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Piccadilly line

The Piccadilly line is a line of the London Underground, coloured dark blue on the Tube map. It is the third busiest line on the Underground network judged by its passengers per annum. It is mainly a deep-level line running from the north to the west of London via Zone 1, with significant surface running sections in its outer parts. Out of the 53 stations served, 25 are underground.


The beginnings

The Piccadilly line began as the Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway (GNP&BR), one of several railways controlled by the Underground Electric Railways Co of London Ltd (UERL), whose chief director was Charles Tyson Yerkes, although he died before any of his schemes came to fruition.

In 1902, there had been 26 Bills before Parliament to construct tube railways in London, many of them proposing competing routes and it required a Parliamentary Committee to decide on the most worthy of them as far as the Piccadilly line was concerned.

The scheme eventually agreed involved the amalgamation of two of the planned tube railways, the Great Northern and Strand Railway (GN&SR) and the Brompton and Piccadilly Circus Railway (B&PCR), and the taking over of a District Railway scheme for a deep-level tube line between South Kensington and Earl's Court (approved in 1897 but not built). A connecting section between Piccadilly Circus and Holborn was also added to link the GN&SR and B&PCR.

When the GNP&BR was formally opened on 15 December 1906, the line ran from the Great Northern & City Line terminus at Finsbury Park to the District Railway's station at Hammersmith.

On 30 November 1907 the short branch from Holborn to the Strand (later renamed Aldwych) opened. This had been planned as the last section of the GN&SR before the amalgamation with the B&PR was made; in 1905 (and again in 1965) plans were made to extend it the short distance south under the River Thames to Waterloo, but this was never to come about. Although built with twin tunnels, single-line shuttle working became the norm from 1918, with the eastern tunnel closed to traffic.

Later changes

On 1 July 1910 the GNP&BR and the other UERL owned railways (the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway, the Charing Cross, Euston & Hampstead Railway and the District Railway) were merged by private Act of Parliament to become the "London Electric Railway Company".

On 10 December 1928 a new Piccadilly Circus tube station, which included a sub-surface booking hall and 11 escalators, was opened. This was the start of a considerable development over the whole of the Railway, which included a comprehensive programme of station enlargement on the same basis as at Piccadilly Circus.

Cockfosters extension

From the 1920s onwards there had been severe congestion at the line's northern terminus, Finsbury Park, where travellers had to change on to trams and buses for destinations in North and North East London. There had been deputations made to Parliament, asking for an early extension of the line either towards Tottenham and Edmonton or towards Wood Green and Palmers Green. The early 1930s was a time of recession, and in order to relieve unemployment Government capital was made available. The chief features of the scheme were an extension northwards from Finsbury Park to Cockfosters. It was also planned to build a station between Manor House and Turnpike Lane at the junction of Green Lanes and St Ann's Rd in Harringay, but this was stopped by Frank Pick who felt that the bus & tram service at this point was adequate. However, a 'Ventilation Station', in similar architectural style to tube stations of the time was provided at the site, and is visible today. There was also some opposition from the London and North Eastern Railway to the line. The extension is in tube from Finsbury Park to a point a little south of Arnos Grove. The total length of the extension is 12 km (7.7 miles): it cost £4 million to build and was opened in sections as follows:

Westward extensions

Powers to link with existing tracks west of Hammersmith were originally obtained in 1913. A Parliamentary report of 1919 recommended through running to Richmond and Ealing. By the end of the 1920s the priority had shifted to serving the areas around Hounslow and north and west of Ealing. The outcome involved taking over the inner pair of tracks between Hammersmith and Acton Town as a non-stop service, while the Metropolitan District Railway would continue to provide the stopping service on the outer pair of tracks. Construction of the linking sections started in 1930, and the services opened as follows.

These extensions are notable for the Art Deco architecture of many of their stations, often designed by Charles Holden.

Victoria line

During the planning stages of the Victoria line, a proposal was put forward to transfer Manor House station to the Victoria line, and also to build new "direct" tunnels from Finsbury Park to Turnpike Lane station, thereby cutting the journey time in and out of Central London. This idea was eventually shelved due to the inconvenience to passengers that would have been caused during re-building, as well as the costs of the new tunnels. Even so, the Piccadilly line was still affected at Finsbury Park by the construction of the Victoria line. The westbound service was re-directed through new tunnels, to give cross-platform interchange with the Victoria line on the platforms previously used by the Northern City Line. This work was completed in 1965, and the diversion came into use on 3 October 1965, three years before the opening of the first stage of the Victoria line.

Heathrow extension

In 1975, a new tunnel section was opened to Hatton Cross from Hounslow West. Hounslow West became a tunnel section station. In 1977, the branch was extended to Heathrow Central. This station was renamed Heathrow Terminals 1, 2, 3 in 1984, with the opening of a one-way loop serving Heathrow Terminal 4, to the south of the central terminal area.

From 7 January 2005 to 17 September 2006, the loop via Heathrow Terminal 4 was closed to allow the connection of a spur line to the future Heathrow Terminal 5 station. All underground services reverted to two-way working into Terminals 1, 2 and 3, which again became the temporary terminus; shuttle buses served Terminal 4 from the Hatton Cross bus station. For a brief period in the summer of 2006, the line terminated at Hatton Cross and shuttle buses also ran to Terminals 1, 2, 3 while the track configuration and tunnels were altered for the Terminal 5 link from that station. The station at Terminal 5 opened on 27 March 2008.

2005 terrorist attack

On July 7 2005, a Piccadilly line train was attacked by suicide bomber Germaine Lindsay. The blast occurred at 08:50 BST while the train was travelling between King's Cross St. Pancras and Russell Square. It was part of a co-ordinated attack on London's transport network, and was synchronised with three other attacks — two on the Circle line and one on a bus at Tavistock Square. A relatively small high-explosive device, concealed in a rucksack, was used; the bomber died in the explosion.

The Piccadilly line bomb resulted in the largest number of fatalities, with 26 people reported killed. Evacuation proved to be more difficult as it is a deep level line, difficult for the emergency services to reach. The entire line remained closed for the rest of the day. Parts of the line re-opened on July 8, with no service between Hyde Park Corner and Arnos Grove, and full service was restored on August 4, exactly four weeks after the bomb.


Rolling stock

Like virtually all Underground lines, the Piccadilly line is operated by a single type of rolling stock, in this case the 1973 tube stock, in the standard London Underground livery of blue, white and red. Seventy-six trains out of a fleet of 88 are needed to run the line's peak service, and one unit was severely damaged by the terrorist attack of 7 July 2005. While the stock was recently refurbished, it is due for replacement by 2014.

The line was previously worked by 1959 stock, 1956 stock, 1938 stock, standard tube stock and 1906 gate stock.

The line has two depots, at Northfields and Cockfosters. There are sidings at Oakwood, South Harrow, Arnos Grove, Rayners Lane, Down Street, Wood Green, Acton Town, Ruislip and Uxbridge. Oakwood and Arnos Grove are considered more dominant to the other sidings as trains run to and from them, especially the latter.


The line is controlled from the control centre at Earl's Court, which it shares with the District line. It is in need of resignalling, and this work is planned to be carried out by 2014.

Service pattern

The current service pattern is:

6tph Cockfosters - Heathrow Terminal 5 (via Terminals 1, 2, 3)
6tph Cockfosters - Heathrow Terminal 4 (returning around the loop and serving Terminals 1, 2, 3)
3tph Cockfosters - Uxbridge
3tph Cockfosters - Rayners Lane
6tph Arnos Grove - Northfields

(tph = trains per hour, e.g. 3tph is a train every 20 minutes)

Half of the Uxbridge trains turn back at Rayners Lane - a 10-minute service runs between Acton and Rayners Lane, with a 20-minute service to Uxbridge (this section is supplemented by the Metropolitan line).

Often late evening services terminate at Oakwood instead of Cockfosters.

Other services operate at times, especially at the start and towards the end of the traffic day.


The TFL line diagram is available online.


(In order from east to west.)

Cockfosters branch

Tunnel section commences

Original Section

Tunnel section ends

Extension to Hounslow and Uxbridge

The line splits here into two branches — the Heathrow branch and the Uxbridge branch.

Heathrow branch

(Continuing from Acton Town.)

Tunnel section recommences

Just beyond Heathrow Terminals 1, 2, 3 tube station, the line goes into a new section to serve Heathrow Terminal 5 tube station, which opened in March 2008. Half of all Heathrow trains use the loop and serve Terminal 4 and the other half omit Terminal 4 and serve Terminal 5.

Uxbridge branch

(continued from Acton Town)

Closed stations

  • Aldwych opened on the 30 November 1907 as Strand. It was at the end of a branch line from the main line at Holborn. An evening through northbound 'Theatre' train ran until 1910. From 1917 onwards it was served only by a shuttle from Holborn. In the same year it was renamed Aldwych when Charing Cross on the Northern Line was renamed Strand. It was temporarily closed in 1940 during World War II to be used as an air-raid shelter. It re-opened in 1946. The possibility of extending the branch to Waterloo was discussed but never proceeded. It was finally closed on 30 September 1994; the level of use was said to be too low to justify the £1 million estimated costs of complete lift replacement. The station is regularly used by film makers.
  • Brompton Road opened 15 December 1906; closed 30 July 1934, between Knightsbridge and South Kensington.
  • Down Street opened 15 December 1906; closed 21 May 1932, between Green Park and Hyde Park Corner.
  • Osterley & Spring Grove first served 13 March 1933; closed 24 March 1934 between Boston Manor and Hounslow East. It was replaced by Osterley.
  • Park Royal & Twyford Abbey opened 23 June 1903; closed 5 July 1931. Although on the route of the current Piccadilly line a short distance north of the present Park Royal station, it was never served by Piccadilly line trains. It was opened by the District line, the original operator of the line between Ealing Common and South Harrow, and was closed and replaced by the present Park Royal station before the Piccadilly line started running trains to South Harrow in 1932.
  • York Road opened 15 December 1906; closed 19 September 1932, between King's Cross St Pancras and Caledonian Road. It has been suggested that this station may be reopened to serve new developments on the nearby King's Cross railway lands, although the number of passengers expected to use the station may not be high enough to justify the cost of refitting it to modern standards. The road the station served, 'York Road', has since been renamed 'York Way'.


  • Barker, T. C.; Robbins, Michael A History of London Transport: Volume two - the Twentieth Century to 1970. George Allen & Unwin Ltd.

See also

Leslie Green — architect of the Great Northern, Piccadilly & Brompton Railway's early stations


External links

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