Tube geek (29)Installed by cretins Last year I spent an entire week blogging about 'next train' indicators, and how they're installed by cretins in locations where passengers can't actualy read them. After the week was over I enjoyed some lengthy email communications with one of TfL's Press Officers, who empathised with my thoughts and assured me (in some detail) that things were slowly getting better. One particular paragraph in her reply stood out, which was this:
"With regards to the positioning of train indicator boards, ideally there should be one on each platform and it should be positioned so that the information on the display can be read as customers enter the platform and from the middle of the platform. If this cannot be achieved by a single display then an additional one should be fitted where possible. As part of the Tube Investment programme we have endeavoured to install train indicator displays in the best possible positions on the platforms. The layout of many of our stations means it will never be possible for customers to see the train indicator boards from everywhere on the platform and so we stipulate that they can be seen at the entrances to platforms so customers can see what trains are due as soon as they get on to the platform."
Which is an excellent sentiment. It's just a shame it doesn't always happen.
Let me illustrate this with an up-to-the-minute example of 'next train' indicator cretinousness, which is happening as we speak at Mile End station. The platforms at Mile End have been a complete dump for the last couple of years because they were mid-strip-out when Metronet collapsed and the tube upgrade programme ran out of money. Recently, finally, the station's modernisation has kicked off again, which appears to involve the construction of a suspended ceiling across the top of Mile End's cavernous platforms. It's unnervingly low, indeed so low that the ceiling is in some places lower than the top line of the existing 'next train' indicators. Which means that passengers arriving down the stairs onto the westbound Central line platform can no longer see where the next train is heading. The second train's fine, but not the first, because a metal bar at new-ceiling-height now blocks the view [enlarged photo]. Cretins, I tell you, absolute bloody cretins.
Mile End is already seriously sub-optimal for the viewing of 'next train' indicators. Its rows of prettily-tiled pillars don't help, because they tend to block either the left hand end of the board (destination) or the right hand end of the board (minutes). But the real problem has been that there aren't enough 'next train' indicators, and they aren't in the right place. Let me sketch you a pretty diagram of Mile End station to show you what I mean.
Mile End's two eastbound platforms form an island across the top, and its two westbound platforms form an island across the bottom. Trains run along the white strips - the Central line very-top and very-bottom, and the District/H&C through the middle. The stairs down from the ticket hall are at one end of each platform, whereas the exit stairs are located much more centrally. There are four 'Way out' signs, shown in yellow, and six 'next train' boards, shown in blue. The bottom left 'next train' board is one-sided only, facing west. And all the green squares represent pillars (which, for the purposes of what I'm about to explain, are irrelevant).
The blue shaded areas are the sections of each platform from which a 'next train' indicator can be seen. Maybe not easily, and maybe requiring a step to one side and a shuffle, but visible all the same. Good news, that's pretty much the entire length of the westbound District line platform, as well as most of the eastern half of the station (the end furthest away from the station entrance). But there's a long-term problem with the (yellow) 'Way out' signs, because they're positioned right up close to the four 'next train' indicators in the centre of each platform. They have to be there, it's Health and Safety, because everybody needs to know how to get out. But they act as an opaque shield to the destination information immediately behind, which means that the 'next train' can't be viewed from any of the areas I've shaded red. Bloody useless, but nothing new.
What is new are the pink bits. It used to be possible (last month) to view the 'next train' indicator from the pink areas, and now it isn't. This is the fault of those new low ceiling bars, which are extra-low in places and are getting in the way of important customer information. Stand at the far eastern end of either eastbound platform and, especially if you're tall, the 'next train' is no longer visible. More importantly, walk down the steps from the ticket hall onto the westbound Central line platform and the 'next train' is suddenly no longer visible. Where's it to? Don't know. How long's it going to be? Haven't a clue. Previously available information, shielded, covered, obscured.
Which brings me back to TfL's supposed rule regarding 'next train' indicators - "we stipulate that they can be seen at the entrances to platforms". Not at Mile End they aren't. At Mile End, bizarrely, they're only perfectly visible at the exits to platforms! Enter either eastbound platform and they can't be read, not unless you walk halfway up towards the front of the train. And now, thanks to the implementation of some all-encompassing modernisation programme, westbound Central line customers arrive on the platform in a freshly created blind spot. Totally un-joined-up thinking, as one part of TfL sticks in a new station feature which acts as a barrier to something previously installed by another. The cretins are back, right now, this week, in a tube station near me.
I did email TfL 10 days ago to see if they could tell me what was going on at Mile End station. I asked for reassurance that I'd interpreted the situation wrongly, and that in fact engineers had some other solution up their sleeve (like lowering the 'next train' indicators or installing new ones or not actually building a new ceiling quite so low as it appears). But no answer has been forthcoming, despite an initial reply saying they'd look into it. So I can only assume that TfL-directed engineers are continuing to add a too-low ceiling at Mile End because nobody's thinking about the complete picture. New ceilings, sanctioned by ignorance, installed by cretins. Nothing changes.