‘Scandal’ of the unfinished £3m Northern line extension from Finsbury Park
- Credit: Nigel Sutton
Abandoning a major rail project after spending £3m would be a disaster today, let alone the ’50s. The Gazette finds how a Finsbury Park Tube extension failed.
Can you imagine the outrage if Transport for London (TfL) carried out £75million of Tube extension work, with all the infrastructure in place, before deciding to sack it off halfway through?
Well, this is exactly what happened in the mid-20th century (under London Transport, TfL’s predecessor).
In the late 1930s, London Transport began work to electrify branch lines from Finsbury Park to Highgate and Alexandra Palace. It would have become part of the Underground’s Northern line.
But by 1954, the project was abandoned. About £3million had been spent. According to the Bank of England’s inflation calculator, that’s the equivalent of £75m in today’s terms.
Author and transport historian Jim Blake called it a “scandal” in his 1993 book, Northern Wastes, about the unfinished project.
It’s a subject that still causes a stir. Last Wednesday, Jim gave a talk to Islington Archaeology and History Society in the town hall.
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And in July, he will lead an all-day history tour spanning the forgotten line from Finsbury Park to Alexandra Palace.
“I think it still resonates today,” explains Jim, “because it was a loss of a vital connection – a connection that was never used for its intended purpose.”
Planners launched the scheme 82 years ago, in 1935.
Jim continues: “The New Works Programme was announced by London Transport to alleviate high unemployment and improve public transport.
“Work to electrify the lines was very much advanced, but was postponed during the Second World War.
“Official history tries to tell you all work stopped during the war, but they actually got as far as rebuilding the new station at Highgate in 1941.”
London Transport intended to complete the work between 1948 and 1950. But the aftermath of the war prevented this.
“There was a real shortage of money,” says Jim, “and rebuilding homes destroyed by bombing was the obvious priority.
“Over and over again, London Transport kept on putting the work back, and finally it was abandoned in 1954. It meant £3m was wasted including new bridges, viaducts, signalboxes and electricity substations.”
Funds had been directed towards completing the eastern extension of the Central line, instead. And Jim says the implications remain in Islington to this day.
“If it had been completed, it would have alleviated the dreadful traffic in Stroud Green Road, for a start.
“And for people who live in north London and work in the City, it would relieve congestion on the Northern line with a quicker route.”
Jim, who lives in Enfield, has published numerous transport books, many of which are available at London Transport Museum in Covent Garden. Not Northern Wastes, though.
“They don’t like this subject being brought up,” he admitted. “They stopped selling this particular book in the museum!”
Jim Blake’s ‘scandal of the uncompleted Northern line extensions’ history tour (£10) takes place on July 2. His book Northern Wastes is £9.95. For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org.