TfL releases new rail map showing scale of its Overground ambitions

Empire building. Image: TfL.

Christmas comes but once a year - but new tube maps pop up about once a fortnight. And that, my friend, is why Sadiq Khan is better than Santa.

Today's map isn't technically a tube map at all: rather, it shows what Transport for London's suburban rail network would look like, if it gets its way.

TfL has its eye on services currently run by operators including South West Trains, Southeastern and (spit) Southern. Its plans would mean swallowing suburban services that run into Moorgate, Waterloo, Victoria, Cannon Street and London Bridge.

The new map also shows Crossrail, and the proposed Overground extension to Barking Riverside. Here's the map:

Click to expand. If you want to see a really big version, expand it, right click and open the image in a new tab.

That's a large chunk of London's rail services. So it probably makes most sense to lay out what it doesn't include:

  • The Lea Valley line, from Liverpool Street or Stratford via Tottenham Hale;
  • The Chiltern lines into Marylebone, and C2C lines into Fenchurch Street;
  • The faster Southern trains through East Croydon to suburban destinations in Surrey like Tattenham Corner and Caterham;
  • Services on Thameslink, both north towards Luton or (in future) Finsbury Park and beyond, or south towards Sevenoaks and the Wimbledon/Sutton loop. (Though the loop itself, oddly, is shown.)

It's the last of these that is the oddest exclusion. Thameslink is a sort of Crossrail v0.5 - a heavy rail line that can double as part of the central London transport network.

But the reason for its exclusion from the map presumably reflects the limit of TfL's ambitions. TfL wants to run all suburban services, but has no interest in running longer-distance ones. On Thameslink, you can't really separate the two. 


In the same way, while C2C or Chiltern do stop at suburban stations, those services are primarily there to serve stations outside London's borders. Sadiq Khan has no plans to extend his empire to Aylesbury or Southend.

TfL is considering Khan's proposals. This map - and the excitement it generates among grumpy commuters - is presumably meant to generate some helpful public pressure before the government considers the full business plan later this month.

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

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How the big freeze of 1962-3 killed off Britain’s canals

Little Venice, London. This was actually 2010, but you get the idea. Image: Getty.

The English are internationally renowned for banging on about the weather. When British drizzle is compared to the hurricanes of the Caribbean or the cold faced by more landlocked countries, our complaining seems wholly unjustified.

Still, our weather can have ruinous effects on whole industries. The particularly cold winter of 1962-63 was the final nail in the coffin of a centuries old water-borne trade.

At one time canals played an essential role in the UK’s economy. In the early days of the industrial revolution, canals snaked across the map, connecting the coal mines of the countryside to the factories of cities. They fuelled the furnaces and kept the hearth fires burning, allowing for cities to rapidly grow in the closing years of the 18th century.

A map of British and Irish waterways. The canal network is in orange. Image: Peter Eastern/Wikimedia Commons.

Economics is rarely sentimental, though, and when more effective modes of travel came along the canals began their slow demise. Whereas European canals widened to accommodate for ever larger boats, the thin British canals –bar the mighty Manchester ship canal – slowly gave in to the supremacy of those new-fangled trains.

The rise of railway also saw the odd canal being bought and shut down by railway companies. In most cases this was simply about eliminating the competition, but in some the straight canals proved a perfect place for new railway tracks – the fate of South London’s Croydon Canal.

Still, the bargepeoples tightened their belts, and the canal system limped on as a viable option for freight until the early ‘60s, when nature came in with the knockout blow. The Big Freeze of 1962-3 was, as the name suggests, uniquely cold for the UK. Records going back as far as 1659 only recorded two winters colder, and the canal system froze solid.

Somerset, January 1963. The snow stayed for so long it stretched phone wires out of shape. Image: Howard Dublin/Wikimedia Commons.

Facing months of no service by barges, industries that had been reliant on the canals switched to alternatives on the rail and road networks. When the ice finally thawed, and with grim memories of that winter on mind, few returned to using the canals for freight. Besides having dire consequences for that years football calendar, the winter mostly finished canals as a component of British industry.

Luckily many of the canals themselves survived to be repurposed, first for leisure and more recently for living. London’s canal system currently holds around 5000 boats, 60 per cent of them permanent homes. These liveaboards, driven there by the desire for the slow life or the rest of the city’s crippling property prices, are changing the face of London’s waterways.
The water dwellers, along with those drawn to these lateral parks for leisure, have brought business back to the city’s canals. Now books shops, grocers, coffee shops and even bakeries can be found floating on the waters.

So next time the trope of the weather obsessed Brit comes up, you can scoff at other countries hailstones the size of Chihuahuas, or sun you can cook an egg in. Tell them that the weather has shaped British history, too – and with huge climatic shifts on the horizon, it shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

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