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Tunnel vision: London celebrates 150th birthday of its iconic 'Tube'

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But the Tube's chronic congestion remains a major annoyance for both the city and its commuters. London's population has climbed briskly since its newest lines came into use – from 6.7 million in 1985 to nearly 8.5 million today. 

“The Tube’s ridership is now at a higher level than at any time in history and that does lead to crowding on top of a system which, although it is more reliable than it used to be, clearly is still not as reliable as a brand new metro in Singapore or Hong Kong,” Mr. Travers said.

Also factoring into the city's public transit woes are periodic disputes between management and Underground staff represented by a muscular and fast-growing trade union, the National Union of Rail, Maritime, and Transport Workers (RMT). 

This week, however, labor, crowding, and construction have taken a backseat to the Tube's birthday celebration. The Royal Mail is printing commemorative stamps in honor of the Underground, and the Royal Mint is pressing special two-pound coins. This Sunday, a restored steam engine will "reenact" one of the Tube's early rides for a select group of commuters, including the city's elated mayor.

"Happy 150th anniversary to London Underground," Mr. Johnson tweeted Wednesday, "the world's 1st and most wondrous metro system, still at the heart of everything London does."

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