diamond geezer

 Friday, February 16, 2024

Your guide to the new Overground line names

Since the Overground launched in 2007 it's accumulated more and more lines but all have remained under a single name and all have been coloured orange on the tube map. This is great for overall brand recognition but unhelpful when trying to navigate the system or provide clarity about service issues and line closures. TfL proposed introducing individual names in 2015, mostly geographically-based, but Boris Johnson swiftly vetoed the proposal. Then in 2021 Sadiq Khan's manifesto pledged to rename the lines if he got elected.
"TfL’s London Overground network has grown considerably over recent years, and to reflect this I'll launch a programme to name individual routes, giving each its own identity."
Last year action to name the lines finally kicked off with a programme of community engagement "to understand more about the history of the network and the people it serves". Sadiq also engaged with his Commission for Diversity in the Public Realm, a body unveiled in June 2020 as a response to the Black Lives Matter protests, signalling his intent to use the opportunity to "re-tell forgotten stories" and "help educate visitors about our amazing city". Antennae twitched.

Here we are three months before the next mayoral election and the six individual line names have just been launched. They'll creep out slowly over the next six months, with a big rebranding burst during one week in August, before taking their place as separately coloured lines on the tube map. The names are as diverse as promised, indeed they're what blinkered grumps might describe as woke, and they reference women's rights, the AIDS pandemic, immigration and medieval history. The overall brand and orange roundels will remain.

» To see a map showing the new Overground lines click here.
» To see a full tube map incorporating the changes click here.

For further background about the rationale behind each renaming, the process undertaken and the individual stories being celebrated, educate yourself by digging into this page on the TfL website and this page on the TfL blog. Or read on and I'll run through the full half dozen, including the name that's cleverer than it looks, the name that smacks of desperation and the name that's geographically inept.

Lioness line             
Operates: Watford to Euston
Colour on map: yellow parallel lines
Rationale: "Honours the historic achievements and lasting legacy created by the England women's football team that continues to inspire and empower the next generation of women and girls in sport."
Relevance: Rides the wave of success of women's football and the national team in recent years. The only name nobody would have chosen 10 years ago. Arguably insufficiently enduring.
Geography: Runs through Wembley where the national stadium is.
Geographic accuracy: Unarguable. One of the two line names which work in this respect.
Political: Highlights equality. Will go down well with the wider public.
Wokerground: "Not really what Wembley Stadium is known for, where are our proud lads?"
How it'll look: One of two lines that'll still look Overgroundy on the map. Stands out well.
Typical announcement: "A reduced service is operating on the Lioness line"
Did I predict it? Not a chance.
Does it work? Sounds odd. Too zeitgeisty. I'm not a fan.

Windrush line             
Operates: Highbury & Islington to New Cross/Clapham Junction/Crystal Palace/West Croydon
Colour on map: red parallel lines
Rationale: "Honours the Windrush generation who continue to shape and enrich London's cultural and social identity today."
Relevance: A pivotal arrival which has indeed shaped modern London.
Counterbalance: None of the six line names reference London's Asian communities, and there are ½ million more of them.
Geography: Runs "through areas with strong ties to Caribbean communities such as Dalston, Peckham Rye and West Croydon".
Geographic accuracy: Pretty good, given the spread of London's black population, although the line famously sails through Brixton (where the Windrush's economic migrants first signed up) without stopping.
Political: Highlights longstanding diversity. Should go down well with the wider public.
Wokerground: Racists will hate it, so that's a plus. "I'm not riding that..."
How it'll look: One of two lines that'll still look Overgroundy on the map. Stands out well.
Typical announcement: "Until 1230, no service between Surrey Quays and New Cross on the Windrush line"
Did I predict it? Hell yes, "A Windrush line sounds very plausible."
Does it work? Of all the names, should slip into common parlance the fastest.
But... The line is so strategically located that it could have had multiple other names, including the Brunel line, the Mildmay line and the Weaver line. An embarrassment of options, but they had to go with Windrush.

Weaver line             
Operates: Liverpool Street to Enfield Town/Cheshunt/Chingford
Colour on map: maroon parallel lines
Rationale: "Celebrating an area of London known for its textile trade, which has been shaped over the centuries by a diverse group of migrant communities and individuals".
Relevance: Ticks off multiple communities - first the Huguenots, then Jewish, Irish and Bangladeshi arrivals - in the same small part of the East End.
Counterbalance: Much less relevant at the extremities in the Lea Valley (despite a nod to William Morris in Walthamstow).
Geography: "The area around Liverpool Street, Spitalfields, Bethnal Green and Hackney is known for the textile trade."
Geographic accuracy: The line runs along the southern edge of Weavers Fields, an open space in Bethnal Green, and follows the southern edge of Tower Hamlets' Weavers ward. So that's good. The Windrush line arguably runs closer.
Political: Highlights immigration in a non-controversial way, indeed most passengers will never realise the origin of the name.
Wokerground: The least likely to peeve a gammon.
How it'll look: At a stroke, the maroon colour clarifies the impenetrable tangle of orange spaghetti in northeast London.
Typical announcement: "Replacement buses are operating on the Chingford branch of the Weaver line"
Did I predict it? No, but in 2023 one reader did suggest the Huguenot line.
Does it work? Inoffensive but geographically unhelpful.

Mildmay line             
Operates: Stratford to Richmond and Clapham Junction
Colour on map: blue parallel lines
Rationale: "Honours the work of the Mildmay NHS Hospital during the HIV/AIDS crisis, making it the valued and respected place for the LGBTQ+ community it is today."
Relevance: The most likely of the six to inspire passengers to discover the story behind the name ("oh, it's the hospital Princess Di shook hands in...")
Geography: "The Mildmay line, which runs through Dalston, honours the small charitable hospital in Shoreditch."
Geographic accuracy: Utterly abysmal, as if someone at TfL didn't do their homework properly. The Mildmay Hospital is in Bethnal Green (closest station: Hoxton), nowhere near Dalston or any other Mildmay line station. Instead the Windrush line passes within 150m of the hospital and the Weaver line within 500m, so either would have been a much better candidate. The line does cross Mildmay ward in Islington and passes between streets called Mildmay Grove in Dalston, but it's supposed to be referencing the hospital and entirely misses.
Political: Cleverly ticks both the NHS and LGBTQ+ community in one name. Full marks for targeting.
Wokerground: Another progressive community slipped under the radar.
How it'll look: No longer stands out on the map, indeed the blue looks quite unOvergroundy.
Typical announcement: "The Mildmay line is part suspended between Richmond and Willesden Junction"
Did I predict it? Not in a million years.
Does it work? A bit niche. Geographically appalling, and will niggle every time I use it.
Also... The second line to be named after a tiny corner of Bethnal Green, which just feels wrong.

Suffragette line             
Operates: Gospel Oak to Barking Riverside
Colour on map: green parallel lines
Rationale: "Celebrating this movement, with its London links, that fought for women and paved the way for women's rights."
Relevance: A fine cause to commemorate, but why here?
Geography: "The line’s name pays especial homage to the East London Federation of Suffragettes, which was a largely working-class suffragette movement in the East End."
Geographic accuracy: But this line goes nowhere near the East End, specifically nowhere near Bow and Poplar, please try again.
Geography 2: "A key member of the movement was Annie Huggett. She lived, campaigned and died in Barking at the age of 103, making her the longest surviving suffragette."
Geographic accuracy 2: Highlighting one suffragette who happened to live in almost the right place (a council house in Greatfields Road) feels somewhat desperate. The Huggett line might have been a better name.
Political: Dig into Annie's background and it turns out she later became chair of the women’s branch of her local Labour Party, was the Labour Party's longest-serving card-carrying member and had the Red Flag sung at her funeral. Sadiq's slipped a proud leftie past us here.
Wokerground: "Another line named for women. As usual there's nothing for us men."
How it'll look: The vibrant green stands out as it crosses multiple less bright lines. Suffragette green too, well done.
Typical announcement: "The Suffragette line is closed for emergency engineering works until October 2025"
Did I predict it? Absolutely. "We could get the Suffragette line, the Choudhury line or the Turing line. We are not going to get the 'East London line' or the Goblin, indeed Goblin is completely off the table."
Does it work? The most forced of the six. It's no Goblin (which many will still call it).

Liberty line             
Operates: Romford to Upminster
Colour on map: grey parallel lines
Rationale: "The name celebrates the truly unique independence of the area, reflecting its past, present and future."
Relevance: All that is just woolly froth. The real reason is that the Royal Liberty of Havering was formed in 1465 on the orders of Edward IV, freeing the area from taxation and giving it independence in legal matters, and this is how the borough of Havering got its name. This is the background people really need to know.
Geography: "Celebrating the longstanding freedom that is a defining feature of London, and the historical independence of the people of Havering"
Geographic accuracy: The Liberty of Havering was originally equivalent to the parish of Hornchurch where this runty branchline is. Bingo.
Political: A historical quirk, a geographical bullseye, a nod to the right and a double meaning that screams diversity - the name is utterly perfect.
Wokerground: "Damn, you've presented me with a name that celebrates Havering's full-on independent Brexitiness and I can't possibly complain about it."
How it'll look: Grey. Insignificant, Irrelevant. So quite appropriate.
Typical announcement: "Welcome aboard this Liberty line service to Upminster"
Did I predict it? No. But I wish I'd thought of it.
Does it work? The only one of the six names I genuinely like.

In order of appropriateness
    1) Liberty
    2) Windrush
    3) Lioness
    4) Weaver
    5) Suffragette
    6) Mildmay

Attempting to keep everyone happy would have been impossible, and this list'll infuriate fewer people than it might have done. The end result should also help make wayfinding around the network easier, as previously discussed, and something similar really should have been introduced a lot earlier. However unfamiliar the names sound now you'll get used to them, Londoners always do... but that's not going to stop me tutting every time I ride the Overground line that doesn't pass the place it's named after.

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