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Happy 150th birthday to the Tube

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The creation of the Tube shows us that the ideas change, but innovation remains the same.

Last week, the tube celebrated its 150th birthday. As a landmark, it is ingrained in the identity of London as a city. We take its functionality for granted, and yet without it, the city would not work. It does more than move people; it charts the cultural changes that move across a global city. It is impossible to imagine modern-day London without it.

But imagine a London 150 years ago when it first opened. To take the problem of overcrowded city streets and do something totally radical, literally breaking new ground. Take the crowds beneath the earth. It’s a concept that must have felt alien, terrifying and macabre to the average Londoner. Despite this, innovation pushed forward and the Tube was born.

That’s not to say it was not without its teething problems. The Tube was essentially just regular trains below ground. And in 1863 that meant fumes. On the opening day, a Tube worker was hospitalised and several passengers helped from the carriages, insensible from the fumes. The masses of people above ground spread to the network, and in 1897 there was a Parliamentary enquiry about fumes and overcrowding on the service. But it continued to develop, coming up with better solutions to make a revolutionary idea work.

The early life and journey of the Tube is strikingly similar to the development of IT and telecomms in the past few decades. Since the invention of the Internet, we have seen the way we all work change dramatically. Today, going to work can be logging onto a tablet at your kitchen table. Ten years ago, this would have seemed as surreal as going underground to get across London did in 1862. Now, thanks to fast internet access via high speed broadband connections, unified communications and Cloud-based computing, this is business as usual.

Innovation 150 years ago and today – the technology changes, but we continue to strive towards better ways of working, and breaking the barriers that arise.

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