This map shows what London’s tube network would look like without any actual tube lines

What. Image: TfL.

Well. This is one of the weirder tube maps I’ve seen of late. And believe me, I see a LOT of tube maps.

It’s so weird, in fact, that it’s weird in two distinct ways. Firstly it’s geographically accurate: rather than adopting the Harry Beck-style diagram we all know and love, it uses a map of the London boroughs to show where the lines actually go.

Secondly, it shows just four lines: the Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, Circle and District. Effectively, it’s the lines which share track with the inner circle.

What’s really weird about it, in its way, is that it’s actually the work of Transport for London (TfL), rather than a bunch of nerds like, well, like me.

Click to expand. Image: TfL.

There is a method to this madness. Not all tube lines are actually tube lines: technically, that label should only apply to those which run through tunnels bored deep underground.

These others are technically “sub-surface” lines. They’re the oldest part of the network, built through the relatively primitive method of digging trenches, sticking tracks in them and then building over the top again. These have slightly bigger trains and, generally, better air-conditioning, too.


I’m not sure why TfL felt moved to produce this as a separate map. Perhaps it’s a useful aide-memoire for those working on the network. Perhaps it’s to show which stations are reachable directly via lines serving the inner circle, for some reason. Or perhaps it’s just because they know that someone like me would inevitably write about it, and they like the attention. Who can say?

One thing we can say, though, is that there is a weirdly long gap between Kings Cross St. Pancras and Farringdon, and they should build a station at Mount Pleasant to plug it.

You can see the whole thing here. Hat tip: Diamond Geezer.

UPDATE: Okay, guys, I’m going to level with you: I wrote the above, very quickly, on Friday afternoon in about three minutes because I thought there might be traffic in it. (Don’t judge me, you clicked, didn’t you?) I may not have dedicated quite the investigative energies to this story that a matter of such importance clearly deserves.

Anyway. Diamond Geezer has been in touch to point out that TfL have actually explained why the map exists. It’s to show the scope of this project:

We are transforming the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines. When the work is completed in 2023, increased capacity and boosted reliability will make journeys faster and more comfortable.

Because these lines share a lot of track and infrastructure, they are being modernised under a single combined and integrated project, Four Lines Modernisation (4LM).

The 4LM project will involve new trains, tracks and signalling, allowing shorter journey times a 33 per cent increase in peak-hour capacity on the sub-surface network. Which, since it makes up 40 per cent of the network, is a pretty big deal.

Cool.

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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Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.


Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

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