13/01/2013 18:13 GMT | Updated 13/01/2013 18:13 GMT

Why We Should Care About the Tube's 150th Birthday

This week marks 150 years since the very first Tube journeys took place between Paddington and Farringdon on the Metropolitan Railway. At a time when people had no electricity in their homes, inside toilets were a rarity and radio and television did not yet exist the Tube was a revolutionary blast of modernism. From that starting point the network has grown and evolved so that now it is pretty well impossible to imagine London without the Tube network.

The building and extension of the Underground directly led to new towns and villages becoming part of the capital, supporting the development of the suburbs and the transformation of the Docklands. It is the Tube which has allowed people to easily work in a different place from where they live - linking businesses, families and communities in a way that was hitherto unimaginable. The Tube lines have become the arteries and veins that pump life around our city.

At this time when we look back - at the rich history, the beautiful old trains and the architecturally important stations that act as beacons across our city - it is important that we also look to the present and future. In the same way that Londoners' lives are unrecognisable from those in 1863, so too is the way the Tube operates. We are now undeniably in a new era of innovation in London's Transport system. The modern system is far safer, far more reliable, carries more people than ever before, and we have the most sustainable plan for improvements possible for at least the past 40 years. The performance of the network is the best in its entire history - a different world from the early 1980s when up to a third of trains were cancelled every day.

But London is not a static city - it continues to grow. By 2031, London is forecast to grow by an additional 1.25million extra people - about the same size as the entire city of Birmingham. It is essential that we respond to this, especially if London is to remain the engine of the UK economy. We have therefore started the wholesale upgrade and improvement of the network - one of the biggest and most complex engineering projects in the world.

This programme is now - in London Underground's 150th year - delivering huge tangible benefits for passengers. Through new signalling, trains and track, a rigorous focus on improving individual journeys and enormous improvements to the information and service offered to passengers, London Underground is transforming the journeys of millions. The Jubilee and Victoria lines have been improved through massively boosted capacity and faster journeys. Stations like King's Cross and Green Park and Blackfriars have been rebuilt. A fleet of new air-conditioned trains has been introduced on the Metropolitan line, and over the next few years will be introduced to 40% of the Tube network.

Further improvements to come this year include higher frequency services on the Victoria and Central lines. By the end of next year, the Northern line upgrade will be completed, with higher frequency services, and shortly afterwards key stations in central London such as Victoria and Tottenham Court Road will have been rebuilt. The number of step-free stations is being expanded, alongside the use of ramps, platform humps and other accessibility improvements, an extension of the Northern line to Battersea is being planned, and Crossrail will be delivered - transforming travel across London.

To achieve all this it is essential that the lessons of the past are learned. Investment dried up in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, leading to serious decline. This trend has now been reversed, and together we can continue the proud traditions of London Underground, ensuring that we go into the next 150 years with great optimism that the Tube will continue its vital role for the people and economy of London and UK.