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Railfanning London‘s Railways

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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. This page is part of a guide which aims to answer that question.

If this is the first time you have reached these pages then it is best to go to the Opening Page which sets the scene, explains the difference between the small and the large profile trains, offers advice on the best type of ticket to buy and photography tips.

Alternatively, it is possible to view everything on one page

Circle Line
S7 Train Travelling Through Brick-Lined Deep Cutting. . Inside S7 S Stock Train.
The Circle line uses S Stock ‘subsurface’ trains which have 3 sets of opening doors per car, air-conditioning and internally are of a walk-through design.
The photograph (above - left) shows an S Stock train arriving at Bayswater station. This section of railway was built during the days of steam trains and it includes many open air sections which ventilated the tunnels and allowed the smoke to dissipate.

S Stock Variations: Although they all look the same there are two different types of S Stock trains.
The S7 variant have 7 cars with only longitudinal seating. These are used on the Circle, District and Hammersmith & City lines.
The S7+1 variant have 8 cars with only longitudinal seating. There are very few of these trains - which are used on the Metropolitan line.
The S8 variant have 8 cars, a mix of longitudinal and facing seats and are used on the Metropolitan line.

Route maps inside S7 S Stock train. . Line name on S Stock train side.
S7 Stock trains have two route maps:
District line (left);
Hammersmith & City and Circle lines (right).

Many tourists are becoming confused
- because they look at the wrong map!
. S Stock trains show the line name and destination on their sides.
Circle line Map; click image to see a larger version in a new window.
Map modified by me, original source & license: Ed g2s / DavidCane / Wikipedia encyclopædia CC BY-SA 3.0 http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Circle_Line.svg

Click map to see larger version in a new window! .

Below / Above Ground

The main part of the Circle line is almost entirely below ground, although many stations are partly or wholly in open air. The tunnels include many short open air sections which date from the days of steam trains when ventilation openings were needed to allow the smoke to clear. Only a few of these ventilation openings are shown on the map.

The west London section between Hammersmith & Paddington is in open air, except for the flyunder below the Great Western Main Line between Westbourne Park and Royal Oak stations.

For more information see the Hammersmith & City line and District line pages


twin tunnel symbol Information for people who are happy to travel on trains which are above ground but experience claustrophobia when in tunnels.

Most of the tunnels used by Circle line trains are wide enough for two tracks (ie: a train in each direction), however there are a few locations with narrow single track tunnels. Almost all of these are very short...

* Just outside Tower Hill and Mansion House stations,
* Kings Cross St Pancras station platforms plus station approaches / exits.

There are also two tunnels the whole way between South Kensington and Gloucester Road stations plus a very short distance west of Gloucester Road station (about the length of a train - as seen on the District line page). These tunnels were built for two tracks each but when the track layout in the area was changed in the 1950's the tunnels used by eastbound trains were reduced to single track. However the tunnels used by westbound trains still have two tracks - one track is dedicated to Circle line trains whilst the other track is dedicated to District line trains.

General Information

Almost the entire Circle line uses tracks shared with other trains - only the sections Aldgate - Tower Hill (including the outer two platforms at Aldgate station), Gloucester Road - High Street Kensington (including platform 2 at Gloucester Road station) and platform 3 at Edgware Road station are dedicated to Circle line trains.

Despite its name Circle line trains no longer go 'round and round' in a circle all day.

Instead they travel from Hammersmith (former Metropolitan Railway station) in a loop around the Circle via Royal Oak, Baker Street, Kings Cross, Aldgate, Victoria and High Street Kensington stations before ending their journeys at Edgware Road station. They then retrace their route back to Hammersmith.

This means that passengers wanting to travel on trains routed between Baker Street and Bayswater must change trains at Edgware Road! However, because of the way that the various subsurface lines share tracks it will be possible travel on Hammersmith & City or District line trains for part of the journey.

It is not that trains never make through journeys, however nowadays this only happens when it is convenient for the railway operators, such as because of unplanned disruption / delays or because of weekend engineering works closing some sections of the railway.

Circle line train departs Gloucester Road station . Gloucester Road (subsurface) station platform.
A westbound (outer rail / clockwise) Circle line
train departs from Gloucester Road station.
. Gloucester Road (subsurface) station used to have four platforms - the closed platform is located on the far side of the station and is now used as an art gallery.

This view looks from the westbound District line platform,
the next platform is for westbound Circle line trains,
the far platform (with departing train) is used by all
eastbound trains and the closed platform is on the far wall.

Stations At Different Locations With The Same Names:
For various reasons three stations served by Circle line trains are ‘duplicates’. At Edgware Road, Paddington and Hammersmith different Underground trains call at identically named stations which are at separate locations a short walk from each other.

At Edgware Road the Circle line (and District line and Hammersmith & City line) trains use an open air station that was originally built by the Metropolitan Railway. The totally separate Bakerloo line station with the same name is a short walk away across busy roads.

At Hammersmith the Circle (and Hammersmith & City) line trains use the former Metropolitan Railway station which remains largely as built in 1868. The other station called Hammersmith is a short distance away across some busy roads. It is used by District & Piccadilly line trains and has been modernised with its main entrance inside a shopping centre.

At Paddington the Circle (and Hammersmith & City) line trains which travel through Royal Oak station use the suburban platforms numbered 15 and 16 which are alongside the mainline railway station. By way of contrast Circle (and District) line trains which travel through High Street Kensington call at the Underground station that is located near the main concourse of the mainline / National Rail station and (at a deeper level) is also used by Bakerloo line trains.

S Stock Circle line underground train at platform 1 Edgware Road (subsurface) station. . S Stock Circle line underground train at platform 4 Edgware Road (subsurface) station.
An eastbound / clockwise / outer rail Circle line train travelling
via Kings Cross St. Pancras, Liverpool Street, Tower Hill, etc.,
arrives at Edgware Road station platform 1.
. A westbound S Stock Circle line train going to Hammersmith
at Edgware Road station platform 4.
Edgware Road (subsurface) station platforms 4 and 3 information. . Edgware Road (subsurface) station platforms 2 and 1 information.
Edgware Road (subsurface) station showing which trains usually call at which platform ..

Edgware Road subsurface station has four platforms, is in the open air and was built by the Metropolitan Railway. The Circle (and District) line trains which travel via High Street Kensington usually end their journeys at the centre two platforms whilst the Circle (and Hammersmith & City) line trains which are travelling between Royal Oak and Baker Street use the outer two platforms. The other station called Edgware Road is a short distance away across some busy roads and is used by Bakerloo line trains.

Northbound trains approaching Edgware Road often have to queue to enter the station and sometimes the resulting tailback even delays trains before they reach Paddington station.

Circle line GWR Class 387 trains Paddington Met station. . Platform at Paddington District Circle station.
Circle like train travelling towards Hammersmith (Met) station passes a GWR livered Class 387 train at Paddington (Met) station. . Although these platforms at Paddington were actually built by the Metropolitan Railway they are (nowadays) only served by District and Circle line trains which end their journeys at Edgware Road station.
In the distance it is possible to see the rear red lights of a train that is queuing to enter Edgware Road station.
Westbound S stock underground train at Liverpool Street station subsurface platform. . Westbound S stock underground train at Kings Cross St Pancras station subsurface platform.
A busy moment as an inner rail (anti-clockwise) S Stock Circle line train calls at the westbound platform at Liverpool Street station.

With westbound trains from stations on the northern side of the Circle line (Liverpool Street - Great Portland Street) travelling to over 6 different destinations it is always wise to check the electronic train describer to ensure that you travel on the correct train.
. An inner rail (anti-clockwise) S Stock Circle line train calls at the westbound platform at Kings Cross St. Pancras station. The subsurface platforms here opened in 1941 and are unique (for the subsurface network) in being more like a deep level tube station.
S Stock train St James's Park station. . S Stock train Notting Hill Gate station.
An outer rail (clockwise) Circle line train travelling to Edgware Road arrives at the westbound platform at St James's Park station. . An outer rail (clockwise) Circle line train travelling to Edgware Road departs from the northbound platform at Notting Hill Gate station.

Some History: The Genesis Of The Circle Line

The creation of what was known as the Inner Circle came from a July 1863 report by a House of Lords (British Parliament, Upper House) select committee which had been asked to consider the best proposals for railways in London. This report recommended the building of an "inner circuit of railway that should abut, if not actually join, nearly all of the principal railway termini in the Metropolis."   The new line almost succeeded in serving all of the termini stations, missing out only Marylebone (which did not exist in the 1860's), Fenchurch Street and Waterloo - the latter most likely because it is in south London and there was little appetite to include river crossings in the Inner Circle.

The project was so large and expected to be so expensive that in 1864 the Metropolitan Railway (MR) created a second railway company - the Metropolitan District Railway (MDR) - to help raise the required funds. It was intended that the two railway companies would merge when the works had been completed, but because the MDR was significantly less profitable (and there was a personality clash between the two Chairmen) this did not happen and instead they started to argue, eventually becoming bitter enemies.

To build the new sections of railway it was decided that the MR would build the western and eastern portions from Edgware Road station to South Kensington and from Moorgate Street station to Tower Hill, whilst the MDR would build the southern portion linking these two locations. Some historical accounts claim that the MDR considered building Tower Hill station with four platforms and for most (if not all) trains to end their journeys here.

Because both companies had their eyes on the lucrative museums and exhibitions traffic in the South Kensington area some of the tunnels around the south-western corner of the circle were built with four tracks. In addition, three stations had separate platforms for the trains operated by the MR and MDR. There were High Street Kensington, South Kensington and Gloucester Road.

Unfortunately the MDR ran out of money and construction could not proceed further east than an unplanned four platform terminus station at Mansion House.

In 1871 construction works had become far enough advanced to allow for Inner Circle trains to be travelling between Moorgate Street and Mansion House via High Street Kensington.

fake house fronts Leinster Gardens London. . fake frontage Leinster Gardens.
A general view - only close inspection or noticing that there is no loft extension makes it possible to discern the exact location of the solid wall with the faked house frontages. . A closer view of the doorways of the two properties on the left of the other image - net curtains are visible through the windows of the real house whilst the faked house offers just the illusion of windows.

Building the new section of railway in west London using the cut and cover system required the demolition of the two houses located at 23 and 24 Leinster Gardens, which is near to Bayswater station.

The plan was that the area where these properties had stood would be left open, so that it could act as a short ventilation portal for the tunnels. This meant that it was not possible to rebuild these two dwellings after the tunnels had been built.

Rather than use a plain brick wall to fill-in the gap between the remaining houses it was decided that a facade which resembles the two missing properties should be erected. This fake frontage is five feet (about 1.5 metres) thick. This was done to help maintain the ambiance of a street lined with upper class fashionable terraced houses.

In the 1930's a fraudster took advantage of these fake houses by quoting one of them as the location of an evening dinner and ball.

The hapless guests only realised that they had been duped when they arrived at the scene and discovered the reality of the address on the tickets. With them having paid an expensive 20 guineas for each ticket the fraudster must have made a lot of money!

The UK only stopped using the guinea as a unit of currency after decimalisation in 1971, which is when we converted from £sd (Pounds, shillings and pence) to just £p (Pounds and pence). A guinea was worth £1 1s [shilling] (or 21s or 21/-). Since £1 comprised 20 shillings so therefore 20gns would equate to £21. At decimalisation a guinea became £1.05.

. view of railway from above a high wall.
The cut and cover railway tunnel for which the original properties were demolished. Seen by looking over a high brick wall in a nearby road named Portchester Terrace. This road is parallel to Leinster Gardens.
Image & license: Duncan / Wikipedia encyclopædia CC BY 2.0

The MR was slow to build east of Moorgate Street, two of the reasons for this being the expense of building through the City area and the realisation that the planned circular railway would see its income and profits being shared with the MDR (ie: going down!). It did not help that by now funding the works that had been completed had left both railways in parlous financial conditions and therefore their main focuses had turned away from completing the Inner Circle to starting new services in other parts of London where there were prosperous suburbs that could be served much more profitably.

The lack of progress annoyed many city financiers and in 1874 they created the Metropolitan Inner Circle Completion Railway Company (MICCRC) to build the missing link.

Circle line London 1872 Map. . 1884 Railway Map Aldgate Area London.
The horseshoe shaped Inner Circle in 1872.
Map modified by me, original source & license:
Edgepedia / DavidCane / Wikipedia encyclopædia CC BY-SA 3.0
. The joint railway built by the Metropolitan and District Railways
in 1884 which completed the inner circle and connected them
to the East London Railway.

Map modified by me, original source & license:
Edgepedia / DavidCane / Wikipedia encyclopædia CC BY-SA 3.0

Even though the MICCRC was unable to raise sufficient finance the mere thought of competition from it encouraged the MR to quickly build the section between Moorgate Street and Aldgate. By now the MR wanted to extend its services to join the East London Railway (ELR) [this is the route which included the Brunel tunnel below the River Thames] and the South Eastern Railway (SER) which operated to the south of London*, so in conjunction with the MDR it bought out the MICCRC. In an effort to ensure that (this time) the circular service was actually realised the Houses of Parliament added a clause to the enabling legislation for the revised plans and new line to the ELR [the 1879 Metropolitan and District Railway (City Lines and Extensions) Act] which required the operation of a fully circular service and gave both the MR and MDR the legal right to run their trains on sections of railway owned by the other company. The Parliamentarians were not taking chances with possible future arguments! To help the two railways complete the project extra finance was made available from the City and the Metropolitan Board of Works.

*The Chairman of the MR, Sir Edwin Watkin, was also a director of about a dozen other railway companies, including the ELR, the SER plus the French Chemin de Fer du Nord and was instrumental of the creation of the Great Central Railway Main Line which ran services between London and Manchester via Sheffield, Nottingham and Leicester. Watkin had ambitious plans for through trains between Manchester in northern England and France via a Chunnel Tunnel. He actually started building this tunnel but Parliament, citing fears of a possible French invasion of the British Isles, forbade its construction and forced him to stop.

Construction of the Inner Circle restarted in 1881. Building from Aldgate, and using its unexpired legal powers from many years previously, the MR reached Tower Hill first - in 1882. At Tower Hill the MR hurriedly built a temporary station [in just three nights and two days!] and named it Tower Of London. The MDR's extension from Mansion House to a different Tower Hill station was completed in 1884, and within just a few weeks the long awaited fully circular services finally began. (It could be said that the speed in which things were built and opened in those days puts to shame how slowly things are done in the present era). However the arguments between the two railway companies still continued. The MDR pretended that the Tower of London station did not exist and refused to sell tickets to it. So within a week it ended up closing.

At first all stations served by the new service were equipped with a booking (ticket) office from each of the two railway companies. The aim behind this was because the fares income was apportioned between them on the basis of the number of passengers who travelled over each section of railway, and the two companies always wanted to ensure that passengers bought tickets which gave them the greater share of the income - even if it meant that the passengers were sold tickets for the longer and slower route around the Circle. This situation was possible because (especially at first) one railway company operated the clockwise trains and the other company the anti-clockwise trains.

In 1933 Parliament merged most of London's public transports into a new organisation called the London Passenger Transport Board. This ended the enmity between the MR and what by now was known as the District Railway. The new owners did not like being subjected to the legal requirement to operate an Inner Circle service which travelled round and round in circles and within 16 months ensured that it was repealed. This suggests that even then there was a desire to change this service so that it served two terminal stations. Perhaps if the Parliamentarians had realised the future possibilities they would have refused to repeal the statutory obligation for the full circular service.

Although many years later, the Circle was broken in 2009, with Circle line trains now travelling from Hammersmith via Shepherds Bush around the loop as far as Edgware Road and then retracing their journeys. This change has significantly inconvenienced passengers whose journeys between north and west London now require an enforced change of trains at Edgware Road station. However, since the break in the Circle is to the north-west of the line it does mean that the City financiers retain their through services in and around the City area - thereby meaning that (for them) the spirit of the 1879 requirement to operate a fully circular service has been retained.

London's Other Circle Lines

Over the years London has had other 'Circle' railway services, however these all only form(ed) partial circles - so that trains did/do not fully encircle London. These were the Super Outer Circle, the Outer Circle, the Middle Circle and a service which is not named or marketed as a Circle.

The Super Outer Circle was a short lived service from St Pancras station via a circuitous route via north and west London to the District Railway's Earls Court station.

The Outer Circle started in 1867 at Broad Street station and followed what nowadays is known as the North London line and West London line to Kensington Olympia, from where the destinations varied over the years and at different times included Victoria station, Mansion House and Earls Court. In later years this service only ran between Willesden Junction and Earls Court and in the 1920 was electrified (using the same system as the Underground) as part of the London and North Western Railway's extensive suburban electric services to the north and west of London. This service closed as a result of WW2 but a very similar service is now running again as part of the London Overground network.

The Middle Circle began in 1872 as a Great Western Railway service between Moorgate Street and Mansion House which in west London travelled via what nowadays is the West London line and Kensington Olympia station. This service ended in 1905 and was replaced by an electric Metropolitan Railway service between Kensington Olympia and Aldgate or Whitechapel (different trains served different destinations). The railway electrification was done by the GWR as part of the project to electrify the Hammersmith & City Railway which it jointly owned with the Metropolitan Railway. Later the service was cut back again to become a shuttle between Edgware Road and Kensington Olympia, and it ended completely in 1940 as a result of WW2 bomb damage.

A map showing the above Circle services plus the Inner Circle can be found at this link:
http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:The_Circle_Routes_of_Victorian_London.png .

In 2012 London Overground starting running what amounts to a new outer circle service that travels via the East London line, South London line, West London line and North London line. However, instead of through trains this is operated in several segments with passengers who want to make a complete circuit needing to change trains - at Clapham Junction, or at Highbury & Islington / Canonbury plus any station between Dalston Junction and Surrey Quays. Note that travelling complete circles using these services should not be attempted if paying fares using an Oyster card in PAYG mode or a Contactless payment device. The PAYG payment system is not designed for such a journey and it is likely that the result will be a penalty fare. Instead paper One Day Travelcards are required (or weekly Travelcards which include travel in zones 1 and 2), or since the London Overground Network is part of the mainline railway (National Rail) the All Line Rover, BritRail and Eurail passes can also be used on these trains.

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See caption for picture information.
Some stations served by Circle Line trains have short platforms where part of the train stops outside the station and the doors remain closed. Passengers wanting these stations should walk through the inside of the train to a section which is within the station platform.

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This page last updated 1st January 2022
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