In London, a Circle opens upBy
Coming soon: a break in the London Underground’s Circle Line
For New Yorkers accustomed to our snaking subway system, the concept of a feeder-style circle line is a foreign one. Our trains run from borough to borough, from the eastern-most reaches of Queens to the northern parts of Manhattan, from Coney Island to the Norwood, and the closest route we have to a circle are the short Shuttle routes in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
In London, though, the Circle Line is a way of life. This yellow line makes a loop around Zone 1 of the London Underground and offers passengers connection to every other Tube line. With no way out of the loop, this line is subject to frequent delays and is among the least reliable in London.
Yet, Londoners have a love-hate relationship with it. Apocryphal tales are told of drunk Londoners who ride around the line in circles until the Tubes shut down while tourists often board trains heading the wrong way around the loop. The Circle Line has even spawned an annual pub crawl requiring participants to down 28 drinks — one at a pub near each station and one on the train — in 12 hours.
But starting December 13, the Circle Line will be a circle no more. As The Times of London reports, Transport for London is cutting the loop with the aim of improving reliability along this delay-plagued line, and although riders will no longer be able to ride in a circle, the line will retain its iconic name. Fiona Hamilton writes:
In an upgrade to one of the capital’s oldest Tube lines, whose trains have previously travelled in loops, it is being extended to Hammersmith, in West London, with a tail added to the existing track. There will no longer be a through service between the west and north sides of the current Circle: accidental snoozers will be woken up to change trains at Edgware Road.
Transport for London (TfL) said that the changes would bring vast improvements. The Circle Line passes many of the capital’s landmarks, including the Tower of London and the Houses of Parliament, yet has been unreliable.
TfL said that during disruptions the line’s continuous nature had resulted in particularly severe delays: the lack of a start and a terminus meant that trains “backed up” along the track. As the District Line and Hammersmith and City Line share parts of its track, disruptions on those services also result in delays on the Circle Line. Under the new system, defective trains would be more easily removed from the line, resulting in less disruption as well as a more frequent service.
I’ve been to London a few times, and I’m always struck by the Circle Line stations. Many of them resemble the Notting Hill Gate station and feature open-air trenches with some beautifully built arches along the walls. I never had the chance to ride the complete circle and now never will.
Over at Human Transit, Jarrett Walker offers up his views on the end of the circle. There is a reason why none of New York’s subways run on a loop. It is an inefficient way to construct a reliable subway station and results in what Walker calls “awkward” provisions for layovers, recovery times and unexpected train problems.
In a way, then, the opening of the Circle Line reminds me of the Second Ave. Subway’s long-gone third track. With nowhere to go, stalled trains along Second Ave. will snare the entire route. It won’t be nearly as easy to fix as Transport for London’s Circle Line extension is.