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  • It was the dawn of 1863, and London's not-yet-opened subway system, the first of its kind in the world, had the city in an uproar.

  • Digging a hole under the city and putting a railroad in it seemed the stuff of dreams.

  • Pub drinkers scoffed at the idea and a local minister accused the railway company of trying to break into hell.

  • Most people simply thought the project, which cost more than 100 million dollars in today's money, would never work.

  • But it did.

  • On January 10, 1863, 30,000 people ventured underground to travel on the world's first subway on a four-mile stretch of line in London.

  • After three years of construction and a few setbacks, the Metropolitan Railway was ready for business.

  • The city's officials were much relieved.

  • They'd been desperate to find a way to reduce the terrible congestion on the roads.

  • London, at the time the world's largest and most prosperous city, was in a permanent state of gridlock, with carts, costermongers, cows, and commuters jamming the roads.

  • It'd been a Victorian visionary, Charles Pearson, who first thought of putting railways under the ground.

  • He'd lobbied for underground trains throughout the 1840s, but opponents thought the idea was impractical since the railroads at the time only had short tunnels under hills.

  • How could you get a railway through the center of a city?

  • The answer was a simple system called "cut and cover."

  • Workers had to dig a huge trench, construct a tunnel out of brick archways, and then refill the hole over the newly built tunnel.

  • Because this was disruptive and required the demolition of buildings above the tunnels, most of the line went under existing roads.

  • Of course, there were accidents.

  • On one occasion, a heavy rainstorm flooded the nearby sewers and burst through the excavation, delaying the project by several months.

  • But as soon as the Metropolitan Railway opened, Londoners rushed in to ride the new trains.

  • The Metropolitan quickly became a vital part of London's transport system.

  • Additional lines were soon built, and new suburbs grew around the stations.

  • Big department stores opened next to the railroad, and the railway company even created attractions, like a 30-story Ferris wheel in Earls Court to bring in tourists by train.

  • Within 30 years, London's subway system covered 80 kilometers, with lines in the center of town running in tunnels, and suburban trains operating on the surface, often on embankments.

  • But London was still growing, and everyone wanted to be connected to the system.

  • By the late 1880s, the city had become too dense with buildings, sewers, and electric cables for the "cut and cover" technique, so a new system had to be devised.

  • Using a machine called the Greathead Shield, a team of just 12 workers could bore through the earth, carving deep underground tunnels through the London clay.

  • These new lines, called tubes, were at varying depths, but usually about 25 meters deeper than the "cut and cover" lines.

  • This meant their construction didn't disturb the surface, and it was possible to dig under buildings.

  • The first tube line, the City and South London, opened in 1890 and proved so successful that half a dozen more lines were built in the next 20 years.

  • This clever new technology was even used to burrow several lines under London's river, the Thames.

  • By the early 20th century, Budapest, Berlin, Paris, and New York had all built subways of their own.

  • And today, with more than 160 cities in 55 countries using underground rails to combat congestion.

  • We can thank Charles Pearson and the Metropolitan Railway for getting us started on the right track.

It was the dawn of 1863, and London's not-yet-opened subway system, the first of its kind in the world, had the city in an uproar.

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B1 US TED-Ed london railway metropolitan subway system

How the world's first subway system was built - Christian Wolmar

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    Jenny posted on 2018/05/15
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