Earlier today Zac Goldsmith was in the news for not knowing much about the London Underground or where the Museum of London is. This might not matter for most people, but he is the standing for election as the Mayor of London. The Museum of London is near the Barbican, in the City of London. The question that caught him out about the Underground is the sequence of stops running east from Bond Street on the Central Line: Oxford Circus, Tottenham Court Road, then Holborn. He didn’t know that Holborn was next, didn’t even guess. I wrote those tube stations in order from memory – and could get to Liverpool Street without having to look it up (Chancery Lane, St Paul’s, Bank, Liverpool Street). After that it gets a bit hazy, but I rarely travel east of Liverpool Street.
The rest of this piece is about how I learnt some shortcuts on my journeys on the Underground, and there is a list of my personal timesavers at the end.
My knowledge of the Underground system (“the tube”) developed through a childhood interest in London Transport. That knowledge deepened when I had to use it to get to places on time, learning the routes that I took most often and, crucially, as I am rarely ten minutes early for appointments, learning where the exits and interchanges are at the stops I use most frequently. It started in my teenage years, travelling all over London to go to repertory cinemas. The Hampstead Everyman was around an 80-minute journey door-to-door, for which I would leave at best 80 minutes. To save time I learnt that the quickest way from my local station (Turnham Green) was to change to the Piccadilly Line at Hammersmith, travel to Leicester Square, then take the Northern Line to Hampstead. (The alternative, with only one change, was to travel by District Line to Embankment and change to the Northern Line there: this can take ten minutes longer.)
An additional timesaver was to stay in the last carriage on the Piccadilly Line. The interchange to the Northern Line at Leicester Square is at that end of the train. And I would run the minute or two to get to the Northern Line platform. There are at least two kinds of people in the world: those who believe that you should never run for a train (“there’ll be another one along in a minute”), and those who believe that you should always run for a train (“you might be waiting 15 minutes for the next one”). I believe that you should always run for a train, if you are able to run, and if you have a reasonable chance of catching the train. But there’s no point in running after lost causes.
The route to Hampstead was the first one that I adapted with knowledge of exits and interchanges. I also learnt that if the first Northern Line from Leicester Square was not going to Hampstead (the line splits at Camden Town) it was still better to take it and change at Camden Town. Again, I would run from one platform to the other to decrease my chances of missing a train.
These days there are Apps that tell you where the exits and interchanges are at tube stations but the only ones that I can find are for iPhone and Android, which are no good to me as a Windows Phone user. Also, I don’t know of anyone who has used these Apps so can’t recommend them.
Instead I’ll record here the biggest time-savers that I have found on the Underground, based on the routes that I have taken. This is as much for my benefit as anyone else’s. Some of this knowledge goes back over 30 years and I have not recorded it anywhere else. So far it has been committed to memory, and relayed as oral history; this is my first written version, and will be my definitive version, to be updated if any of the information changes. Most of the directions are for trains heading east. Use the opposite for trains heading west (e.g. front carriage heading east will be last carriage heading west – yes, I know you could work that out for yourself, sorry for stating the bleeding obvious). And if this information has no relevance for you, you can stop right here and revisit this page if you ever have to take the tube into Central London.
Where the exits are
District Line heading East
Earls Court: front carriage or last carriage: there are exits at the front and back of the train. The exit at the front takes you to Earls Court Road. The exit at the back takes you to the Earls Court Exhibition Centre.
South Kensington: Last or 2nd last carriage. This station gets very crowded in school holidays, with all the visitors to the museums.
Victoria: 2nd last carriage. If you are stuck in the front carriage it might take you 2-3 minutes to work along the crowded, narrow platform to get to the Exit.
St James’s Park: 2nd carriage or last carriage: there are exits at the front and back of the train. The exit at the front takes you through St James’s Park station, past the shops and sandwich bars. The exit at the back of the train gets you out onto the street quicker and is better for Victoria Street.
Westminster: 3rd last carriage
Piccadilly Line heading East
Green Park: last carriage. The exit is at the very end of the platform.
Piccadilly Circus: 2nd carriage from the front. If you’re stuck at the back of the train it will take you 2-3 minutes to get to this exit.
Leicester Square: middle of the train (there doesn’t seem to be a quick way of getting out of Leicester Square station: the stairs from the platform are narrow).
Holborn: this is the one I always forget, will have to come to this one, when I next visit.
Central Line heading East
Shepherds Bush: last carriage. The exit is at the very end of the platform.
Holland Park: middle of the train.
Oxford Circus: 3rd or 4th carriage (of 8). [I used this route for many months in 2014: I would aim to be the first one off the train, up the stairs and out of this exit, onto the Eastern side of Oxford Circus. Before I worked out where to get off the train I could spend an extra 5 minutes getting out of the station – it’s the busiest on the whole network. You can get stuck behind people on the platform, on the stairs, and on the escalators: it can be very frustrating if you’re in a hurry.]
Holborn: I still can’t remember, but getting out at the wrong end of the train will add minutes to your journey.
Liverpool Street: last carriage.
Where the interchanges are
District Line heading East
Hammersmith / Barons Court for Piccadilly Line: the Piccadilly Line runs alongside the District Line, you can change anywhere on the platform. Hammersmith has waiting rooms, Barons Court doesn’t. Note: in my experience the District Line between these two stops is usually quicker than the Piccadilly Line, so if you are on a District Line at Hammersmith and just miss a Piccadilly Line train you might catch up with it at Barons Court.
Victoria for the Victoria Line: 2nd carriage from the front (2nd carriage front door, or last door in the front carriage). (The District Line platforms at Victoria are narrow and often crowded, so it’s worth getting this interchange right.)
Westminster for Jubilee Line: 3rd carriage from the front. (The Jubilee Line is very deep at Westminster station, so the distance travelled on escalators is greater than at most stations.)
Special Note about the Northern Line south of Stockwell
If you are travelling from West London to the Northern Line south of Stockwell, change at Victoria [2nd carriage from the front (2nd carriage front door, or last door in the front carriage)], take the southbound Victoria Line and then change at Stockwell to the Northern line – multiple entrances there because the two lines run on platforms that are next to each other. [I used this route for many months when travelling to Tooting for work at St George’s Hospital, knowing that I was saving 10-15 minutes on my journey compared to the more obvious interchange at Embankment straight onto the Northern Line. Sometimes changing trains twice rather than once can save you time, every time.]
Piccadilly Line heading east
Green Park for Jubilee or Victoria: although there are signs in the middle of the Piccadilly platform indicating where to change to other lines it is usually quicker to take the up escalator that leads the exit (last carriage of the train) and then take another escalator down to the line you want. The signs for the interchange from Piccadilly to Jubilee direct you through what feels like the longest walk at any station (apart from Bank / Monument maybe), which is fine if you’re working towards your 10,000 steps per day. The route is usually crowded so that adds to the delay.
Kings Cross for Northern Line towards Angel (south / east): I used to know this, can’t recall it now, will update this page next time I take this route.
Kings Cross for Victoria Line towards Finsbury Park (north / east): I used to know this, can’t recall it now, will update this page next time I take this route.