150 Years Of The Metropolitan Line: Exploring the Possibility of Steam


2013 will see London Underground reach a noteworthy landmark – it will mark 150 years since the Metropolitan Railway, the core of the modern Metropolitan line, opened on 10 January 1863.

Given the significance of the Landmark, it seems likely that we will see various events in the build up to 2013 and in the year itself from both the London Transport Museum and TfL themselves. Precisely what those events are remains to be seen. A year and a half is not a long time in railway terms, however, so already some signs are beginning to emerge of what may come. Most particularly, one thing stands out that will be of interest to those with a keen eye to the Underground’s History – the possibility of Steam returning to the Underground.

It is worth stating, of course, before looking at this in a bit more detail, that at this stage any plans in this area are very much tentative. As it stands, the Transport Museum have been able to confirm that it is something they are working towards, but that plans are at an early stage and key questions (most importantly about funding) will still need to be addressed.

Metropolitan Railway E Class 0-4-4T No.1 – Image Via Wikipedia

As it currently stands, a tender has been placed in the OJEU to return Metropolitan Railway E Class 0-4-4T No.1, which can currently be found over at Quainton (pictured above), to a position where it can run on the Underground again – most likely (and appropriately) on the Metropolitan. Seven E-Class locamotives were built for the Metropolitan between 1896 and 1901, and they continued in service in some fashion on the Underground until 1965. Indeed No. 1 was the locomotive that worked the last steam-hauled LT passenger train in 1961, after which it was preserved. It has run various special services on the Underground (and elsewhere) in the past, but came to the end of its boiler certificate back in October 2010. The tender can be read in full here, and as can be seen the implication is that the objective is to run it on the Underground in 2013.

Similarly, The Museum have confirmed that they have received a Stage 1 Development grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) to support the preparation of a Museum bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund for the restoration of Metropolitan Railway ‘Jubilee’ First class carriage No. 353.

For both projects it is obviously very early stages. Whilst the Museum have confirmed their involvement, and their overall aim to see steam running in some form on the Underground in the anniversary year, they have also (rightly) stressed that there are still plenty of hurdles left to overcome in order to achieve that aim with a decision on whether to restore the carriages, for example, to be announced later this summer. So as it stands, the above represents all the information available at this time.

One thing, however, is for sure – it seems that 2013 will represent a good year for those interested in the Underground’s History, and one that may contain some unique (and arguably unrepeatable, given upcoming changes to lines and signalling) events that hark back to the Underground’s past.

UPDATE: The Museum have launched a new blog, which you can find here, and which confirms the above.

Written by John Bull
John Bull is the Editor of London Reconnections. A transport journalist and historian, his writing often focuses on the political or strategic challenges facing London's transport network and beyond.