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

Charing Cross. This station has the WRONG NAME. Image: Sunil060902/Wikimedia Commons.

You see, something people get wrong about me is that they think I’m a train nerd. I’m not, not really – I hardly know anything about how trains actually work, as should have been obvious from that embarrassing incident in which I accidentally published some pictures of model trains under the impression they were the real thing, and found myself being mocked on four continents. 

What I actually am is a map nerd, and metro maps most especially. I spend more of my time thinking about the Tube Map and the myriad ways in which the powers that be have been gradually ruining the thing than is probably entire healthy. 

But that’s not the only map of London’s trains. The Rail & Tube Services Map, which includes the assorted heavy rail services in the capital not run by Transport for London, shows nearly twice as many stations as the Tube Map. That just gives me twice as many things to get annoyed by.

So here, with no particular justification, are seven things I really wish they’d change, on one or both of those maps – things the authorities could change and which would, without spending a penny on new rolling stock, stations or track, make London’s railway network ever so slightly better.

We shall begin with some aggravating station names. 

The two Edgware Roads

An easy one to start off with.

There are two stations on the London Underground called Edgware Road. Unlike the two Hammersmiths (across a road) or the three West Hampsteads (across a couple of roads, but still basically adjacent), they’re not even slightly convenient for each other. Look:

Image: TfL.

Okay, that’s only about 200m apart – but there’s a bloody great urban motorway in the way. You are never, in a million years, going to change from one of these to the other, when you can make the same change much more easily one stop up the line at Baker Street.

Image: Google.

So why not give them different names? After all, the map has always shown them as separate, and other ridiculously close pairs of stations (Bayswater/Queensway, Cannon St/Monumnt, large chunks of the DLR) get different names. So why not here? Why not, eh?

The two Bethnal Greens

Okay, this one is the same and yet, somehow, worse. 

Partly that’s because they’re much further apart: this time, the walk is more like 500m. Partly it’s because the map.

Look at how the two Bethnal Greens are positioned here:

[

Image: TfL.

In the unlikely event you’d want to change from the Overground to the Underground, you’d head south, right? Ha, wrong. Look:

[

Image: Google.

For the love of god, rename one of those stations. 

There’s even the perfect alternative, just waiting: Bethnal Green Overground could be Weaver’s Fields. Isn’t that nice? It’s lovely. Don’t @ me.

Paddington

Okay, this one’s more complicated, so bear with me. (Bear with me? Paddington? Bear? Pah, I’m wasted on you people.)

So anyway, Paddington London Underground station is really two stations. There’s the bigger one, at the southern end of the mainline station, which is served by the Bakerloo line and by Circle and District line trains heading between Edgware Road and Bayswater. Then there’s a smaller one at the northern end of the station, which is served by Hammersmith & City or Circle line trains on the Hammersmith branch, and which looks more like a pair of mainline through-platforms, for the very good reason that it is. They even get numbered: lying beyond platform 14 as they do, they’re platforms 15 & 16.

The upshot of this is that while both are perfectly adequate changes for the mainline station, they’re of no use forever if you want to change from one to the other (if you were travelling from Westbourne Park to Bayswater, say). There’s no attempt to communicate this on either the Tube Map…

Image: TfL.

…or on the Rail & Tube map:

Image: TfL.

Once again – would some kind of way of distinguishing between them be so much to ask? You may think this is a minor issue, but I had a great aunt who announced her intentions to change trains at Paddington once, and we never saw her again. Goes to show.

Blackfriars

What’s this?

Image: Network Rail.

It’s an artist’s impression of the South Bank entrance to Blackfriars station. (It’s actually been open since 2011, but I was in a hurry and I couldn’t find a contemporary image. So sue me. Yes, I know it’s not the real thing, I’m not making that mistake again, no fear.)

The existence of this entrance is not currently communicated by the rail map, which acts like Blackfriars – which is unique in crossing the Thames – is still entirely on the north bank of the river. This, to me, feels silly.

The tube station is, admittedly, confined to the north side of the river, so perhaps the two need to be distinguished in some way. Blackfriars Bridge station has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?


Sorting out Charing Cross

The tube stations at Charing Cross and Embankment are such a mess that Jack May, late of this parish, once got about 2,000 words out of it.

The key thing for our purposes, though, is that the tube station now known as Charing Cross used to be two tube stations: Trafalgar Square (on the Bakerloo) and Strand (on the Northern). These were merged when the Jubilee arrived in 1979, but since it un-arrived 20 years later Charing Cross tube has just been an incredibly stupid place to change trains.

So, why not undo the merger? Go back to Trafalgar Square and Strand again, and put an end to the fiction that Embankment isn’t just as worthy a tube station for Charing Cross.

We can make a better world, guys. You just have to believe.

The Cannon Street link

Everyone knows about the escalator link between Monument and Bank stations, even if the trip I forced my granddad to make to show me it at some point in the late 1980s proved ultimately disappointing for all-concerned.

What you may not realise, though, is quite how close Cannon Street station is to Bank. Look:

Image: Google.

Since 2011, that’s even been an OSI – an out of station interchange, meaning that you can change from the national rail station to the tube at Bank and the ticketing system will treat it as a single journey. For commuters on the lines into Cannon Street, that’s often the best way to reach Docklands or the West End.

So why the big secret, TfL? What are you afraid of, hmm?

The horror of Canary Wharf

Okay, last one, for now. Canary Wharf tube station is separate from but sited between Canary Wharf DLR station and Heron Quays DLR station. Despite being called Canary Wharf, it is slightly more convenient for Heron Quays.

In four months’ time, Canary Wharf Elizabeth line station will open. This will be situated between Canary Wharf DLR station and West India Quay DLR station, but despite being called Canary Wharf will slightly more convenient for West India Quay.

Image: Google.

I haven’t seen the map yet, but... you can see the problem, right? Please tell me you can see the problem. Please tell me that it’s not just me. 

Please.

I realised halfway through writing this that it’s the first part of a series. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

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

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To build its emerging “megaregions”, the USA should turn to trains

Under construction: high speed rail in California. Image: Getty.

An extract from “Designing the Megaregion: Meeting Urban Challenges at a New Scale”, out now from Island Press.

A regional transportation system does not become balanced until all its parts are operating effectively. Highways, arterial streets, and local streets are essential, and every megaregion has them, although there is often a big backlog of needed repairs, especially for bridges. Airports for long-distance travel are also recognized as essential, and there are major airports in all the evolving megaregions. Both highways and airports are overloaded at peak periods in the megaregions because of gaps in the rest of the transportation system. Predictions for 2040, when the megaregions will be far more developed than they are today, show that there will be much worse traffic congestion and more airport delays.

What is needed to create a better balance? Passenger rail service that is fast enough to be competitive with driving and with some short airplane trips, commuter rail to major employment centers to take some travelers off highways, and improved local transit systems, especially those that make use of exclusive transit rights-of-way, again to reduce the number of cars on highways and arterial roads. Bicycle paths, sidewalks, and pedestrian paths are also important for reducing car trips in neighborhoods and business centers.

Implementing “fast enough” passenger rail

Long-distance Amtrak trains and commuter rail on conventional, unelectrified tracks are powered by diesel locomotives that can attain a maximum permitted speed of 79 miles per hour, which works out to average operating speeds of 30 to 50 miles per hour. At these speeds, trains are not competitive with driving or even short airline flights.

Trains that can attain 110 miles per hour and can operate at average speeds of 70 miles per hour are fast enough to help balance transportation in megaregions. A trip that takes two to three hours by rail can be competitive with a one-hour flight because of the need to allow an hour and a half or more to get to the boarding area through security, plus the time needed to pick up checked baggage. A two-to-three-hour train trip can be competitive with driving when the distance between destinations is more than two hundred miles – particularly for business travelers who want to sit and work on the train. Of course, the trains also have to be frequent enough, and the traveler’s destination needs to be easily reachable from a train station.

An important factor in reaching higher railway speeds is the recent federal law requiring all trains to have a positive train control safety system, where automated devices manage train separation to avoid collisions, as well as to prevent excessive speeds and deal with track repairs and other temporary situations. What are called high-speed trains in the United States, averaging 70 miles per hour, need gate controls at grade crossings, upgraded tracks, and trains with tilt technology – as on the Acela trains – to permit faster speeds around curves. The Virgin Trains in Florida have diesel-electric locomotives with an electrical generator on board that drives the train but is powered by a diesel engine. 

The faster the train needs to operate, the larger, and heavier, these diesel-electric locomotives have to be, setting an effective speed limit on this technology. The faster speeds possible on the portion of Amtrak’s Acela service north of New Haven, Connecticut, came after the entire line was electrified, as engines that get their power from lines along the track can be smaller and much lighter, and thus go faster. Catenary or third-rail electric trains, like Amtrak’s Acela, can attain speeds of 150 miles per hour, but only a few portions of the tracks now permit this, and average operating speeds are much lower.

Possible alternatives to fast enough trains

True electric high-speed rail can attain maximum operating speeds of 150 to 220 miles per hour, with average operating speeds from 120 to 200 miles per hour. These trains need their own grade-separated track structure, which means new alignments, which are expensive to build. In some places the property-acquisition problem may make a new alignment impossible, unless tunnels are used. True high speeds may be attained by the proposed Texas Central train from Dallas to Houston, and on some portions of the California High-Speed Rail line, should it ever be completed. All of the California line is to be electrified, but some sections will be conventional tracks so that average operating speeds will be lower.


Maglev technology is sometimes mentioned as the ultimate solution to attaining high-speed rail travel. A maglev train travels just above a guideway using magnetic levitation and is propelled by electromagnetic energy. There is an operating maglev train connecting the center of Shanghai to its Pudong International Airport. It can reach a top speed of 267 miles per hour, although its average speed is much lower, as the distance is short and most of the trip is spent getting up to speed or decelerating. The Chinese government has not, so far, used this technology in any other application while building a national system of long-distance, high-speed electric trains. However, there has been a recent announcement of a proposed Chinese maglev train that can attain speeds of 375 miles per hour.

The Hyperloop is a proposed technology that would, in theory, permit passenger trains to travel through large tubes from which all air has been evacuated, and would be even faster than today’s highest-speed trains. Elon Musk has formed a company to develop this virtually frictionless mode of travel, which would have speeds to make it competitive with medium- and even long-distance airplane travel. However, the Hyperloop technology is not yet ready to be applied to real travel situations, and the infrastructure to support it, whether an elevated system or a tunnel, will have all the problems of building conventional high-speed rail on separate guideways, and will also be even more expensive, as a tube has to be constructed as well as the train.

Megaregions need fast enough trains now

Even if new technology someday creates long-distance passenger trains with travel times competitive with airplanes, passenger traffic will still benefit from upgrading rail service to fast-enough trains for many of the trips within a megaregion, now and in the future. States already have the responsibility of financing passenger trains in megaregion rail corridors. Section 209 of the federal Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act of 2008 requires states to pay 85 percent of operating costs for all Amtrak routes of less than 750 miles (the legislation exempts the Northeast Corridor) as well as capital maintenance costs of the Amtrak equipment they use, plus support costs for such programs as safety and marketing. 

California’s Caltrans and Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority, Connecticut, Indiana, Illinois, Maine’s Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Texas, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, and Wisconsin all have agreements with Amtrak to operate their state corridor services. Amtrak has agreements with the freight railroads that own the tracks, and by law, its operations have priority over freight trains.

At present it appears that upgrading these corridor services to fast-enough trains will also be primarily the responsibility of the states, although they may be able to receive federal grants and loans. The track improvements being financed by the State of Michigan are an example of the way a state can take control over rail service. These tracks will eventually be part of 110-mile-per-hour service between Chicago and Detroit, with commitments from not just Michigan but also Illinois and Indiana. Fast-enough service between Chicago and Detroit could become a major organizer in an evolving megaregion, with stops at key cities along the way, including Kalamazoo, Battle Creek, and Ann Arbor. 

Cooperation among states for faster train service requires formal agreements, in this case, the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Compact. The participants are Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, and Wisconsin. There is also an advocacy organization to support the objectives of the compact, the Midwest Interstate Passenger Rail Commission.

States could, in future, reach operating agreements with a private company such as Virgin Trains USA, but the private company would have to negotiate its own agreement with the freight railroads, and also negotiate its own dispatching priorities. Virgin Trains says in its prospectus that it can finance track improvements itself. If the Virgin Trains service in Florida proves to be profitable, it could lead to other private investments in fast-enough trains.

Jonathan Barnett is an emeritus Professor of Practice in City and Regional Planning, and former director of the Urban Design Program, at the University of Pennsylvania. 

This is an extract from “Designing the Megaregion: Meeting Urban Challenges at a New Scale”, published now by Island Press. You can find out more here.