Proposal for a New Queensland Rail Citytrain Map Design

IMAGE: My 2002 Queensland Rail South East Queensland rail network map design.


IMAGE: My 2002 Queensland Rail South East Queensland rail network map design.

IMAGE: A photocopy of the cover letter that Donald Welch sent to the chief executive of Queensland Rail, Bob Scheuber. It was attached to the network map design and report that we had written.

1. Executive Summary

1.1 Overview

The Queensland Rail (QR) Citytrain map design has been in use for numerous years. However, it is now showing signs of age. Over the years numerous additions, extensions and accretions have resulted in a visually cluttered map. It is time to clear up and update the Citytrain map.

The Citytrain map is the key element in providing passengers with the information needed to travel using QR services. Therefore the more effective this map can communicate the information, the more easily passengers will understand the service, and be able to use it. As Wurman (1996) notes in his book, , “passenger information plays an important part in making a transit system work.” It is an absolutely critical aspect of a transport system, because without proper display of information, people will not fully understand the system.

This report analyses in detail how well the current map performs its role, and how it could be redesigned to communicate more effectively.

1.2 Recommendations

The numbers after each recommendation below refer to their relevant sections in the report.

Clearer visual definition of lines

  • Clearly define the beginning and ending of each line (6.2).
  • Simplify the line directions, to avoid confusion (6.3).
  • Visually emphasise the line titles (6.4).
  • Differentiate Trainlink services more clearly from rail services (6.9).

Accurate referencing

  • Identify Inter Urban zones with more accurate and appropriate titles (6.6).
  • Make termination points more obvious (6.7).

Elimination of superfluous information

  • Remove the display of the icons, to assist the map in displaying its essential information more clearly (6.5).
  • Remove the display of the Exhibition line, due to its lack of relevance to passengers for most of the year (6.12).

Associated information

  • Add an approximate journey time to major destinations, rather than showing the physical distance of each line (6.8).
  • Add the display of additional information that may become consequential to one’s journey planning (6.10).

Future developments

  • The use of an underlying grid and system of rules that govern the design of the map and allow for any future developments (6.11).
  • A survey to be conducted on a much larger scale (6.13).

2. Introduction

2.1 Terms of reference

Overall, how easy is it for travellers to understand and then use the Queensland Rail Citytrain map?

The Citytrain map is for the travelling public and has to relate to their needs. The current map suggests it may perhaps reflect the organisation of the rail network from an administration perspective. It may be that graphic ambiguities have developed as additional lines and services have been inserted over the years.

The degree to which the existing map addresses these aspects, in terms of content and visual appearance is what this report examines.

In terms of visual information, the graphic function of the map may be explained within the following framework:

Visual hierarchy

  • Figure/ground relationship. That is, how items of importance (the ‘figures’) are distinguished from the background (the ‘ground’).
  • What are the most important aspects?
  • What are of secondary importance?
  • How well is the remaining information displayed?


  • Selection of typeface.
  • Size of lettering.
  • Weight of lettering.
  • Contrast against background.

Use of colour (for maximum effect with minimum ambiguity)

  • Awareness of problems associated with colour-blindness.
  • Achieving a practical and aesthetically pleasing outcome.


  • How one element relates to another.

2.2 Background

I am a second year Graphic Design student at Griffith University, studying at the Queensland College of Art. As part of my studies I undertook to redesign the QR Citytrain map. I have always been intrigued by the design of rail maps, and as a regular user of QR I have spent countless hours viewing the map displayed in the train carriages. This gave me the opportunity to analyse it in detail, and I felt that the design could be improved. This is what I have tried to achieve with this project.

3. Methodology

3.1 Introduction and sample population

Research was undertaken by means of a survey, and a small number of separate interviews. Using both interviews and questionnaires as a method of data collection meant that there was a good balance of qualitative and quantitative information gathered.

The survey was undertaken by randomly selecting 50 QR users as they entered or left Central Station, Brisbane. The survey was conducted over a period of two weeks between May and June, 2002. This sample population consisted of approximately 60% male respondents, and 40% female respondents. Approximately 40% of these people were from ages 10 to 19, 45% were from ages 20 to 29, 10% were from the ages 30 to 39, and 5% were from the age group of 40 to 49.

3.2 Survey questions

The survey was primarily used to find crucial statistical data that then could inform any major decisions that needed to be made for the map design (see appendix for sample questionnaire).

Provided an understanding of what kind of user was being surveyed.

Interested in knowing where most of the traffic flowed to. This information may have been important in deciding whether some aspects of the map were more important than others.

Asked to see how people viewed the current map, and how effective it is at communicating Queensland Rail services.

This was a main question. This information was crucial in order to make a decision about whether the map redesign needed to include the icons that were on the already existing map.

If people were using the icons, then I wanted to know precisely which ones were being used.

The current map has a large list located to the right of the map which I suspected was largely redundant. So this question was asked to find out if Queensland Rail users felt the same way.

After discovering that the current map shows the length of each line, I felt that this would be irrelevant to the travelling public. I thought that time could very well be a much more appropriate factor, so this question was asked to find out if the public agreed with this idea.

At first, I believed that this kind of information was not needed on the map, but I quickly changed my mind after gathering the results from respondents and listening to the reasoning behind their decisions.

I was interested to know the number of people who had used these services.

This question was needed to be asked in order to discover whether or not this service should be placed on the map design.

This was asked just to provide an understanding of people’s perception of what should be emphasised on a rail map design.

This question was provided to give respondents the opportunity to give additional feedback.

4. Findings

4.1 Survey

Yearly — 5%
Monthly — 10%
Weekly — 30%
Daily — 55%

The results for this question were not very conclusive. But in general, city stations such as Brunswick Street, Central, Roma Street, South Brisbane, and South Bank were stated quite often. Other stations that were reasonably regular responses were most of the terminating stations. (A much larger sample would be needed to provide an adequate response to this question).

Bad — 5%
Okay — 50%
Good — 35%
Great — 10%

Yes — 20%
No — 80%

From the 20% of the respondents that had used the icons, Trainlink, Shopping Precincts, and Entertainment were the most occurring results. Bus Rail Interchange, CityTrans, and Busway Interchange were also checked as having been used by some respondents.

Yes — 35%
No — 45%
Unsure — 20%

Time — 65%
Kilometres — 5%
Both — 20%
None — 10%

Yes — 65%
No — 30%
Unsure — 5%

Yes — 15%
No — 85%

Yes — 40%
No — 55%
Unsure — 5%

This did not prove to be the most efficient question to ask. Due to the large variety of responses it seems that most people did not fully understand the task, and also a lack of time could have contributed too. But in general, Train Lines, Station Names, and Main Stations seemed to be the main focus of what people thought to be the most important things on a railway map.

Due to the large number of responses that occurred from this question, it will have to be limited to just a few of the main responses. I received a number of responses saying that they thought that the maps looks too cluttered and some also commented that they thought it was because of the icons. I also found that a number of people suggested that time should definitely be added to the map, and a few others that stated that the time should replace the distance of the lines. A few people suggested that the train lines need to be more clear, and make the lines more evident about exactly where they were going.

4.2 Analysis

The fact that 80% of respondents had never used any of the icons located on the current Citytrain map indicates that perhaps they are not as important to include as once thought. 65% of respondents answered that they would prefer to see time on the map, rather than the distance. This indicates that the physical distance of each line is of little importance to the majority of Queensland Rail passengers. Trainlink bus services were originally one aspect of the map that I felt was expendable, but after reviewing the results I found that 65% believed that these services were important to feature on the map. It was interesting to note that only 15% of respondents had ever used one of these services though. The Exhibition line was a service that I felt could be taken from the map, due to the small amount of time that is it actually in operation. 55% of respondents agreed with this view.

5. Conclusion

This research concludes that although the majority of users are reasonably satisfied with the current Queensland Rail map, there are a number of changes that they feel could be made to increase its usefulness, and also the manner in which it communicates.

The current QR Citytrain map is at its visual limit. No more information could sensibly be placed onto it. The current map design has already begun to do some peculiar things in order to fit additional information on the map. These peculiar things are often mistaken as geographic accuracy. For example, the substantial kink in the line that occurs between Eumundi and Caboolture, when in fact the entire Caboolture line travels in almost a straight line that journeys north. Another example is the Cleveland line. This line appears that for a large part of its journey it is heading north. But in reality the line barely goes north at all. The essential direction is of a south-east nature.

Some items are of questionable value

  • The large number of icons shown against some stations. Some of these icons may have been important in the past but perhaps are no longer quite so relevant. This issue needs further research.

Other relevant information is absent

  • Indication of the separate service that operates between Ipswich and Rosewood.
  • An emphasis of the of the terminating stations is missing from the current Citytrain map. Which is strange because it is these terminating stations that become the title of the service, and therefore are quite important to be able to locate.
  • Trainlink services that operate between Eagle Junction and Doomben, and also between Caboolture and Nambour are completely absent from the current QR map. These pieces of information are important because it could very well influence the way someone plans their journey. These items may reflect changes which have occurred over recent years and which need to be included in a revised map.

There are some features that are clearly desirable to include

  • Approximate journey duration times. It may be that travellers look to the Citytrain map for information that has previously not been considered necessary to include.

The existing map contains some ambiguities that could easily be reconciled

  • Inter Urban Zones. A number of respondents noted that these zones could be better labelled. In one instance, an overseas visitor used the train to travel around the city quite often, but never realised that what the current map has labelled as “Inter Urban South” is actually the Gold Coast.

Overall, the results suggest that the existing Citytrain map would benefit from a redesign in terms of both the content and visual appearance. The recommendations define these specific changes in more detail.

6. Recommendations

6.1 Overview

Trains are often viewed by the public as intimidating, due to the sometimes overwhelming amount of information that can often be needed when making a journey by train, and also by the high amount of information that surrounds them when at a train station. By limiting the amount of unnecessary information and displaying the remaining information as clearly and logically as possible, Queensland Rail can make a journey more pleasant for their passengers.

6.2 Clearly defined lines

Action: Specify exactly where each train service begins and ends, from a user’s perspective.

Reason: Because the lines are not clear, the current map contains some ambiguities and user could be deceived into taking action that isn’t necessary.

From the information gathered from respondents it was quite clear that the general public wanted to know more accurately where each train line precisely travelled to. This information is not always clear on the current map. For example, the Shorncliffe train line visually ends at Bowen Hills. The implication of this is that the traveller has to change trains at this point. But, this is not the case. So why not indicate the continuation of the line? Perhaps this makes sense from a QR administration perspective, but is confusing to the travelling public. Another example is the Airport line, where from the lack of continuation of the extent of this line, it would be feasible to assume that you have to catch a train to Eagle Junction and then catch a separate service through to the Airport. But, the Airport service in reality runs all the way from Robina through to the Airport.

It is noted that in some circumstances this design may have minor conflicts with Queensland Rail’s current information system that is used to display train times at stations. For example, the Corinda and Ipswish/Rosewood services in the current system are displayed as a part of the one service. If this results in a reasonable amount of concern, then it would be feasible to a new system of displaying this information to be developed.

6.3 Simplify line direction

Action: Visually simplify the lines by providing the essential direction of the service.

Reason: The appearance of the current map has misled users into believing that the map has a much stronger relationship to geography than it actually does.

The current map’s lines wriggle around in separate directions which can confuse viewers about the direction in which they are travelling. By omitting these changes in direction, the crucial information is clearer, which then makes the map much easier to read and understand. At the same time prevents users from believing that these changes in direction are actually of geographic importance, placed in order to give them a greater understanding about their location — which is simply not true. The proposed map is actually more geographically accurate than the current one.

6.4 Clearly visible line titles

Action: Visually emphasise the titles of the train lines by increasing the point size and choose a heavier weight for the lettering.

Reason: To make these crucial pieces of information much easier to locate on the map.

The current map makes the viewer have to work quite hard to find the titles of each line as they are only slightly emphasised by being made bold. This proposed change would fix this problem by making this vital information more dominant. A very similar strategy has been employed on the design of the Sydney rail map, where all major destinations have been set in a ‘black’ typeface.

6.5 Icons

Action: Delete the icons from the design of the map.

Reason: Icons make the map look cluttered, and therefore more difficult to understand.

Throughout my research of rail maps from throughout the world I did not find any other map that had integrated collections of icons. I did find some specially designed tourist rail maps that sometimes contained entertainment information similar to the current QR Citytrain map, but not in quite as much detail. Because so many icons are included, they clutter the map. This makes it harder for the traveller to find essential information. The problem is exacerbated when the map is produced in smaller sizes (e.g., in timetables).

6.6 Identifying zones

Action: Change the titles of inter-urban regions with a more accurate description of their location (where possible).

Reason: Provide the user with a much clearer idea of their location

The title ‘Inter Urban North’ is ambiguous, and does not aid the user other than by communicating that they are outside of the city, and somewhere to the north. This is already signified quite clearly within the actual design of the map. Instead, I have changed the title to ‘Sunshine Coast’. which then provides the user with a more accurate understanding of the location. The same change has been made to ‘Inter Urban South’, which is now labelled Gold Coast.

6.7 Termination points

Action: Include graphic devices which indicate the number of termination points.

Reason: Inform users more clearly where train destinations are located, which then provides them with a greater understanding of the services that will get them to their own specific destinations.

The terminals define the lines. Therefore, it is important to clearly identify these crucial reference points. This becomes especially relevant to users when colour coding is not visible (e.g., on the newly installed LED displays). Termination points become the title of Queensland Rail services. This fact becomes important due to the recent station updates such as Park Road, and also South Brisbane, where instead of using a screen that can display colour (which therefore identifies which line the destination is on), LED displays have been installed. These LED displays can only show one colour, which for example, means that if a train was going to terminate at Petrie. Even a regular train user that would usually catch the Caboolture train could very well see the Petrie train and completely disregard it as going somewhere else, and wait for the next Caboolture train. To find where these less often occurring terminating stations are on the current map is very difficult, as they are visually made no more distinctive than any other station. The proposed map design solves this problem by clearly identifying where trains terminate with a graphic device, and also by making the titles of these stations bold.

6.8 Time

Action: Include an approximate time it takes to get to the station, rather than the distance.

Reason: More relevant to a passenger travelling on a QR service.

The current map has the distance of each line (measured in kilometres) displayed on it. As research shows, this kind of information can be completed irrelevant to most of the actual users of Queensland Rail. It has been noted that people believe it would be more appropriate to replace this information with the approximate time it takes to get to certain major destinations. The proposed map contains this change.

6.9 Trainlink

Action: Further visually differentiate the Trainlink services from rail lines.

Reason: People were easily confused into thinking that these services were actually rail lines.

The current map’s Trainlink information is visually stronger than the regular train lines, due to their colour application, and therefore is easily confused with rail services. Evidence from respondents confirm that this misunderstanding is common. The proposed map design solves this problem by making Trainlink services appear as an outline rather than a solid line, which visually differentiates this information quite strongly from rail services, avoiding confusion.

6.10 Additional service information

Action: Add the display of consequential information that relates to the major services on the map.

Reason: The absence of such information may leave the user with a false idea of journey planning.

The regularity of services between Eagle Junction and Doomben, and also between Caboolture and Nambour is quite low, and often replaced by Trainlink services. This is not apparent at all on the current map. The proposed map displays this significant information by placing a grey outline around each of these areas of the lines (graphically referencing Trainlink services).

The rail service that goes from Yeerongpilly via Tennyson to Corinda (and on to Oxley and concluding at Darra) every so often on weekdays was difficult to include because of the fact that it is only a limited service, and therefore does not warrant to be emphasised as much as the other lines, but also because there was also a Trainlink service that ran along the same path. The proposed map solves this specific problem by using an outline to associate it with Trainline services, and signifies that it is also a part of the Ipswich rail services by making the outline green, the same colour as the Ipswich line.

One thing that was notices when researching Queensland Rail timetables was that almost always, trains that would travel along the Ipswich line would terminate at Ipswich, and to get to Rosewood you would then have to change trains to use a completely separate service that only operates between Ipswich and Rosewood. The visual properties of the current Citytrain map does not show this. The proposed map design gives a visual reference to this by indicating a change between these two stations by placing breaks in the line.

The current Citytrain map has no indication of any of this information, although this information could become quite consequential to one’s journey planning.

6.11 Future development

Action: The proposed map has been designed on a workable grid, with the application of a logical system of rules.

Reason: Further development or extensions to Queensland Rail services could be easily be included in the proposed map. The grid system has clear rules, which means that the entire map has a uniform appearance, and any further extensions or changes to services will adhere to this uniform appearance.

6.12 Exhibition line

Action: Remove the display of the Exhibition service from the map.

Reason: Because it is irrelevant to most passengers for the majority of the year.

The service runs only one week in fifty two. This information could be included in an Ekka brochure of some kind, delivering the information to those who are actually going to benefit from the knowledge of such a service.

6.13 Larger scale survey

Action: It is recommended that a larger scale survey is performed.

Reason: This research was only a pilot study.

This survey included only 50 respondents and should therefore be considered as a pilot study only. It is recommended that a larger study is undertaken to confirm the results given in this report are accurate.


Bertin, J. (1983) University of Wisconsin: Madison Wisconsin, USA.

Jacobson, R. (1997) MIT Press: Cambridge. Massachusetts, USA.

Mijksenaar, P. (1997) M010 Publishers: Rotterdam.

Queensland Rail (2002) Available World Wide Web: URL: (Accessed May, 2002).

Queensland Rail Citytrain map design (2002).

Queensland Rail Beenleigh Timetable (2002).

Queensland Rail Cleveland Timetable (2002).

Queensland Rail Doomben Timetable (2002).

Queensland Rail Ferny Grove Timetable (2002).

Queensland Rail Gold Coast Timetable (2002).

Queensland Rail Ipswich Timetable (2002).

Queensland Rail Shorncliffe Timetable (2002).

Queensland Rail Sunshine Coast Timetable (2002).

Tufte, E. (1992) Graphics Press: Cheshire, Connecticut.

Tufte, E. (1996) Graphics Press: Cheshire, Connecticut.

Wurman, R. (1996) Graphis Press: Zurich.

Wildbur, P. & Burke, M. (1998) Thames & Hudson.


Figure 1 Current map (2002).

Figure 2 Proposed map design.

In memoriam

IMAGE: Senior Lecturer Donald Welch, Queensland College of Art, Griffith University.



🧠 Psychological Science Student, UQ ✏️ Designer, Design Good Design Studio 🌏 Climate Reality Leader 💁‍♂️ Pronouns: he/him 🔗

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Jarren Nylund

🧠 Psychological Science Student, UQ ✏️ Designer, Design Good Design Studio 🌏 Climate Reality Leader 💁‍♂️ Pronouns: he/him 🔗