Thursday, 24 March 2011

The Old London Underground Company and The American Investor

The American investor Charles Tyson Yerkes is very similar to some of the investors the The Old London Underground Company is in contact with today. Forthright, hard working and visionary in their concept of suitable investments.

Who knew that this name would go down in the annals of London Underground history when this American financier arrived here in 1898, took one look at the chaos of London's streets, and promptly bought a large interest in the District Railway.

This was a man who had cut his transport teeth in Chicago where he'd developed the tramway and suburban railway systems, but where his dubious business practices (for want of a better description) also meant he'd left that city in a hurry and with $15 million in cash in his pocket.

For Yerkes, the electrification of the underground railways was his goal and it was his vision that accelerated the development of what is today's Tube service.

In 1900 he added another interest to the District line, this time in the yet unbuilt deep-level underground line, the Charing Cross Euston and Hampstead Railway company (now the Northern Line), paying £100,000 to the company, obtaining parliamentary authorisation and become the company's chairman. The following year he had full control of the District line and formed a new company, the Metropolitan District Electric Traction Company in 1901, raising most of the £1 million investment in America, the Brits still being rather wary of this new-fangled electrification idea and its American proponent. Six months later, the MDET gained the Brompton and Piccadilly railway, followed by the Baker Street and Waterloo line (now known as the Bakerloo Line) in March 1902.

Along the way, Yerkes had serious competition from another American financier, J P Morgan, who was also trying to make a fortune from the London Underground railways. But Morgan's aims were to be thwarted, as further investment raised by shares in a new company created the latest of Yerke's businesses: the Underground Electric Railways of London.

It was to take another three years before the first successful trial run of an electric train was to take place in 1905, from Mill Hill Park (Acton Town) along the southern section of what later became the Circle Line. But this was just the start.

This American's visionary and ruthless approach revolutionised the development of the London Underground, and in less than 10 years. Sometimes it takes an outsider's energy and nerve to show us what needs to be done, and this is certainly true of Charles Tyson Yerkes. London's transport system owes a huge debt to this American who saw the wisdom of investing in this key element of the city's infrastructure.

Today, The Old London Underground Company is asking others to see the possibilities that exist to renew the historical legacy of a vision like Yerkes's and create a whole new opportunity for London.

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