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Case Study
Client: Metro Trains Melbourne

Robust production processes de‑risk the production of train timetables

In 2006, when we started producing timetables for the Melbourne metropolitan train network, we had hundreds of spreadsheets and a sceptical client.

The problem

The timetable project was a mess, there were a lot of mistakes, and deadlines were not met. No one had much faith in anyone who was the slightest bit 'creative' because creatives had not delivered up to that point. Deadlines are locked in by promised release dates so they can't be overrun without someone being embarrassed publicly. Commuters rightly expect the data to be correct and the content to match the destination on the cover or header. The large volume of data is provided in spreadsheets and needs to be formatted correctly. And the templates provided need to be designed for volume production, not just for appearance.

The solution

Process, automation, tools, people and templates.

We were so excited to start this project and it remains one of our favourites because this job was, and still is, the perfect match for our skills.

This job was calling out for a robust process. To start developing parameters for the process, we collected a description of all the problems that had happened and we worked out how they happened. We then designed a process that prevented those things from ever occurring again. Anything we couldn't prevent with process design we collected using a checklist that found the predictable human errors.

In the years since, we have refined the process by adding automations, updating the checklist, and developing an uncanny eye for picking up errors in times!! Timetable production is, at its heart, a manufacturing process. With our background in Japanese manufacturing methodology, timetables and Hothouse Design are a perfect match.

The design of the timetables is changed occasionally by Public Transport Victoria (PTV). Because producing the timetables is a manufacturing process, we have a deep understanding of how any proposed design changes will impact the manufacturing process. Being able to review design changes for their ability to be implemented in a consistent, error-free manner helps Public Transport Victoria propose design changes that are producable.

A spread of Metro Trains Melbourne timetable booklet

One of the 11 DL timetable booklets, showing some of the different table styles in use.

A sample of an A1 size Metro Trains Melbourne timetable poster for the Cranbourne, Pakenham and Frankston lines

One of the 10 A1 posters, covering an entire line.

A sample of a Metro Trains Melbourne A1 size station specific timetable poster

One of the 399 station, and sometimes platform, specific posters.

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