The Story of the Railways, Told Through Railway Maps

The development and evolution of railway cartography in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Map Collection of the "Biblioteca Ferroviaria" (Spain's Railway Library).

By Spanish Railways Foundation

Fundación de los Ferrocarriles Españoles

Spain and Portugal (1939/1939) by UnknownSpanish Railways Foundation

The Development and Evolution of Railway Maps in the 19th and 20th Centuries

The Railway Library's map collection is one of the special collections in its archive. It is made up of over 360 individual maps, as well as another 280 publications and monographs that include maps in their appendices. It is a diverse archive that is an interesting source of reference in the study and development of the Spanish railways.

Project of general navigation lines and railways in the Spanish peninsula (1855/1855) by Francisco CoelloSpanish Railways Foundation

This map by Francisco Coello, entitled "Plan of the General Lines of Navigation and Railways on the Spanish Peninsula" (1855), is the product of a scheme to create roads, railways, and navigation channels, with the aim of devising a unique transport system for the peninsula.

A combination of radial and transverse lines can be seen in the design of the railway network. The main lines run from Madrid towards coastal areas and borders, while the secondary lines run perpendicularly.

This map, produced and colored by hand, shows the railways built up to 1855, as well as lines under construction and railways of primary, secondary, and tertiary importance.

Map- Price lists of Caminos de Hierro de España and Portugal (1867/1867) by Francisco García PadrósSpanish Railways Foundation

Signed by the Head of the Traffic Office of the Madrid to Zaragoza and Alicante (MZA) rail company in 1867, this map contains a remarkable amount of information. It includes the stations of every railway line of the time, distances in kilometers, prices according to travel class, inns, tunnels, and more.

Graphic map of kilometric gross products of Spanish and Portuguese railways (1881/1881) by Santiago FolchSpanish Railways Foundation

In 1881 Santiago Folch published a "graphic map of the gross product per kilometer of the Spanish and Portuguese railways", which was a thematic map showing the transport of goods by rail.

The colored lines represent the different operating companies.

What is interesting about the map is the way in which its author has used the thickness of the lines showing the railways to represent the gross product obtained by the transport of goods.

Illustrated railway map (1882/1882) by Francisco Atienza y CobosSpanish Railways Foundation

Francisco Atienza produced this interesting map, dated 1882, using colors to highlight how the regions were divided up. The Spanish railway network had not yet changed significantly, and wide open spaces can still be seen in its radial layout.

It also includes a detailed list of factory works, tunnels, and viaducts, all of which would have been very useful for operating the railway, and for determining what resources were available in stations at that time.

Map of Chemins de fer du Nord de l'Espagne 70 - 1892 (1892/1892) by Francisco Atienza y CobosSpanish Railways Foundation

The end of the 19th century saw a drive to expand the country's rail network, resulting in 6,214 miles of railway line that reached every provincial capital.

Historical map of the Spanish railways in operation (1918/1918) by Artes Gráficas MateuSpanish Railways Foundation

Cambó's book, "Factors in the Study of the Railway Problem," is an essential work for understanding the history of the Spanish railway in the first third of the 20th century. It explores the legislation and politics that influenced the railways, from the law of 1855 up to the early decades of the next century. The study concludes with a series of 4 maps that aim to illustrate the entire panorama of Spanish railways.

The first of them is this "Historical Map of Operational Spanish Railways," which shows the railway lines built during 4 historical periods. These correspond to the first report on the railways in 1844, and to the main railway laws of 1855, 1868, and 1877.

Map of the railways in operation, under construction and in the works in Spain (1931 edition) (1931/1931) by Alfredo Forcano CatalánSpanish Railways Foundation

The 1930s were productive years for railway cartography. The map published in 1931 by Alfredo Forcano Catalán (Investigations Officer for the Caminos de Hierro del Norte rail company), entitled "Map of Spanish Railways in Operation, Under Construction and Planned for the Future," contains information similar to other maps of the time. However, its presentation and execution are extraordinary, with an extensive use of color to distinguish between different rail companies, and between Spanish and Portuguese territory.

The cartouche features some interesting imagery, depicting a steam locomotive and a diesel locomotive framed by modernist-style edging.

Map of the railways in operation, under construction and in the works in Spain (1942 edition) (1942/1942) by Alfredo Forcano CatalánSpanish Railways Foundation

The copies that are preserved in the collection were customized for the company's directors and senior management. They are mounted on fabric and kept in a leather case with gold lettering.

Map of the railways in operation, under construction and in the works in Spain and Portugal (1948/1948) by Alfredo Forcano CatalánSpanish Railways Foundation

There are several later editions from 1942, 1946, 1948, and 1956 in which the colors and cartouches have been altered significantly.

Map of the railways that form the national network and the rest of railway lines in Spain (1943/1946) by Jesús de la FuenteSpanish Railways Foundation

At the end of the Spanish Civil War, and following the crisis that had previously affected the various rail companies, the State decided to nationalize the railways and transfer the management of Spain's rail network to the public sector.

In 1941, Renfe (whose acronym stands for the National Network of Spanish Railways) was created and given responsibility for the standard-gauge rail network. The narrow-gauge rail network remained in the hands of EFE (the State Railway Operating Service) under the Ministry of Public Works, later becoming FEVE (Spanish Narrow-Gauge Railways).

At this point, there was a radical change in railway maps: instead of multiple colors representing the different companies' railway lines, now only one color was needed for the standard-gauge tracks and another for the narrow-gauge tracks. This change is evident on this map, published in 1943 by Jesús de la Fuente, in which the railway lines controlled by Renfe are shown in red.

It shows a network of red lines representing the railway lines controlled by Renfe, as well as the narrow-gauge railways (shown in different colors), differentiated according to the operational areas defined by the State.

Graphic of the organisation of the rolling stock service (1940/1940) by RENFESpanish Railways Foundation

It was during this period that Renfe began to operate as a business. The maps are a graphic representation of the process of administrative reorganization and the division of the company into different operational areas.

Graphic of the organisation of the traction service (1940/1940) by RENFESpanish Railways Foundation

Map of Spanish railways published by Renfe on the occasion of the 17th International Railway Congress (1958/1958) by RENFESpanish Railways Foundation

In 1958 the 17th International Railway Congress took place in Spain, for which a number of official events were held, and various leaflets and publications were produced to promote the Spanish railways. One such publication was the book "Railways in Spain, 1848–1958," published in Spanish and French, which gave a brief outline of the situation over that period.

The book included a large-scale fold-out map of the entire rail network, including lines that were under construction.

Traffic density map (1971/1971) by RENFE, Sistemas de InformaciónSpanish Railways Foundation

In 1963 Renfe began to produce a series of booklets that were published annually until 1989. They included various quantitative maps that aimed to illustrate the density of rail traffic through a combination of different colors and line thicknesses.

Load density map (1972/1972) by RENFE, Sistemas de InformaciónSpanish Railways Foundation

Another example of the diagram mentioned in the previous slide is this "Cargo Density Map," published in 1972, showing net metric tons transported per kilometer per day.

Track occupation map (1973/1973) by RENFE, Sistemas de InformaciónSpanish Railways Foundation

Similarly, this "Track Occupancy Map," published in 1973, shows train-journey length in minutes per kilometer of track per day.

Map of Spanish railways (Renfe, 1968) (1968/1968) by RENFESpanish Railways Foundation

In 1968 Renfe published a map that was distributed and marketed by the publishing house Paraninfo. It essentially follows the same design as previous ones: a map on a white background showing standard-gauge tracks in red and narrow-gauge tracks in black.

They usually included small maps showing the main urban centers.

Map of the Spanish National Railway Network (1971/1971) by RENFESpanish Railways Foundation

This small "Map of the National Network of Spanish Railways," published by Renfe in 1971, is significant because of its modern, groundbreaking design featuring vivid colors, and a red and blue background.

It provides a general outline of the network's main lines, with the type of track specified along each stretch. It also includes information on the main border stations and their international connections, as well as on island transfers by boat.

There are also 2 diagrams showing the stations in Madrid and Barcelona, and the geographical areas covered by trains departing from them.

Map of Spanish railways (Renfe, 1982) (1982/1982) by RENFE, Dirección Comercial ViajerosSpanish Railways Foundation

Demand began to recover at the beginning of the 1980s, especially for specialized long-distance services such as Talgo and Intercity trains. In 1982 Renfe's Commercial Passenger Office published a map for use by its passengers.

It was a small, folded pocket-sized map with a diagram of the rail network, which included the sections of track closed to passenger traffic and 19 maps of Spanish cities.

Map of Spanish railways (1974/1974) by UnknownSpanish Railways Foundation

The "Map of the Spanish Railways" was published as an informative map for Renfe in 1985 by the cartographic department of the publishing house Paraninfo. It included a new feature: an alphabetized index of the main stations shown.

Map of Spanish railways (Renfe, 1986) (1986/1986) by RENFE, Dirección de Información y Atención al ClienteSpanish Railways Foundation

One year later, in 1986, Renfe's Commercial Management Office published an interesting map that was arranged according to the autonomous regions of Spain. Although simple, it was of a very high graphic quality. The map also shows how severely the network was reduced in 1985, with the closed lines appearing in a different format.

The high graphic quality of the map can be seen in this enlargement. The topography is also slightly raised, although this obviously is not visible in the image.

RENFE's IREN Project (2000/2000) by FGV, Feve, Fundación de los Ferrocarriles Españoles, RENFESpanish Railways Foundation

With the arrival of the AVE in 1992, the Madrid-Seville line began to feature prominently on maps, and always in its own color (usually red).

The same year saw the publication of this map, entitled "Renfe: IREN Project (Inventory of the Network's Natural Spaces)," which was later re-published in 1997 and 2000. As well as depicting the newly-opened high-speed line, it shows its relationship with the environment, marking the natural spaces close to the train lines.

It also includes an additional feature for ecotourism: "Green Routes," which are old railway lines that are now closed.

They appear on the map in green, with a different pattern depending on whether they are spaces that are already in use as Green Routes (unbroken line), or could potentially be reclaimed for that purpose (dotted line).

Map of the Spanish railway network (Adif, 2006) (2006/2006) by Adif, Dirección de Comunicación y Relaciones ExternasSpanish Railways Foundation

Railway activity at the turn of the century focused on recovering market share in goods transport, and adaptating to European-gauge railways with the opening of new high-speed routes. These included the AVE to Malaga, and the Madrid-Toledo, Madrid-Valladolid, and Madrid-Barcelona lines.

Railway cartography once again reflected an increase in the number of lines appearing on maps. This is the case with the "Map of the Spanish Railway Network" published by the Rail Infrastructure Administration (Adif) in 2006, which was reissued several times.

Credits: Story

The maps that appear in the exhibition are part of the collection of railway cartography whose custody is entrusted to the Railway Library of the Foundation of the Spanish Railways and can be consulted in the Library located in the Railway Museum of Madrid.

We thank the Library staff for their collaboration in preparing these texts and materials.

For further information: (Catálogo Biblioteca Ferroviaria)

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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