Untangling the tracks: Communicating change

By Laura Sleath, Senior Curator

Transport for London and its predecessor companies have a long history of producing posters to keep passengers informed about upgrades to the network. Communicating alterations and disruption to passengers, as well as celebrating successful projects, is an important job for train operating companies. Whilst social media is often used today to keep customers informed, the traditional practice of using eye-catching posters is still an effective method.

Upgrading a working railway usually requires weekend closures, which can catch people out. TfL commissioned this popular series of poster designs which use the iconography of the Tube lines to grab the attention of passengers.

‘Going to the match this weekend?’ Artist unknown, 2010 (L)
‘Going shopping this weekend?’ Rachel Thomas of The Milton Agency, 2010 (R)

Recently,  Thameslink has also actively used posters to engage with customers. Some of these posters are explored in our Untangling the Tracks exhibition, which examines the Thameslink Programme, a major project to increase capacity, improve connections and provide greater reliability on the Thameslink route. During the programme, two major line closures over August bank holiday and Christmas 2017 affected hundreds of thousands of passengers. The iconography of the railway – specifically the ‘railway no entry’ icon – was used to add a festive touch to the poster campaign informing passengers.

Christmas line closures, 23 Red agency, 2017

For railway companies celebrating success at the end of a big project is also useful to remind passengers that the disruption was worthwhile.

What today is part of the Bank branch of the Northern line, started out as the City and South London Railway. It was the world’s first deep-level electric railway, opening in 1890. Being the pioneer, its tunnels were built on a smaller scale than subsequent Tube lines. When the time came to merge the line with the Hampstead Tube, the tunnels had to be closed to allow widening work to take place. This poster celebrates the reopening of the line in 1924, emphasising the new modern trains.

From Euston to Clapham Common the transformation is complete, Richard T Cooper, 1924

The redevelopment work at London Bridge station was a major element of the Thameslink Programme. Starting in 2013 the station was completely rebuilt, unifying what had essentially been two separate stations, yet remained open throughout. The architects, Grimshaw, also had to work carefully around its listed features, and many historical elements were kept and incorporated into the new building. The redeveloped station was officially opened by HRH the Duke of Cambridge in 2018. This poster was commissioned to thank the 50 million passengers who use the station every year for their patience during the disruption.

Welcome to your new station concourse, Magnet Harlequin/WMH Agency, 2018

Visit Untangling the Tracks to explore how historic London Transport posters and their modern Thameslink equivalents help to communicate important updates to passengers.

The exhibition is open until Spring 2020.

Celebrating 20 years of our Museum Depot

by Keith Raeburn, Depot Logistics Supervisor and Mike Dipre, Depot Manager

This week marks the 20th anniversary of the opening of London Transport Museum’s remarkable store, our Acton Depot in west London.

When the Museum Depot first opened on its rail-connected site on 14 October 1999, it was pioneering – the first museum store in the UK to be specifically designed with regular public access in mind. Part warehouse, part rail depot, part workshop, part education space, the Depot is home to over 90% of our vast and diverse collections. For anyone wanting to dig a little deeper into London’s rich transport and design heritage, a visit to the Depot is a must!

Trains in Acton Depot
Some of the trains in the Depot

In the 20 years since we opened, we have continued to expand the work we do at the Depot. Acton Depot is much more than a static store, it’s a working building where our curators, conservators and volunteers record, manage and restore our collections.

Maintenance and restoration of our historic vehicles, both road and rail, also takes place here – the Depot plays a vital role in ensuring that London Transport Museum’s visitors can not only see historic buses and underground trains, but experience the sights and sounds of riding on them as well!

Volunteers working on the Q stock at the depot

In the past year alone, the Museum has brought steam trains back to the District line, Art Deco heritage tube stock to Central London, as well as a 99-year-old London bus (and bus shelter) to Salisbury Plain.

The Depot has played its role as the operations base for these specialist operations, allowing us to reach new audiences far beyond our Covent Garden home.

As we look to the future, the experiences that London Transport Museum offer are becoming more numerous and varied every year – and the Depot plays its part. We’ve always offered guided tours to dig deeper into our collection – these have grown in number and diversity and we now offer five different options, including one for younger visitors and families. 2020 will see over 40 days dedicated to the various guided tours, which run alongside group visits and the Learning sessions Mind the Gap and Inspire Engineering.

Primary school pupils discovering the world of transport at one of our Mind the Gap sessions

Our popular Open Weekends allow visitors to truly explore according to their own agenda. They have grown so popular that as of 2017 we have added a third weekend to the programme, and we now welcome 15,000 visitors each year.

While our 2019 Open Weekends are now over, we have a great programme planned for next year. Sign up to our enewsletter to find out when new Open Weekends is available.

Also at the depot is the London Transport Miniature Railway, a working miniature railway based on real London Underground locomotives, carriages, signals and signs. Maintained and run by volunteers, you can take a ride on it during the Open Weekends. On 26 October, we’re running a family volunteering session. Find out more on our Volunteers webpage.

We are certain that the next twenty years will see our Acton Depot playing an even more central part in the Museum’s programme!

To celebrate the Depot’s birthday, we’ve pulled together 20 of our favourite objects at the Depot. Check them out on our Google Arts & Culture story!