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British Industrial History

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East London Railway

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of Brighton Chambers, Denman Street, London.

The East London Railway was a consortium of six existing railway companies: the Great Eastern Railway (GER); the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (LB&SCR); the London, Chatham and Dover Railway (LCDR); South Eastern Railway (SER); the Metropolitan Railway; and the Metropolitan District Railway, the latter two of which operated what is now the Metropolitan Line, Circle Line, District Line and Hammersmith and City Line of the London Underground. [1]

The companies sought to re-use the Thames Tunnel, built by Marc Isambard Brunel and his son Isambard Kingdom Brunel between 1825 and 1843. The tunnel had been originally built for horse-drawn carriages and so had generous headroom with two separate carriageways separated by arches, though it was only ever used for pedestrian traffic. It connected Wapping on the north bank of the Thames with Rotherhithe on the south bank. Although it was a triumph of civil engineering, it was a commercial failure and by the 1860s it had become an unpleasant and disreputable place.

1865 The company was incorporated. The line is nearly 5.75 miles in length.

At the time, the tunnel provided the most easterly dry-land connection between the north and south banks of the Thames. It was located close to London's docks on both banks of the river and was not far from existing mainline railways at either end. Converting the tunnel to railway usage thus offered an ideal means of providing a cross-Thames rail link without having to go to the great expense of boring a new tunnel. On 25 September 1865, the East London Railway Company took ownership of the Thames Tunnel at a cost of £800,000. Over the next four years, the company constructed a new railway line running through the tunnel to connect with existing railway lines south of the river.

The East London Railway Company only owned the infrastructure and did not work the line itself, instead leasing it to its controlling railways. Steam trains were initially operated along the line by the GER, LB&SCR and the SER. It was worked by both passenger and goods trains; the LB&SCR operated a service between Liverpool Street and Croydon with the SER introducing a service between Addiscombe and Liverpool Street from April 1880. Passenger trains ran without stopping, as there were no intermediate stations along the line. From October 1884, however, this lack was remedied with the opening of several stations (and two more in 1913).

When the Metropolitan and District Railways were electrified in 1905-1906 their passenger services ceased using the ELR.

1908 The line is leased in perpetuity to the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway, the South Eastern Railway, the London, Chatham and Dover Railway, the Metropolitan Railway, the Metropolitan District Railway and the Great Eastern Railway companies, the lease dating from October 1 1884. [2]

Passenger trains originally ran from the two southern termini to Shoreditch and South Kensington via Edgware Road and High Street Kensington. The Metropolitan Railway also briefly provided a passenger service to Liverpool Street but abandoned this in 1906.

1913 31 March: The line was electrified, with the controlling railways funding the upgrade and the Metropolitan Railway providing the rolling stock.

In 1914 the service to South Kensington was permanently diverted to Hammersmith.

1921 Lord Claud Hamilton told shareholders that they had not benefited from the electrification - the Government, under the system of controls, had made heavy charges for the interest on the investment whilst the advantage of changing from steam to electricity had been gained by the Government[3]

1923 After the Grouping, the goods service was operated by London and North Eastern Railway with the Metropolitan Railway continuing to provide passenger services.

1924 The East London Railway was acquired by the Southern Railway[4]

1933 the East London Railway came under the control of the London Passenger Transport Board. Although the infrastructure was still privately owned, passenger services along the line were operated under the auspices of the "East London Branch" of the Metropolitan Line.

Westbound services were steadily curtailed during the early part of the Underground era. The service to Hammersmith was reduced to peak hours only in 1936 and was withdrawn altogether in 1941, leaving the East London branch as an isolated appendage on the edge of the Underground network. Its only passenger interchange to the Underground was at Whitechapel, with interchanges to British Rail trains at the two New Cross stations.

1948 the railway was nationalised and became part of the newly-created British Transport Commission along with the Underground and mainline railways. British Rail goods services continued to use the line until as late as 1962 and occasional BR passenger services from Liverpool Street traversed the line until 1966.

1966 The service to Liverpool Street was terminated and the short length of track connecting Shoreditch to the mainline station was removed in the same year.

1970 The line was renamed the "Metropolitan Line - East London Section" and was depicted on Tube maps in the Metropolitan Line purple but with a white stripe down the middle.

1980s it was named as a line in its own right (though it was still grouped operationally with the Metropolitan Line) and from 1990 the colour used for the on line the Tube map was changed to the present orange.

In the 1980s and 1990s the line gained two important new connections: Shadwell became an interchange with the Docklands Light Railway in 1987 and a new station was added at Canada Water in 1999 for interchange with the Jubilee Line.

The service to Shoreditch itself was reduced, with Whitechapel acting as the de facto northern terminus for much of the time; by the time Shoreditch station closed in 2006, it was only being served at peak times on weekdays, most of Sunday (for Brick Lane Market) and not at all on Saturdays.

The maintenance of the line passed to the Metronet consortium in 2003 under a Public-Private Partnership, although the operation of trains continues to be the responsibility of Transport for London.

According to Transport for London statistics, the East London Line carries 10.429 million passengers per year. This is far less than any other Tube line with the exception of the Waterloo and City line; average per-station usage is only 0.862 million passengers per year, the lowest of any Tube line.





The identity of the East London Line has changed considerably during the London Underground era. On Tube maps between 1933 and 1968 the East London Line was depicted in the same colour as the Metropolitan Line.

Wapping tube station on the East London Line was built into the original northern entrance shaft of the Thames Tunnel. The current station dates from the early 1980s.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. [1] Wikipedia
  2. The Stock Exchange Year Book 1908
  3. The Engineer 1921/02/04
  4. The Times, Nov 28, 1924