Had plans gone as planned, London Underground’s Central line should look more like the Circle line running in a loop, not a long single line passing through the centre of London.
When the Central line opened in June 1900, it ran between Shepherds Bush to Bank with locomotives pulling the carriages, which caused a delay at each end as the locomotives had to be taken to the other end of the train for the return journey.
A plan was announced later that year to put little loops at each end of the line to allow trains to simply turn around without delay, but the plan was scuppered by Parliament.
However, the same Parliament that didn’t approve two tiny loops at each end of the existing line, did call for someone to build a railway linking Hammersmith to the City, and that caught the attention of the Central line railway.
The managers of the tube line realised that they could build the desired railway from Hammersmith to Bank, and by adding a couple of small spurs at either end, create a giant loop railway around the center of London.
In 1902, plans were submitted to Parliament to extend the Central line down from Shepherds Bush to Hamersmith, then loop through central London and up to Bank, where it would loop around via Liverpool Street.
The line would have run via (using modern station names):
- Kensington Olympia
- High St Kensington,
- The Albert Hall
- Hyde Park Corner
- Green Park
- Picadilly Circus
- Charing Cross
- City Thameslink
- Mansion House
- St Mary Axe
- Liverpool Street
…where it joined back up to the existing Central line at Bank.
Rather cleverly, the design was actually a figure-of-eight, with the new line running under the existing platforms at Bank, which helped to avoid a problem of loop railways, of excessive wear on one side of the wheels compared to the other.
The bill was considered, alongside many others by Parliament, and they came down in favour of a rival scheme backed by J.P.Morgan and a London tram operator, for a line that roughly mirrors the Picadilly line today.
As it happens though, problems hit the Piccadilly, City and North East London Railway, and the tram operator sold out to the rival scheme being planned by Charles Yerkes, which was indeed to become the Picadilly line.
While all these shenanigans were going on, the Central line company wasn’t idle, and it took another attempt at promoting its own loop railway, but delays in Parliament meant that decisions weren’t likely to be taken until 1906.
It was however, not Parliament that decided the fate of the Central line’s plans, but technology — it had now become possible to have tube trains with drivers cabs at both ends of the train, removing the need to swap the old heavy locomotives at the end of each journey.
The 2.5 minute delay at each end of the line eliminated, the Central line was able to run more trains, reduce congestion and collect more fares.
The urgency for the loop to be built had vanished.
Later extensions were to focus on lengthening the line to bring more commuters in from further afield rather than boosting capacity in the centre of London, leaving us today with a single line in the center, where we might once have had two.
Evening Star, 14 May 1901