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.

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

 

 

 
 
 
 

What are Europe’s longest train journeys?

The Orient Express was a pretty long train. Image: Getty.

For reasons that aren’t clear even to me, a question popped into my head and refused to leave: what’s longer? Britain’s longest train joruney, or Germany’s?

On the one hand, Germany is quite a bit larger – its area is 70 per cent more than Great Britain’s. On the other hand, Great Britain is long, skinny island and Germany is much rounder – the distance from John O’ Groats to Lands End is over 1,400 km, but you never have walk over 1,000 km to cross Germany in any direction.

And it turns out these factors balance almost each other out. Britain’s longest train, the CrossCountry from Aberdeen in Scotland to Penzance in Cornwall, runs 785 miles or 1,263 km. Germany’s longest train, the IC 2216 from Offenburg in the Black Forest to Greifswald on the Baltic coast, is exactly 1,300 km. Germany wins by a tiny distance.

Except then I was hooked. What about the longest train in France? Spain? Italy?

So I did what anyone would do. I made a map.

The map above was all drawn with the Deutsche Bahn (Germany Railways) travel planning tool, which rather incredibly has nearly every railway in Europe. The data quality is better for some countries than others (the lines in France aren’t quite that straight in real life), and the measurements may be a bit off – it’s not always easy to find the length of a train service, especially when routes can vary over the year – but it gives us a good idea of what the routes look like.

Let’s start with the UK. The Aberdeen to Penzance route isn’t really for people who want to go all the way across the country. Instead, it’s a way to link together several railway lines and connect some medium-to-large cities that otherwise don’t have many direct services. “Cross-country” trains like these have existed for a century, but because they crossed multiple different company’s lines – and later, multiple British Rail regions – they tended to get ignored.

 

That’s why, when it privatised the railways, the government created a specific CrossCountry franchise so there was a company dedicated to these underused routes. If you want to get from Edinburgh to Leeds or Derby to Bristol, you’ll probably want a CrossCountry train.

The usual route is Edinburgh to Plymouth, but once a day they run an extra long one. Just one way though – there’s no Penzance to Aberdeen train. 

The longest train in Germany is weird – at 1,400 km, it’s substantially longer than the country itself. On the map, the reason is obvious – it takes a huge C shaped route. (It also doubles back on itself at one point in order to reach Stuttgart).

This route takes it down the Rhine, the biggest river in west Germany, and through the most densely populated patch of the country around Cologne and Dusseldorf known as the Ruhr. Germany’s second and third longest trains also have quite similar routes – they start and end in remote corners of the country, but all three have the Rhine-Ruhr metropolitan area in the middle.

You’re not meant to take the IC 2216 all the way from north east to south west – there are much more direct options available. Instead, it’s for people who want to travel to these major cities. They could run two separate trains – say, Offenburg-Dusseldorf and Griefswald-Cologne – but making it a single route means passengers benefit from a bit more flexibility and helps DB use its rolling stock more effectively.

France’s longest train exists for a very good reason. Most of France’s high-speed lines radiate out from Paris, and it’s very hard to get around the country without going to the capital. Usually to get from Marseille on the Mediterranean to Nantes near the Atlantic, you’d need to take a TGV to Paris Gare de Lyon station, then get the Métro across the city to Gare Montparnasse.

Once a day though, this TGV avoids this faff by stopping in the suburb of Juvisy and turning around without going into the centre. This lets passengers travel direct between the coasts and reduces the traffic through Paris’s terminals in the rush hour. The exact length of this route isn’t clear, but Wikipedia says it’s about 1,130 km.

Spain’s longest train is very different. This is the Trenhotel sleeper service from Barcelona to Vigo, and it’s pretty fancy. This is a train for tourists and business travellers, with some quite luxurious sleeping cabins. But it is a regularly scheduled train run by the state operator Renfe, not a luxury charter, and it does appear in the timetables.

Being dry, hot and quite mountainous in its middle, most of Spain’s cities are on its coast (Madrid is the one major exception) and as a result the train passes through relatively few urban areas. (Zaragoza, Spain’s 5th largest city, is on the route, but after that the next biggest city is Burgos, its 35th largest,) This is partly why overnight trains work so well on the route – without many stops in the middle, most passengers can just sleep right through the journey, although there are occasional day time trains on that route too if you want to savour the view on that 1,314 km journey.

Finally, there’s Italy. This is another sleeper train, from Milan in the north to Syracuse on the island of Sicily. It goes via Rome and travels along the west coast of... wait, it’s a train to the island of Sicily? How, when there’s no bridge?

Well, this train takes a boat. I don’t really have anything else to add here. It’s just a train that they literally drive onto a ferry, sail across the water, and then drive off again at the other side. That’s pretty cool.

(As I was writing this, someone on Twitter got in touch to tell me the route will get even longer in September when the line to Palermo reopens. That should be exciting.)

So those are the longest trains in each country. But they aren’t the longest in Europe.

For one thing, there are some countries we haven’t looked at yet with very long trains. Sweden has some spectacular routes from its southern tip up into the Arctic north, and although the Donbass War appears to have cut Ukraine’s Uzhorod to Luhansk service short, even Uzhorod to Kharkiv is over 1,400 km. And then there are the international routes.

To encourage the Russian rich to take the train for their holiday, Russian Railways now run a luxury sleeper from Moscow to Nice, passing through France, Monaco, Italy, Austria, Czechia, Poland, Belarus and Russia. This monster line is 3,315 km long and stretches across most of the continent. That’s got to be the longest in Europe, right?

Nope. Incredibly, the longest train in Europe doesn’t actually cross a single border. Unsurprisingly, it’s in Russia, but it’s not the Trans-Siberian – the vast majority of that’s route is in Asia, not Europe. No, if you really want a long European train journey, head to Adler, just south of the Olympic host city Sochi. From there, you can catch a train up to Vorkuta on the edge of the Arctic Circle. The route zigzags a bit over its 89 hour, 4,200 km journey, but it always stays on the European side of the Ural mountains.

Bring a good book.

Stephen Jorgenson-Murray often tweets about this kind of nonsense at @stejormur.


All maps courtesy of Deutsche Bahn.