This old map of London's rail network shows how much has changed in 25 years

My eyes! My eyes! The 1988 London Connections Map. Image: London Transport/Network South East.

Think the new tube map has too much orange on it, do you? Pah. You don't know you're born.

Check out this cheeky little number: a London Connections map, c1988. It shows every heavy rail line in the capital in the same day glow shade. It's like there's been an explosion in a Sunny Delight factory.

The reason they're all the same colour is that they all had the same operator. Network Southeast was one of three "sectors" of the national rail operator, British Rail, that existed from 1982 until privatisation in 1994. (The others, since you ask, were Intercity for fast services, and Regional Railways for literally everything else.) NSE was in charge of basically the entirety of the London commuter network, covering the whole of the Home Counties and a few places beyond.

Hence, tube lines get their own unique colours; everything else is just orange.

Look closely, in fact, and the map does attempt to distinguish between different levels of services in a way its contemporary replacements rarely do. For one thing, it shows stopping services in plain orange, but adds a thin black line to show that express services serve the same route.

That leads to the slightly awkward symbol at the bottom of this list...

...which shows that even though a station is an interchange, the fast trains zip right on through. So you can see that the expresses to Paddington stop at Slough, but not at Ealing Broadway:


The map also uses a slightly different form (oooh, hollow tram lines) for the “North London Link” that nearly 20 years later would form the first phase of the London Overground. Why this then neglected line qualified for such special treatment is not exactly clear.

Back in 1988, though, this line continued beyond Stratford to North Woolwich, and also had a part time branch to Liverpool Street – a remnant of the days when the line had been a suburban service, terminating at the neighbouring Broad Street station:


The map also uses orange-in-black-lines to represent the Thameslink service across London, which in 1988 at least had the advantage of being brand new. You can tell it's new, because Holborn Viaduct station is still there but its irritatingly named replacement, City Thameslink, isn't.


So what else can this map tell us about this lost civilisation or primitive Londoners?

Well, in the late 1980s, Docklands was only just becoming a thing. There's no Canary Wharf yet, and the DLR is tiny, with no branches to Bank or Lewisham or the Royal Docks. The map doesn't even bother showing the Isle of Dogs, instead making the Thames almost a straight line.

The Hammersmith & City line is still branded as a branch of the Metropolitan (that wouldn't change until 1990). The Waterloo & City still part of British Rail (1994). And the Jubilee line ends at Charing Cross (1999).

Then there's the East London Line, which in the late 1980s was still a tiny purple stub that wasn't much use to anyone (that didn't change until 2010). Also, Surrey Quays is still Surrey Docks: that would change in 1989, in what is very possibly the single most baffling bit of rebranding any tube station has ever undergone.

There's no Tramlink either, with some of the lines that it would swallow being branches of local NSE services.


But there are still tubes to Ongar and Aldwych. And main line trains still stop at Westbourne Park.

All in all, it was a simpler time. We were poor then. But ah, we were happy.

No, hang on, that's not true at all, a lot of these trains were rubbish, weren't they? Never mind.

This is the latest installment in CityMetric's increasingly shameless attempt to prove that Londoners will click on any story with a tube map on it. For more in this series, please click here.

To see a larger version of this map, click here


Here’s a fantasy metro network for Birmingham & the West Midlands

Birmingham New Street. Image: Getty.

Another reader writes in with their fantasy transport plans for their city. This week, we’re off to Birmingham…

I’ve read with interest CityMetric’s previous discussion on Birmingham’s poor commuter service frequency and desire for a “Crossrail” (here and here). So I thought I’d get involved, but from a different angle.

There’s a whole range of local issues to throw into the mix before getting the fantasy metro crayons out. Birmingham New Street is shooting up the passenger usage rankings, but sadly its performance isn’t, with nearly half of trains in the evening rush hour between 5pm and 8pm five minutes or more late or even cancelled. This makes connecting through New Street a hit and, mainly, miss affair, which anyone who values their commuting sanity will avoid completely. No wonder us Brummies drive everywhere.

There are seven local station reopening on the cards, which have been given a helping hand by a pro-rail mayor. But while these are super on their own, each one alone struggles to get enough traffic to justify a frequent service (which is key for commuters); or the wider investment needed elsewhere to free up more timetable slots, which is why the forgotten cousin of freight gets pushed even deeper into the night, in turn giving engineering work nowhere to go at all.

Suburban rail is the less exciting cousin of cross country rail. But at present there’s nobody to “mind the gap” between regional cross-country focussed rail strategy , and the bus/tram orientated planning of individual councils. (Incidentally, the next Midland Metro extension, from Wednesbury to Brierley Hill, is expected to cost £450m for just 11km of tram. Ouch.)

So given all that, I decided to go down a less glamorous angle than a Birmingham Crossrail, and design a Birmingham  & Black Country Overground. Like the London Overground, I’ve tried to join up what we’ve already got into a more coherent service and make a distinct “line” out of it.

Click to expand. 

With our industrial heritage there are a selection of old alignments to run down, which would bring a suburban service right into the heart of the communities it needs to serve, rather than creating a whole string of “park & rides” on the periphery. Throw in another 24km of completely new line to close up the gaps and I’ve run a complete ring of railway all the way around Birmingham and the Black Country, joining up with HS2 & the airport for good measure – without too much carnage by the way of development to work around/through/over/under.

Click to expand. 

While going around with a big circle on the outside, I found a smaller circle inside the city where the tracks already exist, and by re-creating a number of old stations I managed to get within 800m of two major hospitals. The route also runs right under the Birmingham Arena (formerly the NIA), fixing the stunning late 1980s planning error of building a 16,000 capacity arena right in the heart of a city centre, over the railway line, but without a station. (It does have two big car parks instead: lovely at 10pm when a concert kicks out, gridlocks really nicely.)

From that redraw the local network map and ended up with...

Click to expand. 

Compare this with the current broadly hub-and-spoke network, and suddenly you’ve opened up a lot more local journey possibilities which you’d have otherwise have had to go through New Street to make. (Or, in reality, drive.) Yours for a mere snip at £3bn.

If you want to read more, there are detailed plans and discussion here (signup required).