Visitors to London who are also transport enthusiasts (‘railfans’) sometimes ask for advice as to the ‘best’ things to see on London’s railway network. Typically they mean the London Transport railways, or in other words the underground (subway, metro) and whilst the information below is primarily about that it also briefly looks at the wider railway scene within London. This is especially important as there are many instances of interworking and shared services with London's other railway systems - the mainline railway (National Rail), the Docklands Light Railway and Croydon / London Tramlink.
This guide is primarily about present day services, so historical information is only included where it helps explain aspects of the transport network as it is today.
The UndergrounD railway uses trains of two distinctive sizes, these being the small profile ‘tube’ trains and the larger profile trains which are in fact very similar in size to trains used on the rest of the British railway system. The latter would be because when they first opened most of the routes served by the larger profile trains were originally served by steam locomotives hauling unpowered passenger carriages, so (apart from the extensive operations in tunnels) they were little different from the many other British railways.
This guide comes in two variants - this page is part of the version where the information is spread over many pages.
The East London and Northern City Lines were ‘London Transport’ railway services but nowadays are operated as part of the mainline (National Rail) ‘London Overground’ and ‘Great Northern’ networks. For many years the Northern City Line was included on Underground maps but is not any more.
The Docklands Light Railway and Tramlink both use modern light rail vehicles.
|Sign advertising a station entrance - typically where station entrances are below ground the subterranean passageways also act as public subways (aka: passageways) which allow pedestrians who are not travelling on the trains to cross the road and avoid the traffic.||To expedite passenger flows escalators have rules
- which visitors are requested to follow.
As someone who usually walks I say "thank you" :-)
Please remember to hold the handrail - I do, even when walking!
Wall and floor signage encouraging passengers who have just entered a station platform to spread out along its length - rather than just congregate near the entrance, where (at busy times) they cause congestion and prevent other passengers from also accessing the platform.
Fares and Tickets
London's railway fares are based on a zonal system, most of the information in this guide is about sights in zones 1-4 which covers the centre of London and much of the suburbs.
There are several ways to pay transport fares in London. Especially on the Underground, Docklands Light Railway and Tramlink buying paper tickets from the station at the start of the journey is the most expensive way to pay fares. But if you will only be travelling a little and just want to sample London's transports in the simplest way possible without worrying about ticket types or something going wrong which leaves you being charged more than expected, then this might be the easiest solution.
Since 2003 it has also been possible to pay transport fares using smart cards. In London these are marketed as Oyster cards. These can store a maximum of three prepaid season tickets plus some cash value in what is as an electronic purse (e-purse). Nowadays using the e-purse is known as Pay As You Go (PAYG) although some places still use the older, more accurate name which was PrePay. Although Oyster cards have to be purchased the fares charged are nearly always significantly lower than by buying paper tickets.
Both Londoners and visitors from elsewhere in the UK can also pay their fares using EMV (EuroPay, MasterCard, Visa)¤ contactless RFID credit and debit cards and some smartphone apps (except when travelling on the heritage Routemaster buses on route № 15h). The fares are normally the same as with Oyster cards, although on days when many journeys are made the total fare charged sometimes works out as being slightly cheaper than Oyster cards! The fares are charged to the credit / debit card accounts as a single transaction, overnight. Some people from outside London may also have ITSO specification smart cards on which it might also be possible to load prepaid Travelcard season tickets that can be used within London, eg: The Key which is a ticketing solution from one of the major British transport operators. ITSO card holders need to investigate compatibility and acceptability before travelling - especially as whilst the ITSO specification includes electronic purses (for PAYG travel) these may be restricted to local geographic areas outside of London.
¤This includes Visa payWave, Mastercard PayPass, Barclays PayTag, Barclays bPay, American Express, ApplePay, Android Pay, plus other EMV compatible payment systems which use NFC (near field) chips that are (or soon will be) integral parts of devices such as: mobile (cell) telephones / smart phones / watches / jewellery / keyfobs / self-adhesive tags / wristbands / gloves etc - or subdermally, ie: inside the human body (typically one of the hands). Although not officially supported some of the other types of electronic payment systems might also work (eg: PayPal).
Each person must have their own payment card, where passengers have joint bank / credit card accounts (eg: a married couple) then the long numbers (typically with 16 digits) and / or expiry dates must be different. Otherwise only one of them can use that card account and the other person must use a card from a different account.
Visitors from overseas will probably also be able to use EMV contactless bank cards and smartphone apps but should note that their bank will treat the transport fares as an overseas payment so will probably also charge currency conversion and overseas transaction fees.
In London the anonymous type of Oyster card is easy to buy and can be shared with anyone - although only one person can use it at a time. Being anonymous means that your name and address is not recorded. These are sold blank, so you will also need to add some e-purse (money) value. When your visit is over it can either be kept for a future visit or handed back for a refund‡. If all your transactions are in cash and the e-purse value is very small then the refund will probably be in cash. Otherwise it will be a cheque that will be posted to you later. Extra money can be added to the e-purse at almost all underground / other railway stations in London (at some stations only at the self-service ticket machines) as well as at over 3700 local shops throughout the London area. This is known as a top-up. No matter whether you are using cash or a plastic card there are no additional or handling fees for a top-up - so if a shop wants extra money then you should refuse to pay and complain to the Oyster helpline. Unlike Hong Kong, Singapore and other Asian cities, the London Oyster card is only for paying public transport fares.
It is also possible to buy a Visitor Oyster card before arriving in London, either from the Transport For London (TfL) online shop or at other locations such as on Eurostar trains or aircraft travelling towards London. With these the purchase price includes some e-purse value so that the Oyster card is ready to use. This is especially useful when arriving at airports / St Pancras Eurostar as it means that you can avoid the ticket office queues and walk straight to the Underground / DLR platforms. Visitor Oyster cards have decorative designs which make for a nice souvenir of your visit. When first introduced these cards were advertised as never expiring, so that they could be used again and again on future visits to London. However, it is possible that some older types of Visitor Oyster cards will expire in 2018 when the computer technology used by the PAYG ticketing system is changed. These are expected to only be the Visitor Oyster cards which use older and less secure transaction protocols, such as MIFARE Classic. It is likely that Visitors Oyster cards with a white letter D in a blue square on their backs will still work - these use a newer and more secure transaction technology called MIFARE Desfire.
If anonymous and visitor Oyster cards are bought using cash and always have financial value added using cash then they are suitable for passengers who do not want their every movement tracked 24/7. However it is also worth remembering that in London CCTV cameras are everywhere, and that some of these are connected to computers which detect people's activity and use facial recognition softwares.
‡There was a time when it was possible to return an Oyster card and receive the refund without any other formalities, however nowadays you need to complete an application form and show proof of both identity and where you live. I am not sure if different arrangements are available for visitors from overseas.
The introduction of the Oyster system has led to a revolutionary change in fares and ticketing within London, significantly reducing the time it takes passengers boarding buses to pay their fares / have passes 'read' and reducing queues at station ticket offices. PAYG means that many of the advantages of period tickets are now available to everyone - even infrequent visitors - who on arrival at stations just walk straight past the ticket sales area to the ticket barriers, where they touch in and then continue directly to the platforms.
There is much more information on ticketing in London on the Fares & Ticketing Systems page of the
citytransport.info website . These links to other websites may also be of interest.
There is a long term desire to encourage as many travellers as possible to use EMV bank cards instead of Oyster cards. The reason is that Tf L wants to reduce the costs of the ticketing system and leave the finances to the banks, who it sees as being financial experts. However not everyone has credit / debit cards, nor even bank accounts (eg: children, the bankrupt) and some people feel much safer paying their fares in advance of travel. Therefore Oyster is expected to remain for many years to come. As anonymous bank cards do not exist so it is easy for every person's travels to be traced and recorded, in the process creating a massive database for commercial companies to exploit.
Electronic Ticketing Terminology
The information below uses the term "London electronic ticketing" to refer to all forms of smart cards - Oyster, EMV contactless bank debit / credit cards, smartphone apps, etc.
London's Electronic Ticketing When Travelling To / From The Airports
Heathrow Airport: When travelling to / from Heathrow Airport London's electronic ticketing systems can ONLY be used on the Piccadilly Line underground train - NOT the Heathrow Express or Heathrow Connect trains.
Gatwick Airport: Although it is possible to use London's electronic ticketing to pay fares when travelling between London and Gatwick Airport, this is probably the most expensive way to pay fares. Paper tickets (sometimes even if bought at the station just before travel) and pre-paid tickets (bought from the Internet) are nearly always cheaper. Especially if travelling by Southern or Thameslink and NOT on the Gatwick Express
Stansted, Luton Airports: Not accepted, but you can buy a Visitor Oyster card at these airports, this will make life easier when you arrive in London.
City Airport: This airport is inside London and all of London's electronic ticketing systems are accepted on the DLR.
St Pancras Eurostar: This too is inside London and therefore all of London's electronic ticketing systems are accepted. Visitor Oyster cards can be bought (at the buffet counter) on trains travelling towards the UK.
The Best Ticket For Railfanning
If you are going to spend a whole day railfanning then although they are more expensive I recommend using paper One Day Travelcard (ODTC) tickets. These can be used on almost ALL of London's trains (except Heathrow Express / Connect to and from Heathrow Airport or the SouthEastern High Speed service between St Pancras and Stratford International) as well as most of London's buses and trams and once you have your paper ticket you are completely free to travel wherever you wish (within the zones in which it is valid) safe in the knowledge that you will not be forced into paying anything extra. The advantage of using paper tickets is that there are no time limits on how long your journey takes - so you can stop at stations and watch trains without also watching the time. These tickets can be bought from virtually all railway station and Tramlink ticket machines, but not at Ticket Stops. (Newsagents, etc.,) Note that in London tickets are always based upon a calendar day, and expire at 4:29am the next morning - this allows you to use night buses as well.
On Monday - Fridays an off-peak ODTC can only be used after 09.30. If you wish to go railfannning before this time then you must have a 'peak' ticket - which is more expensive.
At weekends and bank / public holidays off-peak tickets can be used all day.
DANGER! Beware Electronic Ticketing Journey Time Limits
Be VERY careful with PrePay / ‘pay as you go’ (PAYG) London electronic ticketing. PAYG is advertised as being ideal for all passengers with the promise that providing you always 'touch-in/out' correctly when starting or ending your journey the total fares charged for that day will be 'capped' below the cost of a paper ticket (known as ‘fares capping’). However, for railfanning there is a problem; PAYG enforces time limits on journeys, so if you keep stopping to watch trains the system may think that you have forgotten to ‘touch in’ at the start of a journey or ‘touch out’ at the end of the journey, and you risk being charged a ‘maximum fare’ which could be over £8.00 - even if you have already reached the ‘fares cap’ for that day. Because of this people on a limited budget without any spare cash may find themselves stranded somewhere in suburban London and unable to afford to get back to their hotel. This nearly happened to me (once!) so I am speaking from the voice of experience.
With PAYG the cost of individual single fares also depends on the time of the journey. Fares are higher on Mondays - Fridays during the morning and evening busy periods. ‘Rush hour’ (also known as ‘peak’) fares are charged if you ‘touch-in’ at the start of a journey before 9.30 (even if the train leaves the station after this time) and between 4pm - 7pm (16:00 - 19:00). However, if you make enough journeys during on that day to reach the fares cap then this will not matter.
Only 'off-peak' fares and fares caps are charged at weekends and on bank / public holidays.
The RFID electronic cards used by London's Oyster / contactless electronic ticketing system plus the ITSO compatible cards used outside of London may often be called smart cards, but in reality they are very dumb. This is because they rely on error-prone humans to let the fares calculation system know where the passengers are at the start and end of each journey, plus at interchange locations if they are eligible for cheaper fares. Maybe one-day there will be no need to have card 'read' at each end of the journey (plus at interchange stations) as these systems will simply scan people as they walk about... But would people really like living in a society with a level of electronic surveillance which would mean that their movements are tracked 24/7, no matter where they are?
Fares Differential (With Unspoken Aim?)
As part of a policy of discouraging passengers from using paper ticketing - so that these can then be withdrawn with the excuse given that since hardly anyone uses them so there is no need for them - all cash fares are significantly more expensive than when the same journey is paid for using London electronic ticketing. Whilst there are extra costs involved with paper tickets and handling cash, the very large price differential can only be understood by a desire to discourage cash fares. An unfortunate side effect of this is that casual visitors and tourist / travel information magazine articles, brochures etc., aimed at overseas visitors usually only talk about the cash fares, and this will make their readers think that travelling on London's public transport is extremely expensive and best avoided.
No Single Day Oyster Pay Once Ride-At-Will Tickets
Even though this option is available in many overseas cities the people who decide London's fares have decided not to allow passengers to buy electronic ticketing variants of the single day ODTC. They prefer PAYG with fares capping, citing the ability to change one's journey at a whim without having to buy a new ticket as representing some kind of 'holy grail' that makes everything good.
No Problems With Weekly / Other Period Oyster Tickets
There are some people here in London who refuse to use PAYG electronic ticketing. This is because they feel that there are too many problems with failed 'touchings' that result in the system invoking maximum fares - which they see as being charged a penalty fare - even though they have done nothing wrong. These issues do not cause problems to passengers with weekly or longer 'Travelcard' period tickets that are loaded on Oyster cards - and who are only travelling within the correct fares zones for their ticket.
|Touching an RFID Oyster card on a pink route validator card reader to tell the ticketing computers that I am avoiding Central London's zone 1 and therefore entitled to be charged a cheaper fare for my journey.||Sign reminding passengers using RFID Oyster cards to tell the ticketing system's computer where they are by touching in / out every time they enter or leave a station.|
Staying for several (or more) days?
If staying in London for several days and planning on doing a lot of railfanning it might work out cost-effective to buy a weekly Travelcard season ticket. Providing you stay within the zones of the ticket's validity then there are no journey time limits - especially if you have a paper weekly ticket. If the weekly ticket has been loaded on an Oyster card then providing you load some PAYG value and touch-in / out at both ends of your journey then you are also allowed to travel outside the zones of the ticket's validity. Any extra charges are automatically collected when touching out at the end of that specific journey. Note that at the present time (2016) Travelcard season tickets can only be loaded on Oyster cards and some types of ITSO smartcards. They can NOT be loaded onto EMV bank cards or smartphones. This might change in 2018...
Note that if a season ticket does not include Zone 1 then sometimes the ticketing system will think that you travelled that way even when you did not. Using the pink 'route validator' will usually avoid this issue, although for some journeys the system automatically assumes that you travelled via a specific route no matter the reality. eg: Stratford - West Brompton can be made by Overground (with some through trains) which stays outside zone 1 or the District and Central Lines, via zone 1.
Note that most 'National Rail' train operators require that passengers with season tickets (even if only for one week) also have a photocard. These are free to obtain and just require a passport type photograph.
BritRail / Eurail Pass? National Rail Railcard? 2FOR1 Discounts
Overseas visitors with BritRail / Eurail passes should check their documentation as it is likely that they will need to buy additional tickets for travelling on the London Underground / DLR / Tramlink. However these passes are accepted on London's suburban trains - including the London Overground, which is also a 'mainline' train service. There could be a grey area where Underground and mainline trains provide shared services - it may be best to only travel on the mainline train, so that even if the Underground train comes first (and is travelling on the same tracks) it is allowed to pass / you stay on the platform.
Holders of National Rail / mainline railway railcards may find that they can benefit from cheaper tickets - a lot depends on the type of card they have. Sometimes the discount can be 'loaded' on to an Oyster card that is registered it in your name, as then the discount is automatically applied. Sometimes it is also possible to buy discounted one day Travelcards - although often on weekdays there is a minimum charge which negates the benefit. The documentation will explain more.
Many London visitor destinations offer discounts (such as 2for1 ie: 2 entry tickets for the price of 1) to passengers who travelled to London by train. This offer also applies to people who have paper One Day Travelcards BUT these MUST be bought at a National Rail / mainline railway station and NOT at an Underground / DLR / Tramlink station or ticket machine. Eurostar tickets, BritRail / Eurail passes and London electronic ticketing solutions are NOT accepted for this offer. BEWARE: Some transport staff do not understand the significance of where the ticket is bought - you want a ticket which is orange and cream with the National Rail logo (the two half arrows pointing in opposite directions). See the photograph below. NB: the 2FOR1 offer can also be used by people who live in London, but again they must have the 'right' type of ticket!
This link explains more, and you can also download the special vouchers you will need from here:
All Line Rover?
All Line Rovers are effectively National Rail season tickets which can be used on almost any train on the mainline railway system. This includes London Overground and virtually all of London's suburban railway network. However, they are NOT accepted on the Underground / DLR / Tramlink, as these are urban railway networks / not part of the mainline / National rail network. They are also not accepted on the privately funded Heathrow Express, nor the Heathrow Connect between Hayes & Harlington and Heathrow Airport.
All Line Rovers can be bought by anyone, whether a British resident or otherwise. They are available in 7 and 14 days versions. However, the various private companies which operate the national railway network do not like this ticket because they say that they do not receive enough money from it. Therefore it is hardly ever promoted and can sometimes be difficult to purchase. In addition, in 2011 four longer-distance railway operators (CrossCountry, East Coast, East Midlands Trains, Virgin Trains) introduced new rules prohibiting their use to board or alight from trains at 10 railway stations - including several in or near London - before 10:00 in the morning on weekdays (Monday - Friday). However this new rule does not apply at weekends or on bank / public holidays.
More information can be found at this link which leads to information on all the British regional rover tickets
|Open ticket gates in the late evening at London's King Cross station.||The 2for1 offer can only be used if passengers have paper tickets for travel to / within London which look like this platform ticket.
Image & license: Ansbaradigeidfran / Wikipedia encyclopædia. CC BY-SA 3.0 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:National_Rail_platfrom_ticket_Kings_Cross.jpg
Only Travelling By Bus?
London’s buses charge a flat fare irrespective of distance travelled and when travelling by bus passengers only need to 'touch-in' when boarding at the start of the journey.
In London it is NOT possible to pay bus fares in cash.
For people who will only be travelling on buses - and not trains - then using London electronic ticketing in PAYG mode represents the cheapest way to pay fares. What is called a Hopper fare means that passengers can benefit from two journeys for the price of one journey. The second journey is automatically made free if the passenger uses the same payment card / device within 60 minutes of the touch-in at the start of the first journey. Unfortunately the system does not allow for delays or time spent waiting at bus stops for the second bus. In addition daily fares capping means that fares stop being charged the 4th time a bus fare is paid on a calendar day - ie: all future bus journeys (on that day) are free!
If staying for five days (or more) then a weekly / longer bus pass might be worthwhile - sometimes these can be bought as paper tickets or loaded on Oyster cards (but NOT EMV contactless cards or smartphone apps... this might change in 2018).
Hopper fares are only available for two consecutive bus journeys, which means that you must NOT use the same payment card to pay a fare on a different transport - unless it is a Croydon tram, which then counts as the second journey. (This is expected to change in 2018)
Because an Oyster card which has a negative PAYG balance is then blocked it must be topped-up and the negative balance cleared before starting the second (free) journey. This comment does not apply to other types of London electronic ticketing as these do not have an e-purse
Bus passengers who do not have Oyster cards and do not want to use other types of electronic ticketing can also buy one-day Bus & Tram passes. These can be bought at many locations including many (but not all) railway station ticket machines, Oyster Ticket Stops, Tramlink ticket machines at tram stops and Visitor centres. Although slightly more expensive than the daily fares cap these are ideal for passengers who are only in London for a day or two, who do not wish to use the railways and who want a paper ticket souvenir of their visit. Station ticket machines sell paper passes whilst other locations sell special single-use cardboard Oyster cards.
If you have a paper ODTC (or a Travelcard season ticket) then when travelling by bus this ticket can be used anywhere in London - even if the ticket is only for Zones 1-2, on the buses this ticket can be used to travel in all the zones - and even on most of the London red buses which travel outside of London.
Also note that there are a few private bus services in London which do not accept any type of 'London' ticket.
|The first of the 1000 famous new buses which were created for
Mayor Boris Johnson and are officially called New Routemaster.
These buses are used on over 25 bus routes serving much of
Central London and some suburban districts.
|The original iconic Routemaster buses are still used on heritage services over part of central London bus route №15.
Normal bus fares are charged
- but contactless bank / credit cards are NOT accepted.
There is also a website where it is possible to find the location of any bus is London http://londonvf.co.uk/.
Tram passengers generally pay the same flat fare as bus passengers, and passengers with smartphone apps, contactless and Oyster cards should use the card readers on the tram stop platforms before boarding the tram. This includes at Elmers End and Wimbledon stations where the trams stop inside the railway stations' fares paid areas. ALL Passengers travelling TO Wimbledon who are using electronic ticketing, no matter what type - ie: even if it is a Travelcard season ticket - are supposed to 'touch-in' before boarding the tram.
After 'touching-in' PAYG passengers are allowed 70 minutes to complete their journey during which time the next 'touch-in' (perhaps because they needed to change to another tram to complete their journey) is not charged.
It is also possible for passengers interchanging between a tram and a bus to benefit from the 60 minute Hopper fare for a free second journey. Even passengers interchanging between buses and trams at Wimbledon station are entitled to benefit from Hopper fares, however to get around the station ticket gates blocking the Hopper fares passengers will be charged a second fare at the time of travel but are then supposed to receive an automatic refund of the second fare at a later date.
Although the two main railway stations in Croydon are in zone 5 the entire tramway system is a special fares zone and any prepaid Travelcard season ticket which is valid in zones 3, 4, 5 or 6 can be used on the trams. Note that the need for Travelcards to be valid in at least one of the zones served by the trams is one of the few differences between tram and bus fares.
Tickets bought from Tramlink ticket machines at tram stops are valid for 90 minutes and include a change of tram, if this is required to complete a journey. However the cost of cash paper tickets is much higher than the cost of a fare paid using London's Electronic Ticketing solutions.
Tramlink ticket machines also sell paper tickets valid to underground stations - however these journeys must be made via Wimbledon and the District Line - they are not accepted on any other railway services.
Tramlink ticket machines also sell One Day Travelcards and One Day / 7 Day Bus & Tram Passes; these also make for nice souvenirs of your visit!
There is more tram ticketing information on the Tramlink page.
Modern light rail trams / streetcars combining private right of way and street trackage in and around Croydon, which is to the south of the Greater London metropolitan area.
There are many different river bus operators and they all seem to charge different fare scales and some offer different discounts for passengers who are using PAYG or have
a Travelcard. Generally the discounts are better for passengers with Travelcards. The services available vary between tourist-themed leisure cruises and public transport-type services
aimed at local people. This page at the TfL (Transport for London) website offers more detailed information.
It is possible to use waterbuses to travel in London, fares vary depending on the company operating the service and whether it is a tourist-themed leisure cruise or aimed at local people making normal public transport-type journeys.
The Emirates Air Line cable car in east London charges special (higher!) fares. Passengers who pay using London's Electronic Ticketing systems in PAYG mode should remember to touch-in at the start of their 'flight' and touch-out on arrival at the other end. Note that the cost of Air Line 'flights' is excluded from fares capping. Passengers with Oyster cards may receive discounts which are not available to passengers who pay their fares in a different way.
Passengers with paper tickets and Travelcard season tickets (of whatever type) will also need to pay an extra fare but should let the ticket staff know about their other tickets as these may entitle the holder to a discount / cheaper fare. Passengers who wish to travel on a 360° 'out and back' ride should visit the ticket office to buy a special two-way pass.
Between 10:00 and 15:00 (10am and 3pm) flights normally take about 10 minutes. Note that for the benefit of regular passengers who commute on the cable car earlier and later flights will usually take about 5 minutes, and that at very busy times daytime flights may be speeded up as well, so as to reduce queueing / waiting times.
|Emirates Royal Victoria cable car terminus and some cranes from when the Royal Victoria Dock was a working dockyard. Close nearby is Royal Victoria DLR station.||Two Emirates Air Line cable cars and an aircraft (seen near the top of the image) pass by the distinctively styled Crystal building, close to Royal Victoria DLR station.|
The railways say that their trains and stations are private property to which the public are only admitted for the purpose of travelling - and not ‘railfanning’ or filming. That said, as a general theme the 15 different organisations which operate local railway services within London tolerate amateur photography anywhere where passengers are admitted and whilst the passenger is passing through the station as part of a journey from A to B. A few train operators only permit photography in bad grace and mainly because so many people / tourists have mobile phones with cameras nowadays that it is virtually impossible (and represents bad ‘public relations’) to even try and stop them taking photographs - especially of family groups (for instance: standing next to a station name sign).
Railfans should note that if intending to stay at one station for longer than the next train they are supposed to visit the station master’s office and let them know who you are and why you are there. Some station staff might ask what you are doing or even tell you photography is not allowed. This is NOT correct but alas, some station staff like to make their own rules. (This can also happen because they were not trained properly when they started their job). It is important to understand that there is a high state of alert about a possible terrorist attack so you may be questioned by the police if taking photos. This has happened to me, several times. Of course answering truthfully about who you are, what you are doing and why is the only way to keep the authorities happy - and it saves you having to remember your previous answers. Sometimes it is useful to have a few ‘railfan’ style magazines (etc) which can be shown to anyone who questions your interest in transport. Whilst we here in Britain do not need to always carry identity cards / internal passports with us, it can be useful to have something with your name and address just in case the police decide to verify that you are of no interest to them.
|Open-air sections of railway often have bridges over them, especially near to stations. Online maps and 'street view' camera systems represent the best way to find these, although for some locations whilst it is easy enough to see the trains the security fencing can make photography a challenge. West Hampstead Jubilee Line station.||Another hazard with attempting to photograph from bridges comes from vegetation, especially in spring, summer and autumn. This view shows Piccadilly Line trains at Sudbury Town station.|
If you are stopped by any official (especially a security guard) for using your camera try to put it away (a zipped pocket is ideal) as quickly as possible. By law only a judge in a court of law has the right to demand that you delete your photographs from your camera. So it is actually a criminal offence for any police officer or member of station / railway staff to force you to do this. If in the unlikely event you are asked to do this its best to try to avoid confrontation by suggesting that you will leave the station on the next train (and of course you must then do this). If the official is really intent on you deleting your images then refuse and demand to see a superior officer. Whilst it is unlikely that events will reach this stage you should note that a police officer can confiscate your memory cards to use in a court of law at a later date.
There is a known issue (that is, known amongst ordinary people - officialdom seem to be blind to this) where some people who wear official uniforms (especially PCSO's - Police Constable Support Officers and private security guards) do not seem to understand that photography is permitted and even within the general street scene harass otherwise innocent people who are using cameras. There was one extreme example where someone believed to be a PCSO told some Austrian tourists that it was illegal to photograph buses and that they must delete their images. Tragically the tourists did not know better and complied with this request - just because someone may be an overseas visitor does not give people in authority the right act illegally.
At some stations the station master interprets the photography rule as being that whilst still image cameras are acceptable, video cameras are not.
As a general guide tripods should not be used, as they create a tripping hazard. Tripods are prohibited at London Underground stations. Also railfans should be sensitive in their subject material and try to avoid photographing people - especially ‘close-up’. Even though this is sometimes done with the CCTV surveillance cameras (albeit without the person being filmed realising it) few passengers like camera-wielding railfans being intrusive with their photography.
It is strictly forbidden to use flash or other artificial lighting on station platforms. Especially not when filming trains entering stations as it can induce short-term blindness for train drivers whose eyes have become accustomed to the dark tunnels. You may be asked to leave the station if you break this rule.
Another issue is that the press officers / media centres of some of London's rail operators are so concerned about their public image that they want to maintain 100% control of anything that shows or visually represents the transport services they provide. It is if anything an understatement to say that their attitude is one of a paranoid fear that people with cameras (even tourists) have the sole desire to use whatever they photograph in ways which damage the reputation of the organisation. This attitude is of course quite normal for large commercial companies, with it even having happened that they threaten transport enthusiasts who create personal websites (such as this) with prosecution (slander / libel etc) for saying things about them which they do not like. Not me, thankfully, but it has happened... of course no names are being detailed here!
The topic of harrassment of people using cameras is also raised on one of the Nostalgia, Heritage & Leisure pages on the citytransport.info web site .
Advice if asked to pay an 'on the spot' fine
British police do not ask for money so you should NEVER be asked to pay a fine to someone who claims to be a police officer. If in doubt ask to see a superior police officer.
|Recording images of something it was known was about to become history - Surrey Quays station, East London Line, just weeks before the prolonged closure for rebuilding into part of the London Overground network.||People in Strasbourg, France, photographing an historical
artifact which has been preserved for the benefit of future
generations (historic rolling stock).
Why Taking Photographs Is Important And Good
Photography is a creative activity which expands upon an historic meme of recording events which in later years will be of interest to historians and the wider population, helping future generations discover and understand how people lived in times past and how that era contributed towards creating the society in which we live today. In 'olden times' this data recording might have included paintings, mosaics, rock / cave wall art, statues, busts, miniature models, etc.
Photography also conforms with the important ethical motto of doing no harm unto others
and the moral code which requires that people
Further Reading / Second Opinion
For further reading about railway photography this page at the District Dave London Underground themed discussion forum may be of interest. Although the page is titled "Photography on the Underground: Rules and Advice" it also looks at the Docklands Light Railway, Tramlink and the Mainline Railways (including Network Rail). http://districtdave.proboards.com/index.cgi?board=selfhelp&action=display&thread=6610
So, what to see????
As a general guide all services in the Central London area are below ground, whilst the services which reach the suburbs travel in the open air. People who just wish to sample a 'tube' train can do so by travelling on any of the 'small profile' lines as listed below. Just expect to be in a deep level subterranean section of railway.
If you would like to see detailed diagrams showing track layouts and on which side of the track station platforms are located, then the London maps at
this website may be of interest.
To make planning easier this guide lists services line by line, detailing what part of the line is below ground, what part is in 'open air' and some other information which may be of interest. Because of the extensive interworking of some services some sections of line are also detailed in a separate section which looks at routes with shared services.
The background image for these pages: a tiled mural at Kings Cross station (Pentonville Road entrance) which celebrates the merging of London Transport and British Railways services when the north-south Thameslink service was introduced.
Note that this station entrance is closed at weekends.
citytransportinfo is also here:
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Most recent update: 24th April 2017 Changes to the District Line page because the D stock trains have been withdrawn and to the London Overground page because the long-term closure of the Barking - Gospel Oak route has ended. In addition, all pages (except this one!) now include last updated information at the bottom of the page.