The problem with improving transport in London, as with any major city, is to a large extent one of space. London is a very old city and its streets weren’t designed for the kind of heavy use they see today. In many cases, they weren’t even designed at all.
Following the Great Fire of London, the plan was to rebuild the rambling and ancient city to more logical, user-friendly grid plan – a scheme which fortunately or not – depending on your point of view – was abandoned. As a result, we have a city that’s decidedly un-future-proof. There was little room for the coming of the railways, hence the fact that most of London’s major termini are banished to the outer fringes of the city – Waterloo, Blackfriars, Kings Cross, Euston, London Bridge.
The iconic Underground was an early solution to the problem of mass transit through the city – initially dug in trenches that were then covered over and later constructed in deep tunnels far below the surface, it’s arguably the most successful idea. The tunnel concept was also used to provide trams with a shortcut through the West End, and the Kingsway Subway in Holborn is a surviving remnant of this. Remind me to tell you about it some day.
Then there’s the other solution – instead of going under the city, you go over the city. Check this out:
According to this technobabble-heavy and proofreading-light site, the overhead monorail (well, they clarify it as being a “narrow-gauge mono-path railway, not a monorail,” but they don’t seem to explain the difference)is basically the only solution to London’s transport problems. They do have the advantage of being incredibly cool and futuristic, not to mention the fact that they take up very little space at ground level.
Actually, the monorail isn’t a new idea at all. Horse-drawn versions existed as far back as the 1820s. Some more early developments and experiments are shown below at the excellent Museum of Retrotech website:
It’s not even the first time someone’s suggested it in London. A proposal was made in 1901 for the construction of a high-speed monorail that would run from London to Brighton, the journey taking a grand total of 32 minutes. The London terminus would have been Lupus Street in Pimlico. The scheme foundered for a number of reasons, the most important being that what Leslie Oppitz politely describes in his book Lost Railways of Surrey as “certain elements of Brighton’s society” were against the concept of making it easier for the good folk of London to get to Brighton. I’m less polite than Leslie Oppitz, and will straight-up say “rich snobs”.
More recently, take a look at this:
This engine, Monoloco, was constructed in the 1990s on Platts Eyot in the Thames at Hampton.