‘Not everyone is going to be happy’: Sadiq Khan defends £6.3m London Overground 'Lioness and Suffragette' rebrand

15 February 2024, 12:34 | Updated: 15 February 2024, 12:36

Sadiq Khan has defended the rebrand.
Sadiq Khan has defended the rebrand. Picture: Alamy/TfL

By Jenny Medlicott

Sadiq Khan has defended the renaming of the six London Overground lines after being accused of ‘virtue signalling’.

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The six lines will be renamed and given different colours, after previously all being referred to as the Overground, and being coloured in orange.

Defending the rebrand decision on Thursday, the mayor of London insisted that the names have pleased “most people”.

He said: “It’s been a long process, we’ve been engaging with customers, communities, people across our city.

“We’ve announced the six names today, not everyone’s going to be happy but we think we’ve managed to please most people which is really important.”

Some of the new names include references to England’s Lionesses, the Suffragettes and the Windrush generation.

Mr Khan's Conservative opponent Susan Hall is among critics of the rebrand, who said it represented "virtue signalling".

While Keith Prince, transport spokesman for the Conservatives in City Hall, labelled the rebrand a “wasted opportunity”.

Transport for London (TfL) said that the rebranding would reduce confusion, increase ridership, and celebrate "London's diverse communities and histories".

Asked how the move was a good use of public money, Mr Khan said it would help those who “find it a nightmare” to use the Overground in its current form.

How the new maps will look
How the new maps will look. Picture: TfL

The rebrand will take place over a week in the autumn and is set to cost £6.3 million. It will come out of Sadiq Khan's Greater London Authority budget.

The names were not voted on by the general public, but "through engagement with customers, stakeholders, historians, industry experts and local communities".

Read more: Sadiq Khan freezes London Tube and bus fares until 2025 in boost for commuters

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The new line names are:

  • The Lioness line: Euston to Watford Junction, running through Wembley. TfL said it "honours the historic achievements and lasting legacy created by the England women's football team". It will be yellow parallel lines on the map.

  • The Mildmay line: Stratford to Richmond/Clapham Junction, running through Dalston, "honours the small charitable hospital in Shoreditch" which is notable for "its pivotal role in the HIV/AIDS crisis in the 1980s". It will be blue parallel lines on the map.

  • The Windrush line: Highbury & Islington to Clapham Junction/New Cross/Crystal Palace/West Croydon. It runs through areas "with strong ties to Caribbean communities today, such as Dalston Junction, Peckham Rye and West Croydon and honours the Windrush generation". It will be red parallel lines on the map.

  • The Weaver line: Liverpool Street to Cheshunt/Enfield Town/Chingford. The line runs through Liverpool Street, Spitalfields, Bethnal Green and Hackney, which are "areas of London known for their textile trade, shaped over the centuries by diverse migrant communities and individuals. "It will be maroon parallel lines on the map.   

  • The Suffragette line: Gospel Oak to Barking Riverside, which "celebrates how the working-class movement in the East End, fought for votes for woman and paved the way for women's rights". It runs to Barking, which was the home of the longest surviving Suffragette, Annie Huggett, who died at 103. It will be green parallel lines on the map.  

  • The Liberty line: Romford to Upminster, which "celebrates the freedom that is a defining feature of London and references the historical independence of the people of Havering", through which it runs. It will be grey parallel lines on the map.
The Overground network has expanded significantly since 2007
The Overground network has expanded significantly since 2007. Picture: Alamy

The Overground network was created in 2007 when TfL took control of four suburban railway lines. But it has grown significantly since then, making it confusing for some.

The majority of the rebrand money will go towards updating customer information, including redesigning and redisplaying maps across all Tube and London Overground stations, and issuing new versions in print and online. Public address announcements will be re-recorded and around 6,000 station direction signs will be updated.

Announcing the change, Mr Khan said: "This is a hugely exciting moment, transforming how we think about London's transport network.

The London mayor said: "Giving each of the Overground lines distinct colours and identities will make it simpler and easier for passengers to get around. In re-imagining London's tube map, we are also honouring and celebrating different parts of London's unique local history and culture.

"The new names and colours have been chosen through engagement with passengers, historians and local communities, reflecting the heritage and diversity of our amazing city." 

Ms Hall said: "In typical Sadiq Khan fashion, this pointless, costly, virtue signalling project is costing Londoners £6.3m. Instead of fixing the central line, getting a grip on crime on the tube and on our streets, he’s focusing on his own PR.

"We've had enough of this, it's time for a change."

Others also hit out at the changes, with some suggesting that the money could have been spent on improving services.

One person said on Twitter: "I thought this was a joke! It’s not.

Another asked: "Why don’t you fix the Central line instead of naming the Overground line as if that were a problem?

A third said: "I really did have to double check it wasn’t 1st of April today".

But John Bull, editor of transport website London Reconnections, said giving the lines names and colours was "an overdue change".

He told the PA news agency: "One of the real benefits that the Overground has brought is the ability to drive traffic that isn't local to interesting places in Zone 2, Zone 3 and beyond.

"But if it's not a familiar journey you can't just say 'I'm going to get on the orange line'. You have to know how they interconnect."

Mr Bull predicted that "people will grumble and moan about the names" but that has happened for "every single line that has been given a name over the years".

He added: "Frankly, it's nice to have some stuff that represents things that have changed the lives of Londoners, among the references to queens that have tended to accrue up until now."

The most recent major naming of a rail line in London was the Elizabeth line after Queen Elizabeth II, which opened in May 2022.

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