London's Crossrail needs to rename almost all its stations

Canary Wharf: one of the many Crossrail stations that will have the wrong name. Image: Crossrail.

Crossrail. It’ll be great, right? A massive new railway, ferrying people from one side of London to the other in mere nanoseconds? It's gonna be brilliant, yeah?

Well, yeah, it'll be alright, probably. I mean it'll be pretty useful if you're trying to get from, say, Heathrow Airport to Docklands. Or Reading to the City. Or (this one for the connoisseurs) Romford to Slough.

But what about the station names, eh? What about the awful, awful, station names?

Okay, this might take some explaining. And I'm not going to lie to you: this piece goes on for far longer than you're expecting it to. So to whet your appetite, here’s a map of what the new Crossrail stations obviously should be called.

Image: Crossrail/CityMetric.

Appetite whetted? Ready to go?

Good. Buckle up. It's going to be a bumpy ride.

Acton Main Line

Let's start in the west.

Originally named simply Acton, this west London station has been called Acton Main Line since 1949. Unofficially, one suspects, it's been known as that for even longer: the phrase “main line” has the air of the authorities finally bowing to the inevitable.

The reason the station ended up with this ugly label is presumably that all the other possibilities were taken. Acton is unique in London in that other station names have already hoovered up all four points of the compass. There's an Acton Central, too, and an Acton Town. Once upon a time there was even an Acton Green, though that's called Chiswick Park these days.

Anyway. Acton Main Line will be silly, once the station is served only by Crossrail, and Acton Crossrail is just as ugly as the current name. Acton Horn Lane is probably the obvious alternative, but the station is also at one end of Friary Road, and Acton Friary is much prettier. So Acton Friary it is.

Paddington

The next stop you come to is Paddington, which is basically fine. I mean, it serves Paddington station, doesn't it? What else would you call it?

Of course, there is an argument that Paddington station is already a bit messed up. The Circle line serves it twice, at two different platforms – you can literally get a tube from one bit of Paddington to another bit of Paddington, should you have an hour to spare – but that's hardly Crossrail's fault, is it? So, yes, it's basically fine.

But then things start getting tricky.


Bond Street

There are a number of problems here. One is that naming stations after streets annoys me, for reasons I'll come to below.

Another is that there is no London Street called Bond Street. Honestly, there's a New Bond Street, off Oxford Street, which turns into Old Bond Street if you keep heading south; and there are two stations vaguely near them, only one of which is called Bond Street. And being the sort of OCD weirdo who writes stuff like this, that annoys me.

But the big problem with having a Crossrail station called Bond Street is that the new station will be much bigger than the old. Its eastern ticket hall will be in Hanover Square, which is basically next to Oxford Circus tube. Although it won't connect with that station, it'll still mean there'll be an entrance to Bond Street station next to Oxford Circus and that's really, really irritating.

The stations on Paris' RER network, which is one of the models for Crossrail, often connect more than one metro station. Some of them (like Châtelet–Les Halles) combine the names; others (Auber, for example) take an entirely different one.

The latter seems the obvious course, and Hanover is a nice name, so let's call it that.

Tottenham Court Road

Remember how I said naming stations after streets annoys me? Well, this is why.

A station is a point; a street is a line. By naming the former after the latter you end up with lunacy like Tottenham Court Road, a street 1km long with three stations on it, and where the eponymous tube station is right at one end of the road. There will almost certainly be people who've got off the tube at Tottenham Court Road station, convinced that they're nearly at their destination, only to find they're the better part of a mile away and they really should have stayed on until Warren Street.

Honestly. It's a miracle civilisation hasn't completely broken down, isn’t it?

Anyway. Crossrail seems as good an excuse as any to finally address this madness and rename Tottenham Court Road to something less misleading. St Giles, the archaic name for this area, is the obvious name to go with. Much prettier.

Farringdon

Bond Street Crossrail will come painfully close to connecting two tube stations, and then wuss out to prevent over-crowding. Farringdon Crossrail will actually do it, linking Farringdon in the west with Barbican in the east.

Being able to change trains at Barbican onto a station called Farringdon seems silly, and will look bloody horrible on the map:

Image: Crossrail/TfL.

So, on the Paris principle, why not call the new station something else? Let's go with Smithfield, after the neighbouring meat market which sort of sits between the two tube stations.

Liverpool Street

Same problem as Farringdon, only this one feels slightly worse because the two stations it connects, Liverpool Street and Moorgate, have completely different connecting lines.

The new platforms will sit under the site of the old Broad Street station, which is now the Broadgate office development. So might as well call it that, really. Broadgate it is.

Whitechapel

Whitechapel is fine. We have no complaints about Whitechapel.

Although since we're here it seems a good moment to note the mildly ridiculous fact that, at Whitechapel, the London Underground runs overground, and you have to walk down some stairs to reach the London Overground. Which runs underground.

It's like they're doing it deliberately.

Canary Wharf

Last stop, but this one's a doozy.

Canary Wharf is already a mess. There's a DLR station called Canary Wharf; but that's separate from the tube station which is also called Canary Wharf, and which is actually closer to Heron Quays on the DLR.

Image: Google.

The new Crossrail station is going to be where we've put that red circle. Which is miles away from both existing stations but quite close to West India Quay and Poplar.

The opening of Crossrail seems like the perfect moment to untangle this mess. And while the people who own the Canary Wharf Estate are probably not going to accept not getting their name on the rather expensive new station they've just had built in one of their docks, TfL could at least force them to accept a subheading: the Crossrail station would become Canary Wharf North Quay, the Jubilee one would become Canary Wharf Jubilee Park, and the DLR one in the middle becomes plain old Canada Square.

Otherwise you'll get people trying to change from Crossrail to the Jubilee line only to find there's a whole complex of skyscrapers in the way, and just wandering aimlessly around the underground shopping malls in a daze until they're thrown out by security guards because the whole area is actually a private estate. And then where will be we? Where will it end, eh? Eh? I ask you.

Anyway I'm going for a lie down.


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The tube that’s not a tube: What exactly is the Northern City line?

State of the art: a train on the Northern City Line platforms at Moorgate. Image: Haydon Etherington

You may never have used it. You may not even know that it’s there. But in zones one and two of the London Underground network, you’ll find an oft-forgotten piece of London’s transport history.

The Northern City line is a six-stop underground route from Moorgate to Finsbury Park. (It’s officially, if confusingly, known as the Moorgate line.) But, unlike other underground lines, it not part of Transport for London’s empire, and is not displayed on a normal tube map. Two of the stations, Essex Road and Drayton Park, aren’t even on the underground network at all.

The line has changed hands countless times since its creation a century ago. It now finds itself hiding in plain sight – an underground line, not part of the Underground. So why exactly is the Northern City line not part of the tube?

The Northern City line, pictured in dotted beige. Source: TfL.

As with many so many such idiosyncrasies, the explanation lies in over a century’s worth of cancellations and schemes gone awry. The story starts in 1904, when the private Great Northern Railways, which built much of what is now the East Coast Main Line, built the line to provide trains coming from the north of London with a terminus in the City. This is why the Northern City line, unlike a normal tube line, has tunnels wide enough to be used by allow mainline trains.

Eventually, though, Great Northern decided that this wasn’t such a bright idea after all. It mothballed plans to connect the Northern City up to the mainline, leaving it to terminate below Finsbury Park, scrapped electrification and sold the line off to Metropolitan Railways – owners of, you guessed it, the Metropolitan line.

Metropolitan Railways had big plans for the Northern City line too: the company wanted to connect it to both Waterloo & City and Circle lines. None of the variants on this plan ever happened. See a theme?

The next proposed extensions, planned in the 1930s once London Underground had become part of the domain of the (public sector) London Passenger Transport Board, was the Northern Heights programme. This would have seen the line would connected up with branch lines across north London, with service extended to High Barnet, Edgware and Alexandra Palace: essentially, as part of the Northern line. The plans, for the main part, were cancelled in the advent of the Second World War.

The Northern Heights plan. The solid green lines happened, the dotted ones did not. Image: Rob Brewer/Wikimedia Commons.

What the war started, the Victoria line soon finished. The London Plan Working Party Report of 1949 proposed a number of new lines and extensions: these included extension of the Northern City Line to Woolwich (Route J) and Crystal Palace (Route K). The only one of the various schemes to happen was Route C, better known today as the Victoria line, agreed in the 1950s and opening in the 1960s. The new construction project cannibalised the Northern City Line’s platforms at Finsbury Park, and from 1964 services from Moorgate terminated one stop south at Drayton Park.

In 1970, the line was briefly renamed the Northern Line (Highbury Branch), but barely a year later plans were made to transfer it to British Rail, allowing it to finally fulfil its original purpose.


Before that could happen, though, the line became the site of a rather more harrowing event. In 1975, the deadliest accident in London Underground history took place at Moorgate: a southbound train failed to stop, instead ploughing into the end of the tunnel. The crash killed 43 people. The authorities responded with a major rehaul of safety procedure; Moorgate station itself now has unique timed stopping mechanisms.

The last tube services served the Northern City Line in October 1975. The following year, it reopened as part of British Rail, receiving trains from a variety of points north of London. Following privatisation, it’s today run by Govia Thameslink as the Great Northern route, served mainly by suburban trains from Hertford and Welwyn Garden City.

Nowadays, despite a central location and a tube-like stopping pattern, the line is only really used for longer-scale commutes: very few people use it like a tube.

Only 811,000 and 792,000 people each year enter and exit Essex Road and Drayton Park stations respectively. These stations would be considered the fifth and sixth least used in the tube network – only just beating Chorleywood in Hertfordshire. In other words, these usage stats look like those for a station in zone seven, not one in Islington.

One reason for this might be a lack of awareness that the line exists at all. The absence from the tube map means very few people in London will have heard of it, let alone ever used it.

Another explanation is rather simple: the quality of service. Despite being part and parcel of the Oyster system, it couldn’t be more different from a regular tube. The last (and only) time I used the line, it ran incredibly slowly, whilst the interior looked much more like a far-flung cross-country train than it does a modern underground carriage.

Waiting for Govia. Image: Haydon Etherington.

But by far the biggest difference from TfL is frequency. The operators agreed that trains would run between four and six times an hour, which in itself is fine. However, this is Govia Thameslink, and in my experience, the line was plagued by cancellations and delays, running only once in the hour I was there.

To resolve this, TfL has mooted taking the line over itself. In 2016, draft proposals were put forward by Patrick McLoughlin, then the transport secretary, and then mayor Boris Johnson, to bring "northern services... currently operating as part of the Thameslink, Southern and Great Northern franchise" into TfL's control by 2021.

But, in a story that should by now be familiar, Chris Grayling scrapped them. At least it’s in keeping with history.