diamond geezer

 Thursday, December 17, 2020

Once upon a time the tube map only showed the tube, but inexorably it's become a TfL map instead. The DLR appeared in 1987, the Overground in 2007, TfL Rail in 2015 and, more questionably, the cablecar in 2012, the trams in 2016 and river piers in 2019. But TfL have now gone one step further and added a service they neither fund nor operate, plus 49 additional stations, as Thameslink squeezes in.
» press release/jpg/pdf/video

It's not as intrusive as it could be because the designers picked a weak purply-pink colour and used a dashed line. Also most of the new stations are south of the river where the map's always had more space. But it is still quite intrusive... and depending on your point of view also quite welcome.

The core section of Thameslink originally appeared on the tube map between 1987 and 1999 as a freshly-hatched connection across the heart of zone 1. Since then it's been absent but TfL finally have bowed to pressure for Thameslink's return, in its entirety, for reasons of pandemic safety. The official reason is to "illustrate more through London travel options while customers need to maintain social distancing", i.e. a diagrammatic reminder that this high-frequency service exists. It's ironic that the new map was launched on the same day London entered tier 3 and TfL had to advise passengers not to travel.

At present this is only a temporary addition, the plan being to review the situation at the end of 2021 and then decide whether Thameslink stays or goes. No paper maps will be released until next month, either in poster or pocket form. Even the digital version wasn't readily available yesterday, with the TfL website still linking to the old one and the press release being text only.

Thameslink's core section is likely to be the most useful addition. This starts at King's Cross St Pancras... or King's Cross & St Pancras International as it's suddenly been rebranded. The station already had six lines and three blobs, now it has seven and four. Thameslink then has to curve around the three tube blobs to reach Farringdon. A simpler right-hand alignment could have been used if Farringdon's blobs all were the same colour, but they're not so it can't.

City Thameslink is the only extra station in Zone 1 and is shown with a walking connection to St Paul's. Pick the right exit and they're about 500m apart. At Blackfriars the Thameslink station spans the Thames so someone's decided its blob should be on the southern bank, which perhaps makes interchange with the tube look longer than it really is. The line then promptly splits, aiming for either Elephant & Castle or London Bridge. The London Bridge connection will be especially useful when most of the Bank branch of the Northern line shuts for several months next year as part of a capacity upgrade, and this closure may also have encouraged Thameslink's inclusion on the 2021 map.

But the real gamechanger is that TfL haven't just stuck to portraying the core, they've included every Thameslink station in zones 1 to 6. This means two branches head north from King's Cross, one heading for (but not reaching) St Albans, the other aiming for Welwyn Garden City. The St Albans branch weaves untidily across five existing lines because it had to somehow link Kentish Town to West Hampstead. All three West Hampstead stations are now shown separately on the map, adding to the clutter. The line extends as far as Elstree & Borehamwood, which is in Zone 6 but not in London. Meanwhile the Welwyn branch almost slips into the gap between the Northern and Piccadilly lines, but the Finsbury Park connection adds considerable kink.

South of the river the twistiness is even more extreme, mitigated (as previously mentioned) by the paucity of existing stations. The express connection between central London and East Croydon appears on the map for the first time, which is dead useful, but the existing tram loop gets in the way somewhat and the continuation through Purley and Coulsdon runs perpendicular to reality. Also dead useful is the connection between London Bridge and Greenwich, which'll hopefully encourage future tourists to go the quick way rather than take the DLR. This particular branch continues through the existing DLR blob at Woolwich and the future Crossrail terminus at Abbey Wood as far as Dartford, bringing the borough of Bexley and the county of Kent onto the tube map for the very first time.

The other southeastern branch cuts across Lewisham towards Bromley South and again reaches Kent. It's unclear why Swanley and Dartford, both in zone 8, have been included on the map, but residents won't be complaining. Some of the stations on this line are really quiet by TfL standards, for example Ravensbourne and Beckenham Hill both have fewer passengers than Roding Valley. But the new map's three least used stations are all on the Sutton Loop, namely Morden South, South Merton and St Helier. This quiet circuit usually merits only two services an hour, way below the sixteen through the core, but its appearance does mark the tube map debut of trains in Sutton.

49 extra stations out of 509 in total means that 10% of the new tube map isn't run by TfL. They've even gone to the effort of pointing this out in the key, reminding anyone seeking mobility assistance to contact Thameslink instead. The key also mentions that Heathrow Terminal 4 is closed until further notice, as is the Waterloo & City line, and that there's currently no Night Tube or Night Overground service, Truly these are extraordinary times.

Now I have some queries.

Thameslink also operate a service on the East Grinstead line, but only at peak times, which may be why Sanderstead, Riddlesdown and Upper Warlingham haven't been included. But the map's designers have included New Barnet, Oakleigh Park and New Southgate on the map despite the fact they don't currently have any Thameslink trains at all. Plans exist to introduce a peak stopping service from Sevenoaks to Welwyn Garden City but this hasn't yet been introduced, nor is there a date to do so because the usual December timetable changeover has been indefinitely postponed. Why are these three stations on the map when the other three aren't?

Also the interchange circles at New Barnet and New Southgate are niggling me. Individual interchange blobs are an endangered species on the existing tube map as wheelchair blobs supersede them, but several linger on, for example at Amersham, Bushey and West Ruislip. Usually they mark a connection to an unseen service, or appear at the end of a line where an unseen service continues. I can see why Catford, Nunhead, Shortlands and Bickley might have been given interchange blobs in southeast London but I don't understand the rationale for New Barnet and New Southgate. Thameslink trains continue off the edge of the map, no lines diverge and I can see no practical interchanges to make. This is overkill, and the Welwyn branch would look much less intrusive were it blobless.

Which brings me to the little red National Rail symbols. Previously these indicated connections to National Rail services, which was pretty unambiguous. But Thameslink is a National Rail service, so what are they indicating here? On TfL Rail, which set a precedent, red symbols appeared at all the stations which shared services with other operators. But that's not the logic which has been applied to the Thameslink addition. If New Barnet and New Southgate have red symbols then Oakleigh Park should have one too. How can Charlton have one and Bromley South not? Why is Purley with and Coulsdon South without? Most mysteriously why did Woolwich Arsenal have a red symbol on the previous map but no longer does? Tube map rules applied inconsistently to a new rail line merely add clutter, and there's quite enough of that on the map already.

And where do you stop? If the rationale is to include National Rail services charging TfL fares then the line out of Fenchurch Street should be included, not to mention Stratford to Meridian Water and the Greenford branch. Or if it's really about frequency and capacity then Great Northern services out of Moorgate should make an appearance - they've been on the map before - along with the key connection from Victoria to Clapham Junction and beyond. It's no use arguing there isn't room, the tube map's already managed to leap from 200-and-something stations to 500-and-something without TfL's designers deciding enough is enough. Until Chessington South, Clock House and Crews Hill appear, is it even a proper tube map... whatever that used to be?

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