Opening of the first section of the Victoria Line tunnels took place 50 years ago tomorrow with the first trains running Walthamstow to Highbury on Sunday 1 September 1968.
Work on the new 17km line between Walthamstow and Victoria using tunnel boring machines started in 1962 and it was the first new underground rail route to be built for 50 years. The Victoria Line tunnels were later extended 5km to Brixton and opened in 1971.
A test section of tunnel, which was later incorporated into the Victoria Line, was dug in 1960 using a tunnel boring machine to test its suitability for the main construction work. One newspaper report from the period reported “the major time-consuming factor in the construction of the Victoria Line will not be the tunnelling but the building and conversion of stations”. The work called for Oxford Circus to be completely remodelled.
Despite the use of automated tunnelling techniques on the running tunnels, the larger diameter cast iron lined station tunnels were dug by hand.
The cost of the line in 1962 was estimated to be £55M, which would be close to £1.65bn at today’s prices, but rose to £70M before completion (£2.1bn today).
A 1968 BBC documentary gives more insight into the piling in Oxford Circus that started off the scheme as well as the tunnelling work. Click here to view it.