All Aboard! Railway Maps of the World

We’ve been in touch with train buff, map-lover, and Fellow of the Royal Geographic Society Mark Ovenden to learn more about his latest book Railway Maps of the World.

Please tell us a bit about the book. Is it about trains or cartography or design or all of the above?
Yes, it is all of the above plus a whole lot for the geographers in all of us. What jumps out immediately from looking at these incredibly diverse maps from all over the planet is how the railways have influenced our lives since their inception.

The book is divided into two halves: the first is more historical. It details the story of how the cartography developed and how early rail lines were planned, surveyed, and tested. I take a look at how maps were used in competitive rail company propaganda. Then I track the arc of the frenetic period of railway mania when rail tracks were being thrown down all over the globe to the decline in the 20th century when politicians and the automotive industry ran down the railways to the present day and near future where we are witnessing a huge revival of rail transport.

The second part of the book is something that surprisingly has never before been seen in print: a complete atlas of official maps of every national passenger rail operator in the world. I wanted to be the first to make this comprehensive atlas—which geographers will no doubt find useful—and I was aiming for there to be something in the book for people bit by the travel bug.

Where did the idea for this book come from?
I’ve got my parents and family to thank for my fascination with train travel. Growing up in the U.K. during the 1960s and ’70s was a remarkable experience because Britain once had the second most dense rail system in the world (after Belgium). My family went on many “Awaydays” (a group ticket at discount prices) and I would take my tiny transistor radio with me and annoy other day-trippers when I tuned into never-before-heard local radio stations as we whizzed up the country. I’d collect the rail maps and had a fascination with comparing other cities to the London Underground diagrams. The collection built up through the years, but I’d followed a career in broadcasting. Some point in 2001-2002 I was asked once again for one of my map collections. I began to wonder if there was a book of all these maps together. As it happened there was no such compendium, hence my life changed completely as I set out to make that book happen. In 2003 Metro Maps of the World was published (renamed Transit Maps of the World for American publication in 2007) by which time I’d quit my job at a TV channel and became a full-time author of books about rail cartography.

How’d you go about compiling the 500 images that are the heart of the book?
I guess one reason why a book like this has not existed before is the difficulty of getting maps from obscure parts of world. With over 120 countries still operating passenger services, I have to admit it did start to send me a little crazy tracking them all down! However the Library of Congress’s map room contains one of the most outstanding collections on the planet. And the National Railway Museum in York, England, is also a fine resource. But really the book would not have been possible without the Internet. In all, I ended up with over 5,000 images from which I had to select at least one from each country for the Atlas section, and enough to showcase the different styles to demonstrate how diverse rail cartography has become.

Do you feel that folks are rediscovering rail as a viable mode of travel, especially given the upsurge in environmental consciousness and concern?
Absolutely. Traveling by train is less-CO2 intensive compared to road or air transport. But it’s a bigger picture than that: the physical manufacturing of cars, their built-in obsolescence and wastage, the cost of petrol and insurance and maintenance of personal vehicles is just unsustainable. To say nothing of the damage roads do to the environment. Traveling by train is so much less stressful, less dangerous, and more sociable than being stuck on the roads, in traffic jams, breathing other people’s exhaust fumes. It’s a no-brainer. And with trains now being powered by more energy-efficient power plants, there’s nothing to beat rail travel for short, medium, or even long journeys.

What’s been your favorite train-travel experience?
There have been so many, but one of my dearest memories was just a little while ago on the preserved Isle of Wight steam railway with my young nephews and nieces; 21st-century kids getting excited about traveling on Victorian technology trains! Maybe the best is yet to come. I’m planning on having my 50th birthday on a train! How cool would it be to bring your 100 closest family and friends to some exotic destination like Vienna or Cape Town or Perth and speed them through a weekend of partying and dinners and catching up on old times on some elegant train like the Orient Express.

We’re giving away a copy of Railway Maps of the World to a commenter who tells us what their favorite rail route is and why. Commenting will end at 2 p.m. EST tomorrow, May 5.

Photos: Cover, Viking; Maroc Vintage; Poster, The Mike Ashworth Collection, London.


  1. mortimerhernandezmora
    March 15, 2014, 1:38 pm

    ok the train is very important for economy the oil in thecountries, and in costarica in thesociety is very important, hello evebady from costaricais specialyto amberdegrace is very beutifoul one kiss from love.

  2. […] All Aboard! Railway Maps of the World – Intelligent Travel BlogDescription : The second part of the book is something that surprisingly has never before been seen in print: a complete atlas of official maps of every national passenger rail operator in the world. I wanted to be the first to make this …http://intelligenttravel.natio .. […]

  3. […] last week senior researcher Meg Weaver interviewed Mark Ovenden about his new book, Railway Maps of the Earth, and he informed us about his favorite […]

  4. […] week senior researcher Meg Weaver interviewed Mark Ovenden about his new book, Railway Maps of the World, and he told us about his favorite rail […]

  5. Naina Dave
    Mississauga, Ontario, Canada
    May 6, 2011, 7:42 pm

    Railways were first brought to India during the British rule.. my favourite train ride is the little train that goes up to Darjeeling in India. Its a small train, runs very slowly and passes through the middle of the hill station. People actually get off the train and walk/jog with the train!!. It has got very good scenic views and lots of folk culture on the route.

  6. Yap Keng Peng
    May 5, 2011, 10:53 am

    I wonder if the following is mentioned in this book: At each railway and subway station in Japan, there is a rubber-stamping corner for tourists who wish to collect the uniquely designed stamps. There are some 77 Japan Railway (JR) stations throughout Japan.

  7. Brad
    Minneapolis MN USA
    May 5, 2011, 9:39 am

    Aside from some not-very-memorable Amtrak experiences (and the local Hiawatha LRT), my train rides have been in Japan. The Shinkansen was pretty amazing, but the route that is closest to my heart is the one that I’d take up and down the east coast of Tokyo Bay from the town I lived in near the tip of Chiba prefecture to Chiba City (and then on to Tokyo, often). If the weather was right, you could see Mt Fuji, and on those evenings I got home late, everyone would get off and immediately start walking home, as the stationmaster was gone for the day.

  8. Anwer Ali
    Karachi, Pakistan
    May 5, 2011, 9:22 am

    My favourate train journey will be the Khyber train safari. It is a railway route in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. The colonial era railway route has been described as “a journey into time and history”.
    It consists of a train pulled by two vintage steam locomotives built in 1920s that takes passengers through breathtaking and rugged mountainous terrain.
    The train covers a total of 42 kilometres through 34 tunnels and 92 bridges and culverts, originally build by the British during the colonial era and which is still maintained by the Pakistan government.
    The 1920s model vintage oil-fired steam engines, which push and pull the carriages from the rear and front, were built by Vulcan Foundry and by Kitson & Co, in the United Kingdom. The inaugural journey between Jamrud, near Peshawar, and Landi Kotal was made on 4 November 1925. The wife of Victor Bailey, the engineer who was assigned the construction of the line, drove the first train on the Khyber Pass Railway into Landi Kotal.
    The steam safari carriage climbs more than 1,200 m through 34 tunnels and 92 bridges, and culverts to reach Landi Kotal.
    The History of railaways in pakistan goes back to 19th century. The possibility of Karachi as a sea port was first noticed at that time & Sir Henry Edward Frere who was appointed Commissioner of Sind after its annexation with Bombay in 1847 sought permission from Lord Dalhousie to begin survey of sea port & Railway line in 1858 .
    It was proposed that a railway line from Karachi City to Kotri, steam navigation up the Indus /Chenab upto Multan and from there an other railway to Lahore and beyond be constructed.

  9. Sruti
    May 5, 2011, 8:56 am

    My favorite train route is from Portland, Oregon to Chicago, IL on the Empire Builder. It’s my favorite so far (I’ve not taken trains in Europe). And why? Because of dramatic change in scenery as the train traveled through snow capped mountains and vast brown plains

  10. Adrian Taylor
    Cairns, Australia
    May 5, 2011, 6:15 am

    The best rail journey I have ever taken would have to be the Savannahlander from Einasleigh to Forsayth in outback Queensland. It’s not about the destination but about the journey. A two carriage motorail rattling across some very heat-warped tracks. The train stopped in the middle of nowhere to show off things like a bowerbirds nest and hidden caves. At one point the driver saw a wild dog running through the bush, which had been terrorising local livestock, and proceeded to stop the train and take a few pot shots with a rifle. An unforgettable ride, definately worth the experience if you find yourself in the tropics of Queensland.

  11. Janet West
    Calgary Alberta, Canada
    May 5, 2011, 6:05 am

    What an adventure it was for me as an 11 year old girl, traveling with my mother and brother on the second leg of our journey from England to Southern Rhodesia in 1958.
    I remember waiting at Cape Town Station, a few hours after having disembarked from the ship Cape Town Castle. The train trip took three days making a few stops along the way.

    I recall the days were filled with such awe and excitement, gazing out of the compartment windows at the vast, unfamiliar and varied landscape of Southern Africa. The groups of native youngsters selling their beautiful wooden carvings and other handcrafted items, at the various stations along the way.
    We spent many happy hours socializing with friends we had met on the ship who were also bound for Salisbury. A particular steward with a terrific sense of humor, would brighten our mornings while bringing our breakfast and tell a few jokes and answer any questions we had about the country etc.

    The nights were a treat, climbing up into my top bunk, and being lulled to sleep by the hypnotic sound of the wheels on the tracks. We definitely slept very soundly.
    We arrived in Southern Rhodesia at Bulawayo Station, on the third day, that is where we changed trains. That would be for an overnight trip to our destination. So the following morning we arrived in Salisbury with rather mixed emotions, we had come to the end of an incredible experience.

    On the one hand we were sad to leave the train and yet on the other we were so happy to be greeted by my father (he arrived by air a week ahead of us) which was very comforting. Plus it was the beginning of a new chapter in our lives, one which I have, and will always cherish…….

  12. Grace
    May 5, 2011, 1:09 am

    My favorite rail route would be the one on board the Rocky Mountaineer where it took me through the Canadian Rockies’ magnificent peaks spanning from the Interior Plains of Alberta to the Rocky Mountain Trench of British Columbia. With the Canadian Rockies being the home to alpine meadows, emerald lakes and wild waterways etc., the landscape is simply breathtaking!

  13. Richard
    May 5, 2011, 12:54 am

    The narrow-gage line to hill-station of Shimla, India. Or basically any train in India!

  14. OK Traveler
    May 4, 2011, 10:39 pm

    I have yet to travel by railroad but look forward to it as it is still the best way to get to see more and do more. My first will probably be around Europe. I look forward to getting to see all the information in this book!

  15. Christina F
    May 4, 2011, 10:25 pm

    Although the German ICE train is a more pragmatic way to travel through Germany, it sometimes neglects the beautiful countryside and places off the beaten trail. When my sister accompanied to Germany a year and a half ago, I wanted her to experience a part of Germany that most tourist might neglect to see. After disembarking from an ICE train from Amsterdam en route to Frankfurt am Main, we boarded a City Express train in Cologne after a two hour pit stop. The CE train from Cologne to Frankfurt Am Main stopped not only in the former west capital of Germany, Bonn, but it traveled along the Rhine. As we snaked through the bluffs and cliffs, we had vineyards to our right and the river to our left. As the Rhine meandered, every turn we were greeted by old castles atop of the hills, still keeping guard as if no time had passed. Since it was almost autumn, the trees were starting to slowly turn into the red, orange and yellow hues. The scenery was absolutely terrific and romantic, harkening back to a Germany that the 20th century has forgotten about. The entire time we could not stop gazing out the window as we slowly made our way down the river, taking pictures in the hopes to preserve the moments. The best part was a conversation we had about the vineyards. Since the hills were extremely steep, I asked my sister, ‘How do you think they collect the grapes off the hill?’ Her response, ‘They probably train monkeys to go down the hill, pick the grapes, and deliver them to be made into wine.’

  16. Silvina Baez
    Buenos Aires, Argentina
    May 4, 2011, 10:18 pm

    Beautiful idea! I already love the this book! There are two things I love most: to travel and the emotion to open a new book, both are the best way to dicover the world!

  17. Daniel Helmhold
    San Francisco, CA
    May 4, 2011, 8:15 pm

    As a child of the Cold War, Russia may just as well have been the far side of the moon, for it’s inaccessibility and completely foreign nature. Given this, I relished the opportunity of taking the Tran-Siberian Railroad to peer behind the veil into modern day Russia.

    Beginning in St. Petersburg and traveling via rail to Moscow, Lake Baikal, Ulan Ude and down into Ulaanbaatar Mongolia and terminating in Beijing, China; the route illustrated the oft ignored beauty of all 3 countries, while exposing me to the realities of a rural lifestyle focused not on the nuances of raising and falling global powers, but simply surviving day to day.

  18. Leslie
    May 4, 2011, 7:38 pm

    I recall fondly as a college student in the mid 1970’s traveling Europe with a rail pass – I had six of them. Taking the train overnight to save on a hotel room and arriving in a new country in the morning. New language. New currency. New frame of reference. One of my most vivid memories was traveling by night into Berlin, the Wall still standing. Traveling by night through Germany arriving to bombed out buildings still standing those many years later as if the War was just yesterday. Onto the train in the evening leaving citizens beind the wall. I could leave on the train, many could not.

  19. Janelle Mc
    Newcastle, NSW
    May 4, 2011, 6:20 pm

    Having just moved back to my home town after 15 years in Japan, I am constantly hearing the words “SHITTY rail” to describe the national City Rail here in NSW. It seems my days of languid train rides have somewhat halted for now.

    Besides the obvious modernity and efficiency of Japanese trains, especially the Bullet trains we all love, there is one that I never had the chance to ride. One that conjured up all kinds of imaginary romantic backdrops and distinct Japanese hospitality. A classic journey NORTH on the TWILIGHT express overnight train from Osaka to Sapporo.

    The TOKYO to SAPPORO journey is also an incredible chance to feel the flow and rhythm of old school train hum.

    Carry your JR rail pass as a tourist, and enjoy the ride even more at a deeply reduced price.

    YES, Japan does train travel well; BOTH new and old.

    For now though, I want to take my baby daughter on the Sydney to Perth route. Oh let me dream!

    THANK you for the lovely book release. Train time I want once more.

  20. Heidi Wagner
    westerville, oh, usa
    May 4, 2011, 5:10 pm

    I would so LOVE to win this book for my brother. He is an avid map and train buff! He’s even had his own photography published in a couple train magazines! I’ve had the experience of riding the train 12+ hours in China, and he’s explored Europe via train during his stint in the army. He and my mom have spent hours talking and studying maps!

  21. Valeria
    May 4, 2011, 5:09 pm


    Mi favorite rail route was to make the Interrail in 2007.A train ride that lasted a month, knowing beautiful places, people from different countries and living a whole month in the trains!
    I loved a lot more trains since then.

  22. Stephanie C
    May 4, 2011, 4:28 pm

    I would love to take the Glacier Express in the Swiss Alps. When we went to the alps, the rail was on the other side. We are from the U.S. and are enjoying using the transportation systems in Europe.

  23. Geoff edwards
    Manchester uk
    May 4, 2011, 4:24 pm

    Can’t wait to get my hands on such a definitive work, well done Mr Ovenden indeed on all your endeavours.
    Time to get on amazon and make a special purchase.

  24. Faisal Zulkarnaen
    Cairo, Egypt
    May 4, 2011, 3:57 pm

    I love to travel by trains since I was a kid, whenever and wherever. They are always be my favorite. I have taken trains in Indonesia and Egypt. I would love to take another route all over the world. If I’m asked what my favorite rail route is…I just can say, I love them all. First one, I believe that train is the safest transportation on earth and it’s fast. Second, You will never get lost when travel by trains. You can always get back easily if you find yourself in a wrong way or have passed your destination.

  25. Sudhir Desai
    Boston, MA
    May 4, 2011, 3:43 pm

    Having grown up in India – trains were very integral to my early life. They particularly meant vacations as we traveled to Bombay (then) in the summers.

    The romance of the trains never left me. Even today I prefer it to all other modes of travel… the ability to look at the passing world, meeting strangers… the ability to step down even if for a moment on the platforms in strange places whose names you have just heard… the rhythmic cadence when all else is silent.. Nothing can replace trains…

    I have come to appreciate the extensive train network in India and enjoy the comfort and convenience of trains in Europe. I miss having the same extensive network in the US.

    Maps just show you all that is possible! I love maps. If there is one way to concisely look at possible journeys and dream.

  26. Pam
    Brighton, England
    May 4, 2011, 3:37 pm

    London Waterloo to Bournemouth. For two years I got this train every day to college in Brockenhurst, watching the seasons change in the New Forest from snowdrops to primroses to bluebells to gorse to autumn leaves to bare winter trees as the ponies’ coats grew thick and thin. Then it was my train home from University. I’d get to Southampton docks and smell the sea (in the days when trains had slam-doors and windows that opened) and know I was almost home.

  27. may
    May 4, 2011, 3:36 pm

    I can hear the whistle blow now. Sounds like something I’d like to read while travelling by train.

  28. Tina Liadis
    San Francisco
    May 4, 2011, 3:35 pm

    Train travel harkens back to a more civilized era and is still the best way to travel!

  29. Andrew
    May 4, 2011, 3:21 pm

    very cool!

  30. brinda
    Chicago, IL
    May 4, 2011, 3:10 pm

    Excellent, this will be my dad’s Father’s Day present for sure. He grew up traveling around India by rail because my grandfather was a top executive for the India railways. My dad is nostalgic for those days and is working on memoirs of his railroad childhood.

  31. Matthew Straub
    Madison, Wisconsin
    May 4, 2011, 3:10 pm

    My favorite route has always been the Hiawatha Line from Milwaukee to Chicago, because it makes me nostalgic for Rail Baron, a very long and fun Monopoly-like game I used to play with my family back in the day. Also, there’s an old rail depot (converted to a bike shop) in my hometown of Madison that says “Hiawatha Line” on the side of it, and there’s an old Milwaukee Railroad engine sitting outside.

    But the reason I want the book is because I’m fascinated by both trains and maps!

  32. Michael Figueiredo
    Los Angeles, California
    May 4, 2011, 3:07 pm

    This sounds like a wonderful book! Not only do I love maps (I could study one for hours), but I am also a train fanatic. I have taken trains all over Europe and South America so far. I’m planning on going to Asia next year and will definitely take some trains there too.

  33. Amber DeGrace
    Lancaster, PA
    May 4, 2011, 3:03 pm

    I’ve never taken a rail trip but would love to. This book will help me choose which ones may be good options!

  34. Archibald Chuzzlewit
    St. Paul, MN
    May 4, 2011, 2:56 pm

    My favorite rail route is the “milk run” trains that operate in the Cinque Terra. The route snakes along the cliff sides, and weaves in and out of tunnels, offering incredible views of the gorgeous Mediterranean sea. I made this trip after having taken the train from Genoa (a decidedly less picturesque location) and vividly remember my first glimpse as the train pulled out of a long tunnel and suddenly burst out into the sunlight and pristine landscape including verdant green hills and sparkling blue waters. The trains were an absolute joy to take, and made hiking the trail between the five towns very manageable.

  35. Claire Walter
    Boulder, CO
    May 4, 2011, 2:41 pm

    My favorite rail routes live in my imagination, because they are ones I have not taken: Number one is the route from Golmud, China, to Lhasa, Tibet. I am phiilosphically, culturally and ethically disturbed by China’s subsuming of Tibet, but the train is there — and I long to ride it someday. Of the trains I’ve actually taken, my favorite route is Switzerland’s Glacier Express between Zermatt and St. Moritz. I’ve ridden it in summer and winter, and am captiviated each time. You can tell I love mountains!