Yet more ways TfL should change London’s tube and rail maps to make them less irritating to me, personally

A London Overground train, thinking. Image: Getty.

First, I whined about interchanges. Then, I banged on about zones. And now, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, here are even more things that Transport for London should change about London’s tube and rail maps to make them marginally less irritating to me, personally.

Split the Northern line

Let’s start with lines. How many lines there are on the London Underground is a source of some contention – by which I mean that there are definitely, officially 11 and there’s not really any space to argue about that, but that I’m, nonetheless, not having any of it and last summer managed to get about half a dozen different pieces of content and a YouGov poll out of arguing that this number was wrong.

Anyway. One of the reasons that figure is obviously wrong is because of the obvious stupidity of the Northern line.

I mean, it’s just not a line, is it? Look, this is a line:

This is one line.

And this is the Northern... thing:

This is not one line. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

The upside of pretending that this network of different routes is a single line is that watching tourists aiming for Borough Market wandering, baffled, round Euston is quite funny.

The downside is literally everything else.

So, the obvious solution is to split it: make the bit via Charing Cross one line and the bit via Bank another. These two lines would still share trains and be managed together on a sort of Hammersmith & City / Circle line basis – but the map would be less confusing and less in contradiction of the basic premises of geometry, and it’d mean we get an extra line for basically nothing. What’s not to love?

The case for this will get even stronger once the Battersea extension opens, and the Charing Cross route stops running to Morden. To maintain London Underground’s proud history of utterly absurdity, this route could be named the Southern line.

Though I’ll believe the Clapham Junction bit when I see it. (Also, what on earth has happened to Clapham South? No idea.) Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Then I could probably get a ranty piece out of how stupid that is.

Again: what’s not to love?

While we’re on this:

Split the District line

Though it’s less obvious, there are two different routes that make up the District line, too: one running along the south side of the Circle line through Victoria, Embankment and Tower Hill, and the other running up its west side through Kensington to Edgware Road.

It’s hard to see how this would ruin anyone’s day, exactly – departure boards on the only branch regularly served by both types of trains, the Wimbledon one, tend to be pretty clear about where their trains are ending up, and it’s much harder to miss a destination station than a “via”.

This is not one line either. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Nonetheless, this too presents an opportunity for London to add a tube line for literally nothing, and why would we not do that? We should definitely do that. London is a big city, the more lines the better. Call it the Wimbleware, make it a different shade of green – sorted.


Give London Overground specific line identities

Another reason I managed to keep that “how many lines are there on the tube are there” row going on for about seventeen and a half years is because of a surprisingly involved debate about whether the London Overground, DLR and so on count as tube lines. Which, to be clear, they obviously don’t.

But London Overground lines do count as London Overground lines – and there are, these days, rather a lot of them. When the network first opened, back in 2007, the Overground network consisted of three or possibly four lines (Euston-Watford, Barking-Gospel Oak, and the North and West London lines, which sort of come as a package). But then the East London line extension opened. And the network swallowed the Liverpool Street suburban lines through Hackney. And that little stub between Romford and Upminster. And at some point, if transport secretary Chris Grayling ever does the decent thing and fucks off, vast swathes of the south London rail network are likely to get thrown into the mix as well.

And so, as things stand, the London Overground serves 112 stations, which is nearly half as many as the 270 served by the London Overground – yet the official rail maps have maintained that there is one London Overground with one colour, orange.

 

This is really not one line. Image: Briantist/Sameboat/Wikimedia Commons.

This is stupid and goddammit it needs to change. Give them names! Give them numbers! Give them anything to make it clearer that you can’t get a direct train from Highbury & Islington to Wembley Central! Just, in the name of all that is holy, do something!

Acknowledge the existence of the interchange at Camden

Over the last few years, a number of previously secret connections between Underground and Overground have begun finding their way onto the maps. There are now interchanges visible in Hackney, Walthamstow, Forest Gate/Wanstead Park, Archway/Upper Holloway...

One, however, remains forbidden. Despite the fact that the two stations are separated by a walk that’ll take you about four minutes, and that walking from one to the other makes often getting from north London to east vastly easier, the maps still pretend that Camden Town and Camden Road are completely different places. Rather than, say, two stations 300m apart.

New phone, who dis? Image: Google Maps.

 

 

This is, one suspects, a traffic management thing: Camden Town gets more overcrowded than just about any station on the network outside zone one – so while CityMapper and the like may suggest you change between the two, TfL would rather not encourage you. From a network management point of view, keeping this one secret probably makes sense.

But dammit it irritates me and where’s that on TfL’s list of priorities, eh?


The station names

Holloway Road is an infuriating name for one of four (4) different stations on the Holloway Road. Ditto Caledonian Road, although this time it’s only three. Tottenham Court Road is worse, because it’s three again, but this time it’s right at one end and for most of Tottenham Court Road definitely not the station you want. 

I could bang on about this for hours – I have, more times than the mind can comfortably contain. I even once attempted to create an entire taxonomy of metro station names, though quickly felt disheartened and stopped in the hope nobody would actually notice.

So on this occasion I’m not going to do any of that. Instead, I’m going to boil my critique of London’s station-name conventions down to a single, punchy sentence.

Here it is:

City Thameslink is a bloody terrible name and for the love of good, London, change it.

Okay, I’m done.

Don’t have nightmares, now.

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

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

 
 
 
 

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.