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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Network Rail let me have a play on Manchester’s new rail bridge. Here’s what I learned

The new bridge in all its glory. Image: Network Rail.

By the time the railways arrived in Manchester, the city was already built up, forcing trains to finish their journey on the edge of the urban area. To this day, it still has two main stations: Victoria, which sits on the northern edge of the city centre, and serves destinations across the north; and Piccadilly, which serves a smaller chunk of the north, but also provides trains to Birmingham, London and points south.

There are many ways in which this situation is less than ideal. For a start it means that travellers get off a train, only to find they’re still surprisingly far from the city centre. For another, terminating services take up more space (because you need more platforms) and time (because crews need to change ends) than through ones.

Then there’s Manchester Airport, the busiest in the north, used by travellers right across the region. But that’s to the south of the city, on a line into Piccadilly, which makes it annoyingly hard to get to by train.

The proposed PiccVic tunnel. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

So what with one thing and another, linking up Manchester’s two stations in some way has been an ambition for decades. In the mid-1970s, there was a plan for a “Picc-Vic” tunnel, which would have served five underground stations in the city centre – but that, inevitably, got cancelled due to lack of funds. The city council instead started to focus its efforts on the new Metrolink tram network; but while that’s been great for locals and commuters, it’s not done much for longer-distance travellers

A few weeks from today, though, trains will travel directly between Piccadilly and Victoria for the first time. To do so, they’ll use existing lines to the south and west of the city centre, as well as 300m of new track, known as the Ordsall Chord.

And, for reasons that aren’t exactly clear, the nice people at Network Rail let me have a go on their new bridge. Here I am, in my fetching new personal protective equipment:

Jacket, trousers, boots, gloves, eye protection, hard hat: all present and correct. Ability to take a remotely flattering selfie: conspicuous by its absence. Image: author provided.

(The trousers were my size, which was unexpected, because I hadn’t actually told Network Rail what size I was. This lead me to worry they kept a database of such things, but the press office assured me that this had literally never happened before, and was extremely unlikely to happen again. So anyway.)

The Ordsall Chord has been talked about for a very long time: parliament actually agreed to build the thing, then known as the Castlefield Curve, all the way back in 1979, just after the cancellation of the Picc-Vic tunnel. In some ways it’s an obvious missing link – remember we’re talking about just 300m of new track, costing under £100m, which isn’t that much as these things go. But Britain being what it is, it proved rather easier to persuade ministers to build London’s £15bn Crossrail instead.

A schematic of the new curve. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

In 2011, though, then chancellor George Osborne unexpectedly announced £85m of funding. The project somehow survived austerity and the new bridge in the borderlands between Manchester and Salford, officially opened last week (although the first trains won’t run until next month).

A scale model of the new link, nearby in what was Manchester Liverpool Road station; it’s now a part of the Museum of Science & Industry. Image: author provided.

I say it’s a bridge: as it happens, it’s actually two bridges. The bit your eye is drawn to is a structure known as a “network arch”, which means those wires crosses at least two others. That part will carry trains over the River Irwell, which divides Manchester from Salford.

Beyond that, though, there’s a second bridge: a flat one, across a section of the inner ring road. Linking them is a slight dip in the metal sides of the bridge (though not, obviously, in the track).

A map of the area. New curve highlighted in yellow. Image: Google.

This, along with the asymmetrical shape of the arch which facilities it, is a purely aesthetic feature. So is the colour: the metal was allowed to rust in the Manchester climate, apparently for no other reason than to make it look cool. “We don’t want it to read as different structures as you look along the river,” Peter Jenkins, the head of transport at architects BDP and lead architect on the project, explained at the official opening ceremony. The design, he added, was “not uncharted, but rarely charted.”

To be fair, it is a great looking bridge: something that looks like a landmark, rather than just a piece of infrastructure. One of the guys who’d worked on the project told me, as a group of us stood on the bridge, that he hoped it would be illuminated at night, just to show it off and make it a feature of the city’s skyline.

(Incidentally, as excited as I was to go play on the bridge, it wasn’t entirely clear what I was meant to do once I got there. I tramped up and down a bit, took some pictures of the city’s skyline, and occasionally checked nervously that there was no way a train could get near me. But what was I actually meant to do? And what was a decent interval before it was acceptable to, y’know, get off the bridge again? Ah well, better take another photo I suppose.)

A view from a bridge. Image: author provided.

Looking good is all very well, of course, but what will the Ordsall Chord actually do? 


For a start, it’ll allow travellers from Yorkshire, the north east and other parts of the north to travel directly to the airport for the first time: that should hopefully work out well the airport, the road network and the wider economy.

It’ll also speed up journey times. Longer distance services will no longer have to reverse, or trundle all the way around Manchester on far-flung bits of track. Instead, they’ll be able to go straight around the city centre.

(Seriously, I’ve been up here 20 minutes now. Is it okay to get down again yet? Surely they must all have noticed that I have no idea what I’m doing right now. Surely.)

Mike Heywood, the director who managed the project for Network Rail, pointed me to another, less obvious benefit. At the moment, the various trains terminating at Piccadilly often have to cross each other’s paths to reach their platforms. This, if you don’t want trains to crash into each other, limits the number of trains you can actually run.

By diverting a share of trains via two new through-platforms and the chord, Heywood told me, you can reduce that, and add 25 per cent to Piccadilly’s capacity at a stroke.

The side view. Image: author provided.

Oh, and by making the new bridge look good, those who built it also hope it’ll help kick-start regeneration along a rather neglected stretch of the River Irwell, too.  Not bad for 300m of new track.

This is only one part of what the industry has termed the Great North Rail project. Others include an extra platform at Manchester Airport, electrification on assorted routes in the north west, and – best of all, given the state of the existing rolling stock – vast numbers of new trains, due to appear next year.


 The region’s transport network is still not getting anything like the care or attention that we take for granted in the south east, of course, but all the same, it’s nice to be able to write about a new railway line in the north for once. AND they let me go play on a bridge.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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