Lines of beauty: A collection of the very best train maps
Nerdiest thing ever or key to understanding the modern world?
Thursday 06 October 2011
On the contents page of Mark Ovenden's Great Railway Maps of the World is this writer's favourite example of the kind. On one of the various exits from Manchester's grand, but tired, draughty, and ultimately quite grim, Victoria station is a huge tiled map of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway from Liverpool in the west over to Goole and Hull in the east (and as far 'down south' as Macclesfield).
The map of the railway, pictured right, which ran under that name from 1847 to 1922, is one of many period adornments to a station that's suffered from modern indignities – including having the huge shed of the MEN Arena plonked on top of half of it.
And, as unusual as its age and material makes the map look – it's nothing compared to some of the other designs in Ovenden's book – which include panoramic illustrations of Japan's railway empire in the Twenties and a wonderful illustrated map of Mont Blanc's ski lift. The "map", inevitably, is just a vertical red line placed over a drawing of La Dame Blanche.
Beauty mixes with oddity here too. Take Ernesto Michahelles's jaunty tourist poster/railway map of Italy featuring allusions to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's take on Italy with a picture of lemons next to the words: "Do you know the land?"
Less colourful, but infinitely more useful, are the many practical maps featured, which can range from design genius of a highly-stylised, and not actually very accurate map of Rome's line connections from Fascist-era Italy) to the vastly complicated tangles of an 1893 map of America's huge Pennsylvanian Railroad and its myriad connections. The transcontinental sprawl it depicts is now almost incomprehensible to modern eyes trying to work out how to make it from Fort Worth to Chicago.
Ovenden's previous work was a collection of the greatest underground maps and designs but, as wonderful as Harry Beck's London Underground planner (which actually features here within a London Railways map) and its ilk are, the romance of the overground railway pours from the edges of many of the images in Great Railway Maps .
The story of a continent is told by the maps and adverts for the Canadian Pacific Railway and the vast atlas of America's transcontinental railroad, to maps of the tram system which connected neighbourhoods in Los Angeles between 1901 and 1963.
Yes, a book of railway maps may sound, frankly, quite literally trainspotter-ish, but few other subjects can envelop such a heady mixture of design, history, geography and – more often than not – usefulness. It's well worth alighting on.
'Great Railway Maps of the World' by Mark Ovenden (Particular Books, £20) is out now. To order a copy for the special price of £16.50 (free P&P) call Independent Books Direct on 08430 600 030, or visit independentbooksdirect.co.uk
Watch the new House of Cards series three trailerTV
Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards
Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears
Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants
TV ReviewThe intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Home Office says Nigerian asylum-seeker can’t be a lesbian as she’s got children
- 2 What happens to your body when you give up sugar?
- 3 Japanese island overrun with cats after population explodes
- 4 Apple and Google users being spied on for a decade because of 'Freak' security flaw
- 5 Have sex with your iPad thanks to the new sex toy no-one asked for
Kurt Cobain's life and death: Montage of Heck film uses unseen footage to tell Nirvana frontman's story
Fifty Shades of Grey movie shows first sex scene 'after 40 minutes'
Drugs Live: Twitter responds to Jon Snow and Jennie Bond smoking cannabis
Jimmy McGovern's new TV series 'Banished': Why Australia's past has such resonance today
The Walking Dead, Remember, review: The discovery of a new community leads Rick to a dark decision
'Jihadi John': CAGE representative storms off Sky News accusing Kay Burley of Islamophobia
Durham Free School: 'Creationism taught at' free school facing closure
Nearly 100,000 of Britain's poorest children go hungry after parents' benefits are cut
Ukip would cut billions from Scottish budget to fund English tax cuts
End of the licence fee: BBC to back radical overhaul of how it is funded
Ukraine crisis: Top Chinese diplomat backs Putin and says West should 'abandon zero-sum mentality'