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.

 
 
 
 

It’s time to rethink how the British railway network works

Nothing doing: commuters await a long-delayed train. Image: Getty.

The recent meltdowns on Northern and Thameslink not only left many passengers besides themselves with frustration about not being able to get to work on time, if at all. It also led to a firestorm of criticism and condemnation from politicians and media alike.

With the immediate shock of that first Monday morning of the meltdown passed, there’s a now a bigger debate about whether the way that rail services are provided for cities needs some far reaching reform. But before coming to that, the first thing to say – and as we set out in our Rail Cities UK report, launched today – is that the fundamentals for urban rail remain very strong.

Here’s why. All cities want to become denser, more dynamic places which attract the best people to the growth sectors of the economy (including the ‘flat white economy’ of media, communications and information). In order to achieve this, as well as to improve air quality, cities are also reducing space for motorised traffic in favour of space for people.

It’s very difficult to see how this can be achieved without expanding rail networks and their capacity. What’s more, if housing need is to be met without creating more sprawl and traffic congestion, then again its rail that will be key – because it opens up former rail-connected brownfield industrial sites, it extends commuting range, plus housing can be built above or around new or existing rail stations and interchanges.

In some ways there’s nothing new here. From Metroland to Docklands, successful cities have always grown with their rail networks. And to be fair, there is significant investment going into urban rail at present. Northern will get a lot better (the pacers are doomed) and both Merseyside and Tyne & Wear are getting a whole new fleet of trains for their urban rail networks.

However, much (but not all) of this investment is incremental, or replacing rolling stock on its last legs. It stops short of the wider vision for the rail cities that we need.


What would that look like in practice? There comes a point when the biggest cities need more cross-city routes, because running trains in and out of edge-of-centre termini can’t cope with the numbers. That explains the push for Crossrail 2 in London, but also the need for more cross-city capacity in cities like Birmingham (on the Snow Hill route) as well as in Manchester (on the Oxford Road to Manchester Piccadilly corridor, as well as a potential new underground route).

Tram-train technology can also help – allowing the lucky commuter that benefits to get on board at their local station and get off right outside their city centre office on main street in the city centre, rather than piling out at a Victorian railway terminal on the edge of that city centre.

Tram-trains aren’t the only tech fix available. Battery packs can extend the range of existing electric trains deeper into the “look ma, no wires” hinterlands, as well as allow trams to glide through city centres without the expensive clutter of overhead wires.

More mundane but equally useful work to increase capacity through signalling, station, track and junction work offers the opportunity to move to turn-up-and-go frequency networks with greater capacity and more reliability – networks that start to emulate the best of what comparable German rail cities already enjoy. Interlocking networks of long distance, regional express, regional, S-bahn, U-bahn, trams and buses, all under common ticketing.

But in talking about Germany and common ticketing I am now getting back to where I started around the debate on whether some fundamental change is needed on how urban rail networks are provided. Obviously there is a bigger national discussion going on about whether the current structure is just too layered, with too many costly interfaces and too fractured a chain of command. And in addition another, on whether the railway should be publicly or privately owned and operated.

But it’s been heartening to see the growing recognition that – regardless of how these debates are resolved – more devolution for urban and regional services should be part of any solution. That’s not only because fully devolved services have been out-performing comparators both operationally and in passenger satisfaction; it’s because local control rather than remote control from Whitehall will mean that the dots can be joined between rail and housing, between rail and the wider re-fashioning of city centres, and between rail and local communities (for example through repurposing stations as wider hubs for local community use, enterprises and housing). It will also allow for rail and the rest of local urban public transport networks to be part of one system, rather than be just on nodding terms as is all too often the case at present.

The crisis on Northern and Thameslink has been a miserable experience for rail users, affected cities and the rail industry. If any good has come out of it, it is that it shows how important rail is to cities, and opens up a space for some bigger thinking about what kind of rail cities we will need for the future – and how best we can make that happen.

Jonathan Bray is the Director of the Urban Transport Group which represents the transport authorities for the largest city regions. You can read the group’s full report here.