father of the London Underground, which extended rapidly thereafter.

The London Underground railway was finally built because of the overwhelming congestion on city streets. Horse-drawn carts, carriages and stage-coaches in the CBD of the city were slowed to walking pace, and the pollution! There were huge crowds of commuters emerging from the three main city railway terminals unable to get to their CBD destinations conveniently for the congestion.

Australian commuters do not have enough public transport services to the CBS of major cities, nor enough underground railways. They are faced with similar serious (motor traffic) congestion 150 years later than London’s original problem. The Uk was the source of railway innovation and has many lessons. It has starting to build High Speed Rail to rapidly connect cities and regions. Fortunately, it can distribute commuters in London once they arrive at ‘Tube’ stations. At the other end, HSR will distribute people to live outside London in the regions and help to limit the growth of city congestion.

Australia has an advantage. Its cities were built after railway technology became available, or shortly before. This means that its city railway terminals were built close to the CBD, unlike London and other cities around the world which are much older where a change of train is unnecessary.

Charles Pearson saw that the Underground should connect Paddington, St. Pancras and Kings Cross terminals to Farringdon and the  CBD. St. Pancras is now the HSR terminal connected by the Tube.

The Underground, started in 1860, took 3 years to build. It followed the main roads in London for 3 miles. It was built by hand by navies using picks and shovels and some black powder explosive. Its walls and arched roof were bricked up. It was the ‘cut and cover’ form of trenching. New stations were built in the trench. Many pipes, sewers and a river were cut and repaired. Tenements were removed.

Construction of the Underground caused much disruption of congested main roads. It was short term and has benefitted London greatly for the last 154 years.

The London Underground was a success. 30,000 people attended the opening on the first day. It carried more than 9 million passengers in the first year of operation. The investment by the City was rapidly paid-off. Congestion was curtailed until much later.

London Underground was inspired by the great congestion at the time. Australian major cities are experiencing similar issues. They need more local public transport when population is projected to double. The main solution is High Speed Rail (HSR) between the cities that would locate much of the population increase in the regions in new cities along the HSR route.

Entry and exit of HSR in major cities would be by 30km of cut and cover trenches next to suburban rail, also in trenches, as with the Underground. Much low-rise housing would be built over the inner-city trenches. Modern technology would complete the trenches in 3 years. Short term disruption would be caused for long term benefit. 

There is no apparent evidence of value capture by the City (Government), but undoubtedly the adjacent private property captured value. Building over trenches here would capture value.

PJK ©13.1.16

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