Only a handful of sections of the London Underground have closed during its 150-year history.
The Aldwych branch is one; made famous by regular appearances in film and television. A lesser known lost Tube line is the service that ran from Drayton Park to Moorgate, which closed on 4 October, 1975.
Originally promoted by the Great Northern Railway, the Great Northern & City Railway was designed to permit electric services from Finsbury Park into the city at Moorgate.
The Act authorising construction of the railway was passed on 28 June 1892. Financial issues resulted in physical work on the line’s construction being delayed, with the first shaft not being sunk until 1899. Despite its original support, the GNR became an opponent of the line with the result that there was no physical connection built between the GNR and GN&CR at Finsbury Park. Services commenced over the isolated line from Finsbury Park to Moorgate on 14 February, 1904.
On 30 June 1913 the GN&CR was taken over by the Metropolitan Railway. The new owner had plans to connect its new acquisition to the Circle and to the Waterloo & City lines. These plans, however, never came to fruition and the GN7CR was destined to remain isolated throughout its time under the Metropolitan Railways and its successors until the mid-1970s. As a result of its isolation, rolling stock had to be moved to it via a freight yard near Drayton Park and the stock was serviced by a small maintenance shed at Drayton Park itself.
The line was built to the main line loading gauge, as it was hoped that through-services from the GNR would operate over it. It was electrified using a fourth-rail system.
In 1910, services ran every two to three minutes from Finsbury Park to Moorgate Street, calling at the four intermediate stations — Drayton Park, Highbury, Essex Road and Old Street — with a single journey taking 13 minutes. The timetable notes that, during the morning peak, an accelerated service also operates, taking only 11 minutes to cover the entire route.
Control of the line passed to the London Passenger Transport Board, following its establishment in 1933. From the mid-1930s onwards, the LPTB developed ambitious plans with the LNER to construct a link between Drayton Park and Finsbury Park and the include the LNER’s branch lines from Finsbury Park — to Alexandra Palace, Edgware and High Barnet — into an expanded Northern Line network. The Northern Heights Plan was incorporated into the LPTB’s New Works Programme and work started towards the end of the decade.
The arrival of the Second World War resulted in much of the programme being unfinished. Whilst the section of ex-LNER line from Highgate to High Barnet and from Finchley to Mill Hill East — on the route to Edgware — were electrified and incorporated into the Northern Line, remainder of the line from Mill Hill East to Edgware plus the lines to Alexandra Palace and from Finsbury Park to Highgate remained steam operated. The connecting ramps at Drayton Park were also completed but were not brought into use at this stage. During 1939, the GN&CR track was converted to operate using LT standards; prior to this date, the positive and negative conductor rails had both been placed outside the running line. The last of the traditional stock operated on 13 May 1939 and the replacement tube stock introduced.
Although plans for the Northern Heights scheme were resurrected after the war in the London Plan Working Party Report of 1949, no further progress on the plans was achieved and the line from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace was closed on 5 July 1954 (the line from Mill Hill East to Edgware had closed in 1939).
The branch was cut back from Finsbury Park to Drayton Park in 1964 and, for the next decade, the line maintained its isolated existence. Its final years as a London Underground line were, however, overshadowed by a major accident — the most serious on the Underground network for many years when, on 28 February, a service from Drayton Park ran through the terminus at Moorgate at speed and crashed into the dead end of the tunnel. Forty-three people, including the train’s driver, were killed and a further 74 were injured. Although there was an exhaustive investigation into the causes of the crash, nothing was proved positively as the unit was shown to be mechanically sound and the driver showed no evidence of a medical condition. There have been attempts to try and identify the actual causes but all are speculative.
The line became known as the Highbury branch of the Northern Line in 1970. However, the following year and agreement was reached with British Rail for the line’s transfer to BR and for its incorporation into the Great Northern electrification scheme. Given the constrained nature of King’s Cross station, using Moorgate as the terminus for some of the suburban services relieved the pressure on the main line station.
The final London Underground operation of the line was on 4 October 1975 and work commenced on its incorporation into the BR network. More than 40 years after the idea to connect Finsbury Park and Drayton Park was introduced, track was laid for the first time between the two stations. New 25kV services began to operate on the line from Finsbury Park to Old Street via Drayton Park using Class 313 units on 8 August 1976; services were extended through to Moorgate on 8 November 1976.
Stock using the line is dual voltage; fitted with pantographs for use on the 25kV and with shoes for use on the third-rail section. The changeover point between the two systems is at Drayton Park.
Today the service is operated by Great Northern, part of Govia Thameslink, which has held the franchise since May 2014. At the height of its use in 1910, the line carried trains every couple of minutes. Today, it’s used just three times per hour.