diamond geezer

 Thursday, October 23, 2008

Next train: Earl's Court

Some tube stations are really complicated places to negotiate, not because there are several lines but because there are several possible destinations. These are multi-platform hubs, and it's essential to end up on the correct platform in order to board the correct train. Arriving passengers need clear signage which amalgamates all travel options, as for example provided by banks of purple-topped screens on the Metropolitan line at Baker Street. But other same-line interchanges can be a complete nightmare. And, by your common consent, the very worst of these is the District line's frenetic epicentre at Earl's Court.

There are only four District line platforms at Earl's Court, two (adjacent) westbound and two (adjacent) eastbound. You wouldn't think it would be difficult to stand on one island or the other and wait for the next train. But it is. And the problem is very simple. Each platform has its own 'next train' indicator which indicates the next train to arrive on that platform only. Whichever platform you choose to stand on, it's extremely hard to tell what's due to arrive next on the platform nextdoor. Wait, shuffle check, shuffle back check, wait some more, shuffle shuffle check, shuffle wait. It's a right pain, and during rush hours a sure-fire recipe for clogged congestion.

As on much of the rest of the District line, the signalling system at Earl's Court is archaic. No flash electronic 'next train' displays here, just a very old-school system involving illuminated arrows. But maybe not as old school as you remember. There used to be some genuine heritage lightboxes here - big compartmentalised displays with elegant white text on a bold blue background. Like this westbound, and like this eastbound. Proper museum fodder and very characterful, but not 100% useful. Alas at the end of last year they were replaced, and by something less gorgeous but equally dysfunctional. There are now lots of new signs spaced out along each platform, each with a nod at how things used to look, but each little more than a bland list in block capitals beside a box of cheap-looking arrows. Current signalling permits nothing more useful.

Eastbound, platforms 1 & 2: There are two distinct choices, although the destination board makes things look far more complicated. Do you want to head north via High Street Kensington or east via Victoria. Sorry, but your next train could be arriving on either platform. Shuffle, check, shuffle, check. A frequent bugbear occurs when both platforms are occupied by trains travelling in the same direction. What most passengers then need to know is not the final destination but which train will be leaving first. Because there's nothing worse that sitting expectantly in your carriage only to see the other train heading out of the station first. Not a clue. Oh hang on, maybe there is. One single illuminated sign hung high over the platform (above where the old indicators used to be), and most definitely not easily viewable from the full length of the station. Sheesh what a disjoint mess this station's signage is.

Westbound, platforms 3 & 4: There are four distinct choices, so which train's due next really matters. It's still not easy to tell from the indicators, though, as commenter slabman knows all too well... "Invisible from more than 2 metres away and placed at the head of the stairs from the Piccadilly, which opens into a bedsit sized space bounded by pillars and a lift. So, a crowd gathers there to watch the indicator and fight for position with the commuters coming up the stairs. Brilliant!" And commenter Steven adds... "On emerging from the Piccadilly Line and seeing a train about to leave, one has to fight through people to locate a board to identify which train it is." Even once you're on board, trains here can wait and wait and wait for no obvious reason. Changing trains at Earl's Court is no fun whatsoever.

But there is hope. At the moment the platforms at Earl's Court are covered with scaffolding, right down the middle of each - a series of blue portakabin-type hideaways propping up a forest of pipes and tall poles. It's as if the Ideal Construction Show has relocated from the nearby exhibition hall and set up shop in the heart of the station. And it's all this scaffolding which is blocking sight of one platform's signage from another. One day, maybe, if Metronet ever clear the whole lot away, viewing the whole picture might get a whole lot easier. But what's really needed here (and at similar stations on the network) is a single 'next train' indicator listing destination, time and platform for the next three-or-so arrivals. You know, like most National Rail stations have. In the meantime, if you want to know how many minutes away the next service to Olympia is and where it'll appear, don't hold your breath.

NTI uselessness, category 4: Displays giving passengers the runaround
Edgware Road (Circle/District/H&C): Personally, I despise Edgware Road even more than Earl's Court. It's a very similar set-up with two pairs of island platforms, but this time with the added complication of terminating trains. Westbound or eastbound? It's not always easy to tell. Trains pause here for long periods of time while waiting for a gap in the service, and again it's often nigh impossible to tell which is the next train out. One of the 'next train' indicators here glows blood red, not orange, which I always find very unnerving. And at the foot of the stairs, as commenter Ben points out, there's quite possibly the worst 'next train' solution anywhere on the network. The main dotmatrix display for all four platforms is upstairs on the concourse near the ticket hall (because eastbound trains can leave from any of three platforms). Downstairs, instead of having another repeater display on the platforms, they have... a CCTV screen fed from a camera pointing at the concourse display. The text is tiny and blurred, and often blocked by passengers walking in front or standing around with suitcases. It's cheap and it's nasty and it looks so desperately amateur. If Edgware Road ever becomes the lynchpin of a new non-circular Hammersmith and Circle line, I dread to think to imagine how appalling changing trains here might become.
Wembley Park: Your next southbound Metropolitan line train... is it platform 5 or (long scurry across bridge) platform 6? It's not always obvious. It may look like 5 (next train 1 min) but many's the time a slow train's sneaked ahead into 6, opened its doors to an empty platform, and pulled out before anyone could reach it.
Whitechapel: Your next westbound Hammersmith & City line train... is it a through service or is it departing from the 'eastbound' platform? There's a bridge and two flights of stairs between the two, and absolutely no clues for waiting passengers which it might be.
Plaistow: Your next westbound Hammersmith & City line train... is it a through service or is it departing from the bay platform? There's an incredibly long walk (up, over and along) between the two, and absolutely no clues for waiting passengers which it might be.
• any more?

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