TfL has quietly released a map of the London Overground in 2026

Image: Transport for London.

Rejoice, map geeks of old London town! The capital’s transport authority, TfL, has quietly released a lovely new map showing where it expects its heavy rail London Overground Network to take you by 2026.  

The map was released as part of a consultation on its plans to extend the Gospel Oak-Barking line to Barking Riverside, the site of a big new housing estate. (They're planning to put some houses there, and plans to extent the DLR have fallen by the wayside, so the thinking is they might as well send some big trains there instead.) Here’s a map:

But the network map which accompanies this consultation contains all sorts of other interesting factoids about what TfL think the future looks like. You can examine the whole thing here, but it’s a bit on the unwieldy side for a family website like ours, so we’ve plucked out a few of the more interesting details below.

More lines!

The map shows all the bits of the rail network whose operators will be answerable to the city’s government, rather than the national Department for Transport. That includes the existing Overground network; the West Anglia suburban lines into Liverpool Street (which TfL is taking over some time next year); and Crossrail (which is currently under construction, and which neatly ties the rest of the network together).

Oddly, though, it chops off the outer extremities of Crossrail. That sort of makes sense when it comes to far distant Reading and Maidenhead, but it’s a bit odd that it excludes two stations (Harold Wood and West Drayton) which are actually within the city boundaries.

More changes!

Just to annoy everyone, the new Overground network crosses the existing one in no fewer than four places, without stopping once.

This is probably why the map has, for the first time, shown interchanges which you can make if you’re happy to walk along at street level for a bit.

More excitingly, it also includes an entirely new station at Old Oak Common, where you’ll be able to change from the Overground to Crossrail (suggested branding: “Old Oak Common: The Stratford of West London”). This could one day be an outer London stop on the High Speed 2 line to the north, too, which would make it easier to get from Heathrow to points north.

Sadly it still doesn't point out that Camden Road is a mere five minute walk from Camden Town tube station. Can’t have everything.

More orange!

All this is very interesting, if you're into such things (and we obviously are). But it's also oddly unwieldy.

By 2026, if all goes to plan, the Overground network will have six entirely separate lines, some of which have up to four branches. Yet it continues to colour them all in the same shade of Sunny Delight orange.

These lines go to such a wide range of destinations; often cross without interchanging; and one branch right out in the far east never connects with any of the others.

Given all that, could we maybe look into differentiating them through some kind of colour scheme, perhaps? Like, y’know, every other urban rail network in the world?

More TOWIE!

There's one more oddity. Far out in the wilds of zone 6, where east London drains off into Essex, London Overground is also taking on a three-station, single track branch line on which you can get two trains an hour from Romford and Upminster and back.

There's a long and complicated reason for this, but it basically amounts to "nobody else wants it". It's too small to be part of Crossrail, but doesn't connect to anything else, so TfL are stuck with it.

If you do fancy making a trip to Emerson Park halt, we recommend you do so in December: the giant houses in the neighbouring estate tend to go absolutely nuts with their Christmas lights.

 
 
 
 

In many ways, smart cities are really very dumb

Rio de Janeiro’s control centre. Image: Getty.

It’s not news that anything and everything is increasingly being prefaced with “smart”: phones, watches, homes, fridges, and even water (yes, smartwater exists). And it’s not unintentional either. 

Marketeers know that we, the public, are often stupid enough to believe that thanks to their technology, life is better now than it was way back in, say, the primitive Nineties. Imagine having to, like a Neanderthal, remember how to spell words without an autocorrecting algorithm, or open the fridge door to check if you’d run out of milk, or, worse still, interact with actual people.

So it’s hardly surprising that we’re now also witnessing the rise of the so-called “smart cities”; a concept which presupposes that cities that are not technologically  “smart” are dumb, which, as anyone interested in the millennia-old history of cities — from the crypto-currency grain storage algorythms of ancient Mesopotamia to the complex waste infrastructure of ancient Rome, to London’s public transport infrastructure — will know, is not true.

Deployed in these smart cities are cameras and other networked information-gathering devices, load cells and other “sensing devices” detecting passing pedestrians and vehicles, audio surveillance devices listening for gunshots – and even vending machines equipped with biometric sensors to recognise your face. This is not to mention beacon technology — tiny anonymous looking black boxes hidden in trees and on lampposts — which transmits advertising, offers and other information directly to smart phones in the vicinity. 

If that doesn’t seem sinister enough, take, for example, Rio de Janeiro, where, in 2014, the International Business Machines Corporation designed a mammoth “control centre” that integrates data from 30 agencies for the city’s police. 

Described by the Guardian as having “the functionality of a Bond villian’s techno lair”, the then local mayor, Eduardo Paes, claimed the centre was making the city safer while using technology to deploy its “special” police unit to carry out the state’s “pacification programme”. Launched in 2008, the programme, which aims to push out drug gangs from Rio’s favelas, has been criticised by Amnesty International: “in January and February 2017 in Rio de Janeiro alone, at least 182 people were killed during police operations in marginalized neighbourhoods (favelas) – a 78 per cent increase in comparison to the same period in 2016”.

Sinister or not, as smart cities grow, they create new problems. For example, as urbanist Adam Greenfield writes in Radical Technologies: The Design of Everyday Life, neither the algorithms nor their designers are subject to the ordinary processes of democratic accountability – a problem that international academics are currently attempting to tackle.  


“We need to understand that the authorship of an algorithm intended to guide the distribution of civic resources is itself an inherently political act,” writes Greenfield. “The architects of the smart city have utterly failed to reckon with the reality of power.”

The Real Smart Cities project, founded by Dr Gerald Moore, Dr Noel Fitzpatrick and Professor Bernard Stiegler, is investigating the ways in which so-called “smart city” technologies present a threat to democracy and citizenship, and how digital tools might be used create new forms of community participation.

Fitzpatrick is critical of current discourses around smart cities, which he says “tend to be technical fixes, where technology is presented as a means to solve the problems of the city.” The philosophy underpinning the project is “that technologies function as forms of pharmacology”, he adds, meaning that they can be both positive and negative. “The addictive negative effects are being felt at an individual and collective level.” 

An example of this lies in the way that many of these smart cities replace human workers with disembodied voices — “Alexa we need more toilet roll” — like those used to control the Amazon Echo listening device — the high priestess of smart home. These disembodied voices travel at the speed of light to cavernous, so-called “fulfilment centres”, where an invisible workforce are called into action by our buy-it-now, one-click impulse commands; moving robotically down seemingly endless aisles of algorithmically organised products arranged according to purchase preferences the like of which we never knew we had — someone who buys a crime novel might be more likely to go on and buy cat food, a wireless router, a teapot and a screwdriver. 

Oh to be the archeologists of the future who while digging through mounds of silicon dust happen upon these vast repositories of disembodies voices. That the digital is inherently material and the binary of virtual/real does not hold — there is no cyberspace, just space. Space that is being increasingly populated by technologies that want to watch you, listen to you, get to know you and sense your presence.

One project looking to solve some of the problems of smart cities is that of the development of a “clinic of contribution” within Pleine Commune in greater Paris (an area where one in three live in poverty).This attempts to deal with issues of communication between parents and children where the widespread use of smartphones as parental devices from infancy is having effects on the attention of young children and on the communicative abilities between parents and children. 

This in turn forms part of a wider project in the area that Stiegler describes as “installing a true urban intelligence”, which moves beyond what he sees as the bankrupt idea of smart cities. The aim is to create a “contributory income” in the area that responds to the loss of salaried jobs due to automation and the growth and spread of digitisation. 

The idea being that an income could be paid to residents, on the condition that they perform a service to society. This, if you are unemployed, living in poverty and urban deprivation, sounds like quite a simple and smart idea to try and solve some of the dumb effcts of the digital technology that's implemented in cities under the ideology of being “smart”.