Amtrak’s Massive Network Looks Way Better as a Subway Map
Railway buffs are a passionate and eccentric bunch. British rock vocalist (and railroad enthusiast) Rod Stewart revealed in the December 2007 issue of Model Railroader that his 1,500-square-foot model train layout occupies the whole third floor of his Beverly Hills estate. “I pity a man who doesn’t have a hobby like this one,” he said. “It’s just the most supreme relaxation.”
Cameron Booth, a senior graphic designer at Parsons Brinckerhoff by day, has a Stewart-level affinity for another aspect of the world of rail transit. As a side project, Booth creates stylistic redesigns for railway, highway, and subway grids, and also runs TransitMap.net, where he shares and reviews transit maps from around the world.
This week, he released a preview of the latest iteration of his Amtrak Subway Map—a comprehensive rendering of the Amtrak rail network based on a subway-style diagram. He finished the first version of the map in 2010, updating small details and adding new stations every year since. For his newest offering, he has fully revamped the look as well. “I’ve learned a lot over the last six years,” he said. “So it was easy make a decision to try and do something a little more stylish.”
A close up of the Northeast Corridor
The project is inspiringly meticulous. Amtrak services 46 states and three Canadian provinces on more than 21,000 miles of routes. Booth is unmistakably consumed with both transportation and design. “A trip to London in 1997 definitely opened my eyes to the wonders of the Tube and the amazing H.C. Beck London Underground diagram,” he said. Originally from Australia and now based in Portland, Oregon, he is also deeply troubled by Amtrak’s current cartographical offering.
“It shows where it goes across America, but it doesn’t break it out into the individual services. So you look at their map, and you go, ‘Oh look, I can go from New York to San Francisco,’” he said. “You can’t. You have to get off and change trains in Chicago if you’re gonna do that. There’s two different trains that you would have to catch!”
Booth says his design of the Amtrak map started in the Northeast Corridor, the densest collection of stations located between Boston and Washington D.C. Once he solved the spacing for the most crowded section, he created the rest of the country on a common grid—each station is spaced at the same distance or a multiple of the original distance between each Northeast station. Booth’s obsession with informational design paid off—the final map is informative and elegant enough to make navigating the sprawling Amtrak system look as easy as taking a train across town.
“I believe that a map of whatever transit system you’re talking about acts a face of that transit agency,” Booth said. “If that map looks terrible and it’s hard to understand, then what’s that saying about the service they’re trying to promote? Better design gives a better impression, right from the start.”