Look! A new version of the London Tube & Rail map! This story isn’t about Brexit!

Mmmmm curvy. Image: Luke Carvill.

It’s bad, the world, isn’t it? I mean, I don’t want to overstate this, but on this specific day, at this particular point in history, the world is completely bloody awful.

So here’s a new take on the tube map to talk about. Tube map redesigns are my happy place, and don’t you judge me because by clicking this article you’ve implicitly admitted that they’re yours, too.

This one, actually of the London Tube & Rail Map, comes from Luke Carvill, who, like many a graphic designer before him, is using it to show off his skills.

Click to expand.

Here’s what he says about it:

“I think Harry Beck’s London tube map is one of the greatest pieces of graphic design in history, but he had no idea how large the network would become. I feel the current map is somewhat cluttered and intimidating to those unfamiliar with it. My redesign focused on simplicity, balance, and beauty.

“The map is mostly used by tourists, who start and/or end most of their journeys in Zones 1 and 2, in order to make the busiest part of the network easier to spot and read, I gave Central London a wide amount of space and framed in an Overground loop.”

Those are indeed the most obvious aspects of his redesign. I’m not entirely sold on the vastly bigger central London, whose acres of white space between lines ends up making the suburbs look cramped in places (the route to Gatwick Airport, included because it takes Oyster cards, ends up bending awkwardly round as if it heads west, not south).

Click to expand.

But turning the London Overground routes via Clapham and Highbury & Islington into a loop around central London is very pleasing indeed. And replacing the ugly grey shading to represent fare zones with tiny numbers is such an elegant solution that it remains a mystery why TfL has never done it.

Another minor detail of which I’m a big fan is the effort to map goes to show that Blackfriars station has an entrance on the South Bank:

Click to expand.

Carvill follows designers past in using bold, solid colours to represent the tube, and lighter, hollow lines in pastel shades to show National Rail. This is meant to “draw the attention of the eye towards the busier services”, and mostly works, although inevitably there are exceptions (far more mainline services at Wimbledon, say, then there are tube ones at Roding Valley). The map also uses slightly different colours for different Overground or tram services, to make it clear whether direct services do or don’t exist.

It’s not perfect. Like pretty much every other designer ever, he’s struggled to come up with a way of showing the way certain Elizabeth line stations will connect to multiple tube ones, which seems to bolster my case for renaming those stations. And the Bank/Monument interchange is something of a mess. But on balance, I’m a fan.

There. Wasn’t that more fun than reading about Brexit for a while? You can find more tube mappy goodness here.

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

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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.