Rails Across the Border

You’ve no doubt read the excellent book ‘Rails Across the Border’ by Alexander Mullay about the former routes between Scotland and England? This is a new one being launched for for 2020! Completely new subject, new author and the rest of it! Here are some extracts from the new book – let’s see what’s its about…

Here’s Buggles and Muggles. Are they border spies? In a way they are. They’re actually a new type of geek train spotter. They love to spot trains that go back and forth between two certain places in the southern part of England. The maps they use show the lines they have an interest in is actually inside the border of of a considerably large urban area – but they are not stupid – they know the trains actually go across the border to the back of beyond.

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Our tube geeks, Buggles and Muggles…. or is it Muggles and Buggles?

The trains our tube geeks chase are fancy new purple ones. At the moment its only the seven car versions that ferry passengers to the nether regions, but come the very day the trains increase this from seven to nine car lengths, Buggles and Muggles will have a field day!

Who are Buggles and Muggles in real life? Some have said the one on the right is ‘GM.’ Maybe! The other could be ‘DG’ for all we know! They both write about these purple trains on a regular basis, the former also does vlogs covering an awful lot of stations!

The map in question they use? Well its this one! Their faces are featured on the front cover because, well… they’re rather famed transport enthusiasts!

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The cover of the new tube map.

I suggest we forget Buggles and Muggles for a bit. They’ll be alright, they can look after themselves!

And now its the real life, just not the fantasy. Open your eyes. Look at the TfL map and see…..

The artwork on the cover of the new tube map is called Morden and was commissioned as part of Art on the Underground. Its said the cover is meant to depict Brexit and the fears and woes of the city as it crosses this ‘edge.’

Let’s instead focus on the maps they use… and fully understand what this ‘Rails Across the Border’ is all about!

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The new tube map for December 2019. This is depicted at more than A5. The actual map is even smaller.

Okay, what’s that on the far left hand side? Yep it’s Crossrail! It’s practically ON the border of the actual map! Yes we know it goes OFF the map and westwards towards Reading. But here its hugging the blue map border so tightly one wonders if its meant to be like that.

What’s so amazing about this is the design flouts every rule in the TfL book. Not only that it’s pretty difficult to see and its not very convivial in terms of disability accessibility. It’s worse than the samples seen on the Internet at least that had a bit of space between it and the border. In the real world example one cannot decide if TfL are implying whether Crossrail is beyond the border with Greater London, or in fact within the Greater London area.

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How the TfL Elizabeth Line to Reading is depicted on the internet – very clearly with lots of space all around. Source: Twitter

The TfL Design Idiom says padding should be used to provide a consistent layout and standardisation between the different elements. Here they’e botched entirely it by making the element for Crossrail/Elizabeth Line very tight in terms of padding whilst that for Tramlink’s been given a more generous padding, making this other section much clearer than Crossrail’s.

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How the TfL Elizabeth Line to Reading is depicted on the actual paper map – very poorly and tightly squeezed in. The white area to the left is because I wanted both maps to be the same size in terms of presentation eg 1024×768.

The above image looks big but that’s because I wanted to show it at that size to compare with the other. In terms of actual resolution its probably something like this…

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What the map size is really. The image has been enhanced however on the real world map the colours of the Crossrail/Elizabeth Line and the map border are far more muted and harder to discern.

The whole map is much less than the size of an A5 sheet. If you know what I’m talking about you’ll know that’s quite small for a lot of detail. Okay so they have had to squeeze it all in… but if one looks at the white space between the Elizabeth Line to Reading and the rest of the tube system, its a wonder the designers didn’t think to move the Reading route a little further to the right to give it more space between it and the border around the edge of the map.

The example shown below might look nice, but this is the actual map sampled at very high resolution and then cleaned up and the section in question cropped. This is shown at probably 10 times the size it really is.

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The section in question enlarged perhaps 10 times!

In real terms the actual distance between the Elizabeth Line and the border of the map is barely a millimetre with the disability symbols a tiny fraction of a millimetre off from the border itself. At this small scale the paper tube map is, this is ridiculous. Yes anyone can see the Elizabeth Line is separate but its not really clear at first glance. One has to look hard to determine this.

What that means is someone with partial blindness for example might not see the two elements as separate. Looking at the detail on the tube map (any paper tube map that’s A5 or less) does take a bit of eye strain. But that section with Crossrail/Elizabeth Line is worse. One has to sort of focus the differing lines so the correct one can be clearly delineated. I’ve had someone on social media tell me its painful trying to look at this part of the map, and I’m not surprised.

If one looks at the entire tube map no-where else is there such a tight placement for a TfL line. TfL’s standards does point out the confusion of adding other tube lines or elements in parallel on its maps, but here Crossrail’s so near to the blue map border that its not clear enough.

That is important especially in terms of accessibility. Yes there will probably be a large print version of the map but even so its still not a good approach to employ this method. For example, while its not brilliant, at least the Tramlink route at the bottom of the December 2019 paper tube map has been given more space and its far more legible than the Elizabeth Line.

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The lower right section of the map with Tramlink. Clearly this has far more space between it and the map’s border. Its much more clearly defined than the Crossrail/Elizabeth Line section can ever be.

There’s other maps besides the new tube map in terms of ‘rails across the border.’ The new Rail and Tube combined map is a mess too. Its not so visually incompatible as the other is, however its still a mess. Below is the new rail/tube map for December 2019.

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The new rail/tube map. The same Crossrail line has GWR tacked alongside (that part of the map is marked by a red circle.) It looks a right mess with all those lines going off at left whilst Crossrail/Elizabeth Line goes upwards!

Why on earth do they give the new line a different look altogether compared to the tube map? Here its solid blue. Its simply not consistent!

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The TfL Rail/Tube Map showing the section in question.

The GWR branches are a mess too. They all look as if they are going south and the main line itself to Oxford/Swindon also seems to veer to the south. The Thames branches don’t all go in the same direction! I know this map isn’t meant to be geographically accurate but with the introduction of the Elizabeth Line its become even more messy.

I’m not sure they should even be mentioning Staines or Guildford on this via the Elizabeth Line or GWR! Reading certainly has services to both destinations however its contrived when there are faster routes from London itself. It doesn’t make much sense unless one has a good knowledge of the rail network. Someone on Twitter said this very depiction was a problem and their opinion was the Southern route from Waterloo to Reading should also be shown for consistency.

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