Unofficial Map: Sydney Rail Network (Trains and Light Rail) by Ben Luke

Submitted by Ben, who says:

This is my version of the Sydney Trains map. I was inspired to try designing my own version after the introduction of the new official map which I found to be rather uninspiring. I have been learning Illustrator in the process, so thanks to your excellent blog for all the tips and tutorials.

I have used a realistic background layer which is distorted to fit around the map but maintains a sense of geographic familiarity (I’m a map geek so this is important to me!). My aim was to capture the essence of Sydney with its rich interplay between land and water without being to distracting. I have also decided to include the light rail system, which the new official map has dropped, as I’ve always been fan of multi mode maps. Other than that I just tried to keep things as simple and straight as possible. 


Transit Maps says:

There’s a lot to like in Ben’s reinterpretation of the Sydney Trains map. His use of 30/60-degree angles actually helps a lot in some of the traditionally crowded parts of the map – the Illawarra Line south of Arncliffe and the North Shore Line, in particular. The reorientation of the main trunk line out to Blacktown as one long straight line on a 30-degree angle also works surprisingly well, countering the diagrammatic enlargement of the CBD nicely. There are places where the 30-degree lines look a bit awkward next to the 45-degree labels (Flemington to Granville, for example), but I can see why Ben’s taken this approach.

I also really like the “Intercity” labels that Ben has used to indicate the direction of longer-distance trains: it integrates the branding of the service more effectively than the official map, although adding some key destinations along each line might be a good idea for users unfamiliar with the system: Blue Mountains Line – to Katoomba and Lithgow works better than just the line name for me. A little more “breathing room” at the top and bottom of the map would also be welcomed, as the labels are pushed up pretty tight to the edge at the moment.

I do feel that the spacing of the stations in the western part of the map is a little big compared to other parts of the map: there’s nice, even, tight spacing up to Blacktown, then a giant gap to Doonside or Marayong, and much bigger spacing between all the stations from there on out.

I’ve gone on record as saying that I’m not the greatest fan of diagrammatic maps on geographic backgrounds – but if you’re going to do it, do it well. Ben’s done it very well here – it looks far less distorted and cartoony that the previous Sydney rail map.

Ben’s integrated the light rail system into his map – although he’s inexplicably changed it to blue from its official deep red – and has come across a pretty big problem. The sydney train network is vast and sprawling, covering huge distances in every direction – while the light rail line is much denser, with stations spaced much closer together. It’s very difficult to coherently place these two very different systems on the same map, although Ben’s put in a manful effort here. I’d probably be in favour of showing the light rail (because I like a good multi-modal map too!), but only labelling major terminus stations. Dots or ticks to indicate the number of other stations could be retained. A separate map could then be used to show the light rail system in detail, without having to show all of Greater Sydney on the same map.

Our rating: Some excellent ideas that improve on the official map in some aspects. Spacing of stations could be a little more even/harmonious, but it’s really a great effort. Three stars.

3 Stars

Historical Map: Sydney Rail Network, Early 1980s

The latest this can be from is 1984, as Abbatoirs station closed in November of that year. I remember versions of this above the seats on the old “red rattlers" as I travelled from Epping to Petersham for school in 1985, so they were still around after their "use by" date.

In a way, this is actually one of my favourite versions of the Sydney rail map, as it has a pleasingly compact shape that more modern versions lack. If there’s one failing with the layout, it’s the huge amounts of extra space between stations on the Western Line past Doonside: far more than anywhere else on the map. 

The other weird part of the map is the visual implication that all routes can call at all stations between Burwood and Central, which simply isn’t true and never has been. At the time, I believe that “all stations” service was only provided by the Bankstown Line, with some Southern Line trains also calling at Ashfield.

However, the Bankstown Line – represented by a neat, simple loop – has never looked better, and the triangle formed by the two routes of the green Southern Line (via Regent’s Park or via Granville) also looks great.

Also of interest is the way that the City Circle is simplified down to its own route designation, rather than attempting to show how all the separate routes loop around it and head back out to the suburbs, as more recent maps do. In a way, this reflects the hub-and-spoke nature of the network and the way that the vast majority of people used it: to get from their home to the city and back again. Trains were announced simply as “To Central and the City Circle”, and it was only if you were catching a train from the City Circle back out again that you needed to know the outwards destination. No one rides the train around the whole city loop: in fact, if you know what you’re doing, you get off at Town Hall and walk to a destination near Museum station, as it’s much quicker than riding around the circle via Circular Quay.

Less useful is the separate designation of the Eastern Suburbs line, as it’s always been operationally tied to the blue Illawarra Line.

Our rating: At last, an old map of Sydney that lives up to my nostalgic memories. Three-and-a-half stars

3.5 Stars

Source: davemail66/Flickr

Official Map: South East Queensland Train Network

Requested by quite a few readers, this is an new version of this map that I reviewed back in March 2012. Unlike that previous map, this one does not show Brisbane’s bus lane network, concentrating solely on the rail system. In my eyes, this is a wise move, as the scale of the map (it’s some 240km – or 150 miles – from Nerang on the Gold Coast at the bottom of the map to Gympie at the top!) is really too great to allow a peaceful co-existence between the two networks.

As a result, the map has been simplified a lot and has much better coherence in general. The central part of the map, in particular, is much easier to follow. There’s also been an interesting operational change: the Cleveland line used to be indicated in purple and run through downtown and become the Doomben Line, but now it’s blue and interlines with the Shorncliffe Line instead.

While the routes are drawn better than the previous map, this version still has some of its failings: small, difficult to make out icons being the most obvious one. 23 separate fare zones seems to be bordering on the ridiculous, but I’m not convinced a zone number next to every station is the best way to indicate them in any case.

The newly drawn background that the map is placed on is – for me at least – way too detailed. Look at the myriad little islands shown off the coast at the end of the Cleveland Line, or the detailed twists and turns of the Brisbane River to the east of Indooroopilly. On a diagrammatic map like this, this is fussy and unnecessary: like the route lines themselves, keep the geography simple.

As a side note, this map was designed by Sydney company Netzplan, who were also responsible for the previous Sydney CityRail map (Sept. 2012, 3.5 stars).

Our rating: Six steps forward, five-and-a-half back. Ever so slightly better than what came before, but not enough to lift it up half a star. Still a three.

3 Stars

Source: Official Translink website

Historical Map: Melbourne and Metropolitan Tramways Board - Proposals for General Scheme, 1923

Another great planning map from almost 100 years ago. Melbourne, of course, is one city that has retained its trams over the years, rather than tearing them all out, only to eventually replace them with light rail or new trams in the modern day.


Here’s a great map that we’ve just added to our archives today. Authored by the M&MTB’s Chief Engineer T.P. Strickland in 1923 and overlaid on a Sands & McDougall map of Metropolitan Melbourne, it shows the extent of the cable tram network and the electric routes inherited by the Board four years earlier in 1919, and a slew of proposed lines as outlined in the “General Scheme for Future Tramways.” Some of these were eventually constructed, many others remain unrealised.

Most curious: the proposal for lines on the Footscray system to Sunshine and the City via Dynon Road; the original plan to join Spencer St/Clarendon St via Hanna St (now Kings Way) to Toorak Rd; a curious loop arrangement near Caulfield Station; the extensive network in the bayside suburbs of Elsternwick, Glenhuntly, and Moorabbin; and all of the connections in the inner northern suburbs of Fitzroy, Northcote, Preston, Brunswick, and Coburg.

Unofficial Future Map: Melbourne Metro Train Network by Bernie Ng

Submitted by Bernie, whose excellent map of Singapore (Nov. 2013, 3.5 stars) has already been featured on this site. Bernie says:

Hi Cameron,

I saw your post about the new Victorian Rail Network concept map (April 2014, 3.5 stars) by PTV and was very impressed - it’s quite a quantum leap forward from the existing map.  I thought I’d have a go at further redefining the map, but for the Melbourne Metro network only. (I personally don’t see the value in putting the regional/metro network in one map – an average user won’t really need both networks together, and as you say, scale is an issue.)

Quite naturally, the City Loop is used as the visual focal point.  I was hoping it could be placed in the centre of the map, but given the lopsided nature of Melbourne, it was not quite possible.  I have added some of the proposed extensions for the network, including the metro tunnel running through the city, creating a bypass from the congested loop. (This tunnel is currently attracting lots of debate - the latest government proposal is to run it south of the loop via Montague - although I prefer the original proposed route and have shown that on the map.)

Stopping patterns are shown as they are relatively simple compared to Sydney’s. Most routes operate all stops, or with one all stops and one limited stops service. With recent interest on “clockface” or “turn-up-and-go” services, the map indicates which stations have services at least every 15 minutes or better during the daytime.

Each line is assigned a letter code for easier identification, especially for tourists.  The letters are assigned in a counterclockwise order, starting with A-Line for Airport (Tullamarine) services.  

Melbourne public transport uses a fare zone system, but the number of zones have been reduced over the years. I would actually prefer to have more zones, which result in the ability to charge fares more commensurate with the distance travelled. This map shows fare zones in 10km increments from Southern Cross station. (I also have a cleaner version of the map omitting the zones.)

The font used is Source Sans Pro – thanks so much for the tip!  It is indeed a really great font. Very visually pleasing with high legibility. Perfect for maps.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the map.


Transit Maps says:

This is great work once again from Bernie: a very attractive map that features some distinctive and lovely flowing route lines. The representation of the City Loop as a perfect circle is deftly handled and a perfect focal point for the map (the ever-important visual “hook” that helps a map stand out from the crowd). However, I’m not so keen on the way that the labels for the stations on the loop are angled as if they were spokes on a wheel – Bernie’s done an otherwise excellent job of constraining labels to just two angles (horizontal and reading up from bottom left to top right), and this just seems a little gimmicky and fussy to me.

Bernie’s frequency icons are a nice usability touch (it’s always nice to know that you’re never more than 15 minutes away from the next train!), but I’m less convinced by his attempts to show service patterns. Looking at the legend, he’s using eight different station icons to convey this information, which is a lot to ask users of the map to remember. And – at least in the smaller image size that Tumblr allows – it’s pretty tricky to tell some of those icons apart visually. I’m generally in favour of letting timetables deal with the nitty-gritty of showing local/express route combinations, and this treatment doesn’t really convince me otherwise, although I certainly appreciate the effort Bernie has put into it.

Speaking of the legend, it really is beautifully put together and very comprehensive. Placing it neatly into Port Phillip Bay really works pretty much perfectly.

About the only other comment I have is regarding Bernie’s proposed route naming conventions. If I was giving route designations based simply on the alphabet as Bernie has done here, I would start at the one nearest the 12 o’clock position (probably Bernie’s “T” South Morang route) and continue in a clockwise direction, rather than anti-clockwise. It’s simply far more intuitive to use a universally understood convention like this to make finding route lines easier. Yes, “A” for “Airport” is hard to resist, but none of the other routes have any correlation between their destination stations and the letter designation, so the “A” should be as easy to find as possible.

Our rating: Looks fabulous, but perhaps tries a little too hard to convey a lot of information. Still, I have to applaud Bernie for pushing the envelope and attempting something a little out of the box (and mainly succeeding). Three-and-a-half stars.

3.5 Stars

Fantasy Future Map: Sydney, Australia by Thomas Mudgway

Thomas, who is a ninth-grader (i.e., he’s just 14 or 15 years old), says:

Sydney, my home town, has around 4.7 million people and already has a commuter rail network, however, the city is growing, and the network doesn’t cover everything, so I have augmented the network in many places, as well as showing how it could grow into the currently undeveloped far south- and north-west (they are generally the places where the stations have no names, there simply aren’t currently any for them). It is show by the thick lines. Also represented by the thick lines is the long planned north-west rail link in light green/khaki. Additionally, the map shows bus rapid transitways and light rail in half thickness, some built, some planned, and some I propose. Finally, the map shows the intercity trains as far as the city limits in quarter thickness, as well as an extra express service from the planned Badgerys Creek Airport to the existing Kingsford-Smith airport and the city loop.


Transit Maps says:

Being a native Sydneysider myself, I can’t help but laugh at the sheer audacity of some of Thomas’ proposals for new lines. Yes, it’d be great if there was a rail line running up through the Northern Beaches (from the southern side of the harbour via The Spit, no less!), but the geography of the area means it’ll realistically never happen.

Pipe dreams aside, the map is really quite beautifully drawn, especially for someone so young. His dream system is extremely complex, but everything fits together nicely with a good information hierarchy and harmonious colours. He’s even indicated ferry routes, busways and the extended light rail system to produce a fully multi-modal vision, which is great to see.

This is very promising work from Thomas: keep it up!

Historical Map: Train and Tram Travel Times in Melbourne, Australia, c. 1920

A handsome isochrone map produced by Melbourne’s Metropolitan Town Planning Commission to show the “minimum” (i.e., absolute best scenario) travel time into the city via suburban railways and tram lines. Some later additions to the network seem to have been pencilled in at the bottom right of the map.

Side note: Wikipedia’s article on isochrone maps includes the incredibly lazy assertion that “isochrone maps have been used in transportation planning since 1972 or earlier”, simply because that’s seemingly the earliest example the author could find to cite. This map, as well as this example from Manchester in 1914 (one hundred years ago!), clearly show that they’ve been used for this purpose for much longer. The moral of the story? Don’t trust everything you read on Wikipedia!

(Source: Daniel Bowen/Flickr)

Victorian Rail Network — Concept Map, April 2014

Here’s an interesting proposed new map out of Australia which combines Melbourne’s suburban rail network with the V/Line passenger rail service. In a way, this makes sense, as many of V/Line’s services act as commuter rail services from surrounding cities like Geelong. With the introduction of the myki farecard, much of the V/Line network now even shares the same ticketing system, as shown on the map by use of a solid grey route line. However, it does look a little odd to have Craigieburn (25km from the Melbourne CBD) so close to Albury at the end of the line (over the border into NSW, some 330km from Melbourne). In the end, the diagrammatic distortion is probably a good trade off in making a compact, legible map.

Overall, I really think this a good effort, and I certainly like it a lot more than the current Melbourne rail network map that just uses two colours (blue and yellow) to represent fare zones, although I don’t know if this map will replace that one or is meant to complement it.

I was going to comment that an indication of which direction trains travel around the City Loop would be good, but some research reveals that there’s no easy answer to that: trains can go opposite directions around the loop depending on the time of day.

Apparently, this map is on display at certain stations around Melbourne and Public Transport Victoria will be surveying customers for their opinion. However, putting a call to action on the poster — “for more information, visit our website” — really only works if the end user can actually find the relevant information easily (I gave up after 10 minutes).

Our rating: Nicely done. Three-and-a-half stars.

3.5 Stars

(Source: Daniel Bowen/Flickr)

Photo: Here be Sea Monsters

Always thought there was something strange about Port Phillip Bay…


When catching a train to the bay, beware of the sea monster.

Official Map: Sydney Light Rail Network, 2014

Sydney’s light rail system is expanding this Thursday March 27, with an extension from the current outermost station at Lilyfield along an old freight rail alignment to Dulwich Hill.

Here’s the map of the “network” (can you call one line a network?) that’s now available on the Transport for NSW website. Stylistically, it’s been brought into line with the maps of the other Transport for NSW services, including that of the main Sydney Trains network.

Interestingly, the light rail line seems to have inherited the red colour that the main Sydney Trains map lost when the old Northern Line was rebranded as part of the Yellow “T1” line: I don’t know whether this is by design or coincidence.

The map is drawn well enough, showing the slightly circuitous route that the line takes through Pyrmont in a nicely stylised manner, but the whole thing just seems so… empty.

In a frankly baffling move, absolutely no indication is given of where the light rail interchanges with the main rail network — at Central (Sydney’s main railway station), Dulwich Hill, and (with a bit of a walk) at Lewisham West. Ferries are also easily accessible at the Pyrmont Bay station, and there are connections to bus services at many of the stations. A light rail line like this doesn’t exist in isolation: it’s a feeder service that creates and allows transit connections — why not show them, especially when there’s so much empty space on the map?

Our rating: Competent enough and in-keeping with the new Sydney transit design style, but needs to show better integration with other transit options to be truly useful. Two-and-a-half stars.

2.5 Stars

Source: Transport for NSW website