The District line was the second ‘underground suburban railway‘ to be constructed in London, and was opened in 1868.
Creating the Metropolitan District Railway
After the initial success of the Metropolitan Railway, there was an influx of applications to construct railways. The government commissioned a committee to look at the options and report to the house, in 1864, the creation of an ‘inner circuit‘ railway was approved by both houses in Parliament. Subsequently an extension was approved to the Metropolitan railway on 29 July 1864, with a scheme to create a new railway company that would be merged to construct the southern end of the circuit railway. This company was called the Metropolitan District Railway and had established its own separate company to raise funds separately from the Metropolitan Railway.
The proposed route didn‘t follow the same convention as the Metropolitan Railway, which followed existing road alignments. This led to higher costs and compensation for the Metropolitan District Railway. To enable ventilation an open trench would be constructed west of Gloster Road, with the remainder of the railway being enclosed in a trench constructed by ‘cut and cover‘ 7.6m (25ft) wide and 4.8m (15ft 9in) deep.
The Metropolitan District Railway opened on 24 December 1868 between Westminster and South Kensington, with a shared station with the Metropolitan Railway. The initial section of the railway cost £3 million to construct, three times the cost of constructing the Metropolitan Railway.
Expanding the District Railway westwards
Despite the astronomical costs, the Metropolitan District Railway was quickly extended with a single track extension to West Bromption opening on 12 April 1869 with additional tracks being layed by the summer. A small section of track was opened on 5 July 1870 called ‘Cromwell Curve‘ to connect West Bromption to High Street Kensington and later on 30 May 1870 an extension from Westminster to Blackfiers was opened.
The Metropolitan Railway operated services on the Metropolitan District Railway since its opening and received 55% of gross ticket revenues; due to the level of debt the railway had obtained though construction, a merger with the Metropolitan Railway was no longer attractive. The District Railway decided terminated its arrangement with the Metropolitan Railway and struggling with the levels of debt changed its plans to constructing a terminus at Manson House.
On 3 July 1871 the District Railway opened its terminus at Manson House and began to run it‘s own services. The railway opened a new extension to South Kensington on 10 July 1871 and later an extension from West Bromption to a small 3 platform station at Earls Court opened on 31 October 1871.
The railway obtained permission to construct a 2.4km (1.5 mile) extension to Hammersmith on 7 July 1873, which opened on 9 September 1874. A fire in 1875 burned down the original Earls Court station, however, a larger station was constructed and opened in 1878, west of the original site. The new station included a flying junction between High Street Kensington and Gloster Road.
A further 0.8km (0.5 mile) extension was approved in 1875 between Hammersmith and Ranvenscroft Park. The extension, which ran from to Richmond, over mainline tracks, opened on 1 June 1877. The District Railway then opened a junction west of Turnham Green for a 4.8km (3 mile) line to run to Ealing in 1879.
The District Railway continued to expand westwards, obtaining permission to extend the railway to West Brompton on 4 July 1878. Opening a further branch to Putney on 1 March 1880, and obtaining permission for a 8.9km (8.5 mile) extension from Mill Hill Park (today Action Town) to Houslow Barracks in the same year. The railway began to run these services as far as Hounslow Town on 1 May 1883, with a single track shuttle service to Houslow Barracks starting in 1884. Hounslow Town was closed in 1886 in favour of a new station at Heston and Hounslow (today Hounslow Central).
Completing the ‘inner circuit‘
After initial financial problems, the District Railway decided to abandon its plans to create an ‘inner circuit‘ and constructed a termini at Mansion Park. A group of disgruntled city financiers decided to create a separate company to complete the railway called the Metropolitan Inner Circle Completion Company in 1874. With support from the District Railway, the company received Parliamentary authority on 7 August 1874, however the company struggled to raise enough funds therefore the time to complete the ‘inner circuit‘ was extended to 1876.
The Metropolitan Railway and Distinct Railway began to run services from ‘St Mary's Curve‘ to New Cross on 1 October 1884. The ‘inner circuit‘ had is opening ceremony on 17 September 1884, with services beginning on 6 October 1884. The District Railway began to run services to Whitechapel on the same day.
Further Extensions to the District Railway
The District Railway obtained running rights, over existing mainline railway service, to extend services from Putney Bridge to Wimbledon on 3 June 1889. Later obtaining rights from the Whitechapel and Bow Railway, to run services to Bow Road on 2 June 1902, with some services running though to Whitechapel and Upminster
The District Railway proposed the creation of the Ealing and South Harrow Railway, in 1892, which would construct a route from Ealing to South Harrow. Construction of the new route began in 1897, and by 1899 the route was largely completed. However, due to low predictions of passengers prevented the route from opening. The District Railway ran into further financial difficulties and was bailed out by the Metropolitan Railway who constructed a branch to Uxbridge, with the District Railway constructing a railway between South Harrow and Raynes Lane, the branch opened on 4 July 1904.
Developing Electrification on the District Railway
The District and Metropolitan Railways both faced stiff competition with the new electric underground railways, such as the City and South London Railway (CSLR) and Central London Railway (CLR). Steam was proving extremely unpopular, the Metropolitan and District Railways both lost a combined four million passengers between 1899 and 1900.
Electrification was the way forward for these railways, however this was still in its infancy. An agreement was needed to provide an electric service over the ‘inner circuit‘ (Circle line) because if the joint ownership. An experimental train between Earls Court and High Street Kensington was introduced for six months.
The Metropolitan District Electric Traction Company was established on 15 July 1901 by a new investor, Charles Yerkes. The company raised a million pounds to electrify the railway and to provide the construction of a new generating station and new rolling stock. Quickly Charles Yerkes gained control of the District Railway and favoured an electric system that was similar to the ones used on the City and South London Railway (CSLR) and Central London Railway (CLR).
The District railway had permission to construct a deep-level tunnel beneath it‘s subsurface tracks between Earls Court and Mansion House. The District railway purchased the proposed Brompton and Piccadilly Circus Railway in 1898, which had plans to construct a tunnel between South Kensington and Mansion House. These plans where combined with the plans of the Great Northern and Strand Railway with the plan to construct a tunnel between the Strand and Wood Green. These made the Great Northern Piccadilly and Brompton Railway (GNPBR), with the planned tunnel between South Kensington and Mansion House being dropped.
The Underground Electric Railway Companies of London (UECL) was established, its objective was to control the railway companies and manage the planned works. The company took over the Metropolitan District Electric Traction Company on 8 June 1902, paying the shareholders off in cash. The company began constructing a new power station that was capable of powering the District railway and the planned extensions in 1902. The power station called ‘Lots Road Power Station‘ began providing electricity in February 1905.
The District railway had electrified the track between Ealing and Harrow, however this had not yet opened. The section was equip with automatic signalling track circuit and pneumatic semaphore signals. The District railway placed an order in August 1903 for 420 cars and a new depot to be constructed at Mill Hill Park (today‘s Acton Town Depot).
After successful trials; the railway opened on 23 June 1903 between South Harrow and Park Royal and Twyford Abbey (today‘s Park Royal) for the Royal Agricultural Show that year. The remainer of the line and North Ealing, Perivale Alperton (today‘s Alperton), Sudbury Town, Sudbury Hill and South Harrow stations.
Electrifying the whole District Railway
The first section of the District railway to be converted for electric services was Houslow and South Acton operating from 13 June 1905; this was the first time the section between Mill Hill Park and South Acton was used for passengers despite being used for experiments with electric traction. Hounslow station was rebuilt and reopened, with trains for Hounslow Barracks reversing in the station.
The section between Ealing and Whitechapel opening on 1 July 1905, the same day as the Metropolitan Railway introducing electric over the ‘inner circle‘. However, a Metropolitan Railway service overturned, an inquiry found that the shoe-gear was incompatible and the Metropolitan service was withdrawn. The Metropolitan Railway reintroduced their service on 24 September 1905, reducing the journey time over the ‘inner circuit‘ from 70 to 50 minuets.
The District Railway withdrew its service over the East London Line, and provided all electric services by September 1905.
A new station west of Hammersmith was opened on 9 October 1905, Barons Court, where the new Great Northern Piccadilly and Brompton Railway (GNPBR) surfaces; opening on the 15 December 1906.
Operating An Electric District Railway
The underground railways in London and Underground Electric Railway Companies of London (UECL) combined their marketing including maps, joint publicity and ticketing in 1908. The Underground Electric Railway Companies of London (UECL) soon had control of the underground railways, excluding the Waterloo and City Railway and the Metropolitan Railway‘s subsidiary Great Northern and City Railway.
The ‘UndergrounD‘ signs where first seen outside underground stations in Central London in 1908, this also saw the introduction of station name boards with the station name in a blue bar on a red circular board. The District Railway also introduced a ‘non-stop‘ and ‘all stations‘ services, as appropriate, panels on the door where introduced that listed all of the skipped stations.
The railway shared its tracks east of Bow Road, there was an essential project proposed to widen the railway as far as East Ham. This was undergone with a four track layout, two electrified for exclusive use by the District Railway as far as Barking. This work was largely completed by July 1908, although the railway opened a new station at Barking and began running services on 1 April 1908. A new station on the direct route at Houslow Town was opened on 2 May 1909, this saw an end to trains reversing in the station.
The Metropolitan had not provided services to Uxbridge since 1904, although it was paying £2000 per year in accordance with its enabling act. The Dirstict Railway proposed to run services to Rayners Lane, the Metropolitan Railway responded by a proposal to rebuild the station as a District Railway termini. The District Railway then proposed running services to Uxbridge, this service began on 1 March 1910.
To enable this extension the District Railway constructed a new platform at Mill Hill Park (Acton Town today) this was for use with the Houslow and Uxbridge shuttle. A flying junction was also constructed north of the station for Ealing and Houslow traffic. The station was renamed Acton Town on 1 March 1910.
The District Railway and London and South Western Railway (L&SWR) shared their tracks between Turnham Green and Ravenscroft Park. However, there was a plan to quadruple the tracks for exclusive use on the District Railway, with the London, Tilbry and Southend Railway (LT&SR) withdrawing their service in 1916. The tracks where first used on 3 December 1911, with a new station called Stamford Brook opening on 1 February 1912. The Richmond and Hammersmith routes where accessible though a separate flying junction west of Earls Court from January 1914.
In 1910 the London, Tilbry and Southend Railway (LT&SR) began running services from Ealing Broadway to Southend and Shoeburyness. To achieve this they operated unused District Railway electric locomotives that where used on the inner circle, then hauled by a steam locomotive for the remainder of the journey. Two saloon coaches with retention toilets where introduced in 1912.
In 1920 the District Railway introduced a new timetable, which had frequency at its heart. However, this caused problems between Edgware Road and High Street Kensington, with too few trains, and the timetable was amended. This issue stems from the Metropolitan Railways reconstruction of Edgware Road, to allow for an abandoned plan to extend the railway to Kilburn there where four platforms that where disused. The District Railway also extended its Putney to High Street Kensington to Edgware Road to resolve this issue, furthermore the Metropolitan Railway operated all of the inner circle services.
The London, Midland and Scottish Railway inherited the London, Tilbry and Southend Railway (LT&SR) route as far as Barking in 1923. The railway later proposed a widening of the tracks to Upminster, with one pair of rails to be used exclusively by the District Railway, there where also new stations constructed at Upney, Heathway (Dagenham Heathway today) which would be excursively served.
Extending the Piccadilly
A bill to extend the Piccadilly line west of Hammersmith was introduced in November 1912, the bill passed as the 'London Electric Railways Act 1913', however the outbreak of war prevented the work from starting.
Powers for this where renewed in 1926 for four tracks between Hammersmith and west of Hammermith. The proposed service was confirmed with 29 Piccadilly line services to run to Harrow and Hounslow, with the District Railway mainly operating to Wimbledon, Richmond, Hounslow and Ealing with a shuttle between South Action and Uxbridge and Acton Town to South Action.
However finance for this extension was not garunteed until the passing of the Development (Loan Grantees and Grants) Act 1929, and construction began in 1930 with four tracks between Studland Road Junction to Northfields on the Houslow Branch. Several stations where rebuild along the route in a modernist style, these where influenced or designed by Charles Holden and many are now Grade II listed. The prototype station for this was Sudbury.
This extension had consequences for the service on the District Railway, on 4 July 1932 the service between Action Town and South Harrow was withdrawn. This service was supplemented with one in three Piccadilly line services running between Hammersmith and Uxbridge. The four tracks constructed between Action Town and Northfields opened on 18 December 1932, with the Piccadilly line serving Northfileds from 9 January 1933 and Hounslow West from 13 March 1933. District Railway run though to Hounslow with an off-peak shuttle to Acton Town.
New Works Programme on the District line
The District Railway was amalgamated into the London Transport Passenger Board on 1 July 1933 along with the other underground railways, London tramway and bus operators.
The shuttle to Uxbridge that was operated by the District line was withdrawn on 23 October 1933, with the Piccadilly line gaining exclusive running rights on the branch.
The District Railway operated with 179 motors, which where under 15 years, however, the carriages where original wooden body type and dated from 1904 - 1905. These where planned to be replaced under the New Works Programme with electro-pneumatic breaks and guard operated air doors on the carriages.
The new style trains entered service as the 'Q' stock in November 1938 with a mixed formation to allow for shorter trains. However some older trains remained in service, these where referred to as 'H' stock because they hand hand operated doors. These mostly consisted of older double-ended 'B' stock motor cars which where adapted from a single car. Initially these replaced the 'G23' stock and where adapted for One Person Operation.
The Hounslow branch became exclusive to the Piccadilly line on 29 April 1935, when District services where withdrawn and South Acton became served by Acton Town.
With the outbreak of war in 1938, the District line saw a change to its operations. On 1 October 1939 services to Southend are withdrawn with the electric motors being scrapped. During February 1940 first class services are also withdrawn.
The London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMSR) decided to cut its services, due to extensive bomb damage and in 1939 operated a single shuttle between Earls Court and Willsden Junction. Services where also withdrawn over the West London line, operated by the Metropolitan line and London, Midland and Scottish Railway (LMSR) in 1940.
As a result the Olympia Exhalation Centre was left unserved. A service was restored with exclusive running rights for the District line from Earls Court and the station was renamed from Kensington Addison Road to Kensington (Olympia).
The District line under Nationalisation
The national government passed legislation to nationalise London Transport Railways and British Railways on 1 January 1948.
A new rolling stock entitled 'R' stock was commissioned to replace the ageing 'Q' stock motors from 1938, this left the 'H' stock in operation for a short period. The new rolling stock was constructed between 1949 and 1959, from 1952 the stock was constructed from aluminium bodies to save weight. As a trial one train was left unpainted, this was considered a success and all trains where left unpainted between 1963 and 1968 with other trains being painted grey to match.
In the 1960s the eastern-end of the line towards Barking was overcrowded, they could not run anymore trains, some 'CO/CP' trains where transferred to the Metropolitan line, however the line shared its tracks with steam trains operated by British Rail from Frenchurch Street. A plan to resolve this was proposed in 1950, with the electrification of British Rail lines with overhead electrical cables and exclusive running rights on both pairs of tracks for each railway. A flyover would also be constructed at Barking to allow for platform interchange between the District line and British Railways. Works began on this plan in 1955 with the work being completed in 1961 and the first British Rail electric services beginning in June 1962. Further to the plan, Upminster Depot was constructed to allow 34, 8 carriage trains to stable, this opened on 1 December 1958.
The District line withdrew its South Acton shuttle on 28 February 1958, with the Hounslow branch following on 9 October 1964.
District line services could not run though due to congestion on the line cause by the line sharing its tracks with the Hammersmith and City line beyond Aldgate East. As a result many services terminated at Mansion House and this caused congestion at the stations eastwards. Tower Hill station became very overcrowded, the station was already cramped. This prompted the station to be rebuilt on a new site with three platforms to allow trains to reverse at the station, this opened in 1967.
Until 1971 the District line operated a 6 car off peak service and an 8 car peak service. This was changed to a 7 car service. This enabled a new style of rolling stock to be commissioned to allow for shorter trains to call at Edgware Road, this came in the 'C77' stock, the 'C69' had been running on the Hammersmith and City and Circle lines for a few years. Further to longer trains on the remainder of the line, this came in the form of the 'D' stock, which was introduced between 1979 and 1983.
One Person Operation was proposed in 1972, however due to a conflict with the trade unions this wasn't introduced until 1985.
The District line Today
With the conception of Railtrack in 1994, the Dristrict line took over the infrastructure of the line from Putney Bridge to Wimbledon, this included East Putney, Southfields and Wimbledon Park stations. However, the Richmond branch of the line continues to have joint operations with London Overground between Gunnersbury and Richmond which Railtrack is responsible for.
All District Line sevrices pass though Earl's Court, which provides an operational hub for the line.