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The lines of Melbourne's rail network are generally known by their terminal stations, usually out on the fringes of suburbia. The line between Werribee and the city is known as "the Werribee line", the line between Sunbury and the city is known as "the Sunbury line", and so on. This makes sense at the moment, because Melbourne's rail network is very radial - trains start out on the outer fringes of the urban area, they converge at the CBD, and they turn around and come back out again - in many cases after doing a lap around the City Loop. But the shape of our network is starting to change, so we need to reconsider our naming conventions as well.
For one thing, many lines are being extended, and each time they extend a line they change the name. In the last 20 years, the St Albans Line became the Sydenham Line became the Sunbury Line; up north it's been even quicker, with the Epping Line becoming the South Morang line and then the Mernda Line in just eight years. There's no sign of this slowing down, either; there are firm plans to extend the Cranbourne Line to Clyde, and there's talk of extending the Frankston Line to Baxter.
For another, right now a lot of money is being put into making the network less radial - certainly allowing more services through the CBD rather than just to the CBD, and beginning to become something more like a "from anywhere, to anywhere" kind of network. And as that happens, if we want the network to be legible to newcomers, we're going to need to reconsider what we call these lines.
SRL will obviously make the network less radial too (via MTIA)
Lastly, there are always issues with non-standard trains that aren't going all the way to the terminus. Some peak services terminate halfway along the line to boost capacity - for example, some peak Alamein-line services terminate at Riversdale, which is a tiny station that gets very few passengers (189th out of 219 stations) and which many people won't have heard of. If you're heading to Camberwell, that's the train for you - but if you're keeping an eye out for an Alamein, Belgrave or Lilydale train, and you see that the destination is "Riversdale", you might think it's not for you. There can be similar issues when the line is partially shut down for works - the destination board might say the train is going to wherever you have to change to buses, not necessarily the final destination. (Daniel Bowen wrote a good piece on this issue a few years ago).
So clearly there's a case for reconsidering the way we name Melbourne's rail lines. But what are our options?
Examples from around the world
If we look at other Metro networks around the world, we can see there's a lot of different approaches. London's Underground lines are named in a range of ways, from the names of the rail companies that originally built them, to fairly clean descriptions of what the line does, to portmanteaux of key stations, to things to do with the monarchs. Tokyo's two Subway systems use a similar mixture of geographical areas the line passes under, termini, and descriptions of where the line goes.
Paris' Métro uses line numbers 1-14, while its quasi-regional RER uses line letters A-E. New York's subway is a similar mixture of letters and numbers. Amsterdam gives its Metro lines numbers, under a common numbering system with trams and buses, but also gives them geographical names like "North-South Line".
Most systems around the world use some form of colour-coding on maps and other branding, but Boston's subway actually uses colour names for its lines, like the Red Line or Blue Line. So does the Tyne & Wear Metro in the UK.
Looking a bit closer to home, most other cities in Australia have fairly similar rail patterns to Melbourne, and they use fairly similar naming conventions. Sydney does things a little differently, by grouping lines together under T1, T2, T3, etc and naming them after the general area they pass through - like for example T4 Eastern Suburbs and Illawara Line.
Sydney's rail network (via Transport NSW)
In all the public-facing information, each line is known by its terminus. But behind the scenes, amongst the train drivers and in planning documents and so on, there are some other names that could be useful to us.
The lines that use the City Loop are grouped together according to which Loop tunnel they use - which in turn reflects a key station a short way outside the central city. For example, the Alamein, Glen Waverley, Belgrave and Lilydale lines are known as the Burnley Group, while the Mernda and Hurstbridge Lines are known as the Clifton Hill group.
Old Bayside Trains logo at Essendon Station (via Philip Mallis)
These names aren't really used much today, but back when Melbourne's network was first privatised, it was split into two franchises; Hillside Trains covered the Burnley and Clifton Hill Groups, and Bayside Trains covered the rest.
So what should we call them?
The final answer will probably depend on what ends up happening from an infrastructure and operational perspective - but we can make some reasonable assumptions about this.
The government's recent branding of different lines with different colours was a great move, and helps us a lot, but nonetheless I haven't gone for colour-based names. We can give them proper names, and just continue the coloured branding on maps etc as required.
Melbourne Metro 1 will join the Sunshine & Dandenong corridors (via Big Build)
Once the Melbourne Metro 1 tunnel opens in 2025, the current Sunbury Line will be joined with the Cranbourne and Pakenham Lines, and run end-to-end through the CBD. The Cranbourne Line may have been extended by then, and the Sunbury Line may have branched out to Melton, Wyndham Vale, and/or the Airport - but those hypotheticals don't matter, because we're not going to use the names of the termini. In the spirit of London's Bakerloo line, named after key stations Baker Street and Waterloo, I'd like to call this the Sundenong Line after Sunshine and Dandenong.
As with many of London's Underground lines, this line would branch off into multiple destinations, but no matter - each train would be labelled according to both its line group and its destination, like how some Central Line trains go to Ealing Broadway and others go to West Ruislip. So for example if you're in Parkville and you want to get to your home in St Albans you'd catch a Sundenong train for Sunbury, whereas if you're headed to the Airport you'd catch a Sundenong train for Airport - and if you want to get to Monash Clayton, which is on what is now the shared trunk route of the Cranbourne and Pakenham lines, you would catch any old Sundenong train headed in that direction.
The proposed Melbourne Metro 2 tunnel (via Sustainable Cities)
Hopefully, the Melbourne Metro 2 Tunnel will be approved soon and start construction as MM1 winds down. This tunnel would go from Newport to Clifton Hill via Fishermans Bend, the CBD and Fitzroy, linking the Werribee Line to the Mernda Line. In basically the same portmanteau fashion as the Sundenong Line, this newly-formed line would be called the Clifport Line.
Once this happens, the Altona Loop and the Williamstown Line would be separated from the Werribee Line. They (and Werribee trains) currently through-run to Frankston, but once Dandenong trains leave the City Loop they might return to the old "sometimes using the Loop, sometimes not" arrangement; after MM2 separates the Werribee trains point, it would make sense for the Williamstown and Altona trains to always just run straight through to the Sandringham Line. This joint line from Sandringham to Williamstown and Laverton (via Altona) would be called the Bayside Line, reflecting its geography.
The Hurstbridge Line would also be separated from the Mernda Line, and would basically just do its own thing, with no name change. It'd still just go from the city to Hurstbridge and back again, so there's no need to complicate things!
Similarly, the Belgrave and Lilydale Lines would continue to use the City Loop as now, so there's no need to complicate things too much here either. However, rather than using the two termini for names, I think it should be grouped together as the Ringwood Line.
Infrastructure Victoria has recommended the government reconfigure the City Loop so that several lines would no longer use it as a loop to turn around; instead they would link lines on opposite sides of the city together, to provide more lines that come in one side of Melbourne and out the other (much like MM1 and MM2). The first of these would link the Craigieburn Line to the Frankston Line - this should be called the North South Line.
The second of these Loop reconfigurations would link the Upfield Line to the Glen Waverley and Alamein Lines. I'm genuinely not sure what to call this one! It's a pretty mixed bag of lines, and doesn't head in one coherent direction for its whole length like the North South Line does. Maybe Coburg + Burnley = Coburnley? Who knows!
What do you think - what would you call the Upfield-Glen Waverley-Alamein hybrid? And what do you think of my other suggestions? Let me know in the comments.
This article first appeared on the-iron-road.blogspot.com
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