diamond geezer

 Tuesday, May 01, 2012

It's long mystified me why Next Train Indicators at tube stations perform so very differently. At Bow Road, for example, we get just one minute's advance warning of the next westbound train, and the second train is never mentioned. Mile End, meanwhile, gets up to six minutes advance warning of up to three trains. Why should passengers at two consecutive District line platforms get such completely different information?

Part of the problem is the hotchpotch of legacy systems that make up London's sub-surface signalling, some of which dates back to the 1920s. There are major plans to replace the lot, especially the really flaky sections, but it'll be years until the full upgrade's complete. In the meantime we get to make do with minimal information at certain stations, and rather more at others.

So I've been on a clockwise tour of the Circle line to see how good or bad its Next Train Indicators are. They're certainly a mixed bunch. Most look like one of the two designs pictured here, either the sturdy older version above, or the cheap-looking recent version below. Only King's Cross and Westminster boast sleek black indicators, more usually seen on the deep-level lines. Meanwhile Edgware Road struggles on with some vile red LED display, and High Street Kensington functions with the aid of a 50 year-old lightbox. There is no consistency here, no consistency at all.

I stood on each clockwise platform waiting to answer two questions: "How many trains does this Next Train Indicator display?" (it's invariably 1 or 3) and "How much advance warning does it give?" The latter's quite a difficult question to answer. You need to watch for the moment when a previously invisible train suddenly appears on the display, and the flow of trains doesn't always let you do that. Most of the times in the table are the maximum possible, because I hung around long enough to confirm this, but where I've used brackets, that's merely the longest time I saw.

Next Train Indicators on the clockwise Circle Line
StationAge of
Number of
next trains
→ Paddington
-nilnilThere are no functioning Next Train Indicators here.
Edgware Roadancient11 minBarely any advance warning at all. The signage here is old, faint and atrocious. Anti-clockwise travel is much more complicated.
Baker Streetlate
31 minWhen the display says "1 min" away, that's incredibly optimistic.
Great Portland Street21stC31 minWith only a 1 minute advance warning, it's rare to see two trains on the board, let alone three.
Euston Square21stC33 minsIn the opposite direction, anti-clockwise, over 10 minutes advance warning is given.
King's Cross
St Pancras
modern44 minsNext trains are also announced by a semi-intelligible automated female voice.
37 minsNew Next Train Indicators are being installed - they still have their plastic wrappers on.
38 mins 
39 minsFor some unexplained reason, all the Next Train destinations are in capital letters.
Liverpool Streetlate
3(11 mins)The greatest advance warning anywhere on the clockwise Circle line.
Aldgate-1(6 mins)There are no functioning Next Train Indicators on the platform (yet), but there is a big display above the stairs.
Tower Hill21stC11 minTwo platforms. An illuminated arrow indicates the Next Westbound Train. This often changes without warning. Confuses the hell out of tourists.
Monumentlate 20thC11 min 
Cannon Street21stC3(1 min)Closed at weekends, but the Next Train Indicator still works.
Mansion Houselate 20thC33 mins 
Blackfriars21stC3(4 mins)A brand new station, but not blessed with the newest sharpest Next Train Indicator.
Templelate 20thC3(5 mins) 
Embankmentlate 20thC34 minsFor some reason, the advance warning here is shorter than at the previous station.
Westminstermodern45 minsWestminster's disembodied voice has been badly programmed... "The next train to Circle Line via Victoria will arrive in two minutes".
St James's Parklate 20thC3(6 mins) 
Victorialate 20thC3(7 mins) 
Sloane Squarelate 20thC3(6 mins) 
South Kensingtonlate 20thC3(8 mins)A lot of advance warning... but this tumbles to barely any at the next station.
Gloucester Road21stC11 minWhere the Circle and District lines split, there's minimal advance warning on either platform.
High Street Kensingtonlightbox11 minThe ancient lightbox says "First Train", but these days the destination's only ever "Edgware Road".
Notting Hill Gate21stC11 minSometimes says "Check destination on front of train", even though it must be Edgware Road.
Bayswater21stC33 mins 
35 mins...and then we're back round to Edgware Road again.

In summary, there are three really useless stretches of Next Train Indicators on the clockwise Circle line, all of them at or just after a junction. Edgware Road to Great Portland Street, 1 minute's notice. Tower Hill and Monument, 1 minute's notice. Gloucester Road to Notting Hill Gate, 1 minute's notice. It'll get better before the end of the decade, really it will. But for now it's much easier to discover when the next ten buses are due (above ground) than the next one train (below).

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