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On 9th January 1863 the first steam train set out on the Metropolitan line and the life of London changed forever. Within a month this new underground line was carrying 26,000 passengers a day, instantly reducing congestion and opening up London to the possibilities of commuting from the suburbs.
Admittedly much of the first line was more akin to a roofed over dip in the ground than a true underground and passengers were in danger of asphyxiation from inadequately vented steam and fumes but from day one the underground has played a vital role in keeping the heart of London beating. So much so that the history of London’s expansion goes hand in hand with the spread of the underground system and even today communities vigorously campaign for lines to be extended into their district to help with regeneration.
We have previously talked about the ways in which an organisation’s cultural reach extends far beyond that of the organisation itself and the London Underground typifies this scenario. For many visitors, London without its underground would be unthinkable and the underground map and logo are held up as style icons worldwide.
But the Underground’s reach goes far beyond that of attracting visitors. Put simply, the Underground is the heart which enables the lifeblood of London to flow. Amidst an immense logistical challenge sits the knowledge that every delay or failure results in knock-on problems for other organisations across London and could result in the loss of reputation for London or even the wider UK.
In its 150 years the London Underground has changed beyond all recognition but in the process it has enabled London to thrive and become a city which is renowned across the world for culture, for business and for life.