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 🙂
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.
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:
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.