An extraordinary map of London’s railways, past and present has been updated recently and is proverbial catnip to any train or map geek.
Many of you will be familiar with the Carto Metro website, which shows what already seems to be an impressively detailed map of London’s railways, and as useful a tool it is, it pales compared to what London Underground manager, Joe Brown has managed to produce.
The London Railway Atlas is now in its 4th edition, in part as what was a hobby morphed into a serious publication and needed cosmetic improvements over previous editions — and to sake train geeks obsessive attention to detail by supplying corrections where needed.
Despite the ravages wrought across the railways by the Beeching cuts, London escaped largely unscathed, but it was later changes in society that were to see vast amounts of rail track ripped up.
The demise of freight rail in London, thanks very much to refrigeration making food deliveries less time sensitive, and the decline of coal as a domestic fuel saw masses of depots across the centre of London close down. The city kept the railways, but lost the depots which were once such a huge part of the railway network.
Where once belching steam trains delivered fuel for the human and the engine, today more often can be found offices and flats, with rarely any memory that anything else ever existed there.
The railways were the fuel of the city, the pumping arteries delivering necessary ingredients into the centre to keep London alive. And by curious quirk the Railway Atlas reflects that. The choice of orange to show railways can sometimes look more like anatomical drawings of the human musculature.
A living railway.
The maps have depth, showing intricate details of where lines have closed, but also in places where simply too much has changed, side-by-side comparisons are offered.
These are particularly enlightening in the docks, where the modern DLR snakes through a landscape which was once replete with vast maze of light rail networks.
In addition to the depth of history, the maps cover a much wider area than their online equivalent, reaching out to Tilbury docks on one side, and where Windsor is shown, includes the speculative link that is planned between the two stations there.
Elsewhere, the Northfleet tunnels, recently reopened for Crossrail to send soil to Wallasea Island are detailed, and looking ahead, Crossrail is here, as are the planned changes to Bank tube station.
An appendix at the back offers a timeline of the railways represented in the atlas.
A niggle is that the book is, well, a book – and that can take you back to the ways of using old A-Z maps where you might be on page 25 and to scroll down requires turning to page 37. Also for my eyesight, even with glasses, the font was still a bit too small for comfort — although with so much detail on each page the only solution would have been to enlarge the size of the book.
Despite that, its a book that can be either a massive resource tool for railway geeks, or damn fine picture book that will keep most Londoners in fascinated silence for hours.