Literally just 11 London rail maps from the mayor’s transport strategy

Some of these lucky trains may one day get to go to Lewisham. Image: Getty.

“Transport doesn’t only shape our daily lives and determine how we get around London,” writes London’s mayor Sadiq Khan in the introduction to the transport strategy his office published last month. “It can create new opportunities for Londoners and shape the character of our city.” Which I’m sure would be a lovely message if I, like everyone else, hadn’t scrolled straight past in search of the good stuff.

There’s a lot in the full report: 322 pages, 26 policies, 108 proposals, and 59 different maps or figures. Some of this stuff will be shaping London’s transport network, and through that the life of the city, for decades to come. Some of it will probably be quietly forgotten and never heard of again.

But I’m going to ignore all that, and cut straight to the chase. Here are 11 of the coolest rail maps.

1. The Elizabeth Line

Let’s start with an easy one. Most of the rail projects described in the strategy are still pretty speculative. The artist formally known as Crossrail is the odd one out. Not only is it definitely happening: it’s nearly finished, and will start opening this December.

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This map overlays the route on a map which also highlights some economic aspects of the city: the “Central Activity Zone” of the City, West End and other commercially bits of central London; “opportunity areas”, which basically means “relatively scrubby bits we might be able to stuff more development into”; and Heathrow Airport. There’s also the “North Isle of Dogs”, which you probably know better as Canary Wharf, but that’s actually the name of a private estate: this is a slightly larger and less trademarked area.

The only really striking thing about the Crossrail part of the map is the inclusion of Old Oak Common, west of Paddington. The proposed station will serve the Elizabeth Line, Overground, and proposed High Speed 2 services to the north, as well as a big chunk of what is currently wasteland but will one day soon be offices and apartments. All the other rail infrastructure on this map is definitely happening – including, it seems, the pig-headed refusal to rename Acton Main Line. Bum.

2. More Elizabeth line

There is a more speculative map of the Elizabeth line further down the report. Sadiq Khan has been talking up proposals for extending its south eastern branch to Dartford and Ebbsfleet in Kent. This, the strategy says, would support 55,000 new homes and 50,000 new jobs.

 

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The map’s rubbish though: it doesn’t even show the three stations in Bexley (Belvedere, Erith, Slade Green) that’d likely be served by any such extension. So let’s move swiftly on to something more fun.

3. Crossrail 2

That’s more like it: Crossrail 2, a whole new line which would link the Lea Valley lines in north east London to the Waterloo suburban services in south west London. This map shows the route consulted on in 2015, which is why in a couple of places it gets confused and shows two versions of itself:

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This one might never happen: such a route has been talked about in various forms for a hundred years without luck, and the current government has conspicuously failed to fund it. If London does get another multi-billion pound railway project, though, this – or some version of this- is likely to be it, and it could be finished as early as the 2030s.


“It is essential for the good of the nation that this project is delivered,” the strategy says. I’m sure that argument will go down brilliantly in, say, Sunderland.

4. The Bakerloo line extension

The other Big & Important Railway Project on the table is a southern extension of the Bakerloo line. The line as it stands is pretty imbalanced, running all the way into the suburbs of zone 5 in north London, but not even making it out of zone 1 in the south. It’s thus really the only tube line you could plausibly extend without worrying about worsening overcrowding for existing passengers.

If it does get an extra push it’ll likely be through new tunnels beneath the Old Kent Road, through the biggest railway desert that close to central London, to New Cross Gate and Lewisham. Beyond that, it could swallow up a part of the Southeastern Rail network, most likely to Hayes, although Dartford via Bexleyheath is also a possibility.

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This is unlikely to happen any time soon, however. Which does at least give the authorities time to come up with better names for stations than “Old Kent Road 1” and “Old Kent Road 2”. (More on this, from December 2016, here.)

5. Trams to Sutton

Modern trams first appeared on the street of London in the year 2000, under the name Croydon Tramlink. Since then, TfL has dropped the word “Croydon” from the name – I’m saying nothing – but has conspicuously failed to extend the network, despite numerous proposals.

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It still wants to, though, and a second line connecting South Wimbledon to Sutton, via the existing Morden Road stop, is top of the list. “In the longer term,” the report says, “a further extension beyond Sutton town centre to the planned London Cancer Hub at Belmont, which may accommodate up to 10,000 new jobs, will also be considered to support the full development of the site.” Lucky old Sutton, eh?

Okay, that’s not the most exciting map, but I promise this next one is wild.

6. The West London Orbital

The London Overground has already done wonders for orbital travel in London, by enabling passengers to get from one bit of outer London to another without going all the way into zone 1. The West London Orbital Network, put forward by the originally named “West London Alliance Boroughs” would grow those opportunities further:

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This is not as radical an extension as it might at first look. The route is largely already in place – even if parts of it, like the Dudden Hill line between Cricklewood and the Old Oak Common junction, are currently freight-only. (Personally I’d take it one stop further, to Whitton, to simplify the service pattern around the Hounslow Loop, but that’s just me.)

What would be new are some of these stations, though. We’ve already talked about Old Oak Common. But this plan would see another a proposed new station at Brent Cross West, another at Lionel Road (possibly one which connects to Kew Bridge), plus orbital platforms at Harlesden and Neasden.

Apparently all this would also support the delivery of another 20,000 homes, which is pretty cool, but that’s going to take a while. So in the mean time, you know what else is cool? Maps. 

7. The South London Metro

One of TfL’s oft-stated ambitions is to take over the suburban services on most of the railway lines into London, and run them as part of the Overground. This map shows how that might look in the tube deserts of the deep south:

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Couple of things worth mentioning here. One is that this map goes to more effort to show the actual service pattern than the official London Tube & Rail Map does, which is really a sign of how bloody awful that map is.

Another is the proposals for new platforms at Brockley and Streatham Common. These are about enabling orbital journeys again: allowing more passengers to travel across south London without having to go all the way into town and then out again.

The other noteworthy thing is which lines get left out, something you can also see...

8. The full potential London Overground network

...here:

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In TfL’s ideal world, there would be far more London Overground lines in south London than there are in north London. But there’s a very good reason for this: there are simply fewer national railway lines in north London, in large part because the more extensive and more frequent tube network does the same job.

Nonetheless, there are three gaps in TfL’s ambitions. The absence of the C2C/Fenchurch Street and Chiltern/Marylebone lines are easily explained. Most of the suburban bits of those routes were actually taken over by TfL’s predecessors decades ago, as part of the District and Metropolitan line respectively. The few bits that weren’t, such as the Dagenham Dock line, tend only to be served by trains that terminate a relatively long way outside London, and so are a poor fit for the London Overground.

The more confusing and disappointing absence is Thameslink, a sort of Crossrail v0.5 whose north-south route through the City is currently being upgraded. Okay, Thameslink trains currently run to Brighton and Bedford, and other far flung destinations like Cambridge and Littlehampton are joining the network shortly. But why the suburban metro bits of the services can’t be disentangled and run by TfL is not so clear. Perhaps it’s because they use the same tracks.

9. Suburban rail hubs

The strategy also has a few maps showing what the result of all these changes would be. This one shows the various “hub” stations in outer London:

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There are about a dozen relatively small interchanges marked. The exciting ones, though, are the four major strategic interchanges, one at each corner of the capital: Stratford, Lewisham, Clapham Junction, and Willesden Junction/Old Oak Common. Under TfL’s plans, each of these would have trains heading in pretty much every direction you could imagine. Cool.

Stratford sort of already plays this role: it’s a sort of clearing house for journeys beginning or ending in the north eastern bit of London. Imagine how much easier it’d be to get around south east London if Lewisham did the same.

10. Overcrowding

Okay, this is technically two maps, but you need to compare them side by side to get the full impact.

This one is over-crowding on the network in 2041, if only the schemes that are already funded happen:

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And this is the same map, if the entire strategy goes ahead:

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TfL thinks (well it would, wouldn’t it?) its investment strategy would benefit passengers across the city: there are particularly noteworthy improvements for passengers in the West End, the Lea Valley and across South London. And if we don’t invest? Well, good luck getting onto that train.

One slightly depressing thing is that Crossrail/the Elizabeth line, which isn’t even open yet, will be heavily overcrowded regardless of what we do. So will the Central and Jubilee lines that it’s meant to relieve. Oh well.

11. The lot

Anyway: here’s a nice easy map of all TfL’s proposed changes to the rail network, starring Crossrail 2, the Bakerloo line extension, the South London Overground and new trams to Sutton. Also, look out for the Overground extension to Barking Riverside and potentially beyond, and the Northern line extension to Battersea.

 

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Don’t really have much to add at this stage, as I’ve written quite a lot of words already. So I’ll just end with: maps, eh? Maps are cool.

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.