Tag Archives: TfL

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.

Dipping a toe in the TfL archives

One of the many benefits of being a London Transport Museum volunteer is that from time to time one gets invited to events that aren’t normally open to the public. Recently the Corporate Archives Unit at Transport for London ran an internal event at 55 Broadway as part of the Underground 150th anniversary celebrations. Invitations were kindly extended to London Transport Museum, who included their volunteers amongst those notified. In all, about ten volunteers attended over the two days that it ran.

After not reading the invitation properly and consequently presenting myself at not just one, but two wrong reception areas I arrived a mere 15 minutes late. However, thanks to the help of a very kind receptionist (or maybe she just took pity on an obvious idiot) I was still able to gain access. 55 Broadway is, of course, an art deco treasure in its own right, but I won’t dwell on that here.

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On arriving at the exhibition I was presented with a guide and spent a very happy hour or more browsing the materials on display. The TfL archives are very large and as a rule are stored deep underground in a Cheshire salt mine which provides the ideal cool and dry environment for preservation of historic documentation. So the displayed material was the tip of the iceberg – and very tantalising it was too. Among my favourites were a staff record book from the Metropolitan and District Railway, dated 1907, and a collection of original track diagrams covering the Circle Line. The former recorded, in meticulous copperplate handwriting, all the information that would be kept in a HR system today, whilst the latter was constructed from the flimsiest pieces of tracing paper, with many crossings out, much glue and tape. It’s a miracle that it has survived.

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All the main aspects of the Underground’s history was covered in a variety of ways, from files of internal memos (speedometers on tube trains took up a lot of management time in 1957) through to a full set of Metropolitan Railway station rubber stamps, presumably for use on tickets. Finally it’s worth mentioning that volunteers play an important part in the work of the unit, being involved in producing guides and indices, and also protecting material.

Dave Olney, Volunteer

Collecting for 2013 – Oyster card holder swap shop

What does your Oyster card holder mean to you? Did you get it for free, buy it especially, or receive it as a gift? Do you use it as a wallet or just to keep your Oyster card safe?

Oyster wallets come in all colours, patterns and styles, from simple plastic holders to fancy leather and fabric cases. Companies across the capital have created their own holders as forms of advertising, with wallets being handed out all over the city every week.

As part of the LU150 celebrations, and in partnership with Andy Wallace from Transport for London, we went out to Acton Town earlier in March to find out more about what people store their Oyster cards in. If they were willing, we asked members of the public to swap their current holders for a new one, collecting the story behind the significance of the ones they donated.

Some of the stories were great, from wallets people have had since Oyster started in 2001, to pretty ones given as gifts, as well as holders purchased overseas. We’ve so far collected around 70 wallets for the Museum’s collection, all with their own great stories and anecdotes attached.

If you’d like to donate your Oyster card holder to the Museum, get in touch!

Collecting for 2013 – Finchley Central’s Platform Garden

Mark Kirwin, a supervisor at Finchley Central, has created a colourful, award-winning garden on one of the station’s platforms.

Practically single-handed he has transformed a derelict piece of ground into an oasis of colour that regularly scoops top awards in London Underground’s annual Underground in Bloom competition.

It all began in 2008 when Mark decided to do something to ‘green’ the suburban Northern Line station.

“I decided to tackle a piece of waste ground about the length of one-and-half tube carriages on the southbound platform, as it’s an area that gets the sun most of the day.”

With help from his partner, Ian, who is extremely knowledgeable about plants, the pair first had to prepare the ground. Working in their spare time, they dug out the area, put down a plastic membrane, covered it with shingle, ballast and stones and brought in 300 bags of soil.

“I started with a blank canvas with the intention of creating a country-style flower garden right here in London, which I think we have achieved,” said Mark.

A wide selection of colourful flowers have been planted out, including annuals and perennials so as to give colour all year round, with pots filled with bedding plants in the summer.

“I had a plan for the garden right from the start and have generally followed a colour scheme using shades of orange and purple,” said Mark.

For three years from 2008 the garden came second in the Cultivated Gardens and Tubs category in the Underground in Bloom competition. In 2011 it received the contest’s top accolade by being awarded the Dennis Sanger Chief Operating Officer Special Award, beating off competition from stations across the Underground network.

Mark said: “I was absolutely delighted to receive the top prize after picking up three second prizes in previous years.”

The country-style garden regularly receives praise from passenger, with children appreciating the animals and other small sculptures that are hidden amongst the plants.

“One woman told me that she always comes to the station at least 15 minutes before she needs to get a train, “ said Mark. “This is so she can walk up and down the platform to smell and admire the flowers.”

Mark has put in an irrigation system so that when he is on leave the other station staff just have to turn on a tap to water the plants to prevent them from drying out.

Text and photo by Stephen Barry, Museum Friend

Collecting for 2013 – Oval Station’s Thought for the Day

Passengers using Oval station on the Northern line have come to appreciate the ‘Thought for the Day’ quotations put up by station staff in the main concourse.

The innovative project began in 2004 and has been taken up by several other stations on the Underground network.

It’s a team effort, started by station supervisor Anthony Gentles and looked after on a daily basis by station assistant Glen Sutherland.

Anthony Gentles said: “We are here to provide a service to our customers, not just to sell tickets. We like to provide a happy and relaxed environment, which is why we have classical music playing at all times.”

The idea behind ‘Thought for the Day’ was to give passenger’s something inspirational to think about during their journey.

Written on a whiteboard near the ticket office, a typical quotation on display has been: “An ounce of action is worth a ton of theory,” penned by American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson.

Glen Sutherland, who has taught himself calligraphy so as provide clear handwriting on the whiteboard, finds many of the quotations from a specialist app on his mobile phone.

He also uses a book of quotations given to him by a passenger, who inscribed it with the message, ‘From a satisfied customer’.

“The quotations we pick are pretty general so that they appeal to all station users, who come from a variety of backgrounds and ethnic groups,” said Anthony.

Glen often chooses something topical, such as on Mother’s Day. When rioting affected the area in August 2011, he put up a quotation from Che Guevara: ‘We must not let these harsh times destroy the warmth in our hearts.’

“Often customers come up to say how much they appreciate the day’s quotation,” said Anthony. “They ask staff who put them up, with the most common comment being that it has made their day. Some passengers even go out of their way to use the station so that they can to see the day’s message. Others have suggested quotations for us to use.”

One regular passenger who works in a local office has set up a discussion group to discuss the day’s quotations during coffee breaks, while a local teacher uses them in her lessons.

“Being close to the Oval cricket ground, when there is a county cricket game on I often pick a classical quotation as many spectators are a highly educated bunch,” said Glen.  He added that Surrey and England player Mark Ramprakash always stops to chat about the day’s ‘thought’ when he comes through the station.

Often passengers take photographs of the quotations, while one regular who works in a restaurant notes them down and prints them on the menu.

“I once saw a man studying a quotation intently before disappearing down the escalator,” said Glen. “He came back up 25 minutes later and told me he had been thinking about it all that time and now understood it.”

The staff’s efforts have been featured in several national newspapers and on the BBC. Glen has taken advantage of social networking to set up a Facebook page and the ‘thoughts’ have a growing following on Twitter.

“Customers have said that the quotations really cheer them up. If I miss a day and the board is blank, people ask why?”

Anthony said: “It has been a real team effort on behalf of the staff. We are very proud of what we have done, and knowing that it has encouraged other stations to follow our lead.  It has helped us to connect with our customers, who now see station staff more as individuals. It is definitely worthwhile if we can send passengers on their way with a smile on their face.”

Text and images by Stephen Barry, Museum Friend

Collecting for 2013 – Clapham North’s Thought for the Day

Tube staff that put up ‘Thought for the Day’ messages at Clapham North station say the project has been an overwhelming success.

“Our customers really love them,” said station supervisor Gary Dorrithy, who was prompted to follow a similar scheme introduced at the nearby Oval station, also on the Northern line.

“Lots of peoples take photographs of what we write and many of them tell us they post the ‘thoughts’ on their Facebook or other social networking web sites so that others can enjoy them.”

He said that staff had received numerous letters and notes of thanks from regular customers since the scheme began, usually saying how much they appreciated the daily messages of inspiration. Many of the letters are along the lines of, ‘I was having a really bad day but the ‘thought’ you put up made me feel so much better.’

“The quotations or sayings can often be very therapeutic and it makes the station staff feel good to know that we have put a smile on a passenger’s face.”

The high level of appreciation shown by station users has led to Clapham North receiving a London Underground Customer Commendation for its high level of service.

Customer services assistant Dave Walcott said: “We try to put up a new message in the booking hall every day, using the Internet to find something suitable.”

“Regular customers look out for the day’s message and we soon get reminded if we don’t put up a new message every day. Some customers even choose to travel from here rather than from another station on the line because they look forward to reading them so much.”

He added that passengers often stop and suggest to a member of staff something suitable they can use in the future. “There’s a centre near here which is visited by lots of theatrical people and they give us useful quotes from Shakespeare and other famous writers.”

It’s not only passengers who are cheered up by the thoughts. “Occasionally a member of staff will say that a specific message has really hit home and helped them during a particularly stressful time,” said Gary Dorrithy.

“One of the first things we do after opening up early in the morning is to write out the day’s message,” he added. “It has become part of our regular routine and something that all the staff is keen to help out with.”

Text and images by Stephen Barry, Museum Friend

Collecting for 2013 – Hampstead’s Hidden Garden

Green-fingered staff at Hampstead station have transformed a derelict piece of wasteland into an award-winning garden.

Hampstead is the deepest station on the Underground network, with platforms 192 ft deep, 310 steps and the longest spiral staircase on the network.

A long-neglected concrete area behind the station’s street-level ticket hall contained waste bins and was covered in rubble.

After deciding to improve the space, hours of backbreaking work carried out by station supervisor Neeta Patel and her colleagues have turned it into a colourful garden full of fruit and vegetables.

Initial work involved building a series of raised beds and filling them with around 80 bags full of soil, with the pathways between them covered in bark.

A wide variety of fruit and vegetables was planted in the first year, among them strawberries, herbs, courgettes, gooseberries and peas, with the bins hidden behind barriers.

After entering Underground in Bloom – the Tube’s own annual gardening competition – for the first time in 2010, the garden scooped the Dennis Sanger Chief Operating Officer ‘Special’ award for the team’s efforts.

The garden was then enhanced with a variety of flowers, many taken from cuttings in Neeta’s own garden, and colourful hanging baskets. This led to Hampstead winning the fruit and vegetable category for growing a variety of edible treats in a challenging environment in the 2011 competition.

“It was a double surprise to win two top prizes in our first two years of entering the competition,” said Neeta. The prize money went towards buying more plants and garden equipment, including a small greenhouse and a garden seat.

The garden now has an olive tree and a peanut bush, with seeds for some of the more exotic herbs and vegetables brought back from Neeta’s family home in India.

There is even a wormery bin, providing rich environmentally-friendly liquid fertilizer to help plants grow.

All of the work is done by station staff in their own time  They include station assistant Mary Fisher, station supervisors Stephen Ryan, Bernard Bradley and Naresh Patel, and cleaner Abbey Bola.

“It’s a great place for us to relax during our break or after a stressful shift,” said Mary Fisher. “Looking after the garden has given us something different and fun to focus on all-year-round.”

“Creating and caring for the garden has really boosted staff morale,” said Neeta. “It’s a true working garden, with all of the harvested crops used by staff in the station’s kitchens. It’s very satisfying to have created something out of nothing and just a pity that our customers can’t see it.”

Text and photos by Stephen Barry, Museum Friend