Last Christmas in our extended family we did Kris Kringle gifts – one bought, one home made. And it was random, and anonymous. (I managed to distribute the names, then forget who gave to whom.)
The handmade gift given to me was coasters – a masterful design combining my interests of public transport and retro computing. Fantastic.
The coloured line rail map was rolled out in 2017, and has had revisions since then as new stations have opened and been renamed.
And now the rail line colours are getting more prominent. Recently the displays around Caulfield station were upgraded to show the colours on the screens, continuing the gradual rollout that started at CBD stations.
Colours are good, but they can’t do the job on their own. Some people (myself included) have varying degrees of colour-blindness, and light conditions aren’t always ideal for differentiating colours.
Can the naming be clearer?
Back in 2015 I wrote about the idea of lines having letters instead of using the termini names – which can be confusing especially with many trains terminating short.
I thought I’d revisit it, because the situation has changed a bit.
Simplification of routes and wayfinding can help a lot for people unfamiliar with the network avoid a confusing experience, and encourage new users to become regular ones.
Bold simple identifiers like colours and letters or numbers are simpler for many people to use, and can be displayed prominently on maps, station signs, and where possible on the trains themselves.
Names of terminus stations might be meaningful to some people, but meaningless to others who are unfamiliar with Melbourne’s geography, and may be difficult for some people from non-English speaking backgrounds.
Since the appearance of the map, there’s been a welcome further separation of lines and more consistency of operation. The Sandringham, Werribee/Williamstown and Frankston lines now run direct to Flinders Street all the time rather than via the Loop some of the time.
Train fleets are increasingly becoming more dedicated to specific groups of lines, making it possible to install line group-specific signage and maps on and inside them. Even better, new trains have screens inside that can show line maps.
And finally, the Metro Tunnel is nearing completion, which will mean a shake-up of operations, and which lines connect to which and where.
There’ll be a greater emphasis on changing trains, because fewer lines will serve some CBD stations such as Parliament, Flagstaff and Southern Cross. So easy familiarity with lines other than just your own local service will be a real help.
It’ll be even more so once the Suburban Rail Loop starts to open next decade.
What do other cities do?
From a quick scan of some of the world’s biggest metros (via this article – which may or may not be strictly accurate), almost all of them avoid using line names.
- New York City – numbers and letters
- Shanghai – numbers
- Beijing – numbers
- Seoul – numbers
- Paris – numbers
- Madrid – numbers
- London – names
- Guangzhou – numbers
- Moscow – numbers
- Delhi – colours and numbers
What about around Australia? It’s all line names, except Sydney which has grouped lines together and numbered them. Adelaide sometimes throws in line abbreviations, but doesn’t consistently use them – I’m not sure I see the point.
The aim here should be to keep it simple. Last time I pondered differing letters to indicate termination points, branches or stopping patterns, but on reflection I think that makes it too noisy.
Simplicity means you’d stick to one letter, with the colours still used, and also show the destination on the trains alongside the letter – which means basically you’re not losing anything off the current system.
I still prefer letters to numbers, as numbers would clash with platform numbers and with the tram network. (Tram route numbers are already designed not to clash with bus route numbers.)
Letters, if chosen carefully, can also ease the transition from line names.
Plus the widespread rollout of Passenger Information Displays showing destination and stopping patterns on platforms means this is no longer as important externally on the trains themselves.
A – Anzac line – the new connection from Sunbury to Cranbourne/Pakenham via Anzac station.
“A” is also a befitting moniker for the newest line with the newest trains, signalling and platform screen doors. As a bonus it also goes through Arden, and one branch will eventually (hopefully) go to the Airport.
B – Bayside line – Sandringham to Werribee & Williamstown line via Flinders Street
C – Craigieburn line via Loop
F – Frankston line via Loop
G – Glen Waverley line
H – Hurstbridge line via Loop
M – Mernda line via Loop
R – Ringwood lines to Belgrave/Lilydale via Loop
S – Showgrounds/Flemington Racecourse, special events line
U – Upfield line via Loop
That just leaves the (mostly) shuttles: Alamein and the very infrequent Stony Point line. I’m open to suggestions.
- Alamein should possibly be R, given that in peak hour it also serves Ringwood line stations
- Arguably Stony Point should be treated like a V/Line service and not have a letter, even though technically it’s Metro. (V/Line’s own line naming is far more consistent than Metro’s.)
L could be used later for the Suburban Rail Loop.
Remember, the letters are meant to help the transition, and also to outlast the old names if there are network extensions later. So if for example the Upfield line is extended later to Craigieburn and Wallan, it can stay as the U line.
Anything like this isn’t an excuse to skimp on other forms of information, of course. Good indicators around stations and on trains showing the destination and stopping pattern are still important.
And it certainly doesn’t mean they can skimp on high frequency services, which are vital.
But letters could work well. In coming years it’ll be a lot easier to direct people entering the Melbourne Central/State Library station complex to the new lower platforms to catch an “A line” train than for the “Sunbury/Airport/Cranbourne/Pakenham line”.
Whatever scheme is used going forward – names, letters, or something else – authorities are going to need to carefully plan out wayfinding and information as the Metro tunnel opens.
Changing trains will be a lot more common soon, and everybody will need to be able to easily navigate their way between lines and around the network.