This is the route of the Hogwarts Express

The Hogwarts Express. Image: Warner Bros.

Last night, I went to the theatre to see the first part of Harry Potter & the Cursed Child. Tonight, I'm going to see the conclusion. (Yes, I'm 36 years old, so what, bugger off.)

There are signs all over the theatre, asking the audience to “keep the secrets” – not to give away details of the plot, and so spoil it for those who haven't seen it yet. And I have no desire to spend my weekend fighting off an army of angry Potter fans, so I'm not going to say anything except this one thing:

At one point, you can see a map showing the route of the Hogwarts Express.

There are probably some other things that happen in that scene, but I have no idea what they are because I was so busy studying the map.

It’s not a tube-style line map, to be clear. (I mean, why bother? There are only two stops.) Instead, it’s a map of the British Isles with the train’s route superimposed upon it.

From memory, the route looks a bit like this:

The Hogwarts Express starts at Kings Cross (obviously). But instead of following the East Coast Main Line, through Peterborough and Lincolnshire, it runs slightly to the east, before making a sharp turn west at the Wash. It then heads north again, presumably following the main line to Edinburgh and across the Forth Bridge, then does a weird u-turn-y bit in western Scotland.

It has more twists and turns in it than you'd expect, is my main point here. This is probably because what I'm reporting on is a theatrical prop rather than a map of an actual railway line, but nonetheless, it does suggest the "Express" part of the name may be a bit of a misnomer.

One over thing about the map that might be worth noting: although it's a screengrab which I've scribbled on, a quick search of Google Maps does actually reveal the location Hogwarts. It's here:

That's not far from Rannoch Moor, one of the locations used in the Harry Potter firms. There are some pictures added by users, too.

And it's had excellent reviews:

Best we can tell, this is not the location of the Pottermore offices, let alone an actual magic castle. Instead it seems merely to be an easter egg placed there by Google.

I wouldn't bother going there in the hope of actually finding something more interesting than a loch, is my point here. But if lochs are you thing, then be my guest.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter, far too much, as @jonnelledge.

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What’s in the government’s new rail strategy?

A train in the snow at Gidea Park station, east London, 2003. Image: Getty.

The UK government has published its new Strategic Vision for Rail, setting out policy on what the rail network should look like and how it is to be managed. 

The most eye-catching part of the announcement concerns plans to add new lines to the network. Citing the Campaign for Better Transport’s Expanding the Railways report, the vision highlights the role that new and reopened rail lines could play in expanding labour markets, supporting housing growth, tackling road congestion and other many other benefits.

Everyone loves a good reopening project and this ‘Beeching in reverse’ was eagerly seized on by the media. Strong, long-standing reopening campaigns like Ashington, Blyth and Tyne, Wisbech and Okehampton were name checked and will hopefully be among the first to benefit from the change in policy. 

We’ve long called for this change and are happy to welcome it. The trouble is, on its own this doesn’t get us very much further forward. The main things that stop even good schemes reaching fruition are still currently in place. Over-reliance on hard-pushed local authorities to shoulder risk in initial project development; lack of central government funding; and the labyrinthine, inflexible and extortionately expensive planning process all still need reform. That may be coming and we will be campaigning for another announcement – the Rail Upgrade Plan – to tackle those problems head-on. 

Reopenings were the most passenger-friendly part of the Vision announcement. But while sepia images of long closed rail lines were filling the news, the more significant element of the Strategic Vision actually concerns franchising reform – and here passenger input continues to be notable mainly by its absence. 

Whatever you think of franchising, it is clear the existing model faces major risks which will be worsened if there is a fall in passenger numbers or a slowdown in the wider economy. Our thought leadership programme recently set out new thinking involving different franchise models operating in different areas of the country.

The East-West Link: one of the proposed reopenings. Image: National Rail.

Positively, it seems we are heading in this direction. In operational terms, Chris Grayling’s long-held ambition for integrated management of tracks and trains became clearer with plans for much closer working between Network Rail and train operators. To a degree, the proof of the pudding will in the eating. Will the new arrangements mean fewer delays and better targeted investment? These things most certainly benefit passengers, but they need to be achieved by giving people a direct input into decisions that their fares increasingly pay for. 

The government also announced a consultation on splitting the Great Western franchise into two smaller and more manageable units, but the biggest test of the new set-up is likely to be with the East Coast franchise. Alongside the announcement of the Strategic Vision came confirmation that the current East Coast franchise is being cut short.

Rumours have been circulating for some time that East Coast was in trouble again after 2009’s contract default. The current franchise will now end in 2020 and be replaced with public-private affair involving Network Rail.


This new management model is an ideal opportunity to give passengers and communities more involvement in the railway. We will be pushing for these groups to be given a direct say in service and investment decisions, and not just through a one-off paper consultation.

Elsewhere in the Strategic Vision, there are warm words and repeated commitments to things that do matter to passenger. Ticketing reform, compensation, a new rail ombudsman, investment in improved disabled access and much else. This is all welcome and important, but is overshadowed by the problems facing franchising.

Stability and efficiency are vital – but so too is a model which offers deeper involvement and influence for passengers. With the building blocks of change now in place, the challenge for both the government and rail industry is to deliver such a vision. 

Andrew Allen is research & consultancy coordinator of the Campaign for Better Transport. This article was originally published on the campaign’s blog.

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