TfL produce a geographically accurate tube and rail map, but don't tell anyone about it

The magnified central London section of the secret London Connections map. Image: TfL.

Amazing the things you can find out using a Freedom of Information Request. James Burbage, a hero of whom we know sadly little, submitted one to Transport for London (TfL) in August 2014, asking:

Please supply a geographically accurate map of all the stations,platforms, lines and tracks that form the London Underground, London Overground, Docklands Light Railway and National Rail services where applicable, which is updated as of August/September 2014.

Well that sounds great, but wouldn't that be da-

Omit information which could pose a concern for health and safety.

Ah. Good man.


This sounds like a big ask: I mean, a busy transport authority like TfL is hardly going to draw a whole new map, just to satisfy an FOI request, is it?

But as it turns out – I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess that Burbage had some inside sources on this one – such a map already exists. TfL just don't talk about it very often.

It's the geographically accurate London Connections map. It shows all London's railways, including a few that haven't been built yet:

 

It shows Croydon’s tram routes:

 

It shows main roads, and major parks:

 

It shows where the built up area stops, and where motorways begin:

 

(That white bit on the A12, regular readers will be delighted to learn, is that bloody potato farm I never stop banging on about.)

The map gives equal prominence to TfL lines and those run by private national rail operators (although these are differentiated through the thin black bands around them). But it emphasises TfL's own stations by showing them in its official Johnston font, heavier and more striking than the narrow one used for national rail stations.

The map is really rather good if you're interested in abandoning the geometric purity of the stylised tube maps, and seeing where you train really goes. You can suddenly see quite how closely packed stations in the centre of town are, compared to those in the suburbs. These two extracts – one showing the City of London and its surroundings, the other the Essex-flavoured suburbs of Romford and Hornchurch – are to the same scale:

 

It's interesting, too, to see where the urban area stops. Look at all that white space around the edges:

 

But there's a slightly unfinished air to the whole thing. The map hasn't been updated since May 2014, meaning that the spate of rail lines TfL took over last May are still shown belonging to other operators (although dotted lines tell you the new services are on their way).


There’s a jarring change in the size of the fonts used in central London, although that part of the map is magnified in the bottom left hand corner. And at least one station is in the wrong place (Emerson Park, since you ask). On the whole, you can sort of tell this was never really intended for publication.

But it is nonetheless quite lovely, if you're into that sort of thing, which obviously we are. You can see the whole thing, and explore it at your leisure, here.

If you're the sort of person who likes Tube Maps, you can find a whole host of them here.

Or if you want more of this stuff you could just, y'know, like us on Facebook.

 

UPDATE, 17 September, 11am: 

This map seems to have gone down rather well – so well, in fact that this morning we received a statement from TfL telling us that it's decided to publish the thing on its own website as an official, non-secret map.

Here's the full statement:

Gareth Powell, director of strategy & service development at London Underground, said: “We create a wide variety of maps for our customers for planning and other uses. An extensive range of these, including walking maps and interactive maps, are available on our website and are used by millions of people every day. The most popular is the classic Tube map, which people are familiar with using to navigate London.

“This map was produced for engineering works planning and wasn't designed for customer use, however we are happy to make any maps available which help our customers to travel in London. This map will therefore be added to our website.”

(Hat tip: The excellent Mapping London blog.)

 
 
 
 

A nation that doesn’t officially exist: on Somaliland’s campaign to build a national library in Hargeisa

The Somaliland National Library, Hargeisa. Image: Ahmed Elmi.

For seven years now, there’s been a fundraising campaign underway to build a new national library in a nation that doesn’t officially exist. 

Since 2010, the Somali diaspora have been sending money, to pay for construction of the new building in the capital, Hargeisa. In a video promoting the project, the British journalist Rageeh Omar, who was born in Mogadishu to a Hargeisa family, said it would be... 

“...one of the most important institutions and reference points for all Somalilanders. I hope it sets a benchmark in terms of when a country decides to do something for itself, for the greater good, for learning and for progress – that anything can be achieved.”

Now the first storey of the Somaliland National Library is largely complete. The next step is to fill it with books. The diaspora has been sending those, too.

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Some background is necessary here to explain the “country that doesn’t exist” part. During the Scramble for Africa of the 1880s, at the height of European imperialism, several different empires established protectorates in the Somali territories on the Horn of Africa. In 1883, the French took the port of Djibouti; the following year, the British grabbed the north coast, which looks out onto the Gulf of Aden. Five years after that, the Italians took the east coast, which faces the Indian Ocean.

And, excepting some uproar during World War II, so things remained for the next 70 years or so.

The Somali territories in 1890. Image: Ingoman/Wikimedia Commons.

When the winds of change arrived in 1960, the British and Italian portions agreed to unite as the Somali Republic: a hair-pin shaped territory, hugging the coast and surrounding Ethiopia on two sides. But British Somaliland gained its independence first: for just five days, at the end of June 1960, it was effectively an independent country. This will become important later.

(In case you are wondering what happened to the French bit, it voted to remain with France in a distinctly dodgy referendum. It later became independent as Djibouti in 1977.)

The new country, informally known as Somalia, had a difficult history: nine years of democracy ended in a coup, and were followed by the 22 year military dictatorship under the presidency of General Siad Barre. In 1991, under pressure from rebel groups including the Hargeisa-based Somali National Movement (SNM), Barre fled, and his government finally collapsed. So, in effect, did the country.

For one thing, it split in two, along the old colonial boundaries: the local authorities in the British portion, backed by the SNM, made a unilateral declaration of independence. In the formerly Italian south, though, things collapsed in a rather more literal sense: the territory centred on Mogadishu was devastated by the Somali civil war, which has killed around 500,000, displaced more than twice that, and is still officially going on.

Somalia (blue) and Somaliland (yellow) in 2016. Image: Nicolay Sidorov/Wikimedia Commons.

The north, meanwhile, got off relatively lightly: today it’s the democratic and moderately prosperous Republic of Somaliland. It claims to be the successor to the independent state of Somaliland, which existed for those five days in June 1960.

This hasn’t persuaded anybody, though, and today it’s the only de facto sovereign state that has never been recognised by a single UN member. Reading about it, one gets the distinct sense that this is because it’s basically doing okay, so its lack of diplomatic recognition has never risen up anyone’s priority list.

Neither has its library.

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Rageeh Omar described the site of the new library in his fundraising video. It occupies 6,000m2 in the middle of Hargeisa, two minutes from the city’s main hospital, 10 from the presidential palace. In one sequence he stands on the half-completed building’s roof and points out the neighbours: the city’s main high street, with the country’s largest shopping mall; the Ministry of Telecoms that lies right next door.

This spiel, in a video produced by the project’s promoters, suggests something about the new library: that part of its job is to be another in this list of landmarks, more evidence that Hargeisa, a city of 1.5m, should be recognised as the proper capital of a real country.

But it isn’t just that: the description of the library’s function, in the government’s Strategic Plan 2013-2023, makes clear it’s also meant to be a real educational facility. NGOS, the report notes, have focused their resources on primary schools first, secondary schools second and other educational facilities not at all. (This makes sense, given that they want most bang for their buck.)

And so, the new building will provide “the normal functions of public library, but also... additional services that are intentionally aimed at solving the unique education problems of a post conflict society”. It’ll provide books for a network of library trucks, providing “book services” to the regions outside Hargeisa, and a “book dispersal and exchange system”, to provide books for schools and other educational facilities. There’ll even be a “Camel Library Caravan that will specifically aim at accessing the nomadic pastoralists in remote areas”.

All this, it’s hoped, will raise literacy levels, in English as well as the local languages of Arabic and Somali, and so boost the economy too.

As described. Image courtesy of Nimko Ali.

Ahmed Elmi, the London-based Somali who’s founder and director of the library campaign, says that the Somaliland government has invested $192,000 in the library. A further $97,000 came from individual and business donors in both Hargeisa and in the disaspora. “We had higher ambitions,” Elmi tells me, “but we had to humble our approach, since the last three years the country has been suffering from a large drought.”

Now the scheme is moving to its second phase: books, computers and printers, plus landscaping the gardens. This will cost another $175,000. “We are also open to donations of books, furniture and technology,” Emli says. “Or even someone with technical expertise who can help up set-up the librarian system instead of a contemporary donation of a cash sum.” The Czech government, in fact, has helped with the latter: it’s not offered financial support, but has offered to spend four weeks training two librarians.  

Inside the library.

On internet forums frequented by the Somali diaspora, a number of people have left comments about the best way to do this. One said he’d “donated all my old science and maths schoolbooks last year”. And then there’s this:

“At least 16 thousand landers get back to home every year, if everyone bring one book our children will have plenty of books to read. But we should make sure to not bring useless books such celebrity biography books or romantic novels. the kids should have plenty of science,maths and vocational books.”

Which is good advice for all of us, really.


Perhaps the pithiest description of the project comes from its Facebook page: “Africa always suffers food shortage, diseases, civil wars, corruption etc. – but the Somaliland people need a modern library to build a better place for the generations to come.”

The building doesn’t look like much: a squat concrete block, one storey-high. But there’s something about the idea of a country coming together like this to build something that’s rather moving. Books are better than sovereignty anyway.

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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