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
Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites
TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Peter Lik: The self-proclaimed 'fine-art photographer' whose work sells for millions
The best underrated Christmas movies from Love, Actually to While You Were Sleeping
Grace Dent on TV: The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies was a beautifully shot, immensely considered drama
The Lost Honour of Christopher Jefferies, review: Jason Watkins is brilliant, but real victim Joanna Yeates is reduced to a footnote
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
Shock poll shows voters believe Ukip is to the left of the Tories
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
New era of cheap oil 'will destroy green revolution'
Ukip founder Alan Sked and Nigel Farage 'begged Enoch Powell to stand as a candidate'
Ukip candidate jokes about 'shooting peasants' in racist and homophobic rant