Pretty much everyone still calls the Elizabeth line Crossrail

And she looks so happy, too. Image: Getty.

For decades now, the authorities have been planning a new east-west tunnel under London, linking the main line from the west of the capital into Paddington with the main line from the east into Liverpool Street.

And for decades now, this plan has been referred to as Crossrail. The name seems first to have appeared in the 1974 London Rail Study. It was attached to more proposals in the early 1990s.

When construction of the new line was finally approved, it was in the Crossrail Act 2008. The company tasked with building the new line was a wholly owned subsidiary of Transport for London, trading under the name Crossrail Ltd. Another proposed line, which will carry trains on a south-west/north-east axis, from Surrey to Hertfordshire, is currently known by the name Crossrail 2.

So anyway: the new line is called Crossrail. Everybody knows it’s called Crossrail. What else could we possibly call it?

Image: TFL.

Oh.

It’s more than two years ago now that we learned that London’s new railway line would be named the Elizabeth Line, as if naming things after someone who wasn’t dead was in any way a not creepy thing to do in a democracy. The new name will be on tube maps and wayfinding signs. The new line will be the Elizabeth Line, and not Crossrail.

Yet there are signs that this information has yet to filter through to the public at large. Check out this graph showing the popularity search terms since 2004, courtesy of Google Trends. The blue line is searches for “Crossrail”; the red is searches for “Elizabeth line”.  See if you can spot the point at the TfL announced the latter of those names.

Click to expand. Image: Google Trends.

That happened in February 2016, so comparing the two names before then is a point pointless. Zoom in on those last two and a bit years, though, and you can see that much the same pattern holds: people are much more likely to search Crossrail than the Elizabeth Line.

Click to expand. Image: Google Trends.

There are two big peaks in searches for “the Elizabeth line”. The first, in February 2016, was when the name was first announced. The second is last December, when TfL first released a tube map showing how the Elizabeth Line would look on the map when it officially comes into being next December. The bump in both search terms, in late May and early June of 2017, coincides with the broadcast of a documentary about the new line, The Fifteen Billion Pound Railway: The Final Countdown.

To be fair, these graph is worldwide. There are other proposals known as Crossrail elsewhere in the world: in Glasgow, Edinburgh and New York, to name but three.  So what happens if we just look at the English data?

Click to expand. Image: Google Trends.

Riiiight.

Things will no doubt change once the thing opens, and people encounter the maps and the signage and so on. But as things stand, whatever TfL might think, the new line is still known as Crossrail, as it has been for 44 years.

Incidentally:

Click to expand. Image: Google Trends.

Not everyone lives in London, you know. But everyone Googling about Crossrail/the Elizabeth Line? Well, they pretty much do.

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

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Could twin towns bring Britain back together?

An unlikely pair. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Twin towns: an irrelevant novelty to most of us, a peculiar name on a village’s welcome sign. But could linking one British town to another – a domestic reinterpretation of this long-standing European practice – help bring Britain back together in a time of national crisis?

Born in the aftermath of World War II, town twinning aimed to foster cooperation and solidarity across Europe. Communities entered formal alliances, nurturing friendships and shared histories. Coventry forged links with Dresden and Volgograd, then Stalingrad, marking the devastation faced by their citizens during the war.

The democratisation of Greece, Spain and Portugal during the 1970s led to a new wave of twin towns across Europe, as did the fall of the Soviet Union a decade later. Since its inception, the focus of town twinning has been on uniting people through relationships. It is a testament to the initiative’s success that many of these remain to this day; Coventry recently enjoyed a performance at the city’s cathedral by Volgograd’s children’s choir.

While European relations have improved since the 1940s, unity at home has received less attention. As a result, Britain is riven with deep economic, political, educational and cultural divides. These fault lines are increasingly determined by geography, with a growing gap between our big metropolitan cities and almost everywhere else.

In comparison to other European countries, we face staggering levels of regional inequality; six of the ten poorest regions in northern Europe can been found in the UK. As outlined by Alan Milburn, the government’s former social mobility tsar, “the country seems to be in the grip of a self-reinforcing spiral of ever-growing division. That takes a spatial form, not just a social one.”

These divisions are poisoning our body politic. As Adam Smith argued in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, putting yourself in someone else's shoes is vital for developing a moral compass; in doing so "we conceive ourselves enduring all the same torments, we enter as it were into his body, and become in some measure the same person with him..." But this is difficult when we have little interaction or experience of those with opposing views.

This is increasingly likely in geographically polarised Britain, with the places we live dominated by people who think alike. Our political leaders must commit time and energy to bridging these divides, just as the leaders of Europe did in the aftermath of the Second World War. By forging links between different parts of the country, a new era of domestic town twinning would do just that.


School exchanges between sister towns would offer an opportunity for children to be exposed to places, people and perspectives very different to their own. This would allow future generations to see things from an alternative and opposing perspective. It may also embed from a young age an awareness of the diversity of experiences seen by people across our highly unequal country.

MPs would be encouraged to spend time in their constituency’s sister town. First-hand exposure to voters in a very different part of the country would surely soften the views of even the most entrenched parliamentarian, making for a more civil debate in the Commons. Imagine the good this would do for Parliament today, with Brexit gridlocked because of the unwillingness of MPs to compromise.

In 2016 the Carnegie UK Trust launched its Twin Towns UK programme, a pilot linking twenty towns across the UK to examine how they might develop together. Emerging benefits include a reduction of insularity and a greater awareness of the bigger picture. Its focus was not on bridging economic divides – towns with similar socioeconomic characteristics were twinned – but initial outcomes from the scheme suggest a broader programme of domestic town twinning could have a powerful impact.

Looking further back, Camden has been twinned with Doncaster since the 1980s, a relationship that unionised Camden Town Hall workers forged in a display of solidarity with striking miners during the 1980s. Funds were raised to feed families of striking workers at the pit and Camden locals even drove north to deliver presents at Christmas. Though the relationship appears less active today, it serves as a powerful reminder of twinning’s capacity to bring people from very different places together.

As we prepare for Brexit it’s imperative that we protect existing twin town relationships with our European partners. This is of vital importance when we know sadly many of these are under threat from austerity and gloriously un-PC mayors. But we should look to breathe new life into these traditions too, where possible. Domestic town twinning would do just that: a step towards bringing Britain back together, just as a continent was reunited after the devastation of war.

Ben Glover is a researcher at the think tank Demos.