diamond geezer

 Friday, September 22, 2023

A lot has been added to the tube map in recent years. Accessibility blobs, walking connections, cablecars, trams, river piers and most recently Thameslink, all have been shoehorned into an increasingly cluttered diagram. But whatever ridiculous woke nonsense have they added now?


That's right, the latest incarnation of the tube map includes snowflake symbols and uses them to show lines with air-conditioned trains.

The Circle, District, Hammersmith & City and Metropolitan lines all have air-conditioned trains, indeed every train on these lines has been air-cooled since 2017. In hot weather these are the tube lines that'll offer you a more comfortable temperate journey, the other tube lines less so, mainly because they have older rolling stock and it's more difficult to apply aircon technology in narrow deep tube tunnels. Meanwhile the DLR doesn't yet offer aircon (but will start doing so next year when new trains arrive) and Crossrail's had it baked in since the start.

You may be thinking 'yes I know all this' but not everybody does, hence TfL's decision to add snowflakes to the tube map. Selecting the coolest trains is not necessarily a practical way to make decisions when route planning, but better to know than not know would be the designers' rationale. Also the snowflake symbol isn't littering the actual diagram, only the key, because aircon is a feature which applies only to lines not individual stations. In terms of clutter it has a minimal effect.

Things get a little sillier further down the key. Yes the Overground has aircon and so does Thameslink, that's great. But the need to be consistent means a snowflake also has to be used on the piddly Olympia branch with its intermittent weekend services and paltry half dozen weekday trains, and no sane traveller is ever going change their journey based on this information. Splitting the Overground into six separate lines will also require six separate snowflakes so steel yourself for that. Also note that the snowflake symbol has to be explained at the bottom of the list, indeed what we have here is a sub-key to explain the meaning of a symbol used only in the key.

You won't have seen these snowflakes if you've picked up a paper map or checked a poster in a tube station, because these were last produced in May 2023 and aircon wasn't a thing then. The change has only happened on the online map, as you can see if you visit the scrollable version or download the latest pdf. This is clever because it means TfL could add the snowflakes in summer and take them away again in winter, indeed by the time the next printed tube map comes out in December aircon won't be of any general interest whatsoever.

Technically this is the 'August 2023' tube map, it says so in the filename, so it must have appeared on the TfL website last month. What's odd is that nobody noticed, and even more odd that TfL didn't mention it themselves. Their press office is normally well on top of these kinds of things, or at the very least one of their social media channels would have tweeted it excitedly along with an avalanche of snowflake emojis. Instead there was absolutely zero fanfare, the updated map just slipped silently out.

The earliest evidence I can find that anybody noticed the snowflakes was an Instagram account called thetubemap which posted a cutaway of the frozen key on 6th September. This reached the attention of Geoff Marshall on 9th September, at which point online scavengers MyLondon wrote a so-called news article compiled from responses to his tweet and other circumstantial banter. As far as I can tell the only other news medium to have written about the snowflakes is LBC on 11th September, and since then there's been nothing. If TfL's press office hasn't spoonfed it, most transport news never happens.

What isn't clear is what happens next. Will the snowflakes disappear from the map once autumn settles in and the chance of a heatwave drops to zero or is this a permanent addition, clogging up the key all year round? Many's the extra symbol that looked temporary but is somehow still with us. I can see TfL keeping them as a marker of how up-to-date their trains are, although no additional lines will merit a symbol for 100% aircon any time soon. We'll have a much better idea of their permanence when the December tube map appears - are snowflakes just for summer or does some idiot think they're also for Christmas?

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