I have designed a map for a Greater Glasgow rail network of the near future. It took a while.
This map is the product of many motivations. Some are related and some are not.
Firstly, the Glasgow region has the second most substantial urban rail network of any conurbation in the United Kingdom its panoply of lines is no longer represented by a dedicated map to help rail users interpret the complicated division of services. It did until fairly recently but the identity of shorter distance commuter rail in this part of Scotland has since been subsumed into the wider Scotrail network. Furthermore, the current maps now depict the Glasgow routes using a single-colour latticework within a representation of the larger Central Belt and it can be difficult for irregular passengers to know which routes a particular station is served by and whether/where they might need to make a connection as they make their way from A to B.
It is my belief, then, that the Glasgow region needs a dedicated route map and that, more fundamentally, a distinct identity should be adopted for shorter distance, higher-frequency rail services. Ideally, I would like to see the introduction of the three-level German convention where S-Bahn systems in urban areas compliment wider regional and intercity routes. While rail-users in Glasgow and the contiguous urban area would benefit from improved frequencies on these shorter services (headways in more central areas could reflect metro-style frequencies), passengers commuting from further afield would no longer have their journeys slowed by a long succession of station stops in outer Glasgow; the competitiveness of contemporary rail travel from more distant settlements such as Bathgate and Livingston to the east, Lanark to the southeast, and Helensburgh to the west is, arguably, compromised by what might be considered the 'duel-role' of their current rail services.
Further to providing a representation of an idealised division of services, the map also serves to advocate a series of (largely simple) infrastructural improvements which would, I believe, hugely enhance the effectiveness and appeal of rail transportation in Glasgow, the city region and central Scotland more generally. It depicts a Glasgow where passenger routes north and south of the River Clyde are reconnected by a short stretch of railway which, with a small amount of vision, could be the fulcrum of a range of cross-city and regional rail services and which, maddeningly, remains open to freight. It shows the world's third oldest subway line partnered with another after 119 years of service. Elsewhere, short chords of track link extant routes to allow a maximum number of services to pass through central Glasgow, and consequently improve capacities and service frequencies while linking communities in all directions.
It has been recognised that regional British cities punch well below their weight – economically speaking – when compared to similarly-sized European equivalents and it must surely be recognised that transportation plays a huge part in that (British cities also tend to compare unfavourably with their continental counterparts across many of those indices used to measure 'quality of life'). To make further reference to Germany, it can be quite frustrating that relatively modest cities such as Hanover, Dresden and Stuttgart enjoy multi-modal systems of such startling sophistication when successive local and national administrations have dragged their feet in investing in railways outside of the London area, taking decades to implement the most simple of improvements – a frustration shared by those who advocate all kinds of non-car travel in the city. This is particularly galling when you consider how Glasgow – that most complete of Victorian cities – can still boast the under-used skeleton of some truly visionary nineteenth-century infrastructure as well as an urban fabric which has, to a greater extent than in any other regional British city, maintained a density (despite the privations of post-war planning trends) which could provide real demand for high-frequency cross-city rail – a density which is, incidentally, the result of another great Victorian legacy: the tenement.
All that said, If I step down from my soapbox for a moment, and leave aside my feelings about a century of lacklustre transport (and more broadly urban) planning in Glasgow and elsewhere, I must recognise that the primary motivation behind this project is actually my near-lifelong love of maps. Maps hold my attention like no other images and, because I also love graphic design, I particularly love schematic transport mapping. For me they are the distillation of good graphic design; done well, they are clean, elegant and inviting, and they render the complicated simple. I wanted to have a crack at designing one myself and I have endeavoured to apply the principles inherent in the many examples of this art form that I admire to the particular case of (my idealised) Glasgow. I hope I've been successful.
As stated above, I envisage the reinstatement of a separate identity and distinct service patterns for urban commuter rail services in the Glasgow area. As far as possible these services would operate along fully reserved sections of rail infrastructure. Branded on the map as GO Rail, these services would – in tandem with an expanded Subway network – offer a fully modern metro-like system for the city region.
I have envisaged a cross-conurbation network which offers greatly improved connectivity between areas in all directions across the City of Glasgow and the wider metropolitan region. Paisley and the Southside would enjoy access to the fast-developing East End; the Paisley lines would be connected directly to the West End (the area of Greater Glasgow other than the city centre which has traditionally offered the greatest density of jobs and leisure opportunities); areas in the poorly-served north of the city as well as the Lanarkshire towns would also have a direct service to the heart of the West End at Kelvinbridge and Botanic Gardens – stations which better serve the University and the busy Byres Road than the traditional West End rail hub at Partick. Alongside new cross-city services, the existing subsurface east-west routes which serve Queen Street and Central low-level stations would, as the greatest strengths of Glasgow's contemporary urban rail network, remain fulcrums of the envisaged network. Consequently, Only the green 7 line and an airport shuttle service (a portion of the blue 6 line) would mirror the great majority of routes which currently terminate at either Central or Queen Street.
The idealised separation of local GO Rail services and longer-distance routes outlined above is attested by the paucity of stations accessed by national rail services in the outer areas of the map.
Every station would have a direct service to at least one of the three major central hubs of Central, Queen Street-Buchanan Street and a revived Glasgow Cross. Indeed, Glasgow Cross – with the associated fulfilment of the well-discussed 'Crossrail' plan – forms the linchpin of the entire network because the station would be uniquely well-placed to provide connections between north-south and east-west services as they pass through central Glasgow (as the 'Glasgow Cross Connections' diagram shows, 122 of the 168 other stations would be linked directly to this hub). The map's overall division of services, therefore, owes more to the primacy of Glasgow Cross than it does to any other principle. Areas which would lose a direct connection to Central and Queen Street (much of the existing suburban rail network comprises services which begin/terminate at those two stations) would be compensated by increased service frequencies and through-services to other areas of the city. It should also be noted that Glasgow Cross better serves the Merchant City and Collegelands districts of the city centre – areas which have seen significant development and job creation in recent years and which have seen the traditional city centre expand eastwards; Collegelands has been identified as a potential site for a future Glasgow terminus should the national high-speed rail network reach the city. Passengers traveling from the northern and southern branches of the silver 5 line (the only line without any direct access to Queen Street-Buchanan Street or Central), meanwhile, would also have the opportunity to connect with services to the two central rail termini via a re-sited Springburn station (regional rail) and via a new Pollokshields interchange (7 line or regional rail) respectively.
The vision for the future of the Glasgow Subway mirrors the principles of the commuter rail lines. The long-planned eastern circle is based on an SPT plan from the middle of the last decade but is complimented by a meandering cross-city service (the S line) which would offer further options for east-west travel while strengthening connections between areas of the inner city on either side of the Clyde; The S line's branches also utilize historic rail alignments to offer rapid transport to areas at each end of the city which would otherwise remain unconnected to any form of rail transport.
With the exception of the Subway's eastern circle, the entirety of the network uses current or historic rail alignments. Furthermore, the total mileage of reinstated lines is - excepting the yellow 3 line north of the Finnieston junction - fairly negligible, comprising largely of short sections of reinstated chords between extant rail infrastructure. That said, for services to run at levels approaching ideal frequencies (I would envisage peak headways of fifteen minutes per line branch – or approximately eight trains per hour per direction for each line in the central portions of the network), long sections of track would have to be doubled (or even tripled) and even then it would likely still be impossible to achieve workable scheduling on those alignments which share infrastructure with longer-distance regional rail services. Then again, this is a fantasy map after all.
When I set about establishing the basic form and design rules of the map, the essential geography of the region and its rail routes offered some very strong suggestions. With some fairly steep hills lying both north and south of the Clyde the conurbation has stretched out along the river and consequently more of the lines run broadly east-west than north-south. Indeed, the physical map of the network's routes shows that even those lines that do converge on Glasgow from the north and south actually run for long stretches along an east-west axis. It was an obvious choice, then, to design the map around a framework of eighteen evenly spaced horizontal lines with the two solidly cubic Subway 'circles' at the centre. The design guide makes it clear that each route is essentially plotted along a series of these lines while the subordinate vertical and diagonal sections are treated as a means of 'hopping' between them.
As with most schematic transportation maps of any real complexity, the central section has been greatly expanded due the density of its stations and the interactions of converging lines in the inner city. Comparing the physical and schematic maps it is evident that the area within the two subway loops (which is roughly commensurate with the extent of the inner city north of the Clyde) has been hugely exaggerated while the presentation of central Glasgow has been further simplified by maintaining a strict horizontal alignment for the river (which actually runs ESE-WNW) through this portion of the map. The central part of the city region (the part of the network which is most heavily-used and thus the part of the map which the eye should most naturally be drawn to) is then further emphasized by positioning the shared vertical alignment of all three Subway lines at the very centre.
The need to maintain clarity by reserving a reasonable amount of space for each route alignment and the good practice of limiting the number of times a line changes direction does, however, create some interesting quirks in the more peripheral sections of the map; the centre's ballooning in size is accompanied by contraction at the edges and the differences between physical and schematic geography become more acute – especially as it's the complicated central sections which dictate more of the overall form. Comparing the physical and schematic maps, it becomes obvious that the Drumgelloch branch of the pink 5 and dark blue 6 lines has been forced away from the red 1 line and, therefore, Coatbridge Sunnyside and Whifflet stations have become this map's Wimbledon and South Wimbledon.
As the diagram for line and station dimensions illustrates, the weight of a route line is 200% that of the space between two lines where they run parallel to each other. Where two lines change direction in unison, the standard arc of a single line is used for one (outer) path while the other line turns inside this conventional arc. In the two instances where three lines change direction together, however, the third route turns with a wider arc to the outside of the conventional (middle) arc.
The spacing of stations is – as shown in the design guide – dictated by three basic rules. In the simpler (largely peripheral) route sections the distance between the beginning/end of a section (after a change in alignment or an 'interaction' with a distinct element, such as another line or the river) and the nearest station is generally half that of the distance between the stations on that section. In denser sections, however, there are stations which immediately precede/follow a change of alignment. In these cases, an initial 'buffer' section (equivalent in length to the weight of the line stroke) is placed between the turn and the station. This same buffer is also applied as a short extension of the line beyond every terminus station. Finally, where there is a single station on an alignment, it occupies the centre of that section. By adhering to these rules the various route sections are presented consistently, despite their exhibiting widely differing proportions, alignments and station densities.
The colours assigned to the various rail and subway lines is dictated by the routes they use as they travel through central Glasgow.
- Those lines which cross the river via the revived north-south 'Crossrail' section between Gorbals and Glasgow Cross are broadly blue in colour; the two lines which operate to Paisley are light and dark blue respectively while the 4 line – which only runs alongside the other two for a short central section – is given a more distinct blue-grey colour.
- The two lines which run east-west through the inner city via Central (and which share track to the southeast of the conurbation) are given the 'fiery' colours of red and yellow.
- The colour of the pink 5 line is dictated by the fact that it shares characteristics with both of the above two groupings; it occupies a subsurface east-west alignment through the city centre – like the red 1 line – but, in tandem with the light blue 2 line, it serves Queen Street-Buchanan Street and also shares long sections of track with the other two 'blue' lines.
- The green 7 line, meanwhile, is an outlier with very distinct service characteristics and is, therefore, assigned a colour which contrasts with all others.
- The colour scheme for the Subway is based around that of the existing western circle which has, since a major overhaul in the 1970s, been associated with the colour orange. Therefore, the W service maintains that historic colour while the E and S lines are assigned colours – brown and black respectively – which, with orange, reference the pervasive palate of 1970s design trends (think wallpaper). The three colours of the Subway are also distinct from those represented across the commuter rail services, and this division is further emphasized by the application of a narrow white stroke within the coloured lines.
- Three lines include sections which have a non-standard service. In these instances, the applied hue is equivalent to the standard route colour at 50% opacity (where white is the background colour).
The River Clyde is rendered in three separate weights as it flows from the bottom right to the top left of the map. The first, winding section to the right is 3/4 the weight of the middle horizontal section, while the thicker diagonal section is set at 5/4 weight. The distance between the river and three different route alignments (the western S line branch to Renfrew, the 1 and 2 lines between Clydebank and Yoker, and the long section of the 1 and 3 lines between Rutherglen and Hamilton) is set at a constant, while the representation of the river is further simplified by limiting the number of twists and turns to the south and east of central Glasgow (again, compare the physical and schematic network maps). The treatment of the 'flow lines' within the river is the product of a desire to compliment the functional components of the map with some purely aesthetic visual 'hooks'.
The 'G' and the 'O' interlock to reference the network's various interchanges and their ability to connect all parts of Greater Glasgow. Movement is further expressed by a break in the 'O', which might be read as a clockwise-revolving wheel. The colours are taken from two of the map's route lines.
These route roundels reiterate the GO Rail identity by taking the basic form of the 'O' in the network logo.
Glasgow's 'S' is, at long last, composed of two circles. Orange is retained for its long-standing association with the system.
I owe a debt to Cam Booth and his excellent Transit Maps blog. For both form and theory, Cam is an absolute doyen of the art of making transit maps and his blog has offered inspiration through the work of many great designers – not least himself. His tutorials on good labelling practice were invaluable and he also led me the excellent Source Sans Pro font used throughout.
I must also thank the members of the Glasgow forum at Skyscraper City whose idealistic commitment to a revived urbanism and a better Glasgow compel them to maintain records of local and national government plans for transport developments both current and long since abandoned, whilst also offering up many original and inspired ways of improving Greater Glasgow's rail infrastructure. In fact, of all the innovations shown on the map, only the Subway branch to Tollcross, a restored spur to Kirkintilloch, a new Springburn interchange sited between Cowlairs and Sighthill junctions, and a combined Pollokshields station are entirely my idea. The geekery of many forumers has proved extremely helpful.