The London Underground in service to the Queen

From the Jubilee to the Elizabeth Line, London’s Underground does overtime.

At 10 a.m., minutes before Queen Elizabeth’s coffin was to be carried on the State Gun Carriage that would lead the funeral procession from Westminster Hall to Westminster Cathedral, the words: “Subway closed” appeared on the marble stairs leading down to the Piccadilly Line.

The famous underground stop was closed for a few minutes to allow the throngs of people piled up at the turnstiles to flow to the escalators leading down to the platforms of one of London’s busiest subway lines.

Monday, Sept. 19, the day of Elizabeth II’s funeral, was also the day the British capital’s transportation system recorded a record number of travelers.

As more than a million people were expected to arrive in the area near the royal palaces, and around 500 heads of state reached the metropolis to bid farewell to the Queen and participate in a collective rite of devotion to the British Crown, London’s Tube trains once again demonstrated the incredible transport capacity of one of the largest and efficient mobility systems in the world.

September 19, 2022: a record day for London transport

Both Transport for London, the company that runs the London Underground, and the Rail Delivery Group, the national rail operator, have been studying plans to handle the huge influx of travelers for about a week now, encouraging people to plan for their trip to London.

“We anticipate an unprecedented demand for public transport in the capital,” the Rail Delivery Group warned in a press release. This prediction came true, so much so that during the funeral the queue to reach Westminster reached as long as 16 kilometres (10 miles). While three Tube stops, such as the one near the Victoria railway station, were closed for safety, others were given more staff due to a large amount of traffic. The Jubilee Line (named to celebrate 25 years of the Queen’s reign) was upgraded so that it was able to cope with crowds beyond those received during major sporting events at the 90,000-capacity venue.

The same thing happened with the Elizabeth Line, the last major subway line to be built in London with an investment that came close to £20 billion. The work, not yet fully completed, connects Abbey Wood in the southeast of the city with Paddington in just 29 minutes. During the funeral commemoration, the section normally closed on Sundays remained open on the day before the funeral, with an average of 12 trains running on this section every hour, each capable of carrying up to 1,500 passengers.

While some lines were reinforced, travelers have been asked to avoid transit on other routes. The Green Park stop, close to Buckingham Palace and the Mall (the long avenue lined with British flags where the Queen’s casket was paraded) was “off limits” to Londoners, who were asked to avoid this stop by getting off at nearby stations, Victoria, Piccadilly Circus or St. James Park.

An impressive infrastructure for a global metropolis

The success of the London Underground is no accident. It is the result of a unique infrastructure on the one hand, and the organisational capacity of the city authorities on the other.

“We are working with our partners to keep our city moving smoothly and to ensure that everyone who needs to get around or is planning to attend the memorial events can do so safely,” said Andy Byford, the Transport for London Commissioner.

This mission was accomplished thanks to the special characteristics of the oldest subway in the world and the largest in Europe. The Metropolitan Line was opened on January 10, 1863, and the Tube now has 272 stations spread across Greater London. According to Transport for London, each train travels an average of 123,600 kilometres (199,000 miles) each year, while the entire network carries 28 million passengers and has reached peaks of 1 billion accesses.

It has always experienced constant change: as early as 1864, a year after the first section opened, 260 plans for new lines were already under consideration. Since then, the subway network has grown until its latest addition with the Elizabeth Line, yet another engineering marvel that once again supported London’s ambitions to present itself as a world capital.