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Tube map is the commonly-used name for the schematic diagram that represents the lines, stations, and zones of London's rapid transit rail system, the London Underground.

A schematic diagram rather than a map, it represents not geography but relations. It considerably distorts the actual relative positions of stations, but accurately represents their sequential and connective relations with each other along the various lines of the system and their placement within fare zones. The basic design concepts, especially that of mapping topologically rather than geographically, have been widely adopted for other route maps around the world.

The current version of the map is available on the Transport for London website, but cannot be included here for copyright reasons.


[edit] Development

Image:London Underground Zone 1.png
How Zone 1 of the tube map would look if it showed the correct locations of the lines

The original map [1] was designed in 1931 by Underground employee Harry Beck, who realised that, because the railway ran mostly underground, the physical locations of the stations were irrelevant to the traveller wanting to know how to get to one station from another — only the topology of the railway mattered. This approach is similar to that of electrical circuit diagrams; while these were not the inspiration for Beck's diagram, his colleagues pointed out the similarities and he once produced a joke map with the stations replaced by electrical-circuit symbols and names with terminology: "bakelite" for "Bakerloo", etc. In fact, Beck based his diagram on a similar mapping system for underground sewage systems.

To this end, he devised a vastly simplified map, consisting of only named stations, straight line segments connecting them, and the Thames; lines ran only vertically, horizontally, or at 45 degrees.

The Underground was initially sceptical of his proposal — it was an uncommissioned spare-time project, tentatively introduced it to the public in a small pamphlet. It was immediately popular, and its successor is now used throughout the Underground on poster-sized maps and pocket journey planners.

[edit] Today

Alterations have been made to the map over the years. In particular, marking stations that have interchanges with surface trains has changed, as it was never resolved to Beck's satisfaction. Similarly the colours used to depict some lines have changed. The map was taken out of his hands towards the end of his career. Recent designs have skilfully incorporated changes to the network, such as the Jubilee Line Extension, while remaining true to Beck's original scheme.

A facsimile of Beck's original design is on display on the southbound platform at his local station, Finchley Central.

Many other transport systems use schematic maps to represent their services, maps undoubtedly inspired by Beck's. The bus operator First Group uses a system of coloured bus routes, such as "red line", "blue line", and so on, collectively named "Overground".

[edit] Cultural references

The design has become so widely known that it is now instantly recognisable as representing London. It has been featured on T-shirts, postcards, and other memorabilia.

A map of the fictitious Island of Sodor inspired by Harry Beck's design.

In Tate Modern hangs The Great Bear by Simon Patterson, a subtle parody of Beck's original design, in which the station names on the tube map have been replaced by those of famous historical figures. In 2006, The Guardian published a map based on the tube map, purporting to show the relationships between musicians and musical genres in the 20th century. The map is discussed by its creator, Dorian Lynskey, on the Guardian's Culture vulture blog. David Booth's The Tate Gallery by Tube (1986) is one of a series of publicity posters for the Underground. His work showed the lines of the map squeezed out of tubes of paint.

Jason Finch has the Zone 1 section of the map tattooed in full colour on his back, complete with station names. The map also is a popular target for parody, in particular the Tube anagram map.

[edit] Technical aspects

The designers of the map have tackled a variety of problems in showing useful information as clearly as possible over the years and have sometimes adopted different solutions.

[edit] Line colours

The table below shows the changing use of colours since the first Beck map, some of which had been used for the appropriate lines on earlier maps. Earlier maps were limited with the number of colours available that could be clearly distinguished in print. This is less of a problem now and the map has coped with the identification of new lines without great difficulty.

The line colour indicates a limited service by using coloured outlines with a white centre.

Lines under construction are indicated by intervals of colour separated by white (hatching), with the colour outline.

Line Current Colour History
Bakerloo Brown
Central Red
Circle Yellow Originally part of the Metropolitan and District Lines, green (black outline) from 1948, yellow (black outline) 1951-1987
District Green
East London Orange Originally white (thick red outline), part of the Metropolitan Line (green, then purple) until 1970, white (thick purple outline) until 1990
Hammersmith & City Pink Part of the Metropolitan Line until 1990
Jubilee Silver The northern end was part of the Bakerloo line until 1979
Metropolitan Purple In the 1930s and 1940s the District and Metropolitan Lines were shown combined, in green
Northern Black
Northern City Now a Network Rail line Originally white (thick purple outline), black as part of the Northern Line, white (thick black outline) from 1970
Piccadilly Dark blue
Victoria Light blue
Waterloo & City Cyan Part of British Rail until 1994, white (black outline)
Docklands Light Railway White (thick dark green outline) White (thick dark blue outline) until 1994
London Overground (Expected from 2007) White (thick orange outline) Various components currently shown in Network Rail colours, East London Line colours or not at all.
Network Rail (Selected lines only - see below) White (Black outline) Orange from 1985, white (orange outline) 1987-1990
Tramlink (Not shown on the standard map - see below) Green (beaded line)

[edit] Station marks

An important symbol that Beck introduced was the 'tick' to indicate stations. This allowed stations to be placed closer together while retaining clarity, because the tick was only on the side of the line nearer the station name (ideally centrally placed, though the arrangement of lines did not always allow this).

From the start, interchange stations were given a special mark to indicate their importance, though its shape changed over the years. In addition, from 1960, marks were used to identify stations that offered convenient interchange with the main-line railway network (now National Rail). The following shapes have been used:

  • Empty circle (one for each line or station, where convenient) - standard default mark
  • Empty circle (one for each station) - 1938 experimental map
  • Empty diamond (one for each line) - early 1930s
  • Empty square - interchange with main line, 1960-1964
  • Circle with dot inside - interchange with main line, 1964-1970

Since 1970 the map has used the British Rail 'double arrow' beside the station name to indicate main-line interchanges. Where the main-line station has a different name from the Underground station that it connects with, since 1977 this has been shown in a box.

In recent years, some maps have been printed with stations offering step-free access suitable for wheelchair users, marked by a blue circle containing a wheelchair symbol in white.

Some interchanges are more convenient than others and the map designers have repeatedly rearranged the layout of the map to try to indicate where the interchanges are more complex, e.g. by making the interchange circles more distant and linking them with thin black lines. Sometimes the need for simplicity overrides this goal; the Bakerloo/Northern Lines interchange at Charing Cross is not very convenient and passengers would be better off changing at Embankment, but the need to simplify the inner London area means that the map seems to indicate that Charing Cross is the easiest interchange. Since there is such inconsistency in the map, it is unclear how many people would expect to draw inferences about the ease of interchange from the map.

[edit] Lines or services

The map aims to make the complicated network of services easy to understand, but there are occasions when it might be useful to have more information about the services that operate on each line.

The District Line is the classic example; it is shown as one line on the map, but comprises services on the main route between Upminster and Ealing/Richmond/Wimbledon, the service between Edgware Road and Wimbledon, and the High Street Kensington to Olympia shuttle service. For most of its history the map has not distinguished these services, which could be misleading to an unfamiliar user. Recent maps have tried to tackle this problem by separating the different routes at Earl's Court.

Limited-service routes have sometimes been identified with hatched lines (see above), with some complications added to the map to show where peak-only services ran through to branches, such as that to Chesham on the Metropolitan Line. The number of routes with a limited service has declined in recent years as patronage recovered from its early 1980s' low point, so there are now fewer restrictions to show, but where they remain they are now mainly done through accompanying text rather than special line markings.

[edit] Official variations on the tube map

The tube map exists to help people navigate the Underground, but it has been questioned whether it should play a wider role in helping people navigate London itself. Thus, the question has been raised as to whether main-line railways should be shown on the map, in particular those operating in the Inner London area. London Underground has largely resisted adding additional services to the stadard tube map. Instead a range of official variations on the tube map exist which provide more or less information as required:

  • Standard tube map. Underground, DLR, zone boundaries and a few National Rail lines.
  • Central London map. A cropped and enlarged version of the standard map showing only the central area.
  • Travelcard Zones map. Underground, DLR, National Rail, Tramlink and zone boundraries.
  • High Frequency Services map. The same as the Travelcard Zones map except that lines offering less than one service every 15 minutes are de-emphasised so that the more frequent routes can be seen easily.
  • London Connections map. Produced by the Association of Train Operating Companies, this provides the same information as TfL's Travelcard Zones map but extends a little further beyond zone 6. The National Rail lines are emphasised by thicker lines and coloured according to their Train Operating Company.
  • Tube Access Guide. Stations with full or partial step-free access suitable for wheelchair users are marked.
  • Bicycle map. Underground and DLR only. Underground and DLR only. Shows sections of the network where bicycles are permitted in green.
  • Real Time Disruption map. Underground and DLR only. Interactive web-based map with disrupted lines and stations highlighted and all others shown in light grey.
  • Interactive journey map. Underground and DLR only. Interactive web-based map that can be used to access information about each station (e.g. bus connections and disabled access).

The maps showing all the National Rail routes provide useful additional information at the expense of considerably increased complexity, as they contain almost 700 stations. This makes them harder to read, even when printed on A3 paper.

[edit] Non-Underground lines on the standard tube map

Over the years some non-Underground lines have appeared on the standard tube map:

  • North London Line, from Richmond to North Woolwich (originally to Broad Street), is a radial route offering useful connections that avoid central London. Now part of Silverlink Metro. The service frequency is less than the Underground and many of the stations do not connect directly with the Underground or main-line services.
  • Northern City Line, originally part of the Underground but transferred to British Rail in the late 1970s for use by inner-suburban electric trains that previously ran to Kings Cross.
  • Thameslink, opened in 1988, having been closed for many years. It offers some relief to the Northern Line as it connects the main line north of King's Cross St Pancras to London Bridge.
  • Waterloo and City Line, the only tube line operated by a main-line railway company rather than the Underground, it has appeared on most Tube Maps (except the earliest Beck examples). In 1994 it was taken over by the Underground and given its own line colour (see above).
  • Docklands Light Railway, the automatic light-rail system in the London Docklands area.

Currently the only non-Underground lines shown are the Docklands Light Railway and the North London Line. When Transport For London takes over provision for a number of services under the banner of the London Overground, it is likely that all of these lines will be shown on the tube map in white with an orange outline. This will include the North London Line, a number of lines not previously shown on the tube map, and eventually the extended East London Line.

[edit] Further reading

  • Ken Garland, Mr Beck's Underground Map (Capital Transport, 1994): ISBN 1-85414-168-6
  • Mark Ovenden, Metro Maps Of The World (Capital Transport, 2005): ISBN 1-85414-288-7
  • Maxwell Roberts, Underground Maps After Beck (Capital Transport, 2005): ISBN 1-85414-286-0
  • David Leboff and Tim Demuth, No Need to Ask! (Capital Transport, 1999): ISBN 1-85414-215-1
  • Andrew Dow, Telling the Passenger where to get off (Capital Transport, 2005): ISBN 1-85414-291-7
  • Douglas Rose, The London Underground: A Diagrammatic History (Capital Transport, 2005): ISBN 1-85414-219-4

[edit] External links

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