diamond geezer

 Wednesday, July 03, 2013

It was confirmed yesterday that TfL plans to take over three of the West Anglia lines out of Liverpool Street. That's the line to Chingford, the line to Enfield Town and one of the lines to Cheshunt. Not the line via Tottenham Hale to Stansted and Cambridge - that stays under Greater Anglia control. But the other lines will be operated under a concession, like the rest of the Overground is today, and more of London's rail network will come under central control.

If you live or commute in the area, this news may excite you. From 2015 you may start getting nicer stations, better trains and more frequent services... although don't expect instant miracles. If you live on the Cheshunt edge of Hertfordshire you may be nervous that control of your local rail service is about to pass to a Mayor you can't vote for. If you live in southeast London you may be pissed off that there are no similar plans to wrest control of your local rail service from the current franchisee. But what all the rest of us really want to know is, what's it going to look like on the tube map?

Well, maybe a bit like this.

As you can see, the projected takeover is for trains running out of Liverpool Street via Hackney Downs. Here the line splits, with one branch running north via Haringey and Enfield, and the other northeast into Waltham Forest. There'll be excellent links with the Victoria line at Seven Sisters and Walthamstow Central, both of which will then only have TfL services. But alas there won't be a half-decent interchange in Bethnal Green. Here there'll be two stations with the same name on the tube map, but an awkward distance apart, not ideal for changing trains.

Please forgive my graphical skills in knocking that very amateur diagram together. The new line will appear on the tube map with all its stations listed, including key locations like Stoke Newington and White Hart Lane, plus less well known spots like Turkey Street and Highams Park. The new line is unlikely to appear in green on the tube map - I chose green rather than orange for greater contrast. The new line will be properly drawn by experts with a computer, whereas I've used a 10-year-old program to sketch blocky rectangles in roughly the right place. And I've also used a 10 year-old map.

TfL's design experts won't be allowed to start, like I did, with a spacious simple tube map. I've stepped back to 2003, to an era before the Overground intruded, back when there was a nice big gap between the Victoria and Central lines. I did this for the sake of clarity, to communicate how simple the extra lines will be. But they won't be so simple on the 2015 map, sheesh no. Indeed they'll likely end up looking approximately as complicated as this.

Again, apologies for my substandard design skills. But what a knotty mess. There are lines everywhere... and remember, this is without 18 extra station names crammed in too. One potential problem is the over-abundance of orange in northeast London. As well as three existing Overground lines, the Central line is a worryingly similar shade of red, making it much harder to distinguish precisely which route runs where. But TfL have yet to decide whether these West Anglia lines will be taken under the Overground umbrella, and it's possible that over-complexity might be one factor that holds them back. Ollie's sketched out what 2015's in-car network diagram might look like... and it's not an easy thing to untangle.

A second big problem is that the newly adopted lines cross the existing Overground four times without a single direct hit. They miss at Shoreditch High Street, where there's no good intersection option at all. They miss at Seven Sisters, where South Tottenham's the closest station but you'd never guess from the map. They miss at Walthamstow, where Queen's Road is almost but not quite convenient for Walthamstow Central. And they miss at Hackney Central/Hackney Downs, although plans are already underway to rectify this. A £5m raised footway is to be built round the back of Amhurst Road - a little circuitous, and not directly joined to all the necessary platforms, but enough for TfL to claim this as an interchange. If the planned takeover takes place, this sub-optimal link will be the only connection between the old Overground and the new.

So hurrah for another chunk of London's rail network coming under TfL's guiding hand. But once these new lines hit the tube map, pray that someone finds a decent design solution to their display, else the days of Harry Beck's simplicity are long gone.

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