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 funding 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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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.