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The Waterloo & City line is a short underground railway line in London, which was formally opened on 11 July 1898. It has only two stations, Waterloo and Bank (formerly called "City", as it is within the City of London). Between its stations, the line passes under the River Thames.

It exists almost exclusively to serve commuters between Waterloo mainline station and the City of London, and does not operate late in the evening or on Sundays (the only time the line has operated on Sundays was between 1943 and 1947).[1] By far the shortest line on the London Underground at only 2.37km,[2] it takes only four minutes to travel from end to end. It was the second electric tube railway to open in London, after the City and South London Railway (now part of the Northern line). Despite its age, it is also the most recent line to be added to the London Underground network—being transferred from British Rail ownership in 1994.


The London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) reached Waterloo in 1848. The location of the terminus made passenger access to the City of London difficult, and at that time proposals were considered for an extension, but they were abandoned on grounds of cost. When the South Eastern Railway constructed its Charing Cross line, some through working was operated from the L&SWR line to Cannon Street, but this was commercially and operationally unsuccessful.

Nonetheless the difficult access continued to be a problem, and eventually the solution was determined to be a tube railway, hugely cheaper than a surface line as it avoided nearly all land acquisition that would have been required on the surface. The Waterloo & City Railway was formally opened on 11 July 1898, and from the start was operated by the L&SWR. It remained a separate legal entity until 1906, when it was absorbed into the L&SWR,[3] then passing into the Southern Railway on the grouping of British railways in 1923, and subsequently became part of British Rail's Southern Region on nationalisation in 1948. Only in 1993, when British Rail was privatised, was it seen as anomalous for a tube line to be part of the National Rail network, and by agreement ownership was transferred to London Underground, effective from 1 April 1994.[4]

Its ticketing was fully integrated with the national network and passengers could buy through tickets from mainline railway stations to Bank.

The line was designed by civil engineer W. R. Galbraith and James Henry Greathead, inventor of the tunnelling shield that bears his name. The remnants of one of the Greathead tunnelling shields used in the construction of the line can be seen in the interchange tunnel linking the Waterloo and City with the Northern line and Docklands Light Railway.[5]


The Waterloo & City is colloquially known as The Drain. The origins of this name are somewhat obscure today. One theory is that this arose when the line was operated by train crew in a link that otherwise operated normal surface suburban routes. In comparison with working surface railways, the Waterloo & City consists of underground tube tunnels. Messroom conversation would include discussion of what turn a driver would be working tomorrow, and if it was a Waterloo & City turn of duty, it was an obvious metaphor to say that the driver was working "down the drain". Another theory is that it was given this name by the maintenance staff, because the tunnels, being under the River Thames, leak considerably allowing much water to enter. This water has to be continually pumped out. This water gives rise to a musty smell which provides a third theory for the name.

Uniquely among London's Underground lines, the Waterloo & City runs underground for its entire length, including both stations. (The Victoria line comes closest to this, with the only non-underground section being that to the depot).

The Waterloo & City has no direct rail connection to the rest of the rail network, so that vehicle exchanges now require road vehicle transportation. Before the construction of Waterloo International terminal in 1990, the vehicles were hoisted individually by the Armstrong lift outside the north wall of Waterloo main-line station. The procedure is now carried out using a road-mounted crane in a shaft adjacent to the depot, south of Waterloo mainline station. This is only necessary for major maintenance work that requires lifting of the car body as the Waterloo depot is fully equipped for general maintenance work.

The Waterloo & City originally had its own electric power station, and coal was delivered from Waterloo main line station using a second, smaller lift (known as the Abbotts Lift), which explains the continued presence of a wagon turntable in Waterloo depot. The remaining stub of the siding tunnel that led to the Armstrong Lift can still be seen on the left hand side of the train shortly after leaving Waterloo for Bank. The lift itself was demolished (along with the entire Western sidings) in 1992 due to the construction of Waterloo International; the former Eurostar terminal.

In January 2003, the Waterloo & City was closed for over three weeks for safety checks due to a major derailment on the Central line, which required all 1992 tube stock trains to be modified. That same year, responsibility for the line's maintenance was given to the Metronet consortium under the terms of a public–private partnership arrangement.


Original rolling stock[]

The original wooden stock, consisting of 11 motor and 11 trailer carriages, built by Jackson and Sharp of Wilmington, Delaware, USA, using Siemens electrical motors and control equipment, was used until 1940. The L&SWR was unable to procure the rolling stock from British suppliers at that time. The trains were operated as five trains of four carriages each, with one spare motor and trailer. The trains were of a novel design, being able to be driven from a small semi-open cab at either end of the train. This was achieved by running cables from both motors the length of the train, which allowed the rear vehicle's motors to be controlled by the control equipment on the leading vehicle. Another cable (making nine in all) connected the current collectors at both ends in order to eliminate the power loss that occurs at interruptions in the third rail at points and crossings where the conductor rail is gapped.

The Board of Trade was dissatisfied with this arrangement and forbade traction current being conveyed between carriages on any further tube projects, forcing the Central London Railway to use conventional locomotives.

Five additional single motor cars were ordered from Dick, Kerr & Co. of Preston in 1899 for single carriage operation outside rush hours.

1940 stock[]

The original rolling stock was replaced in 1940 by electric multiple units manufactured by the English Electric company. The aesthetic design was very modern, representing a railway Art Deco look inside and out. It is remarkable that the demands of the Second World War did not delay new rolling stock until after the war - virtually every other tube project was either delayed or cancelled altogether; however, having been ordered in 1938 it would have been well advanced when war broke out. This new stock was eventually classified Class 487 in the TOPS system. The switchgear on this stock was of the older solenoid type that required a large switch compartment behind one of the driving cabs. All other tube stock of the period used the American pneumatic cam (or the later pneumatic cam modified) under the floor, yielding about 33% more passenger space in the motor cars. Unusually for tube trains, the motor cars (the term "carriage" was dropped in the 1930s for tube use) had driving cabs at both ends with the intention of permitting lightweight services to be run during slack periods. This option was never taken up because the design of the cable couplings meant that it was a time consuming operation to separate the motor cars from the rest of the train. In any event only half the cars would be available as the other half were at the 'wrong' end of the remaining train.

The inconvenience to passengers of interior lights being momentarily extinguished as the train passes over conductor rail gaps was partially eliminated in this stock by feeding half the car lights from the motor car at one end of the unit, and half from the other.

1993 replacement[]

The stock was replaced by Class 482 units in July 1993,[6] which were virtually identical to the 1992 stock used on the Central line. The line was converted to four-rail operation in common with other tube lines: the original steel positive rail was retained, with the new negative rail made from aluminium. The positive rail was replaced by an aluminium one in 2008. Since its introduction, this stock on the Waterloo & City has diverged sufficiently from that used on the Central line through various modifications, primarily to the latter with the introduction of automatic train operation, that the two are no longer interchangeable. It was almost immediately after the introduction of this stock that management of the line was transferred to London Underground.

Up to the time of closure for refurbishment (see below) the Class 482 trains carried the original blue British Rail Network SouthEast livery that they had when they were introduced, despite having been part of London Underground for a number of years.


Geographically accurate map of the Waterloo & City line

Geographically accurate map of the Waterloo & City line


Station Zone Local Authority Opened Interchange
Bank 1 City of London 8 August 1898 Central Line, Northern Line, DLR, District Line, Circle Line
Waterloo 1 Lambeth 8 August 1898 Bakerloo Line, Jubilee Line, Northern Line, National Rail Services


The line has been closed on a number of occasions for repairs and vehicle checks, including between 31 March 1994 and 5 April 1994.

The line was shut on 1 April 2006 for refurbishment works. It re-opened on 11 September 2006, eleven days after the predicted completion date of the project. As well as the repainting and cleaning of the trains, the work included refurbishment of the tunnels, platforms and depot, and an upgrade of the track and signalling systems. These and other works completed by 2007 were expected to boost rush-hour capacity by 25% and line capability by 12% at a cost of tens of millions of pounds. It was also claimed the average journey will be up to forty seconds faster.

Four new battery-powered locomotives named Walter, Lou, Anne and Kitty were built by Clayton Equipment in Derby to haul materials and plant along the line during the closure.

Beyond these changes, Metronet had planned to refurbish Bank station by 2011[7] — this is now uncertain since that company subsequently went into administration before being taken over by Transport for London (TfL).

TfL have announced plans to install a further entrance to Bank station in Walbrook Square by 2013.

Use as a filming location[]

Because of its Sunday closures, the Waterloo & City has become a well-established and convenient location for filming, not least because in the days of British Rail (and predecessor) ownership, it could be used in the event of London Transport being either unable or unwilling to allow access to their stations or lines. It can be seen in the 1962 Norman Wisdom film On the Beat (complete with 1940 stock train); the second series of the BBC's Survivors, representing various parts of the Central and Northern lines; and in the 1984 adaptation of The Tripods, where it masquerades as Porte de la Chapelle station on the Paris Métro. It was also used in the 1998 Peter Howitt film Sliding Doors, portraying Embankment and one other unknown station.

Opening hours[]

Due to the line mainly aiming towards City of London commuters, the line closes early, as seen here with the opening hours below:

  • Monday to Friday: 6:15am to 9:55pm
  • Saturday: 8:00am to 6:30pm
  • Sunday: 9:00am to 7:00pm
  • Bank Holiday Monday: Closed
  • Christmas and New Year: 6:00am to 9:00pm

At peak hours[]

The line does have a disadvantage during peak hours. At Bank, when a driver has stopped the train and disembarked the passengers, he/she has to let another driver from a previous train take over, this happens because drivers on the line don't have enough time to change ends for a quick departure during peak hours. To overcome this, a Rear Cab Clear plunger has been installed on the track-side of the platform barrier, so that the driver can confirm that he/she is clear of the cab and the "step-back" driver who is waiting at the departure end of the train can depart, when the signal clears.


  1. Waterloo & City Line. Clive's Underground Line Guides. Clive Feather (14 December 2007). Retrieved on 30 June 2008.
  2. Line Facts - Waterloo & City line. Transport for London. Retrieved on 20 March 2010.
  3. "Railway Magazine", August 1958
  4. Transport for London - Waterloo & City line facts
  5. The Waterloo & City Railway, John C Gillham, The Oakwood Press, 2001, page 409. Plaque reads: "This Greathead Type Tunnelling Shield was left at this point 18 metres below ground level in 1898. Exposed by Edmund Nuttall Limited in 1987 during the construction of the Docklands Light Railway City Extension."
  6. Hardy, Brian [1976] (2002). London Underground Rolling Stock, 15th, Harrow Weald: Capital Transport, 27–28. ISBN 1-85414-263-1. 
  7. Metronet's plans for the Waterloo & City line, accessed 13 July 2005

See also[]

External links[]