"Discover Japan" Map of Japanese Rail Routes, May 2012
A handsome diagrammatic map of rail services throughout Japan, this one from an issue of the “Discover Japan” magazine (Vol. 21, Issue 4) that seemed to deal mainly with seeing Japan by train.
Without the benefit of a translation for the map’s legend, I’d guess that the thick green lines are Shinkansen lines, blue ones are regional trains and brown lines are local/other services (Update: @suldrew has let me know that it’s Green = Shinkansen, Blue = JR Rail routes, Brown = Other non-JR Rail routes).
Some of the route lines are a little unnecessarily wiggly for my liking, but there’s no doubt that this is a very accomplished piece of map design. Cleverly implemented insets for the greater Tokyo area and other islands make very effective use of the space on the page. I also really like the subtle wave pattern in the ocean/sea areas of the map, and the adorable little icon representing Mount Fuji.
Related: This isometric map of JR West rail services, one of my favourite transit maps ever!
Official Map: TILO Commuter Rail – Ticino, Switzerland and Lombardy, Italy
The emergence of a unified Europe has led to a gradual but noticeable blurring of borders between countries in Europe, which now seem to often exist only on maps. With free and easy travel between the European countries that are bound by the Schengen Agreement, it’s not impossible for people to live in one country and work in another, especially when they live close to a border.
This map shows transit services in such an area, the border between Italy and Switzerland north of Milan. Here, Italian Lombardy (shown with a grey background) borders the Italian-speaking Swiss canton of Ticino (white background). Transit between the two areas is becoming more intertwined and reliable, as this map illustrates. The services offered by the issuer of the map — TILO — are the two-digit “S-number” lines: S10, S20, S30 and the narrow-gauge S-60. However, the map also shows the lines of Milan’s own commuter rail network that interact with these services: the S4, S5, S9 and S11 routes, as well as indicating a (slower) regional service that runs between the two provinces. Even the extent of Milan’s Metro is indicated, as are its interchanges with these commuter rail services.
The map itself is quite handsomely produced, and has a distinctive look of its own. The typeface used – Syntax – has a friendly, slightly quirky look to it that helps lift the map up from that typically efficient but clinical Swiss design. The “subway map” stylings definitely help to convey a sense of modernity and speed, even though the main centres shown on the map would take quite a while to travel between (1.5 hours from Milan to Bellinzona; almost three hours from Milan to Airolo).
If there’s a weakness to the map, it’s probably the multitudes of blue bus routes shown on the Swiss side of the border: they clutter that part of the map with a lot of visual noise and probably don’t contain enough routing information to be that useful past an initial confirmation that a town is serviced by a bus route.
Our rating: An attractive and modern-looking map that combines information from different transit agencies to benefit its customers: always a good thing! Three-and-a-half stars!
(Source: Official TILO website)
Historical Map: The Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe, 1956
A simply gorgeous mid-1950s map of the AT&SF’s passenger routes, taken from a promotional brochure produced in conjunction with Disneyland, which is shown prominently to the right of the map.
The brochure was ostensibly an introduction to the Santa Fe & Disneyland Railroad at Disneyland, then only a year old. Understandably, the AT&SF — who had basically bankrolled construction of the 5/8th scale railroad — were keen to get some return in their investment. As a result, much of the brochure is actually given over to advertising their “new and modern” rail services.
The whole brochure opens out to display this fantastic map, where Texas and Oklahoma are represented by scratchily drawn cattle, oil derricks and chemical plants, while the Grand Canyon becomes a large hole in the ground that a careless Native American is about to walk into. On top of these charming little drawings is a simplified route map of the AT&SF’s lines, stretching from San Francisco to Chicago.
Our rating: Gorgeous 1950s design sensibilities, although definitely more an advertisement than a practical, useful map. Four stars.
(Source: Vintage Disneyland Tickets website)
Official Map: Isometric JR West System Map
I’m not sure if I’ve ever been so completely, madly and totally in love with a transit map as I am with this. A giant, sprawling, isometric representation of much of Japan showing JR Group railway lines. The map is produced by the JR West company, and its operating area is shown in full detail within the green area (apart from the heavily urbanised areas around Osaka, Kyoto and Kobe, where — wisely — not all stations are shown). Connecting services and routes operated outside the JR West area are also shown, but in less detail — only major stations along the routes are indicated. Shinkansen lines are light blue, JR West main line routes are dark blue (main line routes outside their operating area match the company that operates in that area - red for JR Kyushu, for example), while urban routes seem to follow their established colour-coding.
As can be seen from the two detail images from the area around Osaka, there’s both an English and Japanese version of the map. The Japanese version is arguably more effective because of the in-built ability to set the text vertically, but the English version isn’t half bad either. I particularly like the way the line names have been set to conform to the isometric grid — a very nice design touch.
Our rating: I like to imagine that this is the world map from some incredible railroad-building computer game. 5 stars!
(Source: Official JR West website)
Technical Review: New Sydney Trains Network Map
It seems that the draft Sydney Trains map that I posted about the other day is the real thing: printed timetables featuring it have been seen and scanned. So, I started looking at it again in order to write a proper review, when I started to notice a lot of little technical things that — as a designer — I found jarring and inconsistent.
I opened the PDF file in Adobe Illustrator and began to poke around. I thought it might be interesting — and perhaps instructive for designers who are interested in making their own transit maps — to show you what I found.
First, apologies for the four separate images: it’s an attempt to get around Tumblr’s maximum 1280px width for pictures. For reference, lets call then NW, NE, SW and SE.
My biggest problem with the map, and what I noticed first, is the wildly inconsistent positioning of labels. The one that really caught my eye was Lindfield on the North Shore Line on the NE map: it’s waaay out of place. St Marys on the Western Line (NW map) is also pretty bad. But, really, almost every label is poorly placed.
To show just how poor, I created cyan guides that are offset a small distance out from the route lines: this seemed to me to be about the right distance away for optimum placement of station labels. Then, for each orientation of label, I created an L-shaped magenta guide that shows both the baseline and the correct alignment (left or right) for the type. I then copy-and-pasted these guides to almost all the labels on the map, being sure to always keep them in the same position relative to each station maker.
As you can see, things are pretty horrific. It’s pretty obvious that there’s no common baseline for labels relative to their stations, nor are they a consistent distance away from the route lines. It’s almost as if each label has been placed individually and then nudged into position, rather than setting up a master set of label positions and applying them as required. Illustrator’s Duplicate function (Command/Control-D) makes this kind of thing so simple: place once, copy elements the required distance to place the next station, then Duplicate, Duplicate, Duplicate until all the stations are quickly and consistently placed.
It can be seen on the North Shore Line (NE map) that even the station dots are inconsistently placed — I’ve put a magenta dot over the top of any station that wasn’t where I expected it to be if things were placed mathematically. Possibly the worst culprits here are Merrylands, Guildford and Yennora stations at the bottom of the NW map: Guildford’s dots aren’t even at the correct angle to each other, and the label placement is completely different for each station. The huge gap between Yennora and Fairfield stations is also pretty ugly: it definitely should be possible to evenly and smoothly space the stations all the way down from Merrylands to Campbelltown.
Some route lines aren’t actually constrained to 45-degree angles: the worst offender is the East Hllls line from Riverwood to Holsworthy (SW map); others are also shown with an overprinting magenta line.
The distance between parallel route lines is inconsistent across the map: this is shown with a little measuring line. The black lines show my base measurement, while the blue lines show inconsistently spaced gaps, which may also be inconsistently spaced with each other! Again, spacing between elements can be controlled easily in Illustrator by entering precise values into the Move dialog box, so this type of thing is very frustrating to see.
The under construction South West Rail Link route is drawn differently to the North West Rail Link: it has no curves where it changes direction and the angled part of the line is too thick. I’ve rotated and overlaid the NW Link on top of the SW Link in cyan to illustrate the difference.
Why is the Macquarie University (NE map) station label set in bold “Interchange” text, but has no interchange ring around the station marker?
Finally, the nesting of curves where parallel routes change direction is very poor throughout the map. Look especially at the City Circle, where huge gaps open up between the route lines at the 90-degree corners. The corners on the orange Bankstown line there aren’t even a consistent radius, being much wider than they are tall.
You know, I really want to like this map. I don’t have any huge attachment to the old one, even though it’s competent enough. Sydney has regularly changed the look of its system map, so we certainly don’t have the same attachment to it that London has to its Tube Map, for example.
This new map is nicely simplified and streamlined, properly full of promise for the new timetabled services. It’s even looks quite friendly and cheerful! However, as a designer, I find it very difficult to look past glaring technical errors like the ones that litter this map, and now I can’t help but see them every darn time I look it.
NOTE: The PDF I edited is slightly older than the one now posted on the Sydney Trains website, but almost every error I talk about is still present in this final version. North Strathfield’s label no longer intersects the T7 Olympic Park line, which is an improvement of sorts.
Historical Fantasy Map: The Gospel Temperance Railroad Map, 1908
Starting from the city of “Decisionville” in the “State of Accountability”, our commuter must make up his mind (Decisionville, get it?) as to which line to take: the “Great Celestial Route” to salvation, the “Way That Seemeth Right” that totally isn’t, or the ominous “Great Destruction Route” leading — predictably — to “The City of Destruction”.
Scenic detours can be had through charmingly named towns like Grumblemore, Lewd Castle, Crap Hollow and Treasondale. Perhaps a day out at Scandal Beach along the shores of the intriguingly shaped Beer Lake? Murder Gorge and Suicide Tunnel are probably best avoided, however.
The copy at the bottom left of the map reads:
"This unique map will make a lasting impression for good on all who study it. The names of states, towns, railroads, lakes, rivers and mountains are all significant. A copy of this map should be in every home, hotel, railroad station, and public place. It makes an interesting study for school children, both in the public and Sunday schools. It will cause many a one to leave the Great Destruction Route and finish his journey on the Great Celestial Route. Price 35 cents."
Strangely, though, the map seems to indicate that there’s no way back to the Celestial Route from the other lines. Better make the right choice before you leave Decisionville!
(Source: Wikimedia Commons)
Historical Map: “Explore the Yorkshire Coast” Poster, c. 1950s
Simply gorgeous mid-century poster designed for British Rail’s North Eastern Division by the prolific graphic artist, E. Lander. Yorkshire has never looked better, or so warm… look at all those people in bathing suits frolicking in the hot sun!
The simplified map suits the angular design of the underlying painted scene perfectly, a real synthesis of design and art coming together as a cohesive whole.
The section of line between Pickering and Whitby via Grosmont is today preserved as the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, with the beautiful station at Goathland the highlight. Depending on your age, you might recognise it from Simply Red’s video clip for “Holding Back the Years” in 1985, as Aidensfield station in the long-running British TV series Heatbeat, or even as Hogsmeade station from the Harry Potter movies.
Our rating: Simply stunning. They don’t make ‘em like this any more. 5 stars!
(Source: National Railway Museum/Flickr)
Official Map: Jungfraubahnen, Switzerland
Another stunning panoramic painted rail map from the Alps of Switzerland — its very similar to this one of the Zentralbahn (Nov 2012, 4 stars), which can actually be seen on this map entering from the lower left and terminating at Interlaken.
The map shows the railways around the Jungfrau mountain, operated by different companies, but marketed together as “Jungfrau — the Top of Europe”. The Jungfraujoch station sits almost three vertical kilometres higher than Interlaken, and is the highest railway station in Europe. The last 7 km of the trip is all within a tunnel through the massive mountain range (shown as a dashed line on the map above): two intermediary stations have panoramic windows to observe the spectacular scenery.
The map is quite beautiful, making the absolute most out of the spectacular landscape, although the sheer lushness of the illustration can make some of the text a little hard to make out. As an added bonus, other connecting services outside the Jungbahn network — be it rail or aerial cable car — are also shown in black.
Just in case this map has inspired you to head off to Switzerland to catch the next train, be warned that this trip is not cheap. The trip from Kleine Scheidegg station (the start of the actual Jungfraubahn to the summit) costs 120 Swiss Francs (roughly €100, or $US130). If you want to come from Interlaken Ost, that’s a mere 196 CHF (€160/$US211). Ouch!
Our rating: Stunningly beautiful illustrated map. Four stars.
Official Future Map: Los Angeles Metro Rail
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Agency released a “under construction” map yesterday, showing all the lines that are planned for the near future: Expo Line Phase 2, Gold Line Foothill Extension, the Crenshaw/LAX Line, Purple Line Extension and the ambitious downtown Regional Connector.
Overall, the map fits quite well into the existing LA Metro design aesthetic, although the crowded downtown area is now starting to make the station labelling look a little cramped and messy. It also presents a much larger problem — pointed out to me by Sam Huddy — in that its depiction of the Regional Connector is seriously flawed.
As seen in the second picture above, the Connector will cross the Red and Purple Lines after the 7th Street/Metro Center station and have a stop at 2nd Place/Hope — on the west side of the existing Red/Purple tracks. However, the new map chooses to place the 2nd Place/Hope station on the east side of those tracks, and has the entire Connector parallel to them, instead of showing the crossings.
A lot of this comes down to the limited space available in this part of the map, and the Silver Line is already taking up the available space on the west side of the Red/Purple Lines. However, while this is a diagrammatic map, it’s still hugely important that stations are placed in the correct positions relative to each other. Really, the central part of the map should have been completely redesigned to accommodate the Connector in its correct position, rather than simply tacking it on to the existing map.
Once the Connector is completed, it seems likely that service patterns on Metro rail will change, with the Gold, Blue and Expo lines drastically reconfigured — so there’s a chance this somewhat lazy error will get fixed then.
(Source: LA Metro website — “Under Construction Map” link)
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.