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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Transport for London’s fare zones secretly go up to 15

Some of these stations are in zones 10 to 12. Ooooh. Image: TfL.

The British capital, as every true-blooded Londoner knows, is divided into six concentric zones, from zone 1 in the centre to zone 6 in the green belt-hugging outer suburbs.

These are officially fare zones, which Transport for London (TfL) uses to determine the cost of your tube or rail journey. Unofficially, though, they’ve sort of become more than that, and like postcodes double as a sort of status symbol, a marker of how London-y a district actually is.

If you’re the sort of Londoner who’s also interested in transport nerdery, or who has spent any time studying the tube map, you’ll probably know that there are three more zones on the fringes of the capital. These, numbered 7 to 9, are used to set and collect fares at non-London stations where the Oyster card still works. But they differ from the first six, in that they aren’t concentric rings, but random patches, reflecting not distance from London but pre-existing and faintly arbitrary fares. Thus it is that at some points (on the Overground to Cheshunt, say) trains leaving zone 6 will visit zone 7. But at others they jump to 8 (on the train to Dartford) or 9 (on TfL rail to Brentwood), or skip them altogether.

Anyway: it turns out that, although they’re keeping it fairly quiet, the zones don’t stop at 9 either. They go all the way up to 15.

So I learned this week from the hero who runs the South East Rail Group Twitter feed, when they (well, let’s be honest: he) tweeted me this:

The choice of numbers is quite odd in its way. Purfleet, a small Thames-side village in Essex, is not only barely a mile from the London border, it’s actually inside the M25. Yet it’s all the way out in the notional zone 10. What gives?

TfL’s Ticketing + Revenue Update is a surprisingly jazzy internal newsletter about, well, you can probably guess. The September/October 2018 edition, published on WhatDoTheyKnow.com following a freedom of information request, contains a helpful explanation of what’s going on. The expansion of the Oyster card system

“has seen [Pay As You Go fare] acceptance extended to Grays, Hertford East, Shenfield, Dartford and Swanley. These expansions have been identified by additional zones mainly for PAYG caping and charging purposes.

“Although these additional zones appear on our staff PAYG map, they are no generally advertised to customers, as there is the risk of potentially confusing users or leading them to think that these ones function in exactly the same way as Zones 1-6.”


Fair enough: maps should make life less, not more, confusing, so labelling Shenfield et al. as “special fares apply” rather than zone whatever makes some sense. But why don’t these outer zone fares work the same way as the proper London ones?

“One of the reasons that the fare structure becomes much more complicated when you travel to stations beyond the Zone 6 boundary is that the various Train Operating Companies (TOCs) are responsible for setting the fares to and from their stations outside London. This means that they do not have to follow the standard TfL zonal fares and can mean that stations that are notionally indicated as being in the same fare zone for capping purposes may actually have very different charges for journeys to/from London."

In other words, these fares have been designed to fit in with pre-existing TOC charges. Greater Anglia would get a bit miffed if TfL unilaterally decided that Shenfield was zone 8, thus costing the TOC a whole pile of revenue. So it gets a higher, largely notional fare zone to reflect fares. It’s a mess. No wonder TfL doesn't tell us about them.

These “ghost zones”, as the South East Rail Group terms them, will actually be extending yet further. Zone 15 is reserved for some of the western-most Elizabeth line stations out to Reading, when that finally joins the system. Although whether the residents of zone 12 will one day follow in the venerable London tradition of looking down on the residents of zones 13-15 remains to be seen.

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