Yesterday the Metropolitan (underground) Railway was opened to the public, and many thousands were enabled to indulge their curiosity in reference to this mode of travelling under the streets of the metropolis.
The trains commenced running as early as six o’clock in the morning from the Paddington (Bishop’s-road) station, and the Farringdon-street terminus, in order to accommodate workmen, and there was a goodly muster of that class of the public, who availed themselves of the advantages of the line in reaching their respective places of employment.
And so the Manchester Guardian reported 10 January 1863 as the opening day of the first underground railway on earth – except it wasn’t actually the opening day. The previous day had seen the actual first rides, but it was an invitation-only event for VIPs and dignitaries. This disparity between underground riders continued throughout its early history: there were first-class carriages for the wealthy, third-class for poor people, and second-class for the rest.
But as the network expanded, it became the great democratising transport system that we know today. Carriages and fares were the same, and it was the preferred mode of transport for Londoners from all walks of life.
The London Underground is the prototype and the signature system of transport for all great cities across the world. Beyond underpinning the economy, it’s shaped the modern urban form by assisting sustainable patterns of development.
But London is now one of the most expensive mass transit systems in the world. Ironically, in a system designed for all classes, the underground is increasingly out of reach for more and more Londoners.