Imagine a world where Reading has its own underground network, with tube-shaped trains whizzing passengers around like a mini-London.

Well, you do not have to imagine anymore as one man has brought the idea to life with a stunning tube map designed to cheer up the people of Reading on a Covid-19 lockdown April Fool’s Day.

Joe Preece, a PHD researcher in digital railway systems who grew up in Tilehurst, shared the tongue-in-cheek creation on Twitter yesterday, writing: “Plans for the Reading Underground, we're just £15bn short of funding.

“So if anybody wants to throw some coins into the kitty, let us know.”

The unofficial Reading Underground map features seven lines and 54 stations.

A Birmingham University researcher and Reading FC fan, Joe Preece, came up with the idea a few years ago with help from a friend.

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He said: “I had some free time and some old ordinance survey maps of Reading.

“One thing led to another, and I ended up producing the map and doing an MSc Computer Science project based upon it.

“Nonetheless, I've always considered how it might benefit Reading.

“This is actually the final draft of a number of designs I went through, and it is the most realistic in what could be reasonably constructed.”

The Twitter post of the map has drawn hundreds of likes, comments and shares.

Councillor Jason Brock, leader of Reading Borough Council (RBC), quipped: “We will deliver this by the year 2173, when Cllr Page celebrates his bicentennial year as a councillor.”

And our colleague Alex Seabrook even offered to help out with a “couple of quid”.

Things have moved at a rapid pace, with Mr Preece setting up an online shop just a day after the tweet went up.

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You can buy more than 60 different types of merchandise with a fictional tube map on it, from t-shirts to mugs to duvet covers, and even a Reading Underground shower curtain.

Twenty per cent of profits will go to a fund to help NHS staff during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Here is the fictional underground network in Google Maps form:

Just how difficult would it be to build a Reading tube network?

Mr Preece said: “There are many barriers beyond the financial ones. For a start, this map has been designed from a passenger perspective.

“There is no consideration for the subsurface infrastructure that already exists in Reading such as pipes, sewers and cables.

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“Furthermore, this has not considered the physical geography; Reading has very chalky soil and old chalk quarries, which would make building a real underground a challenge.”

There is also the small matter of Caversham being below the River Thames on Mr Preece’s map.

How much would it cost?

“It's hard to say,” said Mr Preece.

“If you look at Crossrail, that was estimated at £202 million per mile.

“This design stands at approximately 47 miles of track, which would put the price at around £9.5 billion. But there are many more aspects that would have to be considered.”

And how long would it take to build?

Mr Preece added: “Anything up to ten years seems likely. Although knowing the UK, fifteen years would probably be a safer bet.”                                   

Back in the real world - how is public transport actually changing in Reading?

Controversial plans for East Reading Mass Rapid Transit have been twice quashed by Wokingham Borough Council but the project is still part of the council’s future plans for the town.

Meanwhile buses are becoming greener every year and a new station in Green Park is expected to open in late 2020.

The council is also preparing a new local transport plan, which includes another plan that some might see as fanciful- a Thames Third Bridge.

Plans to build a third bridge over the River Thames have repeatedly failed over four decades.

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Councillor Adele Barnett-Ward, chair of the Cleaner Air and Safer Transport Forum, reacting to the tube map, said: “Although it’s a fun idea, we don’t need to build an underground network to improve frequency and reliability of public transport in Reading.

“Last year’s transport consultation demonstrated strong support for re-allocating road space to public transport and extending the public transport network.

“If the government is willing to put the necessary investment into sustainable transport then our ambitious new draft transport strategy can deliver a more that for a lot less than £15 billion.”

And what if money was no object?

Cllr Brock told the Local Democracy Reporting Service: “It is very pleasing to see people imagining such strong ambitions for the town. It is a delightful thing for April Fool’s Day.

“It makes you think – what will public transport look like in the future?

“If money were no object, what would we do? It would probably be something like a tram. People like trams.”