BlogLondon's Tube: Mind the Gap!


Kourosh Abbassi




It's 6:55 A.M. I am standing on the platform at Earls Court Station (yes I am an early riser!) waiting for the next Westbound District Line train to take me to East Putney and to the office.

The District Line celebrated it's 150th anniversary this year. The line, which initially consisted of five stations, opened on 24 December 1868. In 1869, the service was extended westward to West Brompton, and in 1870, eastward to Blackfriars.

Within forty years of opening, it was running services to Ealing, Hounslow, Putney (where our office is), East Ham, and New Cross. For a short time, there were even District line trains to Windsor and Southend-on-Sea, though sadly these stations are no longer in operation.

The District line now has 60 stations, more than any other line on the London Underground (affectionately called the Tube by Londoners), and more than 220 million journeys take place on the line annually.

Anyway, back to me at Earl's Court Station! As usual, I am killing time by reading all the posters and one draws my eyes to it more than any other; an old map of the London Underground with the following fascinating explanation: "In the early days of the Underground, maps of the transport system were plotted against the geography of London, with the distances between stations faithfully represented on the map. But as the network expanded , this type of geographic map became less practical. Designers could not portray both the high density of stations in central London and the sprawling arrangement at the furthest reaches of the network.

This dilemma was resolved by Harry Beck. His map, which was developed in 1931, was inspired by an electrical circuit diagram. The dense central area was enlarged in relation to the outlying areas, allowing both to be shown more clearly. This 'diagrammatic' map has now been adopted as the standard by metros around the world."

My train is pulling into the platform; reading this about distorted distances in the central area of the London Tube map reminds me of the best transport advice I was given some 40 years ago on my first foray into central London on the Tube: "Remember, the Tube map is not to scale, so always walk between Leicester Square and Covent Garden as they are actually only 5 minutes apart! And always Mind The Gap!"

By the way, many of our student groups prefer to use the Tube over coach travel as it is cheaper, faster and more environmentally friendly. We are of course happy to include travel passes and Oyster Cards for any such groups, but would not recommend this for larger groups.

Kourosh Abbassi