Neil Turner's Blog

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The Waterloo and City Line

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A tube train on the Waterloo and City Line
Image from Wikimedia Commons, taken by Mpk under CC-BY-SA 2.5 license.

On our trip to London last month, we went on the Waterloo and City Line for the first time. I’d been on all of the other Tube lines apart from this one, and we needed to get from London’s Docklands area to Waterloo, so it made sense to travel on this line.

The Waterloo and City Line is notable for several reasons.

1. It’s the shortest London Underground line

The Waterloo and City Line is so-called because it literally only serves Waterloo mainline station, and the City of London – there’s just two stations. It’s basically a shuttle service, and is just under one and a half miles in length.

The route takes it under the River Thames, and it passes close to Blackfriars and Mansion House stations on the Circle and District Lines. However, it doesn’t interchange with these lines until Bank at the City end.

2. It’s entirely underground

At no point do any of the Waterloo and City Line trains go above ground. The entire route, including the depot, is entirely underground. Most other London Underground lines have some surface sections; the only near-exception is the Victoria Line, which has a depot above ground but the running lines are all underground.

The depot is at Waterloo station, and can handle all light and medium maintenance of the trains. For occasional heavy maintenance, the trains are winched out of a shaft using a crane and taken away by road. This is because the line is completely isolated from any other underground or railway line.

3. It’s the second-oldest tube line in London

The line was opened in 1898 by the London and South Western Railway, whose trains ran into Waterloo. It ensured that Waterloo had a link with the City of London, without the need to build expensive bridges and demolish buildings that would’ve been in the way. It actually predates most of the other London Underground ‘tube’ lines; only the Northern Line (specifically the Stockwell to Borough section) is older, having opened in 1890.

4. It’s only been part of London Underground since 1994

As the remaining Underground lines became part of London Transport, the Waterloo and City Line instead became part of the Southern Railway. The Southern Railway was nationalised in 1948, and became British Rail, who operated it along with London’s commuter rail services.

It shared a lot of characteristics with London Underground, and when new trains were ordered for the Central Line in 1992, a few extra of the same design were ordered for the Waterloo and City Line. These were originally painted in Network SouthEast colours, as per the photo above, with a blue front end and blue doors. Unlike mainline British Rail trains, these didn’t need yellow front ends, but they carried a British Rail rolling stock class number of 482.

When British Rail was privatised, the Waterloo & City Line was seen as an anomaly, and ownership passed to London Underground in April 1994. The tube trains have subsequently been repainted in LU colours, with red front ends. They will be replaced sometime in the next 15 years as part of the New Tube for London project.

Despite only being a formal part of London Underground since 1994, the Waterloo & City Line was one of a handful of British Rail services that used to be shown on the standard Tube Map, along with Thameslink, the Northern City Line and North London Line. Whilst this practice has now ended, the Waterloo & City Line and North London Line are now both operated by Transport for London (the latter as part of London Overground) and so are still shown on the Tube Map.

5. It’s closed on Sundays and Bank Holidays

Because its primary reason for existence is to ferry commuters arriving into Waterloo to the City, and back again, there’s no Sunday service. It also has a late start on Saturdays, with the first trains at 8am. It’s not part of the Night Tube.

I wouldn’t say our trip on the line was particularly interesting – it was similar to most other Tube lines. The only notable differences are that the stops at each end are longer, and that everyone gets off when the train stops. But it’s interesting in other ways, as I’ve mentioned above. Even though it’s now part of London Underground, I expect the Waterloo and City Line will always be a bit of an anomaly. But its anomalies like this that, in my view, make London Underground so interesting.

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