(Visit London Blog, 26 June 2013)
London is home to a bustling network of trains and Tubes – including Britain’s busiest train station, Clapham Junction. As Londoners celebrate the 150th anniversary of London Underground, explore the history, present and future world of trains in the capital. And remember, if you arrive into London by National Rail you can enjoy 2FOR 1 entry to top London attractions.
London Transport Museum
London Transport Museum is the obvious first step for any train enthusiast visiting London. Its current exhibition, Poster Art 150 – London Underground’s Greatest Designs, showcases iconic and fascinating graphic posters commissioned by London Underground. But there’s plenty more to see in the permanent collection, from the oldest surviving electric Tube locomotive in the world to hundreds of old photographs.
London’s Abandoned Stations
While many of London’s abandoned train and Tube stations are inaccessible, remnants exist above ground such as the Aldwych station façade on The Strand and Down Street in Mayfair, which was occasionally used as a war bunker by Winston Churchill and his Cabinet during World War II. For more tips, guides and little-known facts, visit dedicated blogs such as Abandoned Tube Stations, Underground History and Disused Stations. And put a date in your diary to visit London Transport Museum’s Lost & Found: A Secret Underground Journey show at Aldwych Station, which opens this September.
Epping-Ongar Steam Train
As part of the Tube150 celebrations, step back in time and travel by steam train on the Epping Ongar Railway (in service from 28 June to 1 July). You’ll take a seat in a 1892 Jubilee coach (number 353) onboard the newly restored steam locomotive Met No 1 as it travels on a former part of the Central Line – the closest heritage railway to the capital. Two 1920s ‘Dreadnought’ compartment coaches, one 1950s coach from the North Norfolk Railway and and two guest steam locos will also be making an appearance.
London Underground and Tube Tour
Inside London’s London Underground and Tube Tour packs a lot into two hours. As well as learning about the fascinating history behind the Tube’s design and construction, you’ll see the ghost station at the British Museum, the original plans for the Tube and and great architectural gems.
London Transport Museum Depot
The London Transport Museum Depot in Acton, West London, is a treasure trove of transport history and memorabilia – housing more than 370,000 transport-related objects. Once a month it opens its doors to the public with an organised behind-the-scenes tour, which gives visitors exceptional access to everything from ticket machines to rare vehicles and even bus and rail sheds. Look out for the depot’s occasional themed Open Weekends too.
Orient Express’s British Pullman & Northern Belle
While many people know of the Orient Express from the book by famed British crime writer Agatha Christie, it’s the trains themselves which hold the pull for rail enthusiasts – not whodunit. Trains like the British Pullman, whose carriages date as far back as 1925, or the Northern Belle – a 1930s-style service that actually made its maiden voyage in 2000. On many of the Orient Express’s day-trip or longer-stay packages you can enjoy a five-course dinner, Champagne and amazing views of the British countryside – there’s even a Murder Mystery Lunch option.
Hampton & Kempton Waterworks Railway
While Kew Bridge Steam Museum goes under refurbishment (the museum is still open at weekends), it has kindly lent its Thomas Wicksteed steam train to the Hampton & Kempton Waterworks Railway at Kempton Steam Museum, where it will be “steaming every Sunday” along the Hanworth Loop until the end of August. Built in 1916, the railway once transported coal from the river in Hampton to the water pumping engines at Kempton – and the plan is to restore the full line and eventually transport visitors to the Kempton Nature Reserve. Contact before visiting to arrange entry.
The Deptford Project: The Train Carriage Café
Less than a minute from Deptford Railway Station sits another rail carriage, The Deptford Project, but this one isn’t going anywhere. The 35-tonne reclaimed carriage, transported 45 miles from Shoeburyness in Essex to South London at a snail paced two miles an hour, today houses a small but quirky café. While some purists may not approve of the modernisation, you can’t help but be won over by the Elvis-themed loo, delicious homemade food and buzzing, community-minded events calendar.
St Pancras Renaissance Hotel
In 1873, the Midland Grand Hotel opened – a railway hotel of the finest order, designed in High Victorian Gothic style by architect George Gilbert Scott. After a somewhat disastrous history, which saw it nearly demolished in the 1960s, the hotel underwent a £150million facelift and emerged in 2011 as The St Pancras Renaissance Hotel. However, the railway remains at the heart of the hotel – with the stunning former Booking Office now serving as a restaurant and the incredible view from some rooms of Barlow’s famous train shed arch and even the tracks themselves.