Rail Network Mapping

Railway and steam buffs will know that today marks the 75th anniversary of the world speed steam record in 1938, when the streamlined A4 Pacific steam locomotive “Mallard” attained a speed of 125.88mph on the East Coast Main Line just outside Grantham. This prompted me to look on-line for a railway network map of the time and in doing so I stumbled across Project Mapping – a project about the design of UK rail maps, which now includes a vast resource of over 1,100 rail maps and diagrams.

The website is being developed as a resource portal for rail maps for education, to stimulate debate, present new ideas, criticise and congratulate. It is felt that too much current map design is based on the London Underground map principles and not enough creative thinking goes into the interpretation of complex modern travel systems. The aim should be to make what is unclear on the ground easier to understand, yet often what is straightforward on the ground is made to look less practical.

The site includes some clear, uncomplicated network maps such as the most recent Manchester Metrolink network.


But the site also aims to show new innovations. For example, the new UK rail maps feature 22.5º angles to enable all main lines to radiate from London and to reflect the backbone, or shape, of the country. The Merseyrail map uses 30º and 60º angles which help to shrink the size of the map to a square and more accurately reflect how the network looks. But some representations are just plain confusing as per this chromatic map of the London Underground.

Chromatic map

Perhaps someone would care to explain?

Other interesting snippets if you trawl around the site include a Metrolink Network map “Correct as of July 2031”! No, not a misprint but one person’s “fantasy” map of the future network.

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