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The Tube map (sometimes called the London Underground Map or the TfL Services Map) is a schematic transport map of the lines, stations and services of the London Underground, known colloquially as "the Tube", hence the map's name. The first schematic Tube map was designed by Harry Beck in 1931. Since then, it has been expanded to include more of London's public transport systems, including the Docklands Light Railway, London Overground, TfL Rail, Tramlink and the Emirates Air Line cable car.
As a schematic diagram, it does not show the geographic locations but rather the relative positions of the stations, lines, the stations' connective relations, and fare zones. The basic design concepts have been widely adopted for other such maps around the world, and for maps of other sorts of transport networks and even conceptual schematics.
A regularly updated version of the map is available from the official Transport for London website. In 2006, the tube map was voted one of Britain's top 10 design icons which included Concorde, Mini, Supermarine Spitfire, K2 telephone box, World Wide Web and the AEC Routemaster bus.
As London's early transport system was operated by a variety of independent companies, there were no complete maps of the network, just for the individual companies' routes. These maps were not typically schematic and were simply the line overlaid on a regular city map. There was no integration of the companies' services, nor was there any co-operation in advertising.
In 1907, The Evening News commissioned a pocket map titled The Evening News London "Tube Map". This map was the first to show all of the lines with equal weight given to each line. In addition, it was the first to use a different colour for each line.
Another early combined map was published in 1908 by the Underground Electric Railways Company of London (UERL) in conjunction with four other underground railway companies using the "Underground" brand as part of a common advertising factor.
The map showed eight routes – four operated by the UERL and one from each of the other four companies:
- UERL lines:
- Other lines:
Being geographical presented restrictions in this early map; to enable sufficient clarity of detail in the crowded central area of the map, the extremities of the District and Metropolitan lines were omitted, so a full network diagram was not provided. The problem of truncation remained for nearly half a century. Although all of the western branches of the District and Piccadilly lines were included for the first time in 1933 with Harry Beck's first proper Tube map, the portion of the Metropolitan line beyond Rickmansworth did not appear until 1938 and the eastern end of the District line did not appear until the mid-1950s.
The route map continued to be developed and was issued in various formats and artistic styles until 1920, when, for the first time, the geographic background detail was omitted in a map designed by MacDonald Gill. This freed the design to enable greater flexibility in the positioning of lines and stations. The routes became more stylised but the arrangement remained, largely, geographic in nature. The 1932 edition was the last geographic map to be published, before Beck's diagrammatic map was introduced.
The first diagrammatic map of London's rapid transit network was designed by Harry Beck in 1931. Beck was a London Underground employee who realised that because the railway ran mostly underground, the physical locations of the stations were largely irrelevant to the traveller wanting to know how to get from one station to another — only the topology of the route mattered. This approach is similar to that of electrical circuit diagrams; while these were not the inspiration for Beck's maps, 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 such as "Bakerlite" for the Bakerloo line.
To this end, Beck devised a simplified map, consisting of stations, straight line segments connecting them, and the River Thames; lines ran only vertically, horizontally, or on 45-degree diagonals. To make the map clearer and to emphasise connections, Beck differentiated between ordinary stations (marked with tick marks) and interchange stations (marked with diamonds). London Underground was initially sceptical of his proposal — it was an uncommissioned spare-time project, and it was tentatively introduced to the public in a small pamphlet in 1933. However, it immediately became popular, and the Underground has used topological maps to illustrate the network ever since.
Despite the complexity of making the map, Beck was paid just ten guineas for the artwork and design of the card edition (five guineas for the poster). After its initial success he continued to design the Tube map until 1960, a single (and unpopular) 1939 edition by Hans Scheger being the only exception. During this time, as well as accommodating new lines and stations, Beck continually altered the design, for example changing the interchange symbol from a diamond to a circle, as well as altering the line colours – the Central line from orange to red, and the Bakerloo line from red to brown. Beck's final design, in 1960, bears a strong resemblance to the present-day map. Beck lived in Finchley, north London, and one of his maps is still preserved on the southbound platform at Finchley Central station on the Northern line.
In 1997, Beck's importance was posthumously recognised, and as of 2013 the statement is printed on every Tube map: "This diagram is an evolution of the original design conceived in 1931 by Harry Beck".
By 1960, Beck had fallen out with the Underground's publicity officer, Harold Hutchison. Hutchison, though not a designer himself, drafted his own version of the Tube map that year. It removed the smoothed corners of Beck's design and created some highly cramped areas (most notably around Liverpool Street station); in addition, lines were generally less straight. However, Hutchison also introduced interchange symbols (circles for Underground-only, squares for connections with British Rail main line services) that were black and allowed multiple lines through them, as opposed to Beck who used one circle for each line at an interchange, coloured according to the corresponding line.
In 1964, the design of the map was taken over by Paul Garbutt who, like Beck, had produced a map in his spare time due to his dislike of the Hutchison design. Garbutt's map restored curves and bends to the diagram, but retained Hutchison's black interchange circles (the squares however were replaced with circles with a dot inside). Garbutt continued to produce Underground maps for at least another 20 years — Tube maps stopped bearing the designer's name in 1986, by which time the elements of the map bore a very strong resemblance to today's map. While the standard Tube map mostly avoided representing main line services, a new variant of the map issued in 1973, the "London's Railways" map, was the first to depict Tube and above-ground main line rail services in a diagrammatic style closely matched to Beck's designs. This version was created by Tim Demuth of the London Transport publicity office and was jointly sponsored by British Rail and London Transport. Demuth's map did not replace the standard Tube map but continued to be published as a supplementary resource, later known as the "London Connections" map.
Some alterations have been made to the map over the years. More recent designs have incorporated changes to the network, such as the Docklands Light Railway and the extension of the Jubilee line. It has also been expanded to include routes brought under Transport for London control such as TfL Rail, and to indicate which Tube stops connect with National Rail services, links to airports, and River Services. In some cases, stations within short walking distance are now shown, often with the distance between them, such as Fenchurch Street's distance from Tower Hill (this is an evolution of the pedestrian route between Bank and Monument stations, which was once prominently marked on the map). Further, step-free access notations are also incorporated in the current map.
In addition, since 2002 the fare zones have been added to help passengers judge the cost of a journey. Nevertheless, the map remains true to Beck's original scheme, and many other transport systems use schematic maps to represent their services, likely inspired by Beck. A facsimile of Beck's original design is on display on the southbound platform at his local station, Finchley Central.
Despite there having been many versions over the years, somehow the perception of many users is that the current map actually is, more or less, Beck's original version from the 1930s — a testament to the effectiveness of his design. Beck did actually draw versions with other formats, 22½ degrees rather than 45 (the Paris Métro version uses 22½ degrees as a base); and an unused version for the 1948 Olympic Games.
One of the major changes to be made to the revision of the Tube map put out in September 2009 was the removal of the River Thames. Although historically the river was not present on several official maps (for example, according to David Leboff and Tim Demuth's book; in 1907, 1908, and 1919), from 1921 it was absent for several years (on pocket maps designed by MacDonald Gill). The Thames-free 2009 version was the first time that the river has not appeared on the Tube map since the Stringemore pocket map of 1926. This latest removal resulted in widespread international media attention, and general disapproval from most Londoners as well as from the then Mayor of London, Boris Johnson. Based on this reaction, the following edition of the diagram in December 2009 reinstated both the river and fare zones.
In more recent years, TfL has expanded its rail services, notably with the expansion of the London Overground network, which has taken over a number of National Rail lines and brought them into the TfL network, each of these converted lines being added to the Tube map. Further additions have been made such as the Emirates Air Line cable car and the boundaries of fare zones. Some commentators have suggested that Beck's design should be replaced with a new design that can incorporate the new lines more comfortably.
The designers of the map have tackled a variety of problems in showing information as clearly as possible and have sometimes adopted different solutions.
The font for the map, including station names, is Johnston, which uses perfect circles for the letter 'O'. This is historic and the generic font for all TfL uses, from station facades to bus destination blinds.
The table below shows the changing use of colours since Beck's first map. The current colours are taken from Transport for London's colour standards guide, which defines the precise colours from the Pantone palette, and also a colour naming scheme that is particular to TfL. Earlier maps were limited by the number of colours available that could be clearly distinguished in print. Improvements in colour printing technology have reduced this problem and the map has coped with the identification of new lines without great difficulty.
|Line||TfL colour name||Shown as|
|originally part of the Metropolitan and District lines; not shown before 1948|
|East London||Underground Orange
|part of London Overground||part of the Metropolitan line until c.1990|
|part of the Metropolitan line until 1990|
|grey1979–present||opened 1979; Baker Street to Stanmore section previously part of the Bakerloo line|
|magenta1948–present||green1937–1948||magenta1934–1937||shown combined with the District line 1937–1948||redUERL|
|black1933–present||grey (CCE&H)UERL||black (C&SL)UERL|
|not shown since 1998; transferred to British Rail (National Rail) in 1975||orange
|Victoria||Corporate Light Blue
|light blue1968–present||opened 1968|
|not shown before 1938||thin grey|
|part of British Rail until 1994|
|TfL Rail||Corporate Blue
|To become part of the Elizabeth line in 2021|
|green (double stripe)2017–present||green (dotted)[when?]||Opened 2000, not shown on the standard map until 2017|
|West London||Overground Orange
|now part of London Overground|
|North London||Overground Orange
|now part of London Overground|
|Watford DC||Overground Orange
|now part of London Overground; only Queen's Park–Watford shown 1973–1984 (Bakerloo peak hours service)|
|not shown before 2007||thin grey|
|Thameslink||part of National Rail; not shown since 1998||white
|Emirates Air Line||Red||red
Pecked lines have at various times indicated construction, limited service, or sections closed for renovation.
From the start, interchange stations were given a special mark to indicate their importance, though its shape has changed over the years. In addition, from 1960, marks were used to identify stations that offered connections with British Rail (now National Rail). The following shapes have been used:
- Circle (one for each line or station, where convenient) – standard default mark
- Circle (one for each station) – 1938 experimental map
- Diamond (one for each line) – early 1930s
- Square – interchange with British Railways, 1960–1964
- Circle with a dot inside – interchange with British Rail, 1964–1970
Since 1970 the map has used a reversed (red on white) 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. The distance between the Tube station and the main line station is now shown.
Contemporary maps have marked stations offering step-free access with a blue circle containing a wheelchair symbol in white.
Since 2000, stations with a nearby interchange to river bus piers on the Thames have been marked with a small boat symbol to promote London River Services.
Lines or services
The Tube map aims to make the complicated network of services easy to understand, but it is not possible to have complete information about the services that operate on each line.
Limited-service routes have sometimes been identified with hatched lines, 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. As there are now fewer restrictions to show, the remaining ones are now mainly indicated in the accompanying text rather than by special line markings.
Official versions of the map
The Tube map exists to help passengers navigate the London rapid transit network and it has been questioned whether it should play a wider role in helping people navigate London itself. The question has been raised as to whether mainline railways should be shown on the map, in particular those in inner-London. The Underground has largely resisted adding additional services to the standard Tube map, instead producing separate maps with different information, including:
- Standard Tube map: Shows all Underground, Overground, DLR, TfL Rail and Tramlink routes and stations, and fare zones.
- Large print Tube map: As above but with larger print.
- Walking distance map: Shows walking times between stations in the central London area.
- Toilet facilities map: Shows toilet facilities at stations.
- Bikes on trains map: Shows which routes allow bicycles to be taken on trains during peak times.
- Night Tube map: Shows Night Tube services.
- Avoiding stairs Tube guide: Shows which stations have lifts, escalators or ramps to platforms.
- Tube Map Showing Tunnels: Shows sections of lines that are in tunnel. Designed to help users with claustrophobia or other anxiety conditions.
- London Connections map: Produced by the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), this provided the same information as TfL's Travelcard Zones map but extended further beyond fare zones 7–9. National Rail lines were emphasised by thicker lines and coloured according to their train operating company (TOC). This map was replaced by the Oyster Rail Services map.
Maps are produced in different sizes, the most common being Quad Royal (40 × 50 inches) poster size and Journey Planner pocket size. 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.
Non-Underground lines on the standard map
Some non-Underground lines have appeared on the standard tube map:
- On the early maps which used a geographic background, main line railways were shown as part of the background detail.
- Prior to its transfer to the London Underground in 1994, the Waterloo & City line was operated by British Rail and its mainline predecessors. The line began appearing on most Tube maps from the mid-1930s.
- For a short period in the late 1930s until 1940, the section of the West London Line linking Willesden Junction to the Metropolitan line's Middle Circle route at Uxbridge Road was shown as a service operated by the Great Western Railway and the London, Midland and Scottish Railway. The service was removed when the line closed to passengers in 1940.
- The North London Line was added to the map in 1977. While run by British Rail, and later by Silverlink, it was shown in British Rail/National Rail colours, although its appearance was intermittent, being omitted from some map editions over the years. In November 2007 it was taken over by London Overground and changed to an orange double stripe. The semi-orbital route originally ran from Richmond to Broad Street, then Richmond to North Woolwich; today the line runs from Richmond to Stratford.
- The West London Line, Watford DC Line and Gospel Oak to Barking Line (former British Rail/Silverlink lines) were all added to the standard map in 2007 when they were taken over by London Overground, and all are shown as an orange double stripe.
- The Northern City Line appeared on the original 1908 map as the Great Northern and City Railway. It later appeared as the Great Northern and City section of the Metropolitan Railway and then, from the late 1930s as part of the Northern line. The service was transferred to British Rail in 1975 and continued to appear until recently.
- Thameslink reopened in 1988, the line having been closed for many years. It offers some relief to the Northern line, as it connects King's Cross St Pancras to London Bridge. Only the central sections between Kentish Town and London Bridge/Elephant & Castle were shown. Its appearance on Tube maps has been intermittent, having been omitted from some map editions over the years.
- The Docklands Light Railway, the automatic light-rail system in the London Docklands area.
- The Emirates Air Line, a cable car linking Greenwich Peninsula and Royal Docks was added in December 2011.
- The first section of the Crossrail franchise, TfL Rail was added in May 2015.
- Also in May 2015, the Chingford line, Enfield & Cheshunt line, and Romford–Upminster line were added to the London Overground network on the tube map.
- Tramlink (shown in 2016 as London Trams) was included in the map from June 2016.
When Transport for London expanded its London Overground service to include the East London Line in 2010, the East London line (extended to Croydon) changed from a solid orange line to a double orange stripe. According to 2007 proposals, the addition of the South London Line to London Overground was due to add the southern loop onto future tube maps in late 2010, and, as of May 2013, it is up and running.
Underground lines on geographically accurate maps
Transport for London formerly published several bus maps that depicted the approximate paths of tube routes relative to major streets and London bus routes. These maps also show locations of certain cultural attractions and geographic landmarks.
Internet mapping services (e.g. Google Maps) offer a "Transit Layer" showing actual routes superimposed on the standard street map. A map shows underground, overground and DLR lines and National Rail stations within Zone 1–2.
The website carto.metro offers extremely detailed maps showing individual tracks, platforms, yards, turning loops, abandoned lines, etc., in their geographical position.
Spin-offs and imitations
The 'look' of the London Underground map (including 45 degree angles, evenly spaced 'stations', and some geographic distortion) has been emulated by many other subway systems around the world. While London Underground have been protective of their copyright they have also allowed their concepts to be shared with other transport operators (Amsterdam's GVB even pays tribute to them on their map).
The success of the tube map as a piece of information design has led to many imitations of its format. What is probably the earliest example is the Sydney Suburban and City Underground railway map of 1939. Not only does it follow Beck's styling cues, but in size, design and layout it is a near-clone to the London map of the late 1930s, right down to the use of the Underground roundel.
In 2002, Transport for London launched a series of London Buses "spider diagrams" to display at bus stops around the city, conveying bus route information in a schematic style similar to Beck's design, with straight lines and 45° angles depicting geographically distorted bus routes, coloured lines and numbers to differentiate services, and graphical markers to show bus stops. Tube and rail lines are not included, but interchanges are denoted with appropriate symbols by bus stop names, such as the Tube roundel. Unlike the traditional Tube map, the bus maps display services appropriate to specific transport hubs rather than a full network. Each map also contains a central rectangle of a simple, geographically accurate street map to display the positions of bus stops; outside this rectangle, the only geographic feature to appear on the bus maps is the River Thames. These maps are also available for electronic download, with map collections ordered by London borough councils. The bus maps were designed for TfL by the cartographic design company T-Kartor group.
Attempts to create alternative versions to the official London Underground map have continued. In June 2011, British Designer Mark Noad unveiled his vision for a more 'geographically accurate' London Underground map. The map is an attempt to see if it is possible to create a geographically-accurate representation of the underground system while still retaining some of the clarity of Beck's original diagram. It uses similar principles, fixed line angles – in this case 30 and 60 degrees instead of 45 – and shortens the extremities of the lines to make it more compact. In 2013, Dr Max Roberts, a psychology lecturer at the University of Essex with a particular interest in usability, information design and schematic mapping, issued his own version of the Tube map. His design, based on a series of concentric circles, emphasised the concept of the newly completed orbital loop surrounding Central London with radial lines. A map created to illustrate Tube-related articles on Wikipedia in 2014 was praised for its clarity and for including future developments such as Crossrail.
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. In 2006, the design came second in a televised search for the most well known British design icon. It is widely cited by academics and designers as a 'design classic' and it is due to these cultural associations that London Underground does not usually permit the design to be used or altered for any other purpose. This has only been officially sanctioned on a few occasions:
- 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 (with the name of the gallery's nearest station, Pimlico, on a paint-tube) and has since been used on the cover of the pocket map.
- In Tate Modern hangs The Great Bear by Simon Patterson, a subtle parody of the contemporary map design, first displayed in 1992, in which the station names on the tube map have been replaced by those of famous figures.
- In 2003, to coincide with the publication of a book about tube maps from all over the world, the London Transport Museum released a "World Metro Map" poster strongly based on the London diagram and approved by TfL.
- McCann-Erickson to promote the London Zoo. In May 2010, a children's storybook was released that used the characters, titled "Lost Property". It is the story of an elephant called "Elephant & Castle" who loses his memory and is helped by Angel the angel fish. The book was illustrated by Middlewick, and written by Jon Sayers, and the official launch took place at the London Transport Museum.
- Albus Dumbledore, a central character in the Harry Potter series, has a scar just above his left knee that is in the shape of a Tube Map.
- In 2006, The Guardian published a design based on the tube map, purporting to show the relationships between musicians and musical genres in the 20th century.
- On 11 January 2007, Lord Adonis unveiled a depiction of the map featuring the names of successful schools and students at GCSE level as part of the London Student Awards 2007.
- The Royal Shakespeare Company produced a map in 2007 linking Shakespearean characters according to their traits in a diagram which resembles the map for complexity.
- The game development studio Dinosaur Polo Club created the game Mini Metro, whose main mechanic is to efficiently connect stations in a strict Harry Beck style.
Stylistic aspects of the London diagram, such as the line colours and styles, the station ticks or interchange symbols, are also frequently used in advertising.
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-  from "Colouring Inside the Lines 2 - Bryars & Bryars<". Retrieved 18 November 2016.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to London Underground maps.|
- Tube maps from TfL
- Most recent official Tube map in PDF format.
- Mark Noad's Underground diagram
- London Rail and Tube services map, successor to the comprehensive London Connections Map