It’s time to give London Overground different line names

Part of the deeply confusing London Overground map. Image: TfL.

So here’s a thing I’ve been thinking a lot of late: it’s time Transport for London stopped pretending the London Overground was one big thing and started giving its lines individual identities. Just as on the Underground, each route should have a colour and a name. It’d make the world better. Honestly.

In some ways, of course, this line of thinking is a sort of greed. I’ve always been in favour of TfL acknowledging the existence of more lines (my strong belief that the District and Northern lines should be two lines apiece, say), in large part because a metro network with 13 lines sounds cooler than one with 11. There’s a similar impulse at work in my sudden determination that the Overground should be many lines not one. London is big, and its transport network one of the best in the world. Stop talking LO down, TfL!

But that’s not the only reason I’m thinking this slightly mad thing: there is, believe it or not, an actual practical argument for it too. On several occasions of late I have needed to go from east London, where I live, to north London, where I want to be. There are a number of ways to do this, but not having a death wish I prefer to avoid the Central line at rush hour, so that limits my options. 

When I asked CityMapper for suggestions, the two fastest routes it offers are these:

Screenshot from CityMapper.

Now. You wouldn’t know it from that screenshot, but here CityMapper is suggesting I take three different lines. On one route, I could get the Overground from Shoreditch High Street to Highbury & Islington. On the other, I would instead head to Bethnal Green Overground station, get one train to Hackney and then change to another heading west. 

To find that out, though, I’d have to click through and frown at some maps and who has the time for that? If each of those lines had a different identity, which could be simply communicated through some combination of logo and colour, then my options would be obvious.

This sort of thing happens a lot. You know you can get the Overground at Whitechapel, and at Gospel Oak, but can you get there directly? No – but you’d need to know the map to get that. Because the different lines that serve those places use the same name and the same colour god it makes me so mad.

Anyway. Thanks to my irrefutable logic, you’re now convinced, I’m sure, I’m sure, of the case for breaking the Overground up. The next questions are – how many lines should it be? And what should we call them all?

A few years ago, in fact, TfL was considering doing, well, basically what I want it to: splitting the Overground into a handful of separate lines, and showing each of them on the tube map using different colour. To distinguish them from the Underground, and to make up for the fact the human eye can only distinguish about 15 different colours at a glance, each would have been shown using “hollow tram lines” – two thin coloured lines with a white space between them – rather than a solid block.

That never happened, obviously – TfL concluded that the status quo was better, although god knows why. (Rumour is that then mayor Boris Johnson preferred being able to point to a big and growing Overground network, rather than a handful of individual lines, some of which are crap.) And, from the glimpses of that map that have occasionally found their way onto the internet – I can’t find it anywhere now; if you can let me know and I’ll add it in – I’m also not convinced by the choices TfL made. 

For one thing, it treated all the Liverpool Street routes through Hackney as a single route, the Lea Valley Lines. To my mind, it’s obviously two – one to Chingford, and one via Seven Sisters which then splits at Edmonton Green – because they use different tracks, have only three stations in common before they split, and follow a different service pattern. (The Chingford trains don’t stop at Cambridge Heath or London Fields because of the aforementioned track thing.)

For another, TfL used really boring names. The East London Line and North London Line are established names, sure. But they’re also sort of colourless. Surely there are better names for them that that?

The full London Overground map. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

So here are my proposals for better names. Some of them I’m quite pleased with. Some of them I’m not. But this is what I’ve got at the moment:

The Brunel line – The extended East London line, from Highbury & Islington down to New Cross/Crystal Palace/West Croydon/Clapham Junction. Named after the Victorian engineer who designed the tunnel under the Thames it uses. 

The Broadway line – The old North & West London lines, from Stratford to Richmond and Clapham Junction. Bit of a reach, this one, but these lines used to run into Broad Street station, and it’s a cool name, and North London Line is misleading and too similar to Northern, and I can’t think of anything better, so.

The Goblin line – The Gospel Oak to Barking line is already known as such to pretty much everyone, and okay the Goblin line means including the “lin” bit twice but what the hell, it’s its name now.

The Harlequin line – Euston to Watford Junction. A name given to the line in the late 20th century, possibly on some kind of Bakerloo model, possibly after a shopping centre. Anyway, it’s a cool name and seems worth resurrecting.

The Forest line – London Liverpool Street to Chingford, which is in Waltham Forest and on the edge of Epping Forest.

The Tottenham line – London Liverpool Street to Enfield Town/Cheshunt. I toyed with Edmonton, but Tottenham is better known and the line serves several stations in it including the one for the football club’s stadium, and okay it doesn’t serve Tottenham Hale which is confusing but honestly you come up with something better.

The Emerson line – The Romford-Upminster shuttle only serves one other station, at Emerson Park, so this one is a boring no-brainer.

As I said above, some of these names are, well, not great – so please do email me better suggestions. No, we’re not just going to use letters or numbers, this is London for heaven’s sake.

Then, once we’re agreed amongst ourselves we march on TfL. We’ll win this one yet.

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


London’s rail and tube map is out of control

Aaaaaargh. Image: Getty.

The geographical limits of London’s official rail maps have always been slightly arbitrary. Far-flung commuter towns like Amersham, Chesham and Epping are all on there, because they have tube stations. Meanwhile, places like Esher or Walton-on-Thames – much closer to the city proper, inside the M25, and a contiguous part of the built up area – aren’t, because they fall outside the Greater London and aren’t served by Transport for London (TfL) services. This is pretty aggravating, but we are where we are.

But then a few years ago, TfL decided to show more non-London services on its combined Tube & Rail Map. It started with a few stations slightly outside the city limits, but where you could you use your Oyster card. Then said card started being accepted at Gatwick Airport station – and so, since how to get to a major airport is a fairly useful piece of information to impart to passengers, TfL’s cartographers added that line too, even though it meant including stations bloody miles away.

And now the latest version seems to have cast all logic to the wind. Look at this:

Oh, no. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

The logic for including the line to Reading is that it’s now served by TfL Rail, a route which will be part of the Elizabeth Line/Crossrail, when they eventually, finally happen. But you can tell something’s gone wrong here from the fact that showing the route, to a town which is well known for being directly west of London, requires an awkward right-angle which makes it look like the line turns north, presumably because otherwise there’d be no way of showing it on the map.

What’s more, this means that a station 36 miles from central London gets to be on the map, while Esher – barely a third of that distance out – doesn’t. Nor does Windsor & Eton Central, because it’s served by a branchline from Slough rather than TfL Rail trains, even though as a fairly major tourist destination it’d probably be the sort of place that at least some users of this map might want to know how to get to.

There’s more. Luton Airport Parkway is now on the map, presumably on the basis that Gatwick is. But that station doesn’t accept Oyster cards yet, so you get this:

Gah. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

There’s a line, incidentally, between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey, which is just down the road from St Albans City. Is that line shown on the map? No it is not.

Also not shown on the map: either Luton itself, just one stop up the line from Luton Airport Parkway, or Stansted Airport, even though it’s an airport and not much further out than places which are on the map. Somewhere that is, however, is Welwyn Garden City, which doesn’t accept Oyster, isn’t served by TfL trains and also – this feels important – isn’t an airport.

And meanwhile a large chunk of Surrey suburbia inside the M25 isn’t shown, even though it must have a greater claim to be a part of London’s rail network than bloody Reading.

The result of all these decisions is that the map covers an entirely baffling area whose shape makes no sense whatsoever. Here’s an extremely rough map:

Just, what? Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

I mean that’s just ridiculous isn’t it.

While we’re at it: the latest version shows the piers from which you can get boats on the Thames. Except for when it doesn’t because they’re not near a station – for example, Greenland Pier, just across the Thames to the west of the Isle of Dogs, shown here with CityMetric’s usual artistic flair.

Spot the missing pier. You can’t, because it’s missing. Image: TfL/CityMetric.

I’m sure there must be a logic to all of this. It’s just that I fear the logic is “what makes life easier for the TfL cartography team” rather than “what is actually valuable information for London’s rail passengers”.

And don’t even get me started on this monstrosity.

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