Problems navigating Sydney's CityRail network

I’m spending a few weeks in Sydney and something I’ve found glaringly obvious is how difficult it is to find your way around. I’m not inexperienced at travelling. I’ve used the Metro/Rail systems in Moscow, London, Singapore, New York, Barcelona, Auckland cough (hey, we’re improving…), Manila, Taipei, Hong Kong, Melbourne, Paris and Geneva (and others, but those are the highlights). And you know what? I’ve found every single one easier to navigate than Sydney. (Bejing only had two lines operating when I visited and Dubai didn’t have a metro when I lived there.)

But c’mon! Even Moscow, where I could only read Cryllic enough to transliterate, I managed to find my way around without difficulty. And that was back in ‘99, possibly things have improved since then?

So what specifically is wrong with CityRail and how could they improve?

To illustrate, let’s take yesterday’s journey. Milson’s Point to Rockdale. Not particularly tricky. I only had one change to make at either Central or Redfern. Changing from the yellow (North Shore and Western) or red (Northern) line to a dark blue (Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra) one. So armed with the knowledge that I need to head south and change at Central, I set off.

At Milson’s Point it wasn’t entirely clear which side of the platform you need to jump on. There might be other clues, but I found the best way was to look at the screens next to each platform (there aren’t many though, so you need to walk up to one), see which stations the next train calls at and figure out if the one you’re trying to get to is on that list. But if possible, it’d be better to do something similar to how the London Tube shows the departing trains. It lets you instantly make a decision whether to turn left (for north-bound trains) or right (for south-bound).

Then once you’re on the train, there’s the matter of which station you’ve just arrived at. Sometimes it’s quite difficult to get a glimpse of which station you’re at - and the trains are inconsistent about displaying the information (some are awesome, others don’t seem to have any display at all).

But Central was pretty obvious - I also knew roughly how many stations to expect. But the next problem was figuring out where to hop on this blue line train heading south towards Rockdale.

I basically had to walk down a tunnel to what appeared to be the only rail map on display. There I helped another tourist figure out how to get to Parramatta before figuring out which of the two blue lines I needed to try and find. Maybe you’re just meant to know which line you need to jump onto next, but I’d like to see more rail maps posted around the station. Eventually I’d learn that at Central, if I’m heading to Rockdale, I need to go catch a train from junction 25. But as a tourist, I need that information to hand when I hop off the train at Central so I know where I need to go afterwards.

Even heading south wasn’t completely simple. Turns out the next train was a limited stops one, which got me as far as Wolli Creek, so I had one more change to make, but that didn’t seem too difficult. And that line/train was lovely and smooth, so no complaints there!

I don’t want to sound like I’m moaning. Sydney CityRail has done a few things incredibly well. Huge trains, a/c was lovely, two-way adjustable seats are a nice touch. But they could improve the signage significantly. If they do that, then they’ll be mixing it up with the big boys.