What’s the Deal With: Hilariously Short Metro Lines

LONGFORM

Travel Analysis


Laughably short but also critically important

We've found something worthy of the joke: yo' Mama is so stupid, she thought Subway made trains.

 The extremely extensive metro line that is the Waterloo & City, photo from lasttrains.co.uk

The extremely extensive metro line that is the Waterloo & City, photo from lasttrains.co.uk

We’re all acquainted with the short ‘Changi Airport Extension’ that awkwardly branches out from the main East-West Line at Tanah Merah, but little know that these types of lines do feature more egregiously overseas.

Yet, the continued existence of such rail services is often because they have become a beacon of a city’s heritage or are still running because they have become critical in the continued functioning of the public transport system. 

 The Tünel in Istanbul is a funicular that has been operating since 1875, photo from urbancapture.com

The Tünel in Istanbul is a funicular that has been operating since 1875, photo from urbancapture.com

The Tünel in Istanbul

The Tünel is the world’s third oldest underground rail service was built in 1875 to transport Western diplomats between their offices in Karaköy and their hilltop residences in Beyoğlu. During this bygone era, the funicular’s trains used to ply the route with open cabins and cars made out of wood. These days, it transports wide-eyed tourists and train otakus in steel cars that make the laughably short journey (or joy ride) in about 90 seconds.

The line’s prominence is in part derived from the people who first used it - Westerners that were trying to reform and address the existential issues facing the Ottoman Empire. However, one would be remiss to describe these actors as altruistic - they were despatched to an empire already in administration after it declared its inability to pay back its debts. These all stemmed from the secessionist pressures that arose in the Balkan territories of the Ottoman Empire which led to the Crimean War and the subsequent Great Eastern Crisis.

Taking the Tünel is just a sampling of the rich heritage of Istanbul; a city that has weathered the crosswinds of interminable conflict, divisive politics and economic transformation. 

 The famed (and actually pretty essential) Waterloo and City Line, photo from changehere.wordpress.com

The famed (and actually pretty essential) Waterloo and City Line, photo from changehere.wordpress.com

Waterloo and City Line in London is slightly more substantial at 2.37km covering a route between the Waterloo and Bank stations.

A visitor with little experience of traversing the London Underground would laugh at the unusually short Waterloo and City Line, eventually reaching the conclusion that it is just a relic of the past waiting to be shuttered. Indeed, the line is one of the city’s oldest being predated only by the Northern Line. 

However, any rational thought experiment would argue for the continued running of the Waterloo and City Line as after all, it is an essential transport artery. Travel in and out of London’s Square Mile is the city’s largest transport problem to crack as rush hour traffic has placed immense stress on the aging and strained Northern, Central, and District lines. The removal of the W&C Line would thus be a nightmare for commuters that benefit from the direct service as there are currently no (comparatively palatable) alternatives to the W&C.

The next best route between Bank and Waterloo (both transport hubs) would involve a significantly longer journey as it would call for a line transfer and (at least) 5 additional stops compared to the direct service. Therefore, despite its age, the reality that the W&C still displays continued relevance is perhaps testament to the critical role it plays in London’s transport infrastructure. 

 The branch line (U55) in Berlin makes little sense, but it exists anyway, photo from leupsi.com

The branch line (U55) in Berlin makes little sense, but it exists anyway, photo from leupsi.com

The U55 in Berlin operates a 1.8km shuttle service between the capital’s central train station (Hauptbahnhof), serving inter city routes with city’s S-Bahn. 

Meant as an extension to the existing U5 (hence the extra 5), the U55 is a shuttle service between the city’s prominent Hauptbahnhof (central train station) and an unassuming S-Bahn (above ground rail) station at Brandenburger Tor. 

The short line has been branded (haha) a white elephant because of its high cost, long construction time, and general lack of use amongst most commuters. As such, the only thing keeping it afloat is perhaps how it fits into the government district it runs under - with a design aesthetic that matches the cold hard efficiency of German governance. 

However, this efficiency seems to only hold true for projects outside of the capital. Berlin has a long history (even after unification) of delayed infrastructure and poor planning. The final linkage and absorption of the U55 into the U5 is no exception as it has been delayed due to financial difficulties and debilitating construction issues. These revelations come on top of the fact that the U55 took 14 years to build; highly unusual for a country that has become synonymous with the aforementioned excellence and efficiency. 

Eventually, it is planned that the U55 will connect the Hauptbahnhof with the beautiful boulevard of Unter den Linden and eventually join the U5 at the famous Alexanderplatz. Yet, the legacy of the Berlin Wall dies hard here as the rail project seems to be indeterminably languishing; a striking manifestation of the divisions that afflicted Berlin throughout the Cold War. The aforementioned U5 services the (former) Communist East Berlin whilst the new Hauptbahnhof was constructed in the West. 

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