The essential Chennai rail transport map – looking back

I have always been irritated by the transport services in India ever since i started living here from 2005, more because of the information blockage than the poor quality of the service itself. Atleast if somebody could tell me reliably that this is the route you had to take to get to your destination, thats half the pain gone. This was one of those factors which pushed me into this addiction of making urban transit maps for India, hardly anyone has attempted to make them, and the few attempts that were made looked like ass and was just as helpful to plan your trip.

Cutting a long (and interesting) story short, the chennai suburban rail map was my very first attempt at making a transit map. What i ended up creating was my best understanding of the info from the southern railway online suburban timetable. The weird division of the services managed to confuse me successfully which is quite evident in the end result. At this time i had still not used the trains in Chennai 🙂

My first rail map. Made in 2005 and can still be found on the IRFCA server

The accuracy didnt matter much, cause after posting it to a few places online, it became quite popular, for nobody had seen such a swanky looking map for a rail system in India.  Its even been ripped off in numerous local publications. Something that came to my notice when i had met the PR head of the southern railways to explore the possibility of having  schematic maps in the trains, and he told me these kind of maps were already done by somebody, promptly showing me a page from a local guidebook from his drawer. Not the first time i had somebody show me my own work, but i found it amusing nonetheless.

And then somebody told me that they were using my maps in the automatic ticket vending machines at the stations. Excited that the railways finally had some sense to use these maps, i got down at Guindy station on my way back from college to see what exactly they had done. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t my map, but one that some engineer in RDSO must have done using MSPaint. But it seemed like he had based it on something he found on the internet. Spot the difference, or err.. the similarities.

The map used in the ATVM's in Chennai

My version of the map, at the time

Anyway, years later, after becoming a self proclaimed expert on the public transit system in Chennai, this map went through several corrections and iterations. And finally this is what it has transformed into, 4 years later:

The map now. With information on connecting bus routes as well

One of my most interesting features i included is what i call travel time contours or the trains routes. Since the rail network had a radial pattern from central/beach and trains more or less stick to schedule, i’d figure it would be quite useful to encode travel times as well somehow. Maybe not the most elegant execution and not apparent at first, but you have to admit, its quite cool. And for the first time you could also see bus route information (albeit only for the major corridors) superimposed with the train network, giving one a quick idea of how to move around using a bus/train combo and where to changeover.

I know i’d probably make tons of money selling a map like this to foreigners but putting up stuff online for free under a copyleft license is way more fun 😀 Head checkup is in order, definitely.

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12 responses to “The essential Chennai rail transport map – looking back”

  1. Sudhamshu says :

    Excellent work, my friend. I do remember seeing these maps on Wikipedia earlier. But it never crossed my mind to check the author of these maps. I assumed they were given out by the Railways themselves! How wrong was I?! Good to know that there are a handful of Good Samaritans as you who do excellent public service without even claiming bragging rights!
    I hope you get all the recognition you deserve!

  2. vikram says :

    Good work maga…I am proud of you..

  3. Logic says :

    Admitted Sir 🙂 Indeed the travel time is so cool. Let me know if you have some time, i have an idea for “bus-centric” map for the city.

  4. Kunal Bhatia says :

    Nice nice, I remember stumbling upon your earlier map some years ago. Perhaps you can come to Mumbai and create a bus-routes map. We could do with one 😀

  5. Narayanan Hariharan says :

    As always, awesome work da 🙂

  6. Kumar says :


  7. Sekhar says :

    I see you have indicated Avadi as AD.I guess it is represented as ‘A’ in the suburban trains.For Arakkonam it’s AJJ(the Indian Railways codename).But these days we have LED displays that indicate the complete names.

  8. Prashanth says :

    Great work, Arun.

  9. obed says :

    good work! i am a designer myself and this is a welcome change! its got a european touch to it too.. did u refer to european maps for ur rendition?.. am curious..!?

    obed tewes

  10. Ahmad Zaib says :

    Hey Arun,

    I’m overwhelmed by your extensive work on the maps. I’m an avid map reader, spotter, explorer myself and was enthralled by your highly detailed maps.

    Kudos to you my friend. May people like you get all the recognition they deserve!

    You can contact me anytime for ANY kind of help you want. I’d be more than glad to lend you some or more of it 🙂

    God bless you!

    ~ Zaib.

  11. AtoZ market says :

    Online Bus Ticket booking. Chennai, popularly regarded as the Gateway to the South, is the capital city of Tamil Nadu. In Chennai, you would find a modern metropolis with a clear skyline, long sandy beaches, parks and historic landmarks.

  12. PN Subramanian says :

    Wonderful!. Kudos too. Believe me, you may not be able to make tons of vitamin M but could make some K’s in this country.

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