One of Britain’s most enduring examples of engineering prowess is celebrating its 150th birthday.

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The first stretch of the London Underground opened on January 9 1863, with the first passenger journeys taking place the following day.

London Underground is planning a series of events to celebrate the milestone year including a series of additional heritage rail trips using steam trains, two new two-pound coins and a set of 10 special stamps issued by Royal Mail.

The Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, described the network as “arguably the best, and most iconic, underground transport system in the world”.

Since the first stretch of track was opened between Paddington and Farringdon, then known as the Metropolitan Railway, the network has expanded to 12 lines.

Carrying 1.107bn passengers a year and serving 270 stations, it links central London to Surrey, Kent, Essex, Hertfordshire, Middlesex and Buckinghamshire.

The network carried record numbers of passengers in 2011/12, with 1.171bn journeys made, according to Transport for London (TfL).

This is 64 million more passenger journeys than the previous year, which itself had set a new record.

During the morning rush hour London’s busiest Tube station is Waterloo, with 57,000 people entering during the three-hour peak. The busiest station in terms of passengers each year is also Waterloo with 82m.

Today the Underground provides jobs for around 19,000 people.

Paying tribute, Mr Johnson said: “The arrival of the Tube was truly revolutionary and today it is still admired around the world.

“It annihilates distance, liquidates traffic and is the throbbing cardiovascular system of the greatest city on earth.

“It continues to play a hugely important role in the success of our capital - efficiently moving record numbers of people during the London 2012 Games.

“Our massive upgrade programme builds on the engineering ingenuity of our Victorian forefathers and through new signalling, trains and track, millions of Londoners and visitors will continue to benefit from what is arguably the best, and most iconic, underground transport system in the world.”

● See Thursday’s paper for more on this story.

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