How the world’s first metro system was built – Christian Wolmar

It was the dawn of 1863, and London’s
not-yet-opened subway system, the first of its kind in the world,
had the city in an uproar. Digging a hole under the city
and putting a railroad in it seemed the stuff of dreams. Pub drinkers scoffed at the idea and a local minister accused the railway
company of trying to break into hell. Most people simply thought the project, which cost more than
100 million dollars in today’s money, would never work. But it did. On January 10, 1863, 30,000 people ventured underground
to travel on the world’s first subway on a four-mile stretch of line in London. After three years of construction
and a few setbacks, the Metropolitan Railway
was ready for business. The city’s officials were much relieved. They’d been desperate to find a way to reduce the terrible
congestion on the roads. London, at the time the world’s largest
and most prosperous city, was in a permanent state of gridlock, with carts, costermongers, cows, and commuters jamming the roads. It’d been a Victorian visionary,
Charles Pearson, who first thought of putting railways
under the ground. He’d lobbied for underground trains
throughout the 1840s, but opponents thought the idea
was impractical since the railroads at the time
only had short tunnels under hills. How could you get a railway
through the center of a city? The answer was a simple system
called “cut and cover.” Workers had to dig a huge trench, construct a tunnel out of brick archways, and then refill the hole
over the newly built tunnel. Because this was disruptive and required the demolition
of buildings above the tunnels, most of the line went
under existing roads. Of course, there were accidents. On one occasion, a heavy rainstorm
flooded the nearby sewers and burst through the excavation, delaying the project by several months. But as soon as
the Metropolitan Railway opened, Londoners rushed in
to ride the new trains. The Metropolitan quickly became
a vital part of London’s transport system. Additional lines were soon built, and new suburbs grew around the stations. Big department stores opened
next to the railroad, and the railway company
even created attractions, like a 30-story Ferris wheel in Earls
Court to bring in tourists by train. Within 30 years, London’s subway system covered
80 kilometers, with lines in the center of town
running in tunnels, and suburban trains operating
on the surface, often on embankments. But London was still growing, and everyone wanted
to be connected to the system. By the late 1880s, the city had become too dense with
buildings, sewers, and electric cables for the “cut and cover” technique, so a new system had to be devised. Using a machine
called the Greathead Shield, a team of just 12 workers could
bore through the earth, carving deep underground tunnels
through the London clay. These new lines, called tubes,
were at varying depths, but usually about 25 meters deeper than
the “cut and cover” lines. This meant their construction
didn’t disturb the surface, and it was possible
to dig under buildings. The first tube line,
the City and South London, opened in 1890 and proved so successful that half a dozen more lines
were built in the next 20 years. This clever new technology was even used
to burrow several lines under London’s river, the Thames. By the early 20th century, Budapest, Berlin, Paris, and New York had all built subways of their own. And today, with more than 160 cities
in 55 countries using underground rails
to combat congestion, we can thank Charles Pearson
and the Metropolitan Railway for getting us started on the right track.

100 thoughts on “How the world’s first metro system was built – Christian Wolmar”

  1. If you're between 8 and 18 years old, and you have a big idea you want to share on the TED platform, check out TED-Ed Clubs:! We believe that student ideas, passions, and voices should be shared and celebrated, and we invite you to be a part of that.

  2. In future, people will look at Elon Musk the same way, he started SpaceX, Tesla world's first mass produced affordable electric cars, his Boring Company,
    also people will look at the creators of companies like Apple, Microsoft, Google, in a similar way as the people who revolutionized information technology age
    i wish i can survive for a really really long time, then i would be proud to say i lived through the birth of the internet, smartphones, computers, electric cars, and many more new things that come out these days

  3. How did they manage the Emissons made by the Steampowered Trains? When did they switch to electrical trains? Were there any Accidents?

  4. You neglected to include Boston in your list of cities with early subway. The "T" was built in 1897, seven years before the New York Subway was built, and is the oldest rapid transit system in the Americas. That is deserving of recognition and it's disappointing that it was ignored.

  5. Fail: Boston’s subway predates NYC’s which didn’t open until after the turn of the century

  6. The steam locomotive is an 0-4-4-0, which never existed… At least, not on standard gauge railways… At least, not in the UK.

  7. In France we always learned the first subway was in Paris but I believe that may be because we stretch the definition to include tramways.

  8. I think the idea of Ted-Ed clubs is a fantastic one, but why limit it to 8-18 year olds? Charles Pearson was 52 years old when he wrote his paper recommending underground railways. Not all great ideas come from children and we can all continue to contribute at every age.

  9. The first deep level underground railway stations in the world opened to the public in 1886 were Liverpool James Street, and Birkenhead Hamilton Square, in the UK. These stations are still in use today and together with other underground stations in central Liverpool form part of the Mersey Rail network.

  10. What about Sydney? We built the City Circle in the 20's till the 50's, and we are building a new 'metro' system.

  11. We have very strong British influence here in Hong Kong – they built our metro system called MTR (Mass Transit Railway) in 1978 with British trains built by the now defunct Metro-Cammell company. Most of these 1980 trains are still in operation (great quality with superb reliability even after nearly 40 years!), but the new ones are now made in China. How times have changed!

  12. Chicago had its great streetcars. It was the largest in the world. Nobody talks about us. Gone now, really sad.

  13. My City still has no metro but my country has ten metro system in 10 cities and building 40 more to make it 50 in 50 cities.. Hope we get one soon in our city too

  14. Nicely explained. It is also why London Underground only has air-conditioned trains on certain lines – you can do it on the cut-and cover lines which have frequent openings to the surface, but it's impossible on the tunnelled tube lines. There's nowhere for the hot air to escape to.

  15. Buenos Aires is the first SubwayLine in LatinAmerica. their first way was Linea A Plaza de Mayo(MaySquare)- Primera Junta.

    Some stations had the similiar design to the paris metro.

  16. The only thing i dont understand is how they dealed with the steam by the steamengine underground

  17. I recently took a trip to Europe form the USA. I went to London and was amazed at everything. One of my favorite things was the London Underground station that was directly under our hotel, St. Pancras. The trains go extremely fast and you will get to your destination quicker than a car shoots out exhaust. Seriously, if you’ve never been out of your country, you will love London. Please like this comment! And by the way, I am the youngest person for 5 generations back to go to Europe. Yes, I’m 10 years old. Boo-Yah! Man, was that fun!

  18. If you use the Metropolitan Line, at Bakers Street you can still see the ventilation tube, noting that the first underground train was a steam powered. Isambard Kingdom Brunel actually developed the technique to tunnel under a river that was later used by the Underground. PS We do not have a Subway or Metro here it is the Underground or Tube, thanks.

  19. The map shows Budapest, Berlin and New York in the wrong place. Only Paris is vaguely near to where they said it was.

  20. Probably no TED-Ed subscriber will be the next person to innovate or invent something as groundbreaking as the subway.

  21. How was ventilation system worked? With coal run trains under deep tunnels, wouldn't passengers suffocate?

  22. Faux, le premier métro du monde est la Petite ceinture à Paris, exploité dès 1850, l'exploitation a été définitivement supprimée en 1980.

  23. It’s called the tube or the underground in England if it’s in America then you can call it a metro or subway

  24. 3:38
    I can be picky and say that king william street appears to not have closed
    And he says railROAD the first time, which is wrong in britain

  25. Since when was there a subway in the Philippines? Particularly the northern part of the island of Luzon?

    Today I found out that Ted-ed isn't really accurate.

  26. There are actually surprisingly few videos about the history of metros, this is the best and one of the only ones I could find. If anybody could find like a documentary about it I'd be happy if you could link it since I can't for the life of me find one myself.

  27. I would have thought Glasgow, the third subway system in the world, would have been mentioned in that list. Great video. Would love to see one on the various ways used to move the carriages.

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