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.
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
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.
Source: Transport for NSW website
Submission - Unofficial Map: Sydney Trains Aerial Image
Submitted by thatlattesipper.
Sydney Trains routes (complete with new “T-line” branding) for the north and west of the city overlaid on a Google Earth image.
If nothing else, this map reminds us of how staggeringly huge Greater Sydney really is. It’s 20 kilometres in a straight line from the dot representing Central Station at the lower left to Hornsby (just off the right of the map), and over 30km from Central to Prospect Reservoir, the large body of water just glimpsed at the centre top of the map. And this view doesn’t even show the entire southern half of the city (it’s another 20km from Central south to Waterfall) or Western Sydney from Prospect out to Emu Plains.
Some perspective: Greater Sydney has a population of around 4.6 million and an area of 12,100 square km (a population density of just 380 people per square km). The five boroughs of New York City have a population of 8.3 million in just 786 square km (or approximately 10,600 people per square km!)
[GIF] Comparison between my Sydney Trains map and the official one
Just for the heck of it. Post about project here.
My Reworking of the New Sydney Trains Map
Okay, I couldn’t help myself: I just had to redraw this thing to illustrate all the points I talked about earlier — correcting the obvious errors I discovered in my technical review, and also addressing the general thoughts of my initial post.
So here it is: not a redesign, but a reworking of the design concept while working within the established principles of the official map. If you’re just starting out with designing transit maps, this is always a fun exercise: opening up a PDF file in Illustrator, pulling it apart and putting it back together again to see how it works. I reworked this over just two days, probably spending about 8-10 hours on it in total.
My objectives with this map were to clean up and simplify. To achieve this, I completely redrew everything apart from the header, footer and legend. I did this so I could guarantee consistency throughout: I drew it, so I knew it was what I wanted, basically.
There’s only two major changes to the map, both of which help a lot, I feel. Firstly, I’ve removed the line names from the terminus stations on the map, leaving only the “T-number” designator. The T-numbers are explained clearly in the legend: I feel that repeating them on the map is superfluous and takes up way too much space. This change also allowed me to place the T-numbers more consistently and away from the route lines, instead of butted right up to them, as they sometimes were (especially at Epping and Hornsby).
The second change is the straightening of the T3 Bankstown Line, which makes it much easier to follow, in my opinion. Changes in direction in a route line should always be kept to a minimum, and the twisty path that the original map takes just didn’t make much sense to me.
After that, much of my work was just respacing stations for a more even effect throughout the map: see the Lidcombe detail comparison above for a good example: Granville, Clyde, Auburn and Lidcombe are far more evenly spaced, despite their differing text sizes and boldness. One effect of the respacing is that only one station name — the unavoidable Olympic Park — cuts through another route line: Sydenham and Flemington now sit away from nearby lines.
I also paid huge attention to curves throughout the map: all curves are now consistently sized with an equal radius (no curve is longer than it is wide). Stations don’t sit on a curve anywhere on the map: the closest they come is on the point that marks the start of a curve. The city comparison detail image above shows how this affects the station markers at Redfern, Central and Town Hall. Because none of the dots are on a curved part of the line, they can be placed perfectly evenly across the routes.
The other thing I’ve done with curves is to ensure that joins between lines always have a curve on them: no line joins straight onto another one. On the city detail image, you can see this where the Bankstown Line heads north to Town Hall, and where the Airport Line heads south to Green Square. This kind of information is subtle but important, as it makes it absolutely explicit which direction the line travels once it joins onto the other one.
Finally, the wireframe comparison image shows how clean my artwork is: no extraneous points in the middle of a straight line and two-point curves: simple, clean and — most importantly — easy to edit later.
Things that could still be addressed: I’d love to be able to get a T3 icon next to Lidcombe, and I’m still not convinced that the T1/T5 lines need to change direction between Parramatta and Blacktown — it might be nice for the T5 line to continue in a straight 45-degree line from Harris Park all the way to Schofields, with the T1 branching off from Blacktown to Emu Plains.
(Source: Original Official map PDF from this page)
I’d love to hear your thoughts. Better? Worse? The same?
Technical Review: New Sydney Trains Network Map
It seems that the draft Sydney Trains map that I posted about the other day is the real thing: printed timetables featuring it have been seen and scanned. So, I started looking at it again in order to write a proper review, when I started to notice a lot of little technical things that — as a designer — I found jarring and inconsistent.
I opened the PDF file in Adobe Illustrator and began to poke around. I thought it might be interesting — and perhaps instructive for designers who are interested in making their own transit maps — to show you what I found.
First, apologies for the four separate images: it’s an attempt to get around Tumblr’s maximum 1280px width for pictures. For reference, lets call then NW, NE, SW and SE.
My biggest problem with the map, and what I noticed first, is the wildly inconsistent positioning of labels. The one that really caught my eye was Lindfield on the North Shore Line on the NE map: it’s waaay out of place. St Marys on the Western Line (NW map) is also pretty bad. But, really, almost every label is poorly placed.
To show just how poor, I created cyan guides that are offset a small distance out from the route lines: this seemed to me to be about the right distance away for optimum placement of station labels. Then, for each orientation of label, I created an L-shaped magenta guide that shows both the baseline and the correct alignment (left or right) for the type. I then copy-and-pasted these guides to almost all the labels on the map, being sure to always keep them in the same position relative to each station maker.
As you can see, things are pretty horrific. It’s pretty obvious that there’s no common baseline for labels relative to their stations, nor are they a consistent distance away from the route lines. It’s almost as if each label has been placed individually and then nudged into position, rather than setting up a master set of label positions and applying them as required. Illustrator’s Duplicate function (Command/Control-D) makes this kind of thing so simple: place once, copy elements the required distance to place the next station, then Duplicate, Duplicate, Duplicate until all the stations are quickly and consistently placed.
It can be seen on the North Shore Line (NE map) that even the station dots are inconsistently placed — I’ve put a magenta dot over the top of any station that wasn’t where I expected it to be if things were placed mathematically. Possibly the worst culprits here are Merrylands, Guildford and Yennora stations at the bottom of the NW map: Guildford’s dots aren’t even at the correct angle to each other, and the label placement is completely different for each station. The huge gap between Yennora and Fairfield stations is also pretty ugly: it definitely should be possible to evenly and smoothly space the stations all the way down from Merrylands to Campbelltown.
Some route lines aren’t actually constrained to 45-degree angles: the worst offender is the East Hllls line from Riverwood to Holsworthy (SW map); others are also shown with an overprinting magenta line.
The distance between parallel route lines is inconsistent across the map: this is shown with a little measuring line. The black lines show my base measurement, while the blue lines show inconsistently spaced gaps, which may also be inconsistently spaced with each other! Again, spacing between elements can be controlled easily in Illustrator by entering precise values into the Move dialog box, so this type of thing is very frustrating to see.
The under construction South West Rail Link route is drawn differently to the North West Rail Link: it has no curves where it changes direction and the angled part of the line is too thick. I’ve rotated and overlaid the NW Link on top of the SW Link in cyan to illustrate the difference.
Why is the Macquarie University (NE map) station label set in bold “Interchange” text, but has no interchange ring around the station marker?
Finally, the nesting of curves where parallel routes change direction is very poor throughout the map. Look especially at the City Circle, where huge gaps open up between the route lines at the 90-degree corners. The corners on the orange Bankstown line there aren’t even a consistent radius, being much wider than they are tall.
You know, I really want to like this map. I don’t have any huge attachment to the old one, even though it’s competent enough. Sydney has regularly changed the look of its system map, so we certainly don’t have the same attachment to it that London has to its Tube Map, for example.
This new map is nicely simplified and streamlined, properly full of promise for the new timetabled services. It’s even looks quite friendly and cheerful! However, as a designer, I find it very difficult to look past glaring technical errors like the ones that litter this map, and now I can’t help but see them every darn time I look it.
NOTE: The PDF I edited is slightly older than the one now posted on the Sydney Trains website, but almost every error I talk about is still present in this final version. North Strathfield’s label no longer intersects the T7 Olympic Park line, which is an improvement of sorts.
Official Map: Sydney T7 Olympic Park Line
Glad they had a whole page to fit this super complex and confusing line map on…
Future Map: Greater Sydney Intercity Trains Network
With the removal of intercity train routes from the new Sydney Trains map, the question is — where did they go?
The answer: onto a new map of their very own! Aesthetically, it’s very similar to the Sydney map, part of what I understand is a major effort to unify all transit services that Transport for NSW provides. The layout of the lines is very clear and easy to understand, and having separate maps makes a lot of sense to me: the people who commute into Sydney on these Intercity lines have very different needs to those who use the main Sydney network. I’m especially pleased that the Hunter Line out of Newcastle is off the standard Sydney map, as it serves a completely separate urban area!
However, because of the long, linear nature of the routes, there’s a lot of empty space left on the map to fill with something… and I’m not sure that an amorphous “Blue Mountains” shape is the right approach. It’s highly simplified, but there’s some overly precise shapes in it: the triangular cutout to the west of Campbelltown looks particularly weird.
The simplified representation of the coastline also presents some problems. The area around Sydney looks good, although I do wonder if the tiny representation of Port Hacking is really necessary. The Hawkesbury River is fine as well, as it intersects the Central Coast Line and is generally considered to be the border between Sydney and the Central Coast region.
However, the representation of Lake Macquarie is both poorly handled (it actually has an outlet to the ocean, and is separated from it by land that’s less than 2 kilometres wide) and unnecessary. If it’s included to help reference stations to geography, then why not also include Tuggerah Lake near Tuggerah and Wyong stations, or Lake Illawarra near Port Kembla at the bottom of the map? The (completely imaginary) spit of land that the Port Kembla branch of the South Coast line currently sits on just looks weird. Even in a stylised map like this, geography should be included to inform the user, not to simply fit around your route lines.
Again, I’ll reserve final judgement until October 20th when the map is officially released, but this map is currently a bit of a mixed bag. The route lines look great, the background is less inspiring.
(Source: Tweet from Nick Stylianou - with PDF link in tweet)
Future Map? Possible Sydney Trains Network Map for October 20th Timetable Changes
Sent my way by Nick Stylianou — who runs an excellent blog on transportation issues in Sydney — this is supposedly the new Sydney Trains system map that will be released concurrently with a whole slew of timetable changes on October 20th.
I’ll reserve my judgement until I see the final map — this may be a working draft with final amendments still to be made — but there are certainly some radical changes from the current map (Sep. 2012, 3.5 stars), not the least of which are the rebranding of lines as “T” numbers and the abolition of the Northern Line and Inner West lines as separate entities. It certainly feels weird to look at a Sydney train map without a Red Line: I spent much of my youth travelling from Epping for school and design college!
As a result, almost half the map is now dominated by one route colour: the yellow T1 line now has five separate terminus stations! Meanwhile, the tiny little Carlingford line still gets to be blue. I also feel that the terminating stations throughout the map could be referenced simply with their “T-number” designation, rather than redundantly repeating the entire line name. Inconsistently, this approach is abandoned where there’s no space — Olympic Park only gets a “T7”, and Lidcombe has no “T3” at all.
I’m not a fan of the twists that the T3 Bankstown Line has to take between Dulwich Hill and Birrong, and while I appreciate the effort taken to stylise the harbour and coastline, I feel it could be more elegantly done to match the rest of the map better.
On the positive side, the removal of intercity services gives the map much more room to breathe, and spacing of stations on the T4 Illawarra Line is now much more consistent with the rest of the map. Future works have been integrated into the map, so it’ll be able to grow with the system.
Other notes: the Metro light rail line has been removed from the map (not sure if that’s good or bad), and Homebush station is now being shown as a spur of the main T2 line… something to do with service patterns from there?
I’ll be watching for the final map with interest, that’s for sure!