Discuss as:

150 years old and still running late: London's Tube celebrates landmark anniversary

London's Tube network was established 150 years ago this week. From its debut in 1863 to providing protection from Nazi bombs and now Oyster cards, ITV's Ria Chatterjee reports on how the world's first subway system has evolved.

LONDON -- Unexplained delays, equipment failures and chronic rush-hour overcrowding are among the reasons Londoners have a love-hate relationship with their remarkable subway system, dubbed the Tube.

But it was day of gratitude for commuters - and tourists - on Wednesday as the creaking London Underground celebrated its 150th birthday.

It is a remarkable milestone for the network, carved from the hot clay beneath London’s streets and which survived the bombs of World War Two.

Abraham Lincoln was President when the world’s first subterranean passenger service opened between Paddington and Farringdon on Jan. 9, 1863.

Most of the original station building is still in use at Farringdon, where passengers on Wednesday reflected on the history of the Tube.

Science & Society Picture Librar / via Getty Images

Construction of the first section of London's Tube began in the 1860s.

“The old Circle Line carriages could do with being pensioned-off,”  Dave Rodgers, 54, told NBC News. “Some of them look like they are 150 years old. Perhaps they are originals.”

Owen Blake, a 50-year-old printer, was waiting for his train home after a night shift. “I’ve used the Underground all my life,” he said. “As a teenager, it was wonderful to be able to travel from Islington to other places across London. You felt connected, you could go anywhere.”

Peter Jeary, NBC News

Commuters on Wednesday at Farringdon, one of the original London Underground stations.

But Leanne McCabe, a 24-year-old healthcare worker, spoke for many when she said: “I only travel once a month on the Tube, but they always seem to be doing engineering work on the line.”

Upgrading a system whose core infrastructure is more than a century old is a tough task for planners and engineers.

At its start, steam trains ferried carriages between the affluent suburbs of Victorian west London and the money-making heart of the City financial district.

Despite early hazards for passengers such as asphyxiation from smoke and petty crime, it proved a tremendous success, with 26,000 daily users within six months of opening.

The privately funded network grew rapidly, adding new lines and stations as railway entrepreneurs – and tunneling engineers - found there were profits to be made by digging deep under London.

By the time the New York subway opened in 1904, London had six underground lines and was on track to be powered entirely by electricity.

Peter Jeary, NBC News

Steam locomotives and carriages were replaced by electric trains on London's Underground at the turn of the 20th century.

By opening up London’s suburbs to fast, efficient mass transit, the Underground helped shape the way the city grew. New communities grew up around areas connected by the Tube -- as it became known by 1890 in honor of its increasingly deep and narrow tunnels. The network’s expansion at the turn of the 20th century linked the capital’s population with new opportunities for work and leisure.

A record 1.171 billion passenger journeys were made during the 2011-12 financial year, across a city-run network that now covers 249 miles and connects 270 stations on 12 lines – arteries through which London’s lifeblood flows.

A tourist attraction in its own right, it is frequently featured in popular culture, such as the James Bond movie "Skyfall," the Sherlock Holmes tales and songs by The Jam and Duffy – a legacy the pioneers could have never imagined.

“Today of all days, learn to love the Tube,” implored railway historian Christian Wolmar in Wednesday’s London Evening Standard newspaper. “Marvel at the diversity of people from all classes and of all ages who rely on it, day in, day out.”