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British Industrial History

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Underground Electric Railways Co

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The Underground Electric Railways Company of London Limited (UERL) was the holding company for three of the new deep-level "tube" underground railway lines constructed in London in the first decade of the 20th century.

The first deep-level railway, the City and South London Railway (C&SLR) had opened in 1890 and its success had resulted in a rush of proposals to Parliament for other deep-level routes under the capital. By 1901 few of these railway companies had actually made a start on construction due to financing problems.


1901 Charles Yerkes who had been profitably involved in the development of the public transport system of Chicago, formed the Metropolitan District Electric Traction Company to electrify the Metropolitan District Railway and to build Lots Road Power Station[1][2].

1902 Yerkes established the Underground Electric Railways Company of London Ltd., which took over the Metropolitan District Electric Traction Company.

This company took control of the Metropolitan District Railway and the unbuilt Baker Street and Waterloo Railway, Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway and Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway. Yerkes employed complex financial arrangements similar to those that he had used in America to raise the funds necessary to construct the new lines and electrify the District railway. He proceeded quickly to begin construction work. The three lines built were:

The lines shared a power station at Lots Road in Chelsea, which later served the London Underground as a whole until the beginning of the 21st century, when its increasingly obsolete equipment lead to its closure.

1906 The BS&WR and GNP&BR both opened

1907 The CCE&HR opened. Informally, the UERL lines became known as the "Yerkes tube".

Although the four railway lines were in common ownership under the UERL and shared directors, technology and, in the case of the three new lines, architectural style; they were not initially one company. Lower than expected passenger numbers for the new tube lines led to lower revenues and made it difficult for the operators to pay back the capital borrowed for their construction and to pay dividends to shareholders.

In an effort to improve their collective situations, the UERL, the C&SLR, the Central London Railway (CLR) and the Great Northern & City Railway began, from 1907, to introduce fare agreements.

From 1908, they began to present themselves through common branding as the "Underground". Also from 1907, a number of fare agreements were established with bus operators to develop coordinated services.

1909 the UERL announced a parliamentary bill for the formal merger of the BS&WR, the CCE&HR and the GNP&BR into a single company, the London Electric Railway Co (LER). This bill received Royal Assent and was enacted on 26 July 1910 as the London Electric Railway Amalgamation Act, 1910. UERL held a large controlling interest in the new company.

The MDR was not merged with the tube lines and remained a separate company.

1912 1 January: The company purchased the London General Omnibus Co (LGOC), the capital's largest bus operator. The large profits generated by the LGOC were used to cross subsidise the weaker returns of the underground railway companies.

Following its purchase of the LGOC, the Group held the dominant position in road passenger services. It consolidated this further by additional acquisitions.

1912 The UERL separated off its bus chassis-building activities to form the Associated Equipment Co at Walthamstow.

1912 the UERL decided to purchase the City and South London Railway (C&SLR) and the Central London Railway (CLR), thereby bringing all but three of London's deep underground lines at that time into common ownership under the Underground Group brand. The management of the London United Tramways would be separated off and merged with that of the Metropolitan Electric Tramways[3]

1913 the London and Suburban Traction Co (LSTC), largely owned by the Underground Electric Railways Co and British Electric Traction Co, took over the London United Tramways and Metropolitan Electric Tramways companies. Six months later LSTC acquired the other privately operated tram company in London, South Metropolitan Electric Tramways.

WWI Many of the company's buses were commandeered and the AEC plant was placed under Government control, limiting the amount of work that could be done for the company.

Post-WWI: the management of the various rail companies in the group was consolidated and integrated further. The lines were extended outwards from the centre of the city - the BS&WR north to Watford the CLR west to Ealing, the CCE&HR north to Edgware and the C&SLR south to Morden. New rolling stock was introduced with greater capacity and busy stations were rebuilt with escalators to replace lifts. Despite this, the UERL's railway companies still struggled to make profits.

During the early years of the 1920s, the Group's bus and tram operations started to suffer from competition from small unregulated bus operations poaching their passengers and the general financial strength of the organisation came under pressure.

1922 Major-General Sir Frederick Sykes appointed director.[4]

In an effort to protect the Group's income, its Managing Director / Chairman, Lord Ashfield, lobbied the government for regulation of transport services in the London area.

During the 1920s, a series of legislative initiatives were made in this direction, with Ashfield and Labour London County Councillor (later MP) Herbert Morrison, at the forefront of debates as to the level of regulation and public control under which transport services should be brought. Ashfield aimed for regulation that would give the existing Group protection from competition and allow it to take substantive control of the LCC's tram system; Morrison preferred full public ownership.

1926 The company started acquiring small competitors, those it could buy at a reasonable price.

Eventually, after several years of false starts, a bill was announced at the end of 1930 for the formation of the London Passenger Transport Board, a public corporation which would take control of the Underground Group, the Metropolitan Railway as well as all buses and trams within an area designated as the London Transport Passenger Area. The Board was a compromise - public ownership but not full nationalisation - and came into existence on 1 July 1933[5]

1933 London Passenger Transport Board took over the Underground as well as buses and trams in London on 1 July. The UERL, the LER and other transport companies were acquired by the Board. The shares in other companies in the group, such as AEC and North Metropolitan Electric Supply Co were sold.



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Key Dates in the History of London Transport, by Transport for London
  2. The Times, Jun 28, 1935
  3. The Times, Nov 20, 1912
  4. The Engineer 1922/04/14
  5. The Times , Jul 06, 1933