Northern City Line


(1904 - 1964)

Not to be confused with the City branch of the Northern Line, the Northern City Line (NCL) ran from Moorgate to Finsbury Park. The line was originally built by the Great Northern & City Railway with tunnels built to mainline train widths to allow the Great Northern Railway trains to run from Finsbury Park into the City of London. Relations deteriorated between the two companies however, necessitating the GN&CR to tunnel back underground (the line surfaced at Drayton Park) and build a subterranean terminus at Finsbury Park.

The line was sold to the Metropolitan railway in 1913, then became the Northern City Line (part of the Northern Line) when the underground lines were nationalised in 1933. The line was cut back at Drayton Park in 1964 to allow for the arrival of the Victoria line at Finsbury Park. In 1975, shortly after the Moorgate disaster, British Rail took over the line and built a new surface connection between Drayton Park and Finsbury Park, thus giving it the mainline connection that it was originally designed for.

The old north and southbound bores underground from Drayton Park to Finsbury Park lie partially disused. The NCL platforms at Finsbury Park are now used by the southbound Victoria and Southbound Piccadilly lines.



This account of a visit in May 2003 to the disused tunnels north of Drayton Park was kindly sent in by a noble third-party contributor and is reproduced here in as much detail as possible:


Passing through the single steel gate entrance, the first thing that hits (literally) is the near-gale force wind, caused by the passage of the Victoria line trains about half a mile away. Standing just inside the gate in pitch darkness, the old northbound tunnel runs off to the left. Ahead is the tunnel wall, the other side of which is the old southbound tunnel. To the right is the huge concrete plug which seals the tunnel mouth. Allowing one's eyes to adjust to the darkness, a set of concrete steps leading down to the track bed can just be made out. At the base are the old running rails; the positive and negative rails have been removed. Some insulators still remain, others lie strewn around the track bed. Everything is covered in grime, the metal is rusted, the air is cold and slightly fusty and one can feel the dampness in the air.


(The northbound bore looking north - the current carrying rails have been removed.)


Walking 150 yards north in the large mainline bore of the NCL tunnel, there is a cross passage walkway that connects the northbound bore to the southbound. Here the positive and negative rails are still in place, sitting on their insulators as they were when the tunnels were abandoned.


(A cross passage, looking into the southbound tunnel. On the floor is a pile of cable brackets.)


Has anyone heard the story of two of the rolling stock cars involved in the Moorgate crash being "bricked up" in the southbound tunnel?
It's not true: looking south in the southbound tunnel there is a huge mound of spoil, consisting of clay, sleepers, concrete, and brick, which extends about 100 yards back to the concrete plug of that bore. It was possible to climb over that mound and at times the track bed below could be seen but there is no evidence of anything buried underneath.


(Looking south in the southbound tunnel at the mound of spoil. This goes right back for about 100 yards to the concrete plug.)


Still in the Southbound tunnel, but walking north for approximately 200 yards there is another concrete plug. If it was possible to see beyond the wall, it would reveal the roof of the southbound Victoria line tunnel. Beneath one's feet, the obvious rumbling of these trains as they skirt off to the west slightly to run below both the NCL tunnels can be felt



(These two photos show the car marker boards telling drivers when clear of the cross over outside the tunnels north of Drayton Park.)


Back to the Northbound bore, and a good place to inspect one of the insulators laying in the track bed in greater detail. The date stamped on the side was MAY 61, with LTE written just below. Walking onwards, the track bed is littered with railway artefacts from a bygone age, then a breeze block wall with a simple doorway in the centre is reached; the wind pressure suddenly increases, caused by the movement of the Victoria line trains a short distance away.


(A live rail insulator with the date Jan 64)


Moving away from the door, a ghostly howl rises to a pitch then dies away to silence. Although this is simply the movement of air around the doorway caused by the passing of the underground trains, this is definitely not for the faint hearted! In the distance a light from the Victoria line flickers - this tunnel separates the northbound and southbound line. There is only track bed here now, no rails or insulators to trip on and the air is dry and warm. Everything here is in mint condition, no rust; the date on the tunnel wall plates is plainly visible: 1902! (These tunnels, if memory serves correctly, were the first to be dug with the use of the Greathead shield. A shield that got stuck in the construction of Moorgate has been left there. It is still visible in run off tunnel at the end of platform 10 at Moorgate.)


(Looking north in the southbound tunnel...a more familiar view.)


Two hundred yards or so further on the right is a cross passage, with southbound Victoria line rails visible. There is another cross passage on the left - the northbound Victoria line. Still standing in the old NCL tunnel, a blast of air suddenly hits; a northbound train is approaching! Off with the lamps, so not to alarm the driver. The wind pressure increases until the train rattles past safely at the far end of the cross passage. Walking north again in the NCL tunnel, there is a rather crude wooden wall, possibly made from sleepers. Not far from Finsbury Park now. More air movement, but looking back, no train passes on the Victoria line. A few moments pondering and it is assumed that this must be the Piccadilly line southbound passing somewhere on the other side. There is a disused small brick pump room, which used to draw water away to the surface but that's all.


(Stalactites forming.)


There are no platforms down here, no disused stations, simply running tunnels. Walking back it becomes more obvious how much the tunnel actually curves. Walking in the darkness can be extremely disorientating. Upon returning to the starting point, it is amazing to see how much filth one's clothes have accumulated.



Clapham North deep level shelter: 2007 visit.