Installed by cretins: As tube week draws inexorably towards its climax, I'd like vent my spleen at the idiots who installed some of London's most useless 'next train' indicators. Just to be clear, this may not be the workers who wired them into the ceiling. It could be the electricians who installed the security camera directly in front of them. It could be the architects who thought that "behind a pillar" was the perfect spot for a list of upcoming destinations. Or it could be the designers who decided that "broad and shallow" was the perfect shape for a dot matrix display. Whoever it was, at so very many stations across the entire TfL network, my rant is the same. Installed by cretins. Here's a small selection of their inept handiwork...
Next train: Old Street Here we are on the northbound Northern line platform. You've entered the station, you've descended the escalator, you've walked down the stairs and now you're looking to your left to see which train's coming next. Good grief, which blithering idiot has installed a security camera immediately in front of the 'next train' indicator? And not just any security camera, but a limpet-like fixture attached to the curved ceiling by no less than two obstructive pipes. Morons. Except, hang on, that's one of the tube network's very newest 'next train' indicators - all matt black and sleek and shiny with pinpoint perfect lettering and (get this) more than three next trains. So my guess is that the chunky camera boom was here first and the damned expensive NTI arrived second. Installed by cretins.
Next train: Acton Town Here we are on the eastbound Piccadilly line platform. It's another one of those security camera & 'next train' indicator combinations. And you know what, it takes real skill to position a security camera in precisely the correct position to obscure the top line on a dot matrix display. The camera mounting is small and slim, and so is the word "Cockfosters", and yet engineers have still managed to synchronise both in precisely the same eye-line sector of west London airspace. Damned talented, that. Admittedly the view on the opposite side is crystal clear to all punters entering the station from the ticket hall. But from anywhere in the eastern half of the platform, an essential tiny strip of letters is blocked. Why oh why can't the cameras be a bit higher up, or the signs a bit lower down? Installed by cretins.
Next train: Acton Town Here we are on the eastbound District line platform, a few feet away from the disaster area described above. Yet again the destination of the next-arriving service is illegible. And yet again the blockage is caused by incompetently positioned surveillance equipment, although this time of a different kind. Blame the mini staff control room in the centre of the platform, with its windows facing forwards but not back. So how are diligent station staff to check the eastern half of the platform? Why, with a big square mirror attached to the wall, that's how. And this mirror perfectly obscures the left hand side of the 'next train' indicator, the useful chunk where the destination appears. Sorry, that destination's a secret, because what's more important is that station staff can check for abandoned luggage without leaving their bunker. Installed by cretins.
Next train: Bank Here we are on the eastbound Central line platform. This is the inner-curve banana-shaped platform where a disembodied voice announces "Mind The Gap" at extremely regular intervals. And here's a novelty. It's not TfL signage blocking this particular 'next train' indicator, it's an innovative advertising solution. Yes, you can blame CBS Outdoor and one of their newly installed overhead projectors for this wholly unnecessary obstruction. Last year you could easily have read how many minutes it was until the next train arrived. And now you can't, because there's a giant white box in the way, hanging pregnant from the ceiling. Is the Epping train arriving soon? Dunno, but you can always watch silent adverts for musical theatre and satellite television while you wait. I know which information I find more useful. Installed by greedy cretins.
Next train: Oxford Circus Here we are on the eastbound Central line platform. Look at that. A whopping great big Way Out sign plonked immediately (immediately!) in front of the 'next train' indicator. Who would do such a thing? Ah, well that's Health & Safety, that is. The most important sign on any underground platform is the 'Way Out' sign, because one day it might be essential (for a few minutes) during a nightmare evacuation. Unfortunately this means that for the rest of the time it's allowed to block everything else that day-to-day travellers might find useful, like where the next Central line train is going. But there's one thing here I really don't understand - why is the Way Out sign so bloody long? It's half blank, for heaven's sake, and it's the blank half which is blocking the really important information on the 'next train' indicator behind. This whopping great obstruction at one of the busiest stations on the network is totally unnecessary, and yet TfL's design guidelines require it. Installed by cretins.
Next train: Oxford Circus Here we are on the eastbound Central line platform. Hang on, that's where we were for the previous photo. But this is the other side of exactly the same 'next train' indicator. Double-sided incompetence, this. During the modernisation of Oxford Circus earlier this century, scores of loudspeakers were attached to walls across the station, and one of them ended up here. It's right up close to the NTI so there's no way of avoiding it, poking out diagonally across the destinations of the next trains to depart the station. Plain ridiculous. But that's nothing compared to the horizontal location of this particular display unit. Look, it's so wide that the only way of fitting it across the top of the platform has been to shove it into an alcove. Even when the next train is for 'Hainault via Newbury Park' there's still plenty of unnecessary blank width, but could somebody be arsed to design a slightly narrower 'next train' indicator? Could they hell. All modern dot matrix displays have to be wide, otherwise there'd be no room to write important messages about engineering works and unattended luggage. So Oxford Circus ends up with a too-wide box that doesn't fit, and isn't fit for purpose. And you know, that's why I liked the old lightboxes, because they were invariably narrow, and therefore capable of being positioned nearer to the tracks, and therefore visible. Today's one-size-doesn't-fit-all approach is evidently far too inflexible. Designed by experts, standardised by morons, installed by cretins.
NTI uselessness, category 5: Obstructed displays Plaistow (westbound): Enter this platform down the stairs and you'll find that a narrow security camera arm casts its immediate shadow across the most crucial top-line segment of the 'next train' display. Only once you've walked one carriageworth up the platform does the view clear. Installed by cretins. Finsbury Park (Victoria, southbound): Another security camera, again precisely eclipsing the destination of the first train, this time from the entire northern half of the platform. Installed by cretins. Notting Hill Gate (Central, westbound): Yet another security camera debacle. Installed by cretins. High Street Kensington (District & Circle, northbound): Blocked by Way Out sign from entire northern half of platform. Installed by cretins. Bond Street (Jubilee, north and south): Blocked by Way Out signs. Installed by double cretins. Stepney Green (District, eastbound): DTL says "The NTI is only visible there if you stand right by the stairs. Anywhere else and you have exit signs and CCTV blocking the view." Mile End (Central, westbound): Ah, the bugbear of my daily commute. There are two 'next train' indicators on the westbound Central platform, one at the foot of each staircase. But stand inbetween the two, as I do every morning, and you can see neither. One NTI is singled-sided only, and the side facing the gap beneath the stairs is blank. And the other NTI is hidden perfectly behind a Way Out sign, so that's bloody useless too. Over the years I've learnt that I can just see the extreme right hand side of this dot matrix display if I walk right up to the yellow line at the platform edge and stick my head out into the danger zone. If the final letter is "s" then the next train is at least "2 mins" away, and if the "s" isn't there then the next train is a mere "1 min" away. As to where it's heading, there's no hope of knowing until it arrives. I stand each morning in an information-free dead zone, courtesy of TfL's incompetent engineers. Installers of the cretinous. any more?
I did wonder if perhaps the Oxford Circus eastbound Central line 'next train' indicator was London's very worst example of contractor-led signage functionalty incompetence. But I have one more fecklessly located display up my sleeve, with which I'll round off this series tomorrow. Not just recklessly incapable but downright insulting, and the perfect indication of where TfL's NTIs are heading in the future. Installed by more cretinous cretins than usual.
What's on this weekend? Spring Into Summer Saturday 30 & Sunday 31 May
40 free guided London walks. Purley Festival Friday 29 - Sunday 5 June
Bunting week, below Croydon. E17 Art Trail Sat 30th May - Sun 14th June
250 arty Walthamstow things.