Vector Maps: Submission – Great Britain National Rail Route Diagram by Andrew Smithers

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Submitted by Andrew, who says:

This latest version of the diagram now features correct geographic orientation at junctions. The previous maps were nodal (major stations were shown as hubs where trains can arrive and depart in any direction, sometimes reversing) to keep straight line trajectories as long as possible. See the Southampton example for then and now. The map is now more curvy with a softer less angular appearance which I believe users will prefer. Careful control of radii at junctions has helped keep the long straight line trajectories. Now it’s been given the full go ahead, HS2 phase 2b has been added. A new colour palette enables high speed to be picked out showing how the HS2 fits into the existing network. The map is a major development and to make it appear new and different I’ve used a more artistic sea abstract with rounded corners to the coastline.

Transit Maps says:

First, let me just recognise what an enduring project this is – Andrew’s first draft of this map dates back to 1997, and this is its thirtieth major revision, which is quite astounding. Andrew also makes a version that breaks everything up by rail operator, but I’ve always felt that this “overview” version is a little cleaner and easier to understand. Displaying an entire national rail network in a clean diagrammatic way is no easy task, but I think Andrew does a great job and each revision sees improvements.

I particularly like the new colour palette this time around: the teal and orange are quite striking, and the use of the the orange for icons instead of the previous grey is quite inspired. I’m not as sold on the wavy background, though: it’s overly busy and draws attention away from the actual diagram. If it was overlaid at a much lighter opacity on a light blue background as a subtle effect I think I’d like it more. The large black drop shadow is also a bit too powerful for me – reduce the radius, drop the opacity or make it a multiplied blue to reduce its visual intensity and brighten the map up a bit.

With this revision, Andrew has introduced more generous curves throughout, which does help with comprehension of some of the local routes. It also introduces a bit of a visual “pause” in some of the longer straight routes: the eyes naturally rest on Exeter St. Davids on the way out to Penzance, for example. I quite like it, and it’s definitely interesting to compare the approach taken by this map to the previous iteration in this detail from around Southampton. It just seems a little more elegant, perhaps?

One thing I always look for in a big mapping project like this is consistency in the design language. One thing that really stands out to me is Andrew’s use of large arcs in just two parts of the map: between Aberdeen and Inverness in Scotland, and between Barrow-in-Furness and Carlisle skirting around the edge of the Lake District. They look great, but are also somewhat inconsistent with the angularity of the rest of the map. So I think that it’d be nice if similar arcs could be incorporated elsewhere to make their use more consistent. The obvious first place for me would be the line between Colchester and Stowmarket – which is basically already an arc except it’s made up out of straight segments – and there may be others as well.

Overall though, this is a really good new iteration of an already impressive project and I can’t wait to see what Andrew does with it next. Definitely one to spend a long time poring over!

Note that even though this isn’t technically an official National Rail map, it does appear on the National Rail Enquiries website directly below the official ones – which allows for an easy comparision between them.

Source: Project Mapping website

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