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.)

 
 
 
 

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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