Also known as the line of Darkness. This is definitely the worst of all tube lines, despite the recent efforts to renovate it.
It is also the home to a particularly vicious set of mosquitos native to the London Underground.

The northern line is one of the routes on the London Underground. It’s coloured black on the tube map. It mainly runs from the north to the south, but meanders somewhat along the way.

In 1998 when the Northern Line was being re-furbished and delays were frequent, Londoners would joke black was the colour of death. The old rolling stock did not have sufficient ventilation – the sluggish trains were responsible for a number of heat related injuries.

This has to be one of the most confusing services on the underground. The main difficulty comes from the fact that it branches and re-joins itself twice. The Northern Line actually seems more like two lines that share a few stations.

The northernmost section is divided into the Edgware branch and the High Barnet branch.

These meet up at Camden Town, and then split up again at Euston:

The west branch is called the Charing Cross Branch – it takes passengers into the west end. You can get to Tottenham Court Road, Leicester Square, Charing Cross and Waterloo.

The east branch is called the Bank Branch – it veers off towards Islington, and then into the City.

The Bank and Charing branches re-unite at Kennington and continue down along the single section to the Northern Line’s southernmost station Morden.

The Northern Line is commonly called the Misery Line.

Some ASCII art first to show schematically how it works.

Edgware X         X High Barnet
        X      X  X   <-- Mill Hill East to the west
         X      X X
          X      XX
           X      X
            X    X
             X  X
              XX   Camden Town
             X  X
            X    X
            X    X             (not to scale)
Charing Cr. X    X
            X    X Bank
            X    X
             X  X
              XX  Kennington
              X  Morden
So trains come in from Edgware, Mill Hill East, or High Barnet. At Camden Town there's a kind of lottery. Which branch will they continue down, Charing Cross or Bank? If they announce the wrong one, you just get off and change platforms at Camden Town. In theory.

In practice you have the following considerations.

  • The dot matrix indicator at the station you start at doesn't match the destination on the front of the train that pulls in.
  • The dot matrix indicators don't show anything.
  • The dot matrix indicators flash ** CORRECTION ** precisely as the train pulls in, and do this for so long that you have to get on the train because the doors are closing, before you see what they corrected it to.
  • Trains vanish.
  • Trains reappear. Especially late at night. You come home from the theatre, you're in the West End, you want the Edgware branch, the dot matrix indicators say the next one is 17 minutes away. You're tired, you're bored, there are drunken thugs and loonies roaming the platforms, you want a train to appear now, but it ticks away 17 min... 16 min... 15 min... 14 min... You are more or less guaranteed that one will appear now, a returned Mary Celeste that has just materialized in the tunnels and that the people who put fanciful predictions on these dot matrix indicators didn't know about.
  • Trains change destination while you're on them. They started out going on the Bank branch. A few stations later the driver announces they'll actually be going onto the Charing Cross branch instead.
Now an anecdote. I had the misfortune to have to use the bloody Northern Line today. The usual selection of the above happened, but that was standard. The platform indicator said Charing Cross, the announcement inside the train said Bank, so I risked it and got on.

A couple of stations later, the driver announced, "I'm sorry, ladies and gentlemen, but this is now going to Charing Cross. I have had the signal for Charing Cross, and been told to accept it."

Okay, who knows how the bods in control rooms decide these things. Some grumbling, some people get off. I decide it's easier to stay on till we get to the interchange at Camden Town and change there. Plus... there's always a chance they'll change their mind.

One station later, driver comes on and makes another announcement. "I'm sorry, correction, this is going via Bank after all."

Your world-weary correspondent isn't surprised, for your correspondent is wise in the confusing ways of the Northern Line. But the next bit of the announcement is a new one to me.

"My mistake. I thought we were at Camden Town."

...This is the driver!

The only London Underground line with a parallel loop, the Northern Line runs from Edgware, Mill Hill East and High Barnet in the north to Morden in the south, branching in the middle into the Bank Branch (east) and the Charing Cross Branch (west). The Bank branch serves the City of London, while the Charing Cross branch serves the City of Westminster. Fabled Mornington Crescent is on this line, north of Euston but only on the Charing Cross branch, which (despite the map) is physically east of the Bank branch at that point. As mentioned above, the Northern Line is coloured black on tube maps.

Edgware               High Barnet
   |                        |
Burnt Oak        Totteridge and Whetstone
   |                        |
Colindale  Mill Hill East  Woodside Park
   |                \       |
Hendon Central       \      |
   |                  \  West Finchley
Brent Cross            \    |
   |                    \   |
   |                     \  |
Golders Green             \ |
   |                       \|
   |                        |
Hampstead           Finchley Central
   |                        |
   |                  East Finchley
Belsize Park              / 
   \                  Highgate
    \                   /
     \               Archway
      \               /
Chalk Farm      Tufnell Park
         \         /
          \     Kentish Town
           \     /
            \   /
             \ /
         Camden Town
            /  |
   Mornington  |
    Crescent   |
          |    |
          /    \
         /      \-King's Cross St Pancras--Angel-\
        /                                      Old Street
Warren Street                                      \
      |                                            |  
Goodge Street                                  Moorgate
      |                                            |
Tottenham Court Road                               |
      |                                            |
Leicester Square                                 Bank
      |                                            |
  Charing Cross                                    |
      |                                            |
   Embankment                                      |
      |                                      London Bridge
      |                                          /
  Waterloo                                      /
      \                                        /
       \                                      /
        \                                    /
         \                               Borough
          \                                /
           \                              /
            \                            /
             \                          /
              \                        /
               \            Elephant and Castle
                \                    /
                 \                  /
                  \                /
                   \              /
                    \            /
                     \          /
                      \        /
                       \      /
                        \    /
                        |   /
                        |  /
                        | /
             Clapham North
          Clapham Common
         Clapham South
   Tooting Bec
Tooting Broadway
Colliers Wood
South Wimbledon

Connections with the Victoria Line at Euston, King's Cross St Pancras, Warren Street and Stockwell; the Circle Line at King's Cross St Pancras, Euston for Euston Square, Moorgate, Bank for Monument and Embankment; with the Metropolitan and Hammersmith and City Line at King's Cross St Pancras, Moorgate and Euston for Euston Square; with the Piccadilly Line at King's Cross St Pancras and Leicester Square; with the Central Line at Bank and Tottenham Court Road; with the Waterloo and City Line at Waterloo and Bank; with the Docklands Light Railway at Bank; with the District Line at Bank for Monument and Embankment; and with the Jubilee Line at Waterloo and London Bridge.

The Northern Line Charing Cross Branch is concurrent with the Bakerloo Line from Charing Cross to Waterloo.

Connections to National Rail at Kentish Town, Euston, King's Cross St Pancras for King's Cross and St Pancras, Old Street, Moorgate, Charing Cross, London Bridge, Waterloo, Elephant and Castle Clapham North for Clapham High Street and Balham. International rail connections at Waterloo for Waterloo International.

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