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British Industrial History

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London Electric Railway Co

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The Underground Electric Railways Co of London Limited (UERL) was the holding company for three of the new deep-level "tube" underground railway lines constructed in London in the first decade of the 20th century.

The company was established in 1902 by American financier Charles Yerkes who had been profitably involved in the development of the public transport system of Chicago.

1909 the UERL announced a parliamentary bill for the formal merger of the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway (BS&WR), the Charing Cross, Euston and Hampstead Railway (CCE&HR), and the Great Northern, Piccadilly and Brompton Railway (GNP&BR) into a single company, the London Electric Railway Company (LER). This bill received Royal Assent and was enacted on 26 July 1910 as the London Electric Railway Amalgamation Act, 1910. UERL retained a large controlling interest in the new company. The Metropolitan District Railway (MDR) was not merged with the tube lines and remained a separate company.

1912 January: UERL purchased the London General Omnibus Co (LGOC), the capital's largest bus operator. The large profits generated by the LGOC were used to cross subsidise the weaker returns of the underground railway companies.

Following its purchase of the LGOC, the Group held the dominant position in road passenger services. It consolidated this further by additional acquisitions.

1912 The UERL separated off its bus chassis-building activities to form the Associated Equipment Co.

1912 the UERL decided to purchase the City and South London Railway (C&SLR) and the Central London Railway (CLR), thereby bringing all but three of London's underground lines at that time into common ownership under the Underground Group brand. The management of the London United Tramways would be separated off and merged with that of the Metropolitan Electric Tramways[1]

1913 On 1 January, the mergers and demerger were effected

1913 the London and Suburban Traction Co (LSTC), jointly owned by UERL and British Electric Traction Co took over the London United Tramways and Metropolitan Electric Tramways companies. Six months later LSTC acquired the other privately operated tram company in London, South Metropolitan Electric Tramways.

Post WWI: the management of the various rail companies in the group was consolidated and integrated further. The lines were extended outwards from the centre of the city - the BS&WR north to Watford the CLR west to Ealing, the CCE&HR north to Edgware and the C&SLR south to Morden. New rolling stock was introduced with greater capacity and busy stations were rebuit with escalators to replace lifts. Despite this, the companies still struggled to make profits.

During the early years of the 1920s, the Group's bus and tram operations started to suffer from competition from small unregulated bus operations poaching their passengers and the general financial strength of the organisation came under pressure.

In an effort to protect the Group's income, its Managing Director/Chairman, Lord Ashfield, lobbied the government for regulation of transport services in the London area. During the 1920s, a series of legislative initiatives were made in this direction, with Ashfield and Labour London County Councillor (later MP) Herbert Morrison, at the forefront of debates as to the level of regulation and public control under which transport services should be brought. Ashfield aimed for regulation that would give the existing Group protection from competition and allow it to take substantive control of the LCC's tram system; Morrison preferred full public ownership.

1930 A bill was announced at the end of 1930 for the formation of the London Passenger Transport Board, a public corporation which would take control of the Underground Group, the Metropolitan Railway as well as all buses and trams within an area designated as the London Transport Passenger Area. The Board was a compromise - public ownership but not full nationalisation - and came into existence on 1 July 1933.

1933 The company was acquired by the London Passenger Transport Board[2]. The operations were brought together with that of other companies as London Underground.


1900 The Metropolitan District Railway (MDR) began electrification work, to replace steam locomotive operation. The electrical equipment used on other later tube lines was on the same general principle as that already adopted for the MDR: third and fourth rail. Eventually, the system would become standard for the whole of the London Underground.

The engineer-in-chief and general manager of the company was an American, James Russell Chapman, and much of the equipment used on the lines was imported from the United States. Specially-designed passenger rolling stock was required; because of the original American influence, these have been termed "cars" on the London Underground rather the more usual British term "carriages".

Lifts were supplied by the Otis Elevator Co of New York. The first railway escalator came into use on 4 October 1911 at Earl's Court between the Piccadilly and District Lines.

The lines shared a power station at Lots Road in Chelsea, which later served the London Underground as a whole until the beginning of the 21st century, when its increasingly obsolete equipment lead to its closure.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. The Times, Nov 20, 1912
  2. The Times, May 02, 1931