Mapped: “Crossrail 2”, and a century of failing to bring London’s tube network to Hackney

A mock up of how Crossrail 2 might appear on the tube map. Image: Alex Hern/New Statesman/TfL.

The east London borough of Hackney is famous for two things: an almost unbearable concentration of hipsters, and the complete lack of tube stations anywhere within* its boundaries. Somewhere, out there in the great beyond, there's almost certainly a pseud-y theory connecting those two facts, but this is neither the time nor the place.

Hackney's lack of a tube station is, like so much else in the physical fabric of London, a historical accident: if things had played out slightly differently, at any one of several different points in time, it would have had a tube decades ago.

The first attempt to bring the underground to Hackney came in the great tube building boom of the early 20th century. The City & North East Suburban Railway, proposed by the American financier John Pierpont Morgan, would have run from Waltham Abbey to Monument via Walthamstow and Hackney.

Here, with a little help from CityMetric's ultra-high tech mapping department, is a map. Hackney is the bit in red:

Image: CityMetric/Google.

 

This was actually just one of a network of three lines proposed by Morgan. Another would have run from Hammersmith via Cannon Street to Southgate; a third from Marble Arch to Clapham Junction.

None of this stuff got built thanks to the manoeuvres of a rival American financier, Charles Tyson Yerkes. Yerkes' own group was rather more successful in getting tubes built –the Bakerloo, the Piccadilly, and the West End branch of the Northern line are all his – but, as it turns out, the cuddly old capitalist managed to block as many as he built, so thanks for that Charles.


Anyway, long story short: Hackney didn't get its tube. Then, in the wake of two world wars, the growth of London’s tube network slowed substantially, and so it kept not getting it.

By the 1970s, people were finally starting to think this was a bit silly, and with what would become the Jubilee line tunnelling its way under the West End, the authorities started to think about what would come next. One option, proposed in the 1974 London Rail Study, was the Chelsea-Hackney line, which would have wiggled its way across town via Victoria, Waterloo, Holborn and Shoreditch.

By that time, though, the game had changed. Whereas the generation of Morgan and Yerkes had speculatively sent railways into open countryside on the assumption that suburban development would catch up with them, by the 1970s, the green belt meant that London’s physical extent was pretty much fixed. Ploughing new lines into existing residential suburbs was out; taking over existing branches was in.

So the 1974 proposals would have seen the line swallow up the Hainault branch of the Central line and the Wimbledon branch of the District. Here’s a map of the central London section:

Image: CityMetric/Google.

 

That one (spoilers) didn't happen either: the plan had to battle for attention with a Jubilee Line extension and Crossrail, and didn’t fare well. But the idea of some form of Chelsea-Hackney line persisted, and various proposals for a “Chelney” route popped up over and over again over the next few decades.

In 1991, the following route was “safeguarded” – that is, any construction projects that would have got in its way were blocked:

Image: London Transport/public domain.

 

But that safeguarding didn’t do a whole lot of good in terms of building the thing either.

Nor, come to that, did the 1995 consultation London Underground conducted on the following routes. As well as the Central and District lines, this would have swallowed up chunks of the North London Railway (now the Overground).

Image: John Rowland, who did extensive work documenting all this stuff in the late 1990s, and who is largely responsible for my having turned mucking around with maps into a career in the first place.

 

Anyway – those didn't happen either, obviously, and Crossrail got off the ground first. And so, when the idea of an underground railway through Hackney inevitably reared its head yet again, it was now under the new smiling-hopefully-at-financiers moniker of “Crossrail 2”.

In 2008, a slightly different route was safeguarded, but this turned out to be a bit quixotic – partly because the world banking system had just imploded, but also because the national government soon decided that the new High Speed 2 railway would terminate at Euston, and a new underground railway which missed it by a mile wasn't likely to please anyone.

So, everyone went back to the drawing board once again.

In 2010, a freedom of information request would later reveal, Transport for London started looking into a whole panoply of possible routes. There was the “basically just a tube line” version:

 

The “regional railway” version:

 

And the “sod it, let's just go to Southend” one:

 

In 2013, a consortium including the London First pressure group and Labour peer Lord Adonis started pushing for its own version of Crossrail 2. This was basically just the regional railway version of the above, and we mention it here mostly because one-time New Statesman writer Alex Hern decided to see what it would look like on the tube map, and if you haven't worked it out by now, this whole post is just a colossal excuse to run a load of maps:

 

That consortium wasn't in any way official – but was clearly influential, because in October 2014 TfL launched its own consultation on a route which looked like this:

Then a few weeks back it thought again and produced this version, showing a few possible variations (Wood Green instead of Turnpike Lane; Balham instead of Tooting):

Which brings us up to the present day.

So. More than 100 years and umpteen maps later, London is still trying to get an underground railway beneath the streets of Hackney.

Something has changed since those earlier efforts, though. In the Morgan version of the plan – even in the proposals discussed in the 1970s or 1990s – the Chelney route was primarily a transport link, intended to speed up travel between the suburbs and the city centre.

Crossrail 2 is still that, of course, but it's something else, too. By improving transport links in the Lea Valley and elsewhere it'll also allow more housing development there – something that'll be vital as the city's population edges ever closer to 10m.

Will Hackney finally gets its tube? The stars seem to be aligned this time – City Hall, TfL and London's business interests are all keen for this to be the next major scheme to get spades in the ground. But we've been disappointed before. Ask us in another century.

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*Note for the pedantic: Old Street and Manor House stations both sit on the borough's boundary. It's also served by a plethora of London Overgound stations, but let's not over complicate this.

 
 
 
 

To see how a city embraces remote work, just look to Helsinki

A deeply rooted culture of trust is crucial to the success of remote work. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

When I speak to Anssi Salminen, an account manager who lives an hour outside Helsinki, he’s working from a wooden platform on the edge of a Finnish lake. With a blanket laid out and his laptop set up, the sun low in the sky, Anssi’s remote work arrangement seems blissful. 

“I spend around half of my time working somewhere else other than the office,” he says. “I can work from home, or on the go, and I also travel to the Netherlands once a month and work from there.

“The emphasis in my work has always been that it doesn’t matter when or where I work, as long as I get things done.”

For many people around the world, the shift to remote work was sudden, sparked by the coronavirus pandemic. Finland, however, is finding the transition much less significant. Before Covid-19, the Nordic nation already displayed impressive levels of remote working, with 14.1% of its workforce reporting usually working from home. Only the Netherlands has a comparable percentage of remote workers, while the UK lagged behind at 4.7%, and the US’s remote workforce lingered at around 3.6%

Anssi works for one of many Helsinki-based companies that offers its employees flexible policies around when and where they work. That arrangement is in part due to the Finnish capital’s thriving start-up scene. In spite of being a relatively small city by global standards it is home to over 500 technology start-ups. These companies are leading the way when it comes to keeping employees connected wherever they choose to work.

“Our company has a completely location-free working policy,” says Kasper Pöyry, the CEO of Helsinki-headquartered software company Gapps. “All meetings are made available for online participants and facilitated accordingly. Some employees have worked extensively from abroad on a working holiday, whilst others prefer the comfort and social aspects of the well-stocked office. Whatever works for our employees is what works for the company.”

Like Gapps, many Helsinki-based firms are deeply preoccupied with providing the necessary technology to attract talent in a vast and sparsely populated country. Finland has only 15 inhabitants per square kilometre, and companies understand that in order to compose teams of specialised expertise, they may have to seek talent outside of the city. Local governments take a similarly proactive stance toward technological access, and Helsinki offers free, unrestricted, high-speed Wi-Fi from city-wide hotspots, while the country as a whole boasts some of the best coverage in Europe. 

But encouraging remote work isn’t just about optimising the potential of Finland’s workforce – companies in Helsinki also recognise that flexibility has clear benefits for both staff and employees. 

“The idea of a good work-life balance is ingrained in Finnish culture,” says Johannes Anttila, a consultant at organisational think tank Demos Helsinki. “It goes back to our rich history of social dialogue between labour unions and employers, but also to an interest in delineating the rules of working life and pushing towards people being able to enjoy their private life. Helsinki has been named the best city in the world for work-life balance, and I think that this underlies a lot of the mentality around remote work.” 

For Peter Seenan, the extent to which Helsinki residents value their free time and prioritise a work-life balance prompted his move to the city ten years ago. He now works for Finnair, and points to Finland’s summer cottages as an example of how important taking time to switch off is for people in the country. These rural residences, where city residents regularly uproot to enjoy the Nordic countryside, are so embedded in Finnish life that the country boasts around 1.8 million of them for its 5.5 million residents

“Flexible and remote work are very important to me because it means that I don’t feel like I’m getting stuck in a routine that I can’t control easily,” he says. “When I’m working outside of the office I’ll go down to my local sauna and go ice swimming during the working day, typically at lunchtime or mid-morning, and I’ll feel rejuvenated afterwards… In winter time especially, flexibility is important because it makes it easier to go outside during daylight hours. It’s certainly beneficial for my physical and mental health, and as a result my productivity improves.”

The relaxed attitude to working location seems to pay off – Finland is regularly named the happiest country in the world, scoring highly on measures such as how often its residents exercise and how much leisure time they enjoy. With large swathes of unspoiled countryside and a national obsession with the outdoors, sustainability is at the forefront of its inhabitants’ minds, leading to high levels of support for measures to limit commuting. In January, Finland passed a new Working Hours Act, the goal of which was to help better coordinate employee’s work and leisure time. Central to this is cementing in law that employees can independently decide how, when, and where they work.

Yet enacting the new ruling is not as simple as just sending employees home with their laptops. For Kirsimarja Blomqvist, a professor of knowledge management at LUT University, perhaps the most fundamental feature that remote work relies upon is a deeply rooted culture of trust, which Helsinki’s residents speak of with pride. The anecdotal evidence is backed up by data which suggests that Finland boasts one of the highest levels of trust and social cohesion in Europe, and equality and transparency have always been key cornerstones of political thought in the country.

“Trust is part of a national culture in Finland – it’s important and people value it highly,” she explains. “There’s good job independence, and people are valued in terms of what they do, not how many hours they work for. Organisations tend to be non-hierarchical, and there is a rich history of cooperation between trade unions, employers, and employees to set up innovative working practices and make workers feel trusted and valued. 

“It’s now important that we ensure that this trust can continue to be built over technology, when workers might have been more used to building it face-to-face.”

As companies begin to look hopefully toward a post-Covid future, the complexities of remote work are apparent. Yet amid issues of privacy, presenteeism, and social isolation, the Helsinki model demonstrates the potential benefits of a distanced working world. The adjustment to remote work, if continued after the crisis, offers a chance to improve companies’ geographical diversity and for employers to demonstrate trust in their workforce. On these issues, Blomqvist believes other cities and employers can learn a lot from Helsinki.

“People are now beginning to return to their workplaces, but even as they do they are starting to consider the crisis as a jumping point to an even more remote future,” she says. “The coronavirus pandemic has been an eye-opener, and people are now interested in learning from Finland’s good practices… We are able to see the opportunity, and the rapid transition to remote work will allow other countries to do the same.”