comments 23

Draft: NEW Amtrak Subway Map for 2015

Amtrak 2015 - Draft

Check out the revised second draft of this map here!

At the end of April 2015, Amtrak’s Hoosier State service between Chicago and Indianapolis is scheduled to be discontinued — the first complete loss of a service since I created my “Amtrak as Subway Map” way back in 2010. Over the years, I’ve been pretty vigilant to changes to the Amtrak network — adding and deleting stations as required, extending the Downeaster Line to Brunswick and the Northeast Regional to Norfolk — but a change of this magnitude gives me the chance to take a completely fresh look at this project and rework everything from scratch, instead of just tweaking the old diagram again. Let’s face it – I’ve learned a lot of new skills and tricks in the intervening years!

(Note: it now seems that the Hoosier State will be saved, but its potential demise was still the impetus behind this new version of the map.)

Amtrak2015_30-60Still, my first attempt at a new version proved to be a dead end as I experimented unsuccessfully with 30- and 60- angles. While it worked well enough in the Northeast Corridor, as seen to the left, it rapidly fell apart in the rest of the county, creating a lot of awkward and distracting angles. However, I did like the new typography — utilising the excellent Fira Sans, a huge improvement over the previous Myriad Pro Condensed — and the use of transparency where route lines crossed over each other, which led me on to my next idea.

One thing that had begun to bother me about the previous version was the sheer amount of routes that had to be shown along the Northeast Corridor. There are eleven separate services heading south out of New York Penn Station, and showing them all side by side both took up a lot of space and made the stopping patterns of those services difficult to discern. I hit upon the idea of overlaying services that had identical stopping patterns on top of each other, using multiplied transparency effects to layer the colours up on top of each other.

Amtrak2015_NECorridorOut of New York, this condensed the eleven route lines down to a far more manageable four: the “all stations” Northeast Regional and Keystone sharing one line, the Acela Express and Vermonter their own lines, and all of the “long-distance” trains sharing the fourth line: these being the Cardinal, Carolinian, Crescent, Palmetto, Pennsylvanian, Silver Meteor and Silver Star. As these trains diverge toward their final destinations, their actual route colour is revealed, as can be seen here where the magenta Pennsylvanian and teal Keystone lines head east south of Philadelphia. Individually, each of these trains only has one departure daily or fewer (the Cardinal only runs three times a week), but the multiplication of their route colours up to a very strong black helps to imply how their combined service — with departures staggered throughout the day — is itself “multiplied” along the Northeast Corridor. I utilised this effect where appropriate across the rest of the map, except in instances where a line runs concurrently with another route for its entire length. Such instances would mean that line’s signature colour would never actually be seen on the map. In the image above, the Empire Service had to be separated from the Maple Leaf, as they both run with an identical stopping pattern all the way from New York to the Empire Service’s eastern terminus at Niagara Falls.

Amtrak2015_ChicagoAnother bugbear from the previous map was corrected this time around: getting the label for Chicago Union Station to fit next to the station itself, instead of having to use a line that pointed to the station from afar. Note also that the two-letter name disks for each train now also corresponds with the position each train occupies in the station, instead of jut being listed alphabetically as they were previously. This new approach is used across the map wherever two or more services terminate at a station.

Amtrak2015_HeartlandOverall, I think that spacing between stations is now much more even across the entire map. The huge gap between Alexandria and Lorton on the previous version — a by-product of the huge number of lines in the Northeast Corridor that had to be shown — is greatly reduced, and there’s a much more harmonious, even flow all the way down the east coast from Brunswick to Miami. One of my favourite reworks is in Texas (left), where there’s lovely even spacing all the way from Oklahoma City down to San Antonio.  I’m really liking the transparency overlay effects here as well. The whole map is simplified even more than before, eliminating unnecessary changes in direction: the Coast Starlight and Amtrak Cascades don’t take fiddly little curves though Oregon and Washington anymore, for example. Elements align with each other more purposefully than before: the three New England routes — the Adirondack, Vermonter and Downeaster —  all have their northmost U.S. station aligned vertically with each other (not geographically accurate, but much neater in a diagrammatic layout like this). While it’s unlikely that Sunset Limited service from New Orleans to Orlando will ever be restored post Hurricane Katrina, this map allows for that possibility by setting up a straight horizontal line between New Orleans and Jacksonville, where the Sunset Limited used to join the Silver Service trains for the leg towards Orlando.

Research for this new map uncovered three stations that I never knew existed — two seasonal stations for the New York and North Carolina State Fairs, and one for large, pre-booked groups at the Col. Allensworth State Historic Park in California — as well as two stations that are due to open in 2015 – Holyoke (Vermonter) and Arcadia Valley (Texas Eagle). These have all been added to the map. There’s still more research and tweaking to go before this version of the map is finalised — I think some of the colours may need to be changed to maximise the overlay effect — but I’m pretty excited at the way things are progressing. I’d love to hear your thoughts on it as well – use the comments below or drop me a line via my contact page.

Click here to view a larger version of the draft map



  1. Pingback: 2015 Amtrak Subway Map – Revised Draft | Cameron Booth

  2. Great map, visually and otherwise. It obviously represents a lot of work.

    A couple of little quibbles to improve the map:

    1) At Union Station (Chicago), you say that you’re trying to indicate the “position each train occupies at the station”. Unfortunately, the only trains (as far as I know) that use the northern gates are the Empire Builder and Hiawatha. All other trains leave from the southern gates (I know, harder to represent that way).

    2) The 30th St. Station (Phila.) connections aren’t clear. Can’t tell whether the west-bound trains leave from 30th St or from Wilmington.

    Not a quibble but a suggestion: Perhaps a little inset map would be in order for the more dense areas (NY, Chicago, etc.) to make those areas more readable.

    Otherwise, thanks for a great map. Now if only the Feds would give Amtrak more money to help fill in the gaps in service, and give you some more lines to draw…

    • Obbie —

      thanks for your comments. Yes, I’m aware that Chicago is organised that way, but it’s simply not practicable to have 2 dots at the top and 13 (or 14 if the Hoosier State stays) beneath it. A diagrammatic map like this simply can’t show the realities of station platforms/concourses and stay neat and compact. What I’m trying to say is that the large lettered disks occupy the same relative position as the terminal dots of the routes out of my “virtual” Chicago station.

      As for point 2, I’m reworking this whole part of the NE corridor: I tried something experimental with this draft, but realise that I have to dial it back a bit to make sense. Stay tuned!

  3. Pingback: An Updated Map Showing National Amtrak Routes and Stations as a Subway Map - Perfect Your Lifestyle

  4. Klaas

    My compliments for trying this new approach. I would say overall it works pretty well for me especially in combination with the terminus indicators. I also like the (for me) new idea of representing stops on parallel diagonal lines horizontally.

    Two questions:
    1. Why didn’t you switch the VT and the NE on the North-East Corridor? That would have saved you the awkward curve between DC and Alexandria. Similarly for the other wobbly curve on the map (between Oakland and Emeryville), which could be prevented drawing the SJ west of the CS between Martinez and Oakland.

    2. Didn’t you overdo the even station spacing on the East Coast a little bit? E.g. the space between Wilmington and Philadelphia seems a bit too cramped for the two lines crossing there. Also the two branches to Newport and Norfolk seem too close to each other. Strangely enough the spacing between Albany and Buffalo is not at all even. If you’d put the labels south of the line there, Amsterdam could move to the East, which might look a bit better?

    And one very minor point: in Chicago Union station, I would have place the disk for TX straight under SW to really correspond with the position of the line in the station.

  5. I love this map! However, while I approve of the route merging technique in general, I think that two routes should not be shown as one line unless they share a terminus, since it leads to confusion as to where the route ends. For instance, after Pittsburgh, it isn’t quite clear that the Pennsylvanian doesn’t continue all the way to Chicago along the route of the Capital Limited. This also applies to stations such as Fort Worth (Texas Eagle/Heartland Flyer), Los Angeles (Surfliner/Southwest Chief), and both the western termini of the Empire Builder. By this same standard, I think the Keystone service should be shown separately from the Northeast Regional.

    I also have the opposite concern in some cases – is the stop in Bryan significant enough to require the separation of the Capital Limited and the Lake Shore Limited? Trains have many different stopping patterns on the Northeast Regional without being shown as individual lines – it should already be assumed that not all trains make all stops. This applies also to the Wolverine/Blue Water, to the Palmetto/Silver Meteor, and to the Empire Service/Maple Leaf. I’m not sure the best way to handle it if one route is contained entirely within another, though – such as with the Lincoln Service and the Texas Eagle.

    Finally, I think it’s important for the Pennsylvanian to have its own line going into New York. This is because all of the other trains on the black line are not available for travel between points on the Northeast Corridor – for example, nobody could board a northbound train in Philadelphia. (The southbound Carolinian is the only exception to this pattern.) Since this restriction is not enforced on the Pennsylvanian, it is important to keep the route separate, and to give it its own line into New York.

    Overall, I love this map – I think it’s an improvement over your previous one, which was already amazing! Thank you so much for making this!

    • You make some excellent points here, Kara — a major rethink is in order, it seems. Looks like I didn’t look at the timetables closely enough to see those pick-up/drop-off only restrictions along the NE Corridor. I think the general concept holds up, but I will need to split the routes out a little more than I’ve currently done.

      As for the Capitol Limited and the Lake Shore Limited, there’s only one train a day in each direction — they stop where they stop and there’s no deviation in service patterns, so yes, they need to be shown separately because of that stop/non-stop in Bryan.

      • I’m also wondering whether it would be possible to move the California Zephyr a bit further south and to make the Southwest Chief a bit more horizontal – I think that Denver and Trinidad should be a lot closer together; they’re both in Colorado, after all.

        By the way, I was wondering what the chances were of a version of the map including Thruway bus connections? These connections are kind of important in tying together the Amtrak system. Maybe they could be handled in a similar way to how you handled buses in your MBTA map?

      • When I do my timetable transcriptions, I don’t distinguish regular stops, flag stops, pick-up-only stops, and drop-off-only stops. It’s a little too much data to convey in a single station icon, and if you get too far down into the weeds you might end up turning into AC Transit’s absolutely heinous mess of iconography.

  6. Great job! However, the description for Pere Marquette is the Northeast Corridor description. I also find that description a bit confusing though I’m not sure how to improve it. When I see Springfield-Lynchburg, it makes me think of Springfield, Virginia . Maybe say Boston-Norfolk and then add the alternate destinations in parentheses?

    • Ah, thanks for finding that! As for the designation, it’s really saying “From Boston OR Springfield TO Lynchburg OR Newport OR Norfolk”. As there are multiple Springfields, it might be an idea to at least add an “MA” to that particular one.

  7. Cameron,

    While the map is indeed more compact, like any graphic design, it seems that its compactness comes at the cost of losing or obscuring information. The Crescent route is a good example of this. Though the key states that the route runs from New York to New Orleans, following the path, especially from the top-down, is entirely impossible. There is no yellow “terminal” circle in New York, and the line color changes from yellow to red to black (which, if I am not mistaken, does not resemble yellow or red). Yes, the Northeast Corridor had a large number of lines before, but it makes sense for this area to be larger on the map, as it carries a great deal of the traffic and is Amtrak’s only (marginally) successful route. The old map provided a nice side-by-side comparison of the routes in this region, whereas the new one is just confusing. The new map also does not conform to expectations which the reader would have when looking at a Vignelli-style map; correspondingly, I would suggest that if you do decide to take this approach, you ought to give it a visual theme similar to the New York subway map since it functions in this way.

    In my opinion, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Fort Worth, and San Antonio, though not unclear, would be better-off with two separate dots–especially since one of the lines in each city is a terminus. Though this is a matter of personal preference, it seems to me like you had a little bit too much fun with the multiply function. I think your approach would be very effective in cities where there are only a few lines (i.e. red and blue lines converge into a “purple” line), but with the vast number of different colors and lines on this map, it doesn’t really work.

    I do, however, like your approach to the Southwest, particularly Los Angeles. This is very clear and shows the distinction between the Pacific Surfliner line and lines terminating at Los Angeles quite well.

    Overall, while I thought your first version was a masterpiece–and one of the best maps I’ve ever seen–I think this version could only be easily understood by those who are either already familiar with Amtrak’s routes or are quite accustomed to reading transit maps.

    -Michael S. Lopato

    • Michael,

      thanks for your thoughtful critique of the map. I will fully admit that as an initial draft of this new version of the map, I’m trying out a lot of different ideas, concepts and techniques. I already pretty much know how the map would look if I simply tweaked the old one, so I want to push the boundaries of the design and see what works and what doesn’t. I totally agree that path-finding from end to end is more difficult now, but I thought it was a different direction that was worth pursuing. Based on the feedback I’m getting — which is pretty polarised between “ugh!” and “awesome!” — I’ll go away and work on a second draft, refining and reworking. Definitely not the finished item yet.

  8. RyanS

    Actually, it looks like the Hoosier State is going to be saved! The FRA backed down and Amtrak is going to keep running the service until the joint Iowa Pacific /Amtrak agreement can be worked out.

    That does raise an interesting question as to whether it counts enough as “Amtrak service” to be included on the map. I would argue yes, since ticketing is still going to be provided by Amtrak (as well as the operating crews). The only difference will be different rolling stock and the service employees are going to be from Iowa Pacific. At least that’s how it looks now, the details are still being worked out. Hopefully we can keep this one on the map!

  9. Chris

    Looks awesome! I do see a spelling error through. You have “Milwaukee” and “Milwaukee Airport” spelled “Milwaukie” and “Milwaukie Airport”. Got the Oregon version mixed up with the Wisconsin version!

  10. Lauri Kangas

    The multiply idea looks great. One thought: when routes terminate “inside” an overlapped line, could this be pointed out by grouping the relevant discs in some way? Now it is sometimes hard to associate the discs with the correct line in these cases.

  11. Overall really like the Amtrak as subway map. One thing struck me though – why do you have the Empire Builder overlap the Cascades lines north of Seattle? I guess you do with the upstate NY lines as well but am not sure I can think of other examples that do this. Boston comes to mind, but they aren’t separate designations (Empire Builder vs Cascades) as much as they are branch or spurs. (Might not have the best terminology, but I’m thinking of the MBTA Red Line to the southern suburbs – some trains go to Braintree, some to Ashmont, some to Mattapan). So, as someone who thinks quite a bit about rail map design, why’d you make this choice?

    • Thomas, as I try to explain in the post, I overlap routes where they have the same stopping patterns — both the Cascades and the Empire Builder call at Everett and Edmonds before arriving in Seattle, so that’s why they overlap. It’s me trying out an alternative approach to the more traditional one I used on the previous iteration of this map that was in use from 2010 until now. Plus, I love that “multiply” transparency effect when the two lines merge! 🙂

  12. Joe Brant


    This map looks terrific. One question: how come you represent skipped stops as a break in the line, rather than having no marking at all?

    • Joe, it’s just a little thing that helps lead the eye from dots to labels that may not be directly adjacent to them. Down much of the East Coast, for example, the pesky Auto Train (which only stops in Lorton and Sanford) is between the station dots and their respective labels… so the line helps bridge that visual gap.

Leave a Reply