Melbourne’s City Loop in Technicolor

Have you ever noticed the different colours of the next train displays at Melbourne’s City Loop railway stations? Here they are at the Swanston Street end of Melbourne Central Station (née Museum), followed by a similar set of colours at the Collins Street entry to Parliament Station.

TV screens and ticket barriers at the Swanston Street end of Melbourne Central

Booking office at the Collins Street entry to Parliament station

When the displays went on the fritz at Flagstaff Station recently, it made the colours much easier to notice: from left to right they are red, green, blue and black.

Red, green, blue and black: nothing on the next train displays at Flagstaff station

So why are they like this?

Each of the four colours correspond to a platform at the station, with each platform being dedicated to trains bound for a particular set of suburban destinations. The grouping of lines made the layout of the loop stations much simpler, with the need for complicated junctions being removed because each tunnel only serves trains from one part of Melbourne.

The platform assignments at each City Loop station are as follows – the names of each group come from the main station each set of lines passes through:

  • Platform 1: Epping and Hurstbridge trains (Clifton Hill Group)
  • Platform 2: Pakenham, Cranbourne and Frankston trains (Caulfield Group)
  • Platform 3: Craigieburn, Upfield and Sydenham trains (Northern Group)
  • Platform 4: Lilydale, Belgrave, Glen Waverley and Alamein trains (Burnley Group)

The use of colour for each group dates back to the opening of the City Loop in 1981, as can be seen in this railway network map from the same period (the Metropolitan Transit Authority was responsible for operating the Melbourne’s trains back in the 1980s).

'Metropolitan Transit' network map

Unfortunately this “London Underground” style of network map was replaced by the current style in the 1990s: the old style put an emphasis on where each railway line went, while the current style puts an emphasis on the fare zones.

In 2011 Yarra Trams ditched the fare zone emphasis for their new network map – Myki makes knowledge of fare zones less important for commuters, so one can hope Metro will go “back to the future” and add a little colour to their next network map.

Further reading

An update

The colours of the Northern Group have come up as a point of discussion on Twitter, as some early network maps show it as black (as per the station displays) or dark green instead of yellow (as on the later network maps). I’ve got two theories:

  1. the Northern Group colour was changed from black to yellow sometime in the early 1980s but the monitors were not changed; or
  2. the screens are black because yellow monitors were not possible, as the other three sets of monitors use white text overlaid on the coloured background.

Shout out in the comments if you have any thoughts on the matter!

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4 Responses to “Melbourne’s City Loop in Technicolor”

  1. [...] as well as the CCTV system on the Sydney Harbour Bridge.Of a similar design to the screens seen in the City Loop, the electronic displays at Flinders Street were the first of their type on the Melbourne railway [...]

  2. Tony says:

    It’s a real problem at Flinders St now. There is nothing on the screens to indicate a line/terminus. They are arranged alphabetically by terminus name but the names haven’t been updated so South Morang (formerly Epping) is listed just before Frankston.

    Short running trains get filed under the terminus name, so Mordialloc (F) is filed after South Morang (E). Must be confounding to out of town visitors.

  3. […] a few years ago the next train displays at Melbourne’s City Loop stations used colour to distinguish the different lines – unfortunately the upgrade to LCD panels resulted in this useful feature being killed […]

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