5 more ways they should change London’s tube & rail map to make it less annoying to me personally

My eyes! My eyes! Image: TfL.

Right, where were we.

The zonal map is awful

I mean, look at it:

Who on earth looked at London’s tube map and thought, “I reckon what it really needs is more shades of grey than some badly written mummy porn”?

It was bad enough before TfL decided to put a whole bunch of stations in east London in both zones 2 AND 3 and had to come up with a third shade.

My eyes! My eyes!

And then there’s the fact that Tramlink fares work differently to tube and rail fares, but it’s still on the map, so TfL just pretends it exists in its own special weird green zone:

The thing that bugs me about it is how it privileges the fare zones above all else. The rail & tube map offers remarkably little information about, say, whether a station is a stupid place to even attempt to reach if you happen to be in a wheelchair, because you literally can’t get out.


But whether your journey ends in zone 3 or zone 4, and thus you have to pay an extra 60p? Well that’s something worth wrecking the entire map for. Just come up with another way to show this information, in the name of god.

While we’re on the zones:

The outer zone numbering system is really awful

Once upon a time, those few tube stations outside TfL’s domain were in unnumbered zones. You went from zone 5 to zone 6 to zone A, right up to D. Since numbers don’t go “5, 6, 7, A, B, C”, this was a bit ugly.

So as TfL has expanded its empire, it decided to replace those with zones 7, 8 and 9. Why there are three not four I have no idea, but in principle this is much cleaner – and, since cartographical cleanliness is next to cartographical godliness, I decided that I approve.

Except it doesn’t quite work. Look at this:

Look at the top right. That’s Watford Junction in its own special zone, known, off-map, as Zone W.

There’s a logic here – Virgin Rail doesn’t want anyone getting away with jumping on its expensive intercity trains to Birmingham and only paying a zone 1-9 fare. Fair enough.

Except because Watford High Street, the next stop up the line, is in zone 8, and since the system works on the principle of concentric zones, the cartographers decided to pretend that the train passes through zone 9, which just doesn’t happen to have any stations in it, even though Watford Junction is only about a kilometre away.

Unusually thin zone, zone 9.

Oh, and to mess things up further, Watford station on the metropolitan line is in zone 7, despite being obviously further from London than Bushey, which is in zone 8. The whole system is fucked.

Image: Google/CityMetric.

There’s a similar thing further east, where Cheshunt is in zone 8, but the next stop up the line, Broxbourne, is out of the zonal system, although this is more forgivable as it’s 4km away.

On TfL Rail, Harold Wood is zone 6. Brentwood, the next stop 5km up the line, is zone 9. Since the whole of Greater London is contained in the first six zones, we have to assume that zones 7 and 8 are both covered in the 2.4 km between Brentwood station and the county boundary, which is deeply aggravating and also silly.

It’s even worse further south, where Purfleet station lies inside the M25, yet has found itself placed outside zones 7, 8 and 9, which presumably are hard up against the Greater London boundary and are about three feet wide apiece.

I’m sure there are reasons for all this, probably involving TfL not wanting to stuff itself or a train operating company by massively lowering fares – but for the love of god, since zones 7-9 don’t extend around the whole of Greater London anyway, stop pretending that they’re there when they’re quite obviously not.

Honestly.

And then there’s Heathrow

What the fuck is going on here?

This looks like an attempt to communicate that Heathrow Express tickets are hilariously expensive, by showing the Heathrow Express running outside the zones.

There are three problems with this.

  • TfL Rail and Heathrow Express, despite what the map suggests, literally share tracks;
  • The Heathrow stations are still shown in zone 6, so one might naturally assume you’d pay a zone 1-6 fare, which you wouldn’t;
  • TfL Rail fares are two to three times as much as tube ones, a fact the map makes no attempt to communicate. (See DiamondGeezer for more on this here.)

What is the point of making the map this ugly in an attempt to communicate fare information, if it’s going to be completely bloody useless at communicating that information anyway? Just stop it.

Oh no, not part time services

Ewww.

Gah.

Aaaargh.

Do we really need to show these things? Do they really do any good? C2C has been diverting trains to Liverpool Street on the regular for years and they’ve never bothered illustrating the fact before. What’s the point in screwing up the map for it now?

Tell the TOCs to stick it

Many years ago, this forerunner of this map coloured its mainline rail services by terminal. North of the river this didn’t make much difference, but in the south it was really helpful: you could suddenly see the shape of the network, that trains from this bit of south east London ran to Victoria rather than Cannon Street and so forth.

Then those blasted train operating companies got involved. Communicating useful information to passengers went out of the window; brand compliance came in. Suddenly the entire south east London rail network is Southeastern blue, and you can no longer tell which mainline terminal you want for, say, Hither Green.

Once upon a time I thought this was done for the benefit of corporate shareholders, but I’ve come to the conclusion that they almost certainly don’t care because why would they. Instead, it’s done for the benefit of marketing managers who want to show corporate shareholders that they play a valuable function on the modern railway, and aren’t, for example, a waste of money and space. Alas, they have chosen to show this by making life very slightly less convenient for passengers.


At any rate: TfL, please tell the TOCs to go screw themselves at your earliest convenience.

There’ll be one more of these. Then I’ll stop. For now. Probably.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook.

All map clips courtesy of Transport for London.

 
 
 
 

The mountain in North Wales that tried to stop the UK’s blackout

Elidir Fawr, the mountain in question. Image: Jem Collins.

Last Friday, the UK’s National Grid turned to mush. Not the official term perhaps, but an accurate one after nearly one million people were left without power across the country, with hundreds more stranded at train stations – or even on trains (which isn’t nearly as fun as it might immediately sound). 

Traffic lights stopped working, back-up power failed in hospitals, and business secretary Andrea Leadsom launched an investigation into exactly what happened. So far though, the long and short of it is that a gas-fired power station in Bedfordshire failed just before 5 o’clock, followed just two minutes later by Hornsea offshore wind farm. 

However, amid the resulting chaos and inevitable search to find someone to blame for the outage, a set of mountains (yes, mountains) in North Wales were working extremely hard to keep the lights on.

From the outside, Elidir Fawr, doesn’t scream power generation. Sitting across from the slightly better known Mount Snowdon, it actually seems quite passive. After all, it is a mountain, and the last slate quarry in the area closed in 1969.

At a push, you’d probably guess the buildings at the base of the mountain were something to do with the area’s industrial past, mostly thanks to the blasting scars on its side, as I did when I first walked past last Saturday. 

But, buried deep into Elidir Fawr is the ability to generate an astounding 1,728 megawatts of electricity – enough to power 2.5 million homes, more than the entire population of the Liverpool region. And the plant is capable of running for five hours.

Dubbed by locals at the ‘Electric Mountain’, Dinorwig Power Station, is made up of 16km of underground tunnels (complete with their own traffic light system), in an excavation which could easily house St Paul’s Cathedral.

Instead, it’s home to six reversible pumps/turbines which are capable of reaching full capacity in just 16 seconds. Which is probably best, as Londoners would miss the view.

‘A Back-Up Facility for The National Grid’

And, just as it often is, the Electric Mountain was called into action on Friday. A spokesperson for First Hydro Company, which owns the generators at Dinorwig, and the slightly smaller Ffestiniog, both in Snowdonia, confirmed that last Friday they’d been asked to start generating by the National Grid.

But just how does a mountain help to ease the effects of a blackout? Or as it’s more regularly used, when there’s a surge in demand for electricity – most commonly when we all pop the kettle on at half-time during the World Cup, scientifically known as TV pick-up.

The answer lies in the lakes at both the top and bottom of Elidir Fawr. Marchlyn Mawr, at the top of the mountain, houses an incredible 7 million tonnes of water, which can be fed down through the mountain to the lake at the bottom, Llyn Peris, generating electricity as it goes.


“Pumped storage technology enables dynamic response electricity production – ofering a critical back-up facility during periods of mismatched supply and demand on the national grid system,” First Hydro Company explains.

The tech works essentially the same way as conventional hydro power – or if you want to be retro, a spruced up waterwheel. When the plant releases water from the upper reservoir, as well as having gravity on their side (the lakes are half a kilometre apart vertically) the water shafts become smaller and smaller, further ramping up the pressure. 

This, in turn, spins the turbines which are linked to the generators, with valves regulating the water flow. Unlike traditional UK power stations, which can take hours to get to full capacity, at Dinorwig it’s a matter of 16 seconds from a cold start, or as little as five if the plant is on standby.

And, designed with the UK’s 50hz frequency in mind, the generator is also built to shut off quickly and avoid overloading the network. Despite the immense water pressure, the valves are able to close off the supply within just 20 seconds. 

At night, the same thing simply happens in reverse, as low-cost, surplus energy from the grid is used to pump the water back up to where it came from, ready for another day of hectic TV scheduling. Or blackouts, take your pick.

Completed in 1984, the power station was the product of a decade of work, and the largest civil engineering project commissioned at the time – and it remains one of Europe’s largest manmade caverns. Not that you’d know it from the outside. And really, if we’ve learned anything from this, it’s that looks can be deceiving, and that mountains can actually be really damn good at making electricity. 

Jem Collins is a digital journalist and editor whose work focuses on human rights, rural stories and careers. She’s the founder and editor of Journo Resources, and you can also find her tweeting @Jem_Collins.