This map shows what London’s tube network would look like without any actual tube lines

What. Image: TfL.

Well. This is one of the weirder tube maps I’ve seen of late. And believe me, I see a LOT of tube maps.

It’s so weird, in fact, that it’s weird in two distinct ways. Firstly it’s geographically accurate: rather than adopting the Harry Beck-style diagram we all know and love, it uses a map of the London boroughs to show where the lines actually go.

Secondly, it shows just four lines: the Metropolitan, Hammersmith & City, Circle and District. Effectively, it’s the lines which share track with the inner circle.

What’s really weird about it, in its way, is that it’s actually the work of Transport for London (TfL), rather than a bunch of nerds like, well, like me.

Click to expand. Image: TfL.

There is a method to this madness. Not all tube lines are actually tube lines: technically, that label should only apply to those which run through tunnels bored deep underground.

These others are technically “sub-surface” lines. They’re the oldest part of the network, built through the relatively primitive method of digging trenches, sticking tracks in them and then building over the top again. These have slightly bigger trains and, generally, better air-conditioning, too.


I’m not sure why TfL felt moved to produce this as a separate map. Perhaps it’s a useful aide-memoire for those working on the network. Perhaps it’s to show which stations are reachable directly via lines serving the inner circle, for some reason. Or perhaps it’s just because they know that someone like me would inevitably write about it, and they like the attention. Who can say?

One thing we can say, though, is that there is a weirdly long gap between Kings Cross St. Pancras and Farringdon, and they should build a station at Mount Pleasant to plug it.

You can see the whole thing here. Hat tip: Diamond Geezer.

UPDATE: Okay, guys, I’m going to level with you: I wrote the above, very quickly, on Friday afternoon in about three minutes because I thought there might be traffic in it. (Don’t judge me, you clicked, didn’t you?) I may not have dedicated quite the investigative energies to this story that a matter of such importance clearly deserves.

Anyway. Diamond Geezer has been in touch to point out that TfL have actually explained why the map exists. It’s to show the scope of this project:

We are transforming the Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines. When the work is completed in 2023, increased capacity and boosted reliability will make journeys faster and more comfortable.

Because these lines share a lot of track and infrastructure, they are being modernised under a single combined and integrated project, Four Lines Modernisation (4LM).

The 4LM project will involve new trains, tracks and signalling, allowing shorter journey times a 33 per cent increase in peak-hour capacity on the sub-surface network. Which, since it makes up 40 per cent of the network, is a pretty big deal.

Cool.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and also has a Facebook page now for some reason. 

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Marseille and Paris are crawling with rats. But it’s your problem too

A Parisian rat. Image: Getty.

You can very easily have a fine time in Marseille, but it is likely to be interrupted by rats.

The bloated and brazen beasts are so utterly convinced they own the place that they barely register any human presence to distract from their hedonistic excesses – throwing wild street parties, burrowing holes in overflowing bins, and darting in and out of exclusive harbourfront restaurants. We only really intrude when the occasional, blissfully oblivious rat is splattered across the cobblestones by a scooter.

For many residents, the whiskery foes have gone some way beyond a nuisance to represent a genuine menace. Rats have infested schools and taken over canteens. Pest control services claim they have broken into cars and gnawed through cables, which may have contributed to accidents. It is also alleged that they have caused Internet outages by attacking fibre-optic cables – continuing the venerable horror movie tradition of cutting the power seen in Aliens and Jurassic Park. Rats are also infamous and prolific traffickers of disease and have raised the threat of Leptospirosis.

Rat populations are fiendishly difficult to quantify, given their nocturnal lifestyle and that many live off-grid in the sewers; but by some estimates they now outnumber Marseille’s human inhabitants. Distress calls from the public to the city’s sanitation department and pest control services have increased, and the unofficial fifth emergency service has expanded its operations in response, laying poison traps and sweeping the gutters.

Several factors have contributed to the rat supremacy. Marseille’s Mediterranean climate has always been hospitable to rats, and a series of unusually warm summers – often passing 30°C – have made it more so. (Rats tend to stop breeding when it’s cold.)

City officials also bemoan the wanton waste disposal habits of their citizens, which have allowed large and easily accessible piles of appetising trash to accumulate. Marseille’s councillor for hygiene Monique Daubet recently complained the city has become a “five-star restaurant for rats”.

Others have suggested a series of strikes by garbage collectors gave the rat population a turbo charge it barely needed. A single pair of brown rats can spawn more than a thousand descendants within a year.

That formidable birth rate is one indicator of what the city is up against: the urban rat is almost a perfect predator. Millennia of human ingenuity has failed to remove them from our midst or negate the threats they pose. Rats are supreme survivors – scientists marvel at their survival on nuclear test sites – and they thrive in the most inhospitable environments. They can eat practically anything, but are neophobic, meaning they shy away from all but the most devious poison traps. The rodents are intelligent, resilient, and their ability to colonise new habitats rivals our own.

Faced with this adversary, the local authority has assigned more resources to the fight, through both the city’s sanitation department and the private extermination service A3DS. Both are reluctant to discuss their tactics and whether they are having an impact. But officials are also taking a tough line on public responsibility, insisting that residents dispose of trash after 7pm in sealed bags or face fines. The city has also proposed measures such as mobile dumps and new model bins that rats should find harder to access.

The Marseillais are also keeping a close eye on events in the capital: Paris’ rat problem may be even more severe, driven by flooding from the River Seine that has forced the rodents to seek higher ground. In recent years, rats have overrun the Louvre and forced the closure of public parks, as well as starring in viral video nasties that do little for the city’s image as the capital of romance.


Paris mayor Anne Hidalgo has sounded the alarm and invested millions of euros in a campaign against rats, which has seen thousands of raids in hundreds of parks and buildings, as well as the introduction of more secure bins, and fines levied against people accused of feeding the enemy. Her administration has also despatched an envoy to New York to study the city’s approach to its own notorious rodent community.

An international approach makes sense given that rats are on the march all around the world. Reported sightings have shot up in New York, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco, and Washington. One study estimated that rats inflict $19 billion of economic damage each year in the US alone. London has also seen an increase in reported sightings. Leading rodentologist Bobby Corrigan says the same patterns are playing out in the major cities of the Americas, Europe, Asia, and Australia.

And for much the same reasons. Contributing factors include “too few resources allocated an organised program for rat control,” says Corrigan. “Also, more people in our cities means more refuse, more overloading of the city’s sanitation budgets, less thorough removal of the kind of food shrapnel that escapes typical garbage collection. Each rat only needs about 30 grams of food per 24 hours to thrive and reproduce.” A warming climate also plays a part.

Poison traps and culls can only go so far, says the rodentologist, arguing that a holistic approach is required to head off the growing threat. “The best measure is a city organised in addressing the rats across all agencies,” says Corrigan. That means mobilising departments of sanitation, parks, housing, health, and sewers, as well as mayoral administrations themselves.

Society-wide civic participation is also essential. “Controlling rats takes everyone: every homeowner, shop owner, restaurant, grocery store, airport, and so on. Not to do so invites the risk of a “new and/or highly virulent virus” developing among our old enemies, he adds.

Research into sterilisation programmes offers some hope of a new weapon to repel and reduce the rodent hordes. But not enough for us to evade responsibility while rat populations grow and the threat increases. “If we don’t work together as the wise species we claim to be and present a scientific, multi-faceted organised effort against this very smart and organised smaller mammal, we can have no hope of defeating it,” says Corrigan. Time to man the barricades.