The best books about subways and urban trains

Mark Ovenden Author Of Underground Cities: Mapping the tunnels, transits and networks underneath our feet
By Mark Ovenden

The Books I Picked & Why

Mr. Beck's Underground Map: A History

By Ken Garland

Mr. Beck's Underground Map: A History

Why this book?

Without doubt the inspiration and key reference work for so many books, websites and studies investigating the design of subway maps. Being one of the only writers on cartography who actually met Harry Beck, Garland was the first to forensically examine the London Tube diagram designed by him. The intimacy of Garlands relationship with beck shines through and informs the whole text. The reader even gets to see some of Becks unpublished works. A simply ‘must have’ for anyone interested in railways, cartography and design in general.


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Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story

By Paul Shaw

Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story

Why this book?

Here is an example of a work that leaves no stone unturned, and does the job properly. There is an excellent introduction on the historical signage of the Subway, a proper explanation of why a new wayfinding system was necessary, the most comprehensive history on why Unimark was chosen to improve the signage and all the images you need of how their 1970 'Graphics Standards Manual' was implemented. Shaw rightly explains the move from the Standard Medium typeface to Helvetica and why it superseded Standard Medium and the fate of the original Unimark system.


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The story of the Paris Metro: from 1900 to the current day

By Clive Lamming

The story of the Paris Metro: from 1900 to the current day

Why this book?

The most detailed of all English books on the history of the Paris Metro and arguably the most informative on engineering, construction, signalling and rolling stock. With a level of detail bordering on the obsessive, Lamming probes the very heart of what makes this most impressive of World metro systems tick. The difficulties of building the first lines through the honeycombed quarries below Paris, and the first tunnels under the Seine are articulated in immense detail. With hundreds of engineers illustrations and archive photos there is little to compare this book with in the English language.


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The Subterranean Railway: How the London Underground Was Built and How It Changed the City Forever

By Christian Wolmar

The Subterranean Railway: How the London Underground Was Built and How It Changed the City Forever

Why this book?

With a razor sharp eye Wolmar (author of many other excellent books on railway history) concentrates his focus on the machinations of the establishment of the world's first railway built under the ground. Overcoming the travails of unbuilt fantasy concepts, the Victorians fear of the dark, finances and the problems of running steam trains in tunnels, London's City Solicitor Charles Pearson, managed to get the first route, the Metropolitan Railway, built and opened by January 1863. Wolmar unpicks the struggles to expand the line, private capitals, a rush to build more lines and the eventual nationalisation of the system in 1948.


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Das Berliner U- und S-Bahnnetz: Eine Geschichte in Streckenplänen von 1888 bis heute

By Alfred B. Gottwaldt

Das Berliner U- und S-Bahnnetz: Eine Geschichte in Streckenplänen von 1888 bis heute

Why this book?

Don’t worry if you are not fluent in German: this book is packed with images and if you want to understand the way the Berlin U-Bahn system expanded - it is required reading. Gottwaldt was the first person to collect and publish historic maps of the system and reproduction of the maps is exceptional. Starting in 1888 - before the present U-Bahn was conceived - his selection of cartographic delights includes the city’s earliest urban rail lines. The 1896 plan of the ’Nord-Ring’ and ’Sud-Ring’ foretells how the pattern of Berlins current S-Bahn and his example of a 1922 track map exhibits just how extensive railway land was in Europes biggest cities. My favourites are the 1934 and 1936 diagrams which echo the work of Beck in London. If mass transit interests you: find this book!


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