In the 1970s, to help dig the new Jubilee line at Charing Cross, a series of long access tunnels had to also be dug — and they’re still down there, empty and abandoned.
As part of the London Transport Museum’s Hidden London tours, it’s now possible to go into some of these tunnels and see this hidden part of the tube network.
This large network of tunnels were needed because while the Jubilee line platforms are next to Charing Cross mainline station, the nearest building site at street level was on the other side of Trafalgar Square.
What they had to do was take over a plot of land — that’s today the National Gallery extension — and dig down, then sideways under Trafalgar Square and over to the Jubilee line.
Two tunnels were dug, with a small light railway inside to carry all the equipment in and muck out.
The Jubilee line platforms were dug, and two long overflow tunnels leading off towards the City, as the Jubilee line was originally expected to head in that direction. Opened in 1979, the station closed just 20 years later, in 1999 when the Jubilee line extension opened.
Today, the disused Jubilee line platforms are perfect for companies that want to use a tube station for filming, but don’t want an old heritage station.
If you ever read in the news that commuters “were stunned” by something or other that happens to be a product placement, have a look and chances are that the station is Charing Cross, and the commuters are all actors.
Apart from product placements, the platforms are also part of the Hidden London tours, so down into the station the same way as commuters do, then at the end, where once your correspondent carried on down more escalators, a new wall exists, and small locked doors that hide what’s going on behind.
It’s suspected that Disney are filming something at the moment, as there’s a lot of Disney product placement in the posters lining the corridors, but down on the old platforms, it’s both instantly familiar, and yet eerily strange.
Apart from film crews, the platforms are also used to test new ideas that could be deployed elsewhere on the tube network – such as the humps for step-free access, textured floor edging, or video screens.
The station has more conventional uses though, as it’s often used to stable maintenance engines that will depart overnight to help repair the tube network. A central London storage location saving time in the short hours overnight that they have for maintenance work.
The station also serves another unexpected benefit — in the overflow tunnels. Those tunnels, once expected to be in passenger use were built with a ventilation shaft, which is still there poking up coincidentally next to the Transport Museum.
Today though they are stabling space for four trains, and two more in the platforms — so that the London Underground can send empty trains up towards Wembley to take people away from busy events.
Wembley is just south of a large depot, so passengers heading into London are well served, but a lot of Wembley passengers head north, to Stanmore where a car park is packed on busy days, so the fleet of trains stored at Charing Cross can run up to Wembley and carry lots more people to their car parks.
Of course, what people on a Hidden London tour really want to see are the disused construction tunnels, and a metal door in a public corridor is unlocked to let us inside. Going from clean tiles and crowds to dark tunnels and empty echoes.
The tunnels are part built from concrete rings used on the rest of the Jubilee line, but also from surplus metal rings left over from the Victoria line.
They curve down to the since filled in shaft that would today if it still existed run up to the basement of the National Gallery.
Another set of tunnels serve a more practical purpose, also for ventilation. A chance to go inside here and stand on the grills above the Northern line platforms and peer down at the passengers waiting below. Hang around for a couple of minutes and watch a tube train pull into the station from a very unusual angle, and passengers going about their daily business.
The people below are doing what we all do every day, but there is a voyeuristic thrill to be watching them from within the hidden tunnels. Just don’t drop your phone, for not only wont you get it back, but the passengers on the platform will be very surprised.
However, the real draw is how the cool air gets down here, and at the far end a massive empty shaft runs up to the surface, and if you know where to look up outside several storeys higher to above the local building heights.
The tours last about 75 minutes, taking in the disused platforms and the hidden tunnels.
There are some more tour dates for the Charing Cross tunnels available – details here.
Some more photos: