London's Crossrail needs to rename almost all its stations

Canary Wharf: one of the many Crossrail stations that will have the wrong name. Image: Crossrail.

Crossrail. It’ll be great, right? A massive new railway, ferrying people from one side of London to the other in mere nanoseconds? It's gonna be brilliant, yeah?

Well, yeah, it'll be alright, probably. I mean it'll be pretty useful if you're trying to get from, say, Heathrow Airport to Docklands. Or Reading to the City. Or (this one for the connoisseurs) Romford to Slough.

But what about the station names, eh? What about the awful, awful, station names?

Okay, this might take some explaining. And I'm not going to lie to you: this piece goes on for far longer than you're expecting it to. So to whet your appetite, here’s a map of what the new Crossrail stations obviously should be called.

Image: Crossrail/CityMetric.

Appetite whetted? Ready to go?

Good. Buckle up. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

Acton Main Line

Let's start in the west.

Originally named simply Acton, this west London station has been called Acton Main Line since 1949. Unofficially, one suspects, it's been known as that for even longer: the phrase “main line” has the air of the authorities finally bowing to the inevitable.

The reason the station ended up with this ugly label is presumably that all the other possibilities were taken. Acton is unique in London in that other station names have already hoovered up all four points of the compass. There's an Acton Central, too, and an Acton Town. Once upon a time there was even an Acton Green, though that's called Chiswick Park these days.

Anyway. Acton Main Line will be silly, once the station is served only by Crossrail, and Acton Crossrail is just as ugly as the current name. Acton Horn Lane is probably the obvious alternative, but the station is also at one end of Friary Road, and Acton Friary is much prettier. So Acton Friary it is.

Paddington

The next stop you come to is Paddington, which is basically fine. I mean, it serves Paddington station, doesn't it? What else would you call it?

Of course, there is an argument that Paddington station is already a bit messed up. The Circle line serves it twice, at two different platforms – you can literally get a tube from one bit of Paddington to another bit of Paddington, should you have an hour to spare – but that's hardly Crossrail's fault, is it? So, yes, it's basically fine.

But then things start getting tricky.


Bond Street

There are a number of problems here. One is that naming stations after streets annoys me, for reasons I'll come to below.

Another is that there is no London Street called Bond Street. Honestly, there's a New Bond Street, off Oxford Street, which turns into Old Bond Street if you keep heading south; and there are two stations vaguely near them, only one of which is called Bond Street. And being the sort of OCD weirdo who writes stuff like this, that annoys me.

But the big problem with having a Crossrail station called Bond Street is that the new station will be much bigger than the old. Its eastern ticket hall will be in Hanover Square, which is basically next to Oxford Circus tube. Although it won't connect with that station, it'll still mean there'll be an entrance to Bond Street station next to Oxford Circus and that's really, really irritating.

The stations on Paris' RER network, which is one of the models for Crossrail, often connect more than one metro station. Some of them (like Châtelet–Les Halles) combine the names; others (Auber, for example) take an entirely different one.

The latter seems the obvious course, and Hanover is a nice name, so let's call it that.

Tottenham Court Road

Remember how I said naming stations after streets annoys me? Well, this is why.

A station is a point; a street is a line. By naming the former after the latter you end up with lunacy like Tottenham Court Road, a street 1km long with three stations on it, and where the eponymous tube station is right at one end of the road. There will almost certainly be people who've got off the tube at Tottenham Court Road station, convinced that they're nearly at their destination, only to find they're the better part of a mile away and they really should have stayed on until Warren Street.

Honestly. It's a miracle civilisation hasn't completely broken down, isn’t it?

Anyway. Crossrail seems as good an excuse as any to finally address this madness and rename Tottenham Court Road to something less misleading. St Giles, the archaic name for this area, is the obvious name to go with. Much prettier.

Farringdon

Bond Street Crossrail will come painfully close to connecting two tube stations, and then wuss out to prevent over-crowding. Farringdon Crossrail will actually do it, linking Farringdon in the west with Barbican in the east.

Being able to change trains at Barbican onto a station called Farringdon seems silly, and will look bloody horrible on the map:

Image: Crossrail/TfL.

So, on the Paris principle, why not call the new station something else? Let's go with Smithfield, after the neighbouring meat market which sort of sits between the two tube stations.

Liverpool Street

Same problem as Farringdon, only this one feels slightly worse because the two stations it connects, Liverpool Street and Moorgate, have completely different connecting lines.

The new platforms will sit under the site of the old Broad Street station, which is now the Broadgate office development. So might as well call it that, really. Broadgate it is.

Whitechapel

Whitechapel is fine. We have no complaints about Whitechapel.

Although since we're here it seems a good moment to note the mildly ridiculous fact that, at Whitechapel, the London Underground runs overground, and you have to walk down some stairs to reach the London Overground. Which runs underground.

It's like they're doing it deliberately.

Canary Wharf

Last stop, but this one's a doozy.

Canary Wharf is already a mess. There's a DLR station called Canary Wharf; but that's separate from the tube station which is also called Canary Wharf, and which is actually closer to Heron Quays on the DLR.

Image: Google.

The new Crossrail station is going to be where we've put that red circle. Which is miles away from both existing stations but quite close to West India Quay and Poplar.

The opening of Crossrail seems like the perfect moment to untangle this mess. And while the people who own the Canary Wharf Estate are probably not going to accept not getting their name on the rather expensive new station they've just had built in one of their docks, TfL could at least force them to accept a subheading: the Crossrail station would become Canary Wharf North Quay, the Jubilee one would become Canary Wharf Jubilee Park, and the DLR one in the middle becomes plain old Canada Square.

Otherwise you'll get people trying to change from Crossrail to the Jubilee line only to find there's a whole complex of skyscrapers in the way, and just wandering aimlessly around the underground shopping malls in a daze until they're thrown out by security guards because the whole area is actually a private estate. And then where will be we? Where will it end, eh? Eh? I ask you.

Anyway I'm going for a lie down.


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Worried Guildford will be destroyed by Chinese trains? Then you might not be very nice

A South West Train at Waterloo. Image: Getty.

Despite the collapse of everything else that more-or-less worked in 2008 Britain, before the Hunger Games years began, some things remain constant. One of the things that’s near-mathematical in its constancy is that, when a new train contract is let, people on both sides of the political spectrum will say extremely stupid things for perceived partisan advantage.

This week saw the award of the contract to run trains to the south west of London, and unsurprisingly, the saying stupid things lobby was out in force. Oddly – perhaps a Corbyn-Brexit trend – the saying of egregiously stupid racist lies, rather than moderately stupid things, was most pronounced on the left.

As we’ve done to death here: rail in Great Britain is publicly run. The rail infrastructure is 100 per cent publicly owned, and train operators operate on government contracts, apart from a few weird anomalies. Some physical trains are owned by private investors, but to claim rail isn’t publicly run would be like claiming the NHS was the same as American healthcare because some hospital buildings are maintained by construction firms.

Every seven years or so, companies bid for the right to pay the UK government to operate trains in a particular area. This is the standard procedure: for railways that are lossmaking but community-important, or where they are within a major city and have no important external connections, or where there’s a major infrastructure project going on that’ll ruin everything, special measures take place.

The South Western England franchise is not one of these. It’s a profitable set of train routes which doesn’t quite live up to its name. Although it inherited a few Devon and Dorset routes from the old days, its day job involves transporting hundreds of thousands of Reginald Perrins and Mark Corrigans from London’s outer suburbs and Surrey, Hampshire and Berkshire’s satellite towns to the grinding misery of desk jobs that pay a great deal of money.

(If your office is in the actual City of London, a fair trek from the railway’s Waterloo terminus, then you get the extra fun of an extra daily trip on the silliest and smelliest Tube line, and you get even more money still.)

Anyway. The South Western concession went up for auction, and Scottish bus and train operator First Group won out over Scottish bus and train operator Stagecoach, the latter of which had run the franchise for the preceding 20 years. (Yes, I know 20 isn’t a multiple of 7. Don’t ask me to explain, because I can and you wouldn’t enjoy it.)

First will manage the introduction of a bunch of new trains, which will be paid for by other people, and will pay the government £2.2bn in premiums for being allowed to run the service.

One might expect the reaction to this to be quite muted, because it’s quite a boring story. “The government does quite a good deal under which there’ll be more trains, it’ll be paid lots of money, and this will ultimately be paid back by well-paid people paying more train fares.” But these are not normal times.


First Group has decided for the purposes of this franchise to team up with MTR, which operates Hong Kong’s extremely good metro railway. MTR has a 30 per cent share in the combined business, and will presumably help advise First Group about how to run good metro railways, in exchange for taking a cut of the profits (which, for UK train franchises, tend to be about 3 per cent of total revenue).

The RMT, famous for being the least sensible or survival-oriented union in the UK since the National Union of Mineworkers, has taken exception to a Hong Kong company being involved in the railways, since in their Brexity, curly sandwich-eating eyes, only decent honest British Rail has ever delivered good railways anywhere in the world.

“A foreign state operator, in this case the Chinese state, is set to make a killing at the British taxpayers’ expense,” the RMT’s General Secretary Mick Cash said in a press release.

This is not true. Partly that's because a 30 per cent share of those 3 per cent profits is less than 1 per cent of total revenues, so hardly making a killing. Mostly, though, it’s because it’s misleading to call MTR “state-owned”. While it’s majority owned by the Hong Kong government (not the same body as the central Chinese state), it’s also partly listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange. More to the point, this a really odd way of describing a transport authority controlled by a devolved body. I wouldn’t call the Glasgow subway “UK-state owned” either.

So this fuss is intensely, ridiculously stupid.

There’s an argument – it’s a bad argument, but it exists – that the entire UK rail system should be properly privatised without government subsidy.

There’s an argument – it’s a slightly less stupid argument, but it exists – that the entire UK rail system should be returned to the public sector so we can enjoy the glory days of British Rail again.

The glory days of British Rail, illustrated in passenger numbers. Image: AbsolutelyPureMilk/Wikipedia.

But to claim that the problem is neither of these things, but rather that the companies who are operating trains on the publicly run network are partially foreign owned, makes you sound like a blithering xenophobe.

In fact, if you think it’s reasonable for a Scottish company to run trains but not for a Hong Kong company to run them, then that's me being pretty bloody polite all things considered.

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