Historical Map: Sydney Rail Map, 1939
Just how influential was the original Harry Beck London Underground diagram of 1933? Certainly enough for Sydney, Australia to issue this nearly identical vision of its own suburban rail system in 1939, right down to its own version of the London Underground roundel. I’ve never been able to find out whether this map was authorised or licensed from the London Underground, or whether Sydney just thought, “that looks like a good idea, let’s do that!”
The prominent usage of the Underground icon is actually somewhat deceptive, as Sydney at the time had a grand total of four underground stations, all in the city - Town Hall, Wynyard, St James and Museum. Service levels in Sydney have also never matched those of a true Metro/Underground/Subway system, preferring to run large capacity trains with longer headways (commuter rail). However, it’s certainly clever to evoke images of the Mother Country’s glorious train system when you’re promoting your own, right?
Have we been there? Yes, just not in 1939.
What we like: Great early example of how Beck’s principles could be applied to other rail systems. Interesting view of the older Sydney system, with some stations shown that no longer exist (the ANZAC Rifle Range), and others that have changed their name (the lovely “Herne Bay” is now just boring old “Riverwood”, while the spectacularly named “Dumbleton” is now just “Beverly Hills”). Nice indication of the ongoing electrification of the system: the electrified lines are shown in bright, new colours, while the steam powered lines are plain black.
What we don’t like: Some confusing labelling of the stations between Central and Strathfield. I’m not entirely sure whether the colouring of the route lines actually matches up to service patterns of the day, making me wonder whether the map designer truly understood how diagrammatic maps are actually meant to work. A strange need to indicate long-distance train services on a suburban rail network map. Broken Hill? Albury? Brisbane?!
Our rating: Fascinating example of an early adopter of the Back style of transit map, even if it’s not quite up to the same standard of draftsmanship. Three-and-a-half stars.