diamond geezer

 Saturday, October 25, 2008

Having started 'Next Train' Indicator Week at one end of my daily commute, I'm ending it at the other. I'm a bit surprised, because I didn't think Holborn's NTIs were anything special. But once reader Marc had pointed out the crude display on a separate platform, this station's signage shortcomings became all too apparent. Holborn's a perfect and up-to-date example of how uncoordinated the planning of these things still is. Installation by cretins continues.

Next train: Holborn

First to the eastbound Central line platform. It's where reader Rachel waits each morning, and where I stand each evening before I head home. Picture the scene - a straight tubular platform with a low subway bridge across the centre. Six months ago there were two 'next train' indicators, both of the long-standing green&orange type, one attached to each side of the overbridge. This meant that destination information was clearly visible from the majority of the platform, but alas not from a blind spot beneath the bridge. Pretty good, but not perfect. Holborn station is currently undergoing refurbishment, and new 'next train' indicators are part of the package. Perhaps sensibly, the new displays have been installed before the old ones have been removed. They hang a few feet further away from the central bridge, so there's no blind spot underneath any more. Unfortunately there's now a blind spot almost everywhere else. From further away the new signs completely block out sight of the old and, although they've been installed for months, the new signs are not yet functional. Installed by cretins.

So I stand each evening and stare at the new signs, wondering what it says on the old ones sandwiched behind. The new signs merely tell me I'm waiting for "Eastbound trains: Central line", which I know already, and they tell me what the time is in hours minutes and seconds, which I know already. The next train is for Idunno, and it's arriving Anywhen. Why oh why, if the new signs aren't yet plugged into the signalling system, did some cretin decide to install them several months early. I know I shouldn't be surprised, but I do despair.

So next to the northbound Piccadilly line platform. It's much the same story here - a new indicator installed before the old one has been removed. Thankfully this new NTI actually works, and it doesn't block the old one. Unfortunately it's been installed by cretins. The new 'next train' indicator has been attached to the ceiling immediately to the right of the platform entrance, which is (unsurprisingly) very close to a "Way Out" sign. This is especially bad news if you want to stand on the left half of the platform, ready to board at the rear of any arriving train. From here the "Way Out sign" obscures almost all of the dot matrix display, apart from the first four letters. If you're lucky, the first train will be heading to "Arno". If you're unlucky it'll be heading to "Cock".

Did the electrical contractors do this for a laugh? Or did nobody consider the unfortunate combination of truncated information and accidental filth? Surely TfL, if your trains go to Cockfosters, you should always think twice before you install anything. Evidently not. I'm still kicking myself for not waiting on the platform long enough. My photograph of this abysmal debacle only has one Cock in it, whereas if I'd hung around longer I could have hit the jackpot with two.

But this platform's not somewhere I wanted to wait for long. And that's because it's home to TfL's next generation of 'next train' indicators - NTIs that talk. If you can't see the the destination of the next train, either because some cretin has blocked it or because you're blind, then worry no more because it'll be announced out loud. Something like this...
"Piccadilly line. The next train to Cockfosters will arrive in 2 minutes. Next station Russell Square."
Surely this kind of announcement must be a good idea, making our stations aurally accessible to all? Well yes, except that the announcement doesn't stop there. About a minute later, as the next train is about to hurtle into the platform, TfL now insist on subjecting us to the following...
"Ladies and gentlemen, the next train will be a Piccadilly line service calling at all stations to Cockfosters. Ladies and gentlemen, please stand behind the yellow line as the train approaches. Use the full length of the platform and let customers off the train first."
Good grief, that's a bit excessive isn't it? As a regular commuter, all I want to know is where the next train is heading. Instead I'm subjected to 43 words of dressed-up waffle and patronising nannying. I know the next train will be a Piccadilly line service, because it's the only line to use this platform. I know the train will stop at all stations, because in this direction they all do. I don't need to hear "Ladies and Gentlemen" twice thank you, because I haven't switched gender inbetween. I know to stand behind the yellow line, even if the occasional exuberant passenger still forgets. I can't use the full length of the platform, because there's only of me and I'm not that wide. I don't need to use the full length of the platform because it's a Saturday afternoon and the station's not particularly busy. And I already know to let customers off the train first (although, OK, maybe TfL can't repeat this often enough because so many commuters appear to be inconsiderate self-obsessed me-first thrusters). But, before every single bloody train for the foreseeable future, is this really necessary? I don't want to listen to a perpetual sequence of on-message announcements, I just want to know where the next few trains are going and when they'll arrive. Otherwise, oh disembodied automated voice, please shut up.

I hope I haven't given the impression over the last week that all of London's 'next train' indicators are poor. Many are well designed, expertly positioned, unblocked by clutter and written in a font size large enough to read without squinting. The DLR ticks almost all boxes, for example. But there are still a lot of sub-standard, ill-thought-through, incompetent displays out there, providing an inadequate service for travellers and wasting public money. Installed by cretins. And each perfectly re-installable, should anybody at TfL actually care.

NTI scariness, category 7: Displays that talk
• Tower Hill (District/Circle, eastbound): This one talks, but has an annoying habit of announcing a completely different destination to the one displayed on the board. As yet, bloody hopeless.
• Euston (Northern): "The next train to Morden will arrive in two minutes. Next stop King's Cross St Pancras. Please stand back from the platform edge."
• any more?

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