If you haven’t heard, the train and tram stoppages for Friday have been cancelled.
Say you know which line you want, you’ve found the correct platform, but a train comes in with some obscure station on the destination sign — how do you know if you can catch it?
You might have only a few seconds to work out if it’s on your line, and if so, whether it stops at your station. If you’re lucky your station is on the screen, and you have to quickly scan through dozens of place names to find it… but if you’re unlucky, there’s no screen, just a two-line LED display (which may or may not be close enough to read) with the unfamiliar destination and “Stopping all stations”.
With Melbourne’s notoriously inconsistent train operations, this can be quite a challenge.
One way some cities get around this is to use labels that apply no matter how far along the line the train is going.
London uses names that aren’t generally place names — some are cultural references (Jubilee), some reference the central locations they serve (Bakerloo), or have various other names.
New York City uses letters and numbers.
Paris and many other cities use just numbers for the Metro (in Paris they also use letters, for the RER suburban system).
Sydney is hedging its bets – for the moment they have the old names for individual lines and also new numbers (eg T1, T2, T3…) to group the lines.
What is a “line”, anyway?
Perhaps we need to step back a bit and decide what is a train line? Are Pakenham and Cranbourne separate, or one?
I’d tend to go with: if they share most stations and a level of timetable coordination (for instance to ensure even frequencies), as well as sharing tracks, then it’s one line.
That makes Dandenong a line, with branches to Pakenham and Cranbourne. Frankston is a separate line; most stations aren’t common, they mostly use separate tracks, and their timetables aren’t co-ordinated (much).
But South Morang and Hurstbridge are separate lines because they don’t share most stations. Werribee and Williamstown? Perhaps.
Letters for Melbourne?
So… bearing in mind the aim is to help with navigation and being able to quickly work out if you can catch that approaching train, what if Melbourne’s train lines were given letters? Something like this, going anticlockwise…
B = (Brighton and) Sandringham
F = Frankston
D = Dandenong (Pakenham and Cranbourne)
G = Glen Waverley
R = Ringwood (Belgrave and Lilydale)
A = Alamein (because most of the time it’s a shuttle)
H = Hurstbridge
M = South Morang, soon Mernda.
U = Upfield
C = Craigieburn
S = Sunbury
N = Newport (Werribee, Williamstown, Altona Loop).
What about variations? They could be described with a second small letter – Rb for Belgrave, Rl for Lilydale, Dp for Pakenham, Dc for Cranbourne.
Stopping patterns? Fx for Frankston express, perhaps?
Oh, but what about Werribee and Williamstown? N1 and N2? Altona Loop? Na?
Or given most Werribee and Williamstown will be through-routed to Frankston, perhaps you give them a different name? Within Metro they’re known as the Cross-City group, but maybe you could call them Bayside or something?
What happens when a line gets extended? Do you change the name? We do in Melbourne, but in Perth they still call the Joondalup line that, even though it now runs further.
Once the metro rail tunnel opens, Dandenong will connect through to Sunbury, and eventually the Airport. What do you call it then? Call it P for the Parkville line? Or stick with D for Domain perhaps?
In the short term, colours are likely to get more emphasis, as the new map and associated station signage rolls out.
Perhaps the naming is all too hard. But with outbound trains towards Frankston having head boards of “Frankston”, “Carrum”, “Mordialloc”, “Cheltenham” or “Moorabbin”, clearly there’s scope to make things clearer.