Historical Map: National Railways of Zimbabwe, c. 1985
A pretty basic two-colour map of the (then newly-independent) Zimbabwe’s rail network produced by the government’s Land Survey Office. Once you look past the eye-searing red ink and “transportation” clip art, there’s a couple of interesting things on the map.
Firstly, the map actually does a pretty good job of showing how Zimbabwe’s rail network fits in with other connecting rail services in southern Africa. Secondly, it shows an interesting colonial oddity: the Zimbabwe National Railway actually runs all the way through Botswana to Mafeking, South Africa (the bottom left quarter of the map). This dates back to 1911, when Rhodesia Railways was granted a special agreement to preserve its rights of access under the Tati Concessions Land Act — basically a huge mineral rights land grab by a private company.
Much of the network shown here is still in use today, but due to the high price of imported diesel fuel in the impoverished nation, Zimbabwe has been forced to utilise old steam trains: coal is plentiful and much cheaper.
Official Map: San Francisco Bay Area Regional Transit Map
Submitted by Reed Wagner, who says:
This map appears to be part of a greater “wayfinding” campaign by the SF Bay Area MTC - it appears at major Caltrain, Muni and BART stations and presumably is elsewhere (I took this picture at Caltrain 4th & King. In comparison to the maps made by SF Cityscape like this (external link: PDF), it seems that the official MTC map is falling short in every regard other than information overload in a messy form.
Transit Maps says:
It’s pretty difficult to disagree with Reed’s summary of this map: it is messy, cluttered and difficult to decipher. It’s a little unfair to compare it to the excellent SF Cityscape map (which only shows rail transit and thus becomes less cluttered instantly), but this is still pretty poor work. The main failings, in my opinion:
It’s neither a map or a diagram, and suffers from this hybrid approach. Cities and towns are in (or close to) their correct geographical location, but are simply connected with straight lines between them, creating a lot of very unattractive angles throughout the map.
The ugly and unnecessary feathered shading behind the route lines to denote (very approximate) urban limits. Use a label for each major city: San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, etc, then let the station names do the rest of the work. This map has enough problems with colour already (see next point) without introducing more!
Finally, the legend of the map indicates that there are 38 (yes, 38!) different transit agencies or services shown on the map, and the only visual difference between them is the colour of their route line. It’s too much work for colour to do alone, and certainly isn’t very colour-blind friendly! Some attempt at differentiating modes (BART, commuter rail, bus, Amtrak, etc.) by using something like different stroke widths would allow less colours to be used overall (as the same colours could then be used more than once), while also adding an extra dimension of useful information to the map.
Our rating: More hindrance than help — the information as shown takes way too long to be interpreted by the reader, which isn’t very useful at a crowded railway station! One-and-a-half stars.
Game of “1870”
A railroad-building board game set in the 19th century, complete with stock market shenanigans. Part of the “18xx” series of games, this particular game is set in the Mississippi Valley of the United States. Looks like the game allows for some creative and unusual track layout: I love the the loop-de-loop in the middle of the board!
This totally reminds me of a misspent youth playing Railroad Tycoon and beating those robber barons into submission.
Historical Map: London Connections, 1988
The reverse side of the British Rail Network SouthEast map, showing the detailed view of the area surrounding London. While this map is designed in a very similar style (at the same time, by the same people) to the regional map, I feel it’s slightly less successful for a few reasons.
The inclusion of the London Underground introduces many more colors to the map, which instantly makes it feel much busier. After using all these familiar and well-established colours for the Underground, there really aren’t many colours left to use for the main line/Network SouthEast routes. So they get saddled with orange, a very vivid, powerful colour that visually dominates the map, especially south of the Thames.
Interestingly, the London Overground — a service which has largely been formed from parts of these old main line routes — also uses orange as its route colour: is this map the origin of that designation?
Other points of interest: The Docklands Light Railway, opened the previous year, is shown but has not yet acquired its distinctive teal route colour. The Waterloo & City Line (a very short line between Waterloo and Bank stations) is still part of British Rail, not the Underground.
See also this British Rail map from 1965 (May 2012, 4.5 stars) that covers a very similar area but omits the Underground.
Our rating: A fine piece of work that skillfully incorporates a lot of information, but not as excellent as its sibling. Three stars.
Historical Fantasy Map: St. Paul in the Year 1900 (Map c. 1871)
Definitely one of the stranger maps I’ve seen, and obviously meant to be read in a satirical light. It shows the city of St. Paul, Minnesota as an enormous METROPOLIS with Roman Road-straight railroad connections to all points (except to the “village” of New York, which is served by a “tri-weekly horse railroad”), a tunnel to “Peek-in” and a “railroad-balloonic route” to the North Pole and thence to the Moon. From America’s east coast, a gargantuan suspension bridge implausibly crosses the Atlantic to London — double-tracked the whole way, at that.
The explanatory text is quite hilarious at times. “Duluth,” it states, “is to be wiped out entirely, as it deserves for having the temerity to exist” while “Chicago is to be a signal station on the horse railroad to New York, which is deemed to be all the conveniences required for those insignificant villages.”
The text even pokes fun at the absurdity of the map itself, noting that “It may strike a stranger that some of these parallel roads [railway lines] may have a hard time of it to earn dividends, particularly as they have no way stations”.
Historical Map: British Rail Network SouthEast, 1988
Network SouthEast was an operating division of British Rail that was formed in 1982 (although it was known as London & South Eastern until 1986). It was responsible for inter-city and commuter rail for the densely-populated south east of England, including London. Of course, beginning in 1994, Network SouthEast was privatised along with the rest of British Rail, leading to the convoluted network of private rail companies we see today.
But what we have here is a very handsome network map, which obviously owes a great deal to the London Underground map, but has enough of its own identity to stand alone. This is mainly achieved by the removal of the Underground’s distinctive Johnston Sans typeface, replaced with what looks like a condensed Helvetica or similar Gothic face.
The map is broken down into six regions, which are cleverly shown by only using three repeating colours (red, blue and grey): this prevents the map from looking too rainbow-like and gives it a more corporate feeling. A fourth colour — orange — is used to show the brand-new ThamesLink service running north-south through London.
The London region itself only shows main terminals and connecting stations: a more detailed map of this area is shown on the reverse of this map: this keeps the map clean and uncluttered.
About the only real problem I have with this map is the colour of the water, which is almost exactly the same as the blue type that is used to denote connecting ferry services and ports. For example, there’s a ferry to France from Newhaven Harbour, but it’s very difficult to make that out.
Our rating: An excellent example of mid-1980s map design (remember: this is still before computers entered the design field, so a map of this complexity was quite an undertaking). Four stars.
Historical Map: Railways in Cornwall, 1936
An absolutely gorgeous hand-drawn map from a “Little Guide” to Cornwall published by Methuen in 1936. Drawn by B.C. Boulter, who also illustrated the guide book.
Unofficial Map: Dallas-Fort Worth Rail Transit by Gabe Tiberius Columbo
I’ve been frustrated with the Dallas rail map for a while, and decided to make a comprehensive diagram of Dallas-Fort Worth rail trainsit.
Transit Maps says:
Simply put, this is a beautiful diagrammatic map and is far more visually attractive than the official DART map (August 2012, 3 stars). There’s a very elegant, restrained feeling to this: from the subtle grey background and typography to some excellent, slightly unusual colour choices for the route lines that work really nicely together. The way the Green and Orange lines interact with the Red and Blue is exactly what I wanted to see in the official map, and this treatment looks so much cleaner.
One could make a case for the inclusion of a few geographical features or major highways to give a better sense of scale and location, but — purely for route finding — the map doesn’t really need them, in my opinion.
The map’s not totally perfect: I don’t see a need for the smaller type for station names on the TRE and A-Train services: the thinner route lines already differentiate them from the main DART services, and the smaller type is somewhat harder to read. By the time we get down to the Amtrak routes and the M-Line Trolley, the type is almost ridiculously small.
There’s also a typo in the legend that references the “Fort Worth Transportaion Authority”.
Our rating: Excellent work that takes a completely different approach to the official map and does it very well. Four stars.
Official Map: Israel Railways Passenger Services, 2013
Originally sent to me as a photo by long-time reader and contributor, Sam Gold, I thought this map was interesting enough for a full review. It shows all the passenger rail services in Israel, which are divided into nine operational routes, plus a night route than runs the length of the main north-south trunk line.
Have we been there? No.
What we like: Clear coding of the routes in attractive colours. The night service is handled deftly, with a distinct visual difference between it and the regular routes. The bilingual labeling is mostly nicely done, although a couple of stations at the southern end of the “Red Line” have their Roman script left-aligned when right-aligned would be more appropriate.
What we don’t like: The whole map feels a little disjointed to me. In a diagrammatic map like this, the main north-south trunk line from Nahariyya to Be’er Sheva really could be turned into a straight line — a strong visual axis that underpins everything else. Instead, it weaves uncertainly all over the place, leading to some awkward spacing between route lines and other elements
Stations that are recommended as interchanges have a bar linking all the lines, while other stations that serve multiple lines just have unconnected dots. I’d prefer to see them linked with a thin black line, just so it’s obvious that all the dots collectively belong to one station.
Although this is a diagrammatic map, the scale of some elements is very odd. Stations in Tel Aviv, which have to span across seven lines (plus the night line at Savidor Center), seem to take up half the width of the country, while the “Brown Line” from Be’er Sheva - North to Dimona — which is actually a 40-kilometre (25 mile) journey, appears to be a tiny shuttle trip, as its route line is only just longer than the distance shown between Be’er Sheva - North and Be’er Sheva - Central: a real-life distance of just over a kilometre!
Our rating: Serviceable enough, but visually, a whole lot more could be made of the main north-south trunk. Two stars.
(Source: Official Israel Railways website)
Historical Map: Kroll’s Standard Map of Seattle, 1914
As Seattle continues with its expansion of light rail (East Link, University Link) and streetcar (Capitol Hill streetcar), here’s a look back at the city 99 years ago. This isn’t a transit map per se — rather, it’s a map of the city that also happens to show the transit network in no uncertain terms. The thick dark lines that traverse the city like veins are all streetcars, cable cars and interurban trains. Main line trains are shown by more conventional “railway line” ticked strokes — these travel to King Street Station (still in use by Amtrak and Sounder trains today) and the adjacent Union Station, which now houses the offices for Sound Transit. View a full-size version of the map here.
(Source: Rob Ketcherside/Flickr)