Northern City Line

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Northern City Line
Train to Welyn Garden City in Moorgate (2013)
Train to Welyn Garden City in Moorgate (2013)
Route length: 5.5 km
Gauge : 1435 mm ( standard gauge )
Power system : 750 V  =
Power system : 25 kV 50 Hz  ~
Dual track : continuous
BSicon STR.svgBSicon .svg
East Coast Main Line from Stevenage
BSicon BHF.svgBSicon extKBHFa.svg
Finsbury Park
BSicon STR.svgBSicon extSTRe.svg
BSicon dSTRr + 1h.svgBSicon xBS2 + rxl.svgBSicon exdBS2c4.svg
East Coast Main Line to London King's Cross
Stop, stop
Drayton Park
Highbury & Islington
Essex Road
Old Street
Moor gate

The Northern City Line (NCL) is a largely underground railway line in north London . It runs from Moorgate Station in the City of London to Finsbury Park Station . The line, opened in 1904, was part of the London Underground from 1913 to 1975 , but has since been integrated into the national rail network.


Plans for a subway between Finsbury Park and Moorgate were drawn up under the direction of James Henry Greathead and presented in 1891. Greathead based itself on the recently opened City and South London Railway and proposed the construction of a deep-lying tube railway (English: Tube ). The route should provide passengers on the Great Northern Railway (GNR) with another connection to the City of London. Such a connection already existed through the connection of the GNR to the Widened Lines at King's Cross station , but the GNR line between Finsbury Park and King's Cross was overloaded. The GNR was initially open to the plans, but wanted a connection free of transfers. Greathead's revised plans provided for the construction of a tunnel, the diameter of which was 16 feet, significantly larger than the otherwise common London diameter of 12 feet , and which was designed for the clearance profile of the British railways. GNR steam trains were to be converted to electric traction at Finsbury Park. The GNR guaranteed 50 trains a day, which should run from Finsbury Park through the tunnel to Moorgate. In this form, the plans of the Great Northern & City Railway (GN&CR) were approved in 1892.

The search for investors, begun in 1894, proved difficult. The start of construction was delayed until 1898; the construction company S. Pearson & Sons contributed a substantial part of the required capital of £ 1,500,000. At this point in time the relationship between GN&CR and GNR had deteriorated considerably: The GNR terminated the contract for the transfer of its trains to the NCL. At the same time, the GN&CR was refused to use Finsbury Park station, which is why a tunnel station was built there. Parts of the GNR management favored the construction of the Piccadilly Line , which from December 1906 offered a connection from Finsbury Park to King's Cross and to West London.

On February 14, 1904, the NCL was opened in the form of a 5.5 kilometer branch line. 26 railcars and 32 sidecars with wooden superstructures were available for operation; in 1906, an additional six railcars and twelve sidecars with steel superstructures were purchased. The trains were serviced in a depot west of Drayton Park Station, the only above-ground station on the line. Until 1907, an average of 16 million passengers used the line every year; In 1908, due to competition from trams, there were 12 million. The number of passengers stayed behind the expectations of 23 million per year. There were numerous plans to link the route with the Circle Line or the Waterloo & City Line , but none of these projects was ever realized. A short extension from Moorgate to Lothbury (near the Bank of England ) approved in 1902 was begun but never completed and finally abandoned in 1909.

In 1913 the Metropolitan Railway bought the GN&CR. The Metropolitan Railway shut down the GN&CR power station that had been built near the intersection of the line with Regent's Canal . The building was later used as a film studio by Gainsborough Pictures . The depot at Drayton Park remained operational; however, major repairs were carried out in other, better equipped workshops. Since there was no direct connection to the rest of the subway network, transfer trips using railway lines were required.

Drayton Park station with the site of the former depot. In the background an access bridge to the Emirates Stadium (2006)
North entrance to Drayton Park Station (2012)

In 1933 the Metropolitan Railway and the rest of the underground lines were incorporated into the state-owned London Passenger Transport Board . The line was renamed Northern City Line and for operational reasons became a branch of the Edgware-Morden Line (which was part of the Northern Line from 1937 ). In the late 1930s, the Northern Heights Plan provided for the NCL to be extended north over the Edgware, Highgate and London Railway . In the course of planning in May 1939, the NCL fleet was replaced by the series used on other tube routes . This involved an adaptation of the conductor rails . The construction of new platforms in Finsbury Park and an above-ground route to Drayton Park was discontinued in World War II and not resumed even after the end of the war. This left the NCL isolated from the rest of the underground network.

On October 3, 1964, the northernmost section between Finsbury Park and Drayton Park was closed, as the station in Finsbury Park was to be used to link Piccadilly and the Victoria Line . The Highbury & Islington station has also been extended to a transfer station between NCL and in 1968 opened Victoria Line. Due to the loss of the connection to Finsbury Park, the NCL had to record significant passenger losses.

In 1970 the route was renamed Northern Line (Highbury Branch) . The worst train accident on the London Underground network occurred on February 28, 1975 when a train on the Highbury branch line did not stop at Moorgate station and sped into the end of the tunnel. The cause of the accident, which claimed 43 lives, has never been clarified (see also Moorgate underground accident ).

A development plan for Greater London published in 1969 called for the route to be transferred to British Rail and linked to the East Coast Main Line at Finsbury Park - just as the original 1904 plans had foreseen. In 1971 the British government agreed to provide financial support for the plans, which also included electrification of the suburban lines of the East Coast Main Line. The last train from London Underground ran on October 4, 1975, and British Rail trains began running on this route from August 16, 1976. There are two system railcars used as the power supply in the tunnel south of Drayton Park for lack of space for an overhead line via busbars with 750 volts DC. From Drayton Park the line is equipped with overhead lines.

The tracks and stations now belong to the state rail infrastructure company Network Rail . The private railway company Govia Thameslink Railway operates direct suburban trains to Stevenage and Welwyn Garden City under the Great Northern brand .

Train stations

  • Moorgate - opened February 14, 1904; closed on September 6, 1975; reopened on November 8, 1976
  • Old Street - opened February 14, 1904; closed on October 4, 1975; reopened on August 16, 1976
  • Essex Road - opened February 14, 1904; closed on October 3, 1975; reopened on August 16, 1976
  • Highbury & Islington - opened June 28, 1904; closed on October 4, 1975; reopened on August 16, 1976
  • Drayton Park - opened February 14, 1904; closed on October 3, 1975; reopened on November 8, 1976
  • Finsbury Park - opened February 14, 1904; closed on October 3, 1964; reopened on November 8, 1976

See also


  • J. Graeme Bruce: The Big Tube: A short illustrated history of London's Great Northern & City Railway . London Transport Executive, London 1976, ISBN 0-85329-071-7 .