How many tube lines does London have? A riposte

Some trains. Image: Chris McKenna/Wikipedia.

In this week’s CityMetric podcast, Jonn and I fell out over how many Tube lines there were.

TfL believes there to be 11 – the Bakerloo, Central, Circle, District, Hammersmith & City, Jubilee, Metropolitan, Northern, Piccadilly, Victoria, Waterloo & City lines. 

In my view, there are 14 – those 11 plus the Docklands Light Railway, the London Overground and Thameslink lines. (Keen Skylines listeners will know that I forgot the existence of Thameslink and argued for a mere 13, but that’s by the by.)

In Jonn’s view, there should be 13 lines. Besides the canonical 11, he believes that the District and Northern lines should be treated as four lines, not two.

Now he has written a lengthy piece explaining his thoughts on the number of Tube lines at greater detail. I’ll take those in the reverse order to Jonn, who deals first with his eccentric beliefs about the District and Northern Lines and then onto his view that the DLR, Thameslink and Overground do not count as Tube lines.


To take the Tube lines point first: Jonn’s argument is a good one, but, regrettably, not for the case he wishes to make. He correctly identifies two internally consistent definitions of what constitutes a Tube line. The first, what you might call the “Narrow & Nerdish” definition restricts the meaning of what a Tube line is to the “deep-level” trains, that is, the one that look like Tube.

That definition would restrict the number of Tube lines to seven: the Bakerloo, Central, Jubilee, Northern, Piccadilly, Victoria and Waterloo & City lines. 

This makes sense. These trains can run interchangeably on their routes without modification (mostly - ed.), have the same technical limitations and designs, and look the same. This is a perfectly reasonable definition of the Tube.

The second definition, what you might call the “Generous & Geeky” reading of how many Tube lines there are expands to include a number of routes that are not, strictly speaking, deep-level Tube lines. Under the guise of following this second definition, Jonn defines the Tube lines as the canonical 11, plus his additional District and Northern Lines, on which subject I’ll go into further detail below.

This makes no sense.  Both in terms of its speed, design, capacity and abilities, a Metropolitan, District or Hammersmith & City Line train has more in common with the Thameslink or Overground fleets than the Central Lines. There is no case to count the Metropolitan Line but not Thameslink or the District Line.

You can make a passable case for not including the Docklands Light Railway as it is a different type of rolling stock entirely, but once you have expanded the definition you might as well include the DLR as well.

There are two definitions that work: one that counts only the deep-level lines and one which counts any of the subterranean railways on TfL’s map. Jonn is trying to have his cake and eat it, proving that he who battles Brexiteers must take great care, lest he become a Brexiteer himself.

What about Jonn’s other argument, that the District and Northern Line are not two lines, but four?

Let’s take the case for splitting the District Line first. Here, for reference, is the District Line as it is:

 

Jonn argues that it should be split into two. Let’s call this one the Stephen’s Supreme Line. It’s just a name.

 

Click to expand.

And the second, which would look like this, which we’ll call, for argument’s sake, the Elledge’s Egregious Express Railway:

Click to expand.

The thing about the Egregious Express is it makes sense if you live on the Edgware Road and commute to Wimbledon, or vice versa. But for Jonn’s argument to work, someone living at Wimbledon and working at Westminster would, currently, have to get off at Earl’s Court and change from the Egregious Express to the Stephen Supreme.

But of course, they don’t. They carry on on a regular District Line train. It makes far more sense to think of this route as a series of interweaving branches, rather than a full-fledged line.

(Editor’s note: Stephen seems unaware that trains from Wimbledon run to Edgware Road and Westminster. I put this point to him during the editing process, but he didn’t want to hear it, so I left this in.)

(Further editor's note: A reader points out that I'd misread Stephen's original point. He's right. That's really annoying. On the upside, I did at least correct his earlier contention that 11+3=13.)

What of the Northern Line? This argument is rather better than the case for two District Lines. In practice, the Northern Line operates almost as two lines now, a divide that TfL expects to formalise. So there is, at a pinch, a case to be made for the number of train lines being seven or 14 – but not the 13 that Jonn believes.

There's a whole podcast on this if you fancy it.

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at our parent title, the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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There isn’t a single national housing market – so we need multiple models of local regeneration, too

Rochdale. Image: Getty.

This week’s budget comes ten years after the 2007 financial crisis. The trigger for that crisis was a loss in confidence in mortgages for homes, with banks suddenly recognising the vulnerability of loans on their books.

In the last ten years, the UK’s cities and regions have followed very different paths. This week’s focus on housing affordability is welcome, but it will be a challenge for any chancellor in the coming decade to use national policy to help towns up and down the country. Local housing markets differ drastically. The new crop of city-region mayors are recognising this, as rents in parts of south Greater Manchester are on average double the rents in parts of the north of the city-region.

When it comes to buying a home, politicians are increasingly articulate about the consequences of inequity in our housing system. But we must recognise that, for 9m citizens who live in social rented homes, the prospects of improvements to properties, common areas and grounds are usually tied to wider projects to create new housing within existing estates – sometimes involving complete demolition and rebuilding.

While the Conservative governments of the 1980s shrank the scale of direct investment in building homes for social rent, the Labour governments from the late 1990s used a sustained period of growth in property prices to champion a new model: affordable housing was to be paid for by policies which required contributions to go to housing associations. Effectively, the funding for new affordable housing and refurbished social homes was part of the profit from market housing built next door, on the same turf; a large programme of government investment also brought millions of social rented homes up to a decent standard.

This cross-subsidy model was always flawed. Most fundamentally, it relies on rising property prices – which it is neither desirable nor realistic to expect. Building more social homes became dependent on ratcheting up prices and securing more private profit. In London, we are starting to see that model come apart at the seams.

The inevitable result has been that with long social housing waiting lists and rocketing market prices, new developments have too often ended up as segregated local communities, home to both the richest and the poorest. They may live side by side, but as the RSA concluded earlier this year, investment in the social infrastructure and community development to help neighbours integrate has too often been lacking. Several regeneration schemes that soldiered on through the downturn did so by building more private homes and fewer social rented homes than existed before, or by taking advantage of more generous legal definitions of what counts as ‘affordable housing’ – or both.

A rough guide to how house prices have changed since 2007: each hexagon is a constituency. You can explore the full version at ODI Leeds.

In most of England’s cities, the story does not appear to be heading for the dramatic crescendo high court showdowns that now haunt both developers and communities in the capital. In fact, for most social housing estates in most places outside London, national government should recognise that the whole story looks very different. As austerity measures have tightened budgets for providers of social housing, budgets to refurbish ageing homes are under pressure to do more with less. With an uncertain outlook for property prices, as well as ample brownfield and greenfield housing sites, estates in many northern towns are not a priority for private investors in property development.

In many towns and cities – across the North and the Midlands – the challenges of a poor quality built environment, a poor choice of homes in the local are, and entrenched deprivation remain serious. The recent reclassification of housing associations into the private sector doesn’t make investing in repairs and renewal more profitable. The bespoke ‘housing deals’ announced show that the government is willing to invest directly – but there is anxiety that devolution to combined authorities simply creates another organisation that needs to prioritise building new homes over the renewal of existing neighbourhoods.


In Rochdale, the RSA is working with local mutual housing society RBH to plan for physical, social and economic regeneration at the same time. Importantly, we are making the case – with input from the community of residents themselves – that significant investment in improving employment for residents might itself save the public purse enough money to pay for itself in the long-run.

Lots of services are already effective at helping people find work and start a job. But for those for whom job searching feels out of reach, we are learning from Rochdale Borough Council’s pioneering work that the journey to work can only come from trusting, personal relationships. We hear time and again about the demoralising effect of benefits sanctions and penalties. We are considering an alternative provision of welfare payments, as are other authorities in the UK. Importantly, residents are identifying clearly the particular new challenges created by new forms of modern employment and the type of work available locally: this is a town where JD Sports is hiring 1000 additional workers to fulfil Black Friday orders at its warehouse.

In neighbourhoods like Rochdale’s town centre, both national government and the new devolved city-region administration are considering an approach to neighbourhood change that works for both people and place together. Redevelopment of the built environment is recognised as just one aspect of improving people’s quality of life. Residents themselves will tell you quality jobs and community facilities are their priority. But without a wider range of housing choices and neighbourhood investment locally, success in supporting residents to achieve rising incomes will mean many residents are likely to leave places like Rochdale town centre altogether.

Meaningful change happen won’t happen without patience and trust: between agencies in the public sector, between tenants and landlords, and between citizens and the leaders of cities. This applies as much to our planning system as it does to our complex skills and employment system.

Trust builds slowly and erodes quickly. As with our other projects at the RSA, we are convinced that listening and engaging citizens will improve policy-making. Most of those involved in regeneration know this better than anyone. But at the national level we need to recognise that, just as the labour market and the housing market vary dramatically from place to place, there isn’t a single national story which represents how communities feel about local regeneration.

Jonathan Schifferes is interim Director, Public Services and Communities, at the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA).