diamond geezer

 Monday, February 25, 2013

BAKERLOO: Line of sight

Before we leave the Bakerloo line, I wanted to mention one particularly badly positioned Next Train Indicator. I've grumbled about this for years, silently, so I'm hoping it'll be cathartic to share it with you. The offending NTI is at Oxford Circus, on the northbound Bakerloo line platform, as seen when you enter from the Central line. I thought I'd best go along and take a photo to show you what I mean.

But it's not an easy photograph to take. To capture the view as you enter the platform you have to stand at the platform entrance, obviously, except a stream of passengers is forever flooding out of the passage behind you. Occasionally the deluge breaks, so you might step in to get your shot, but there's invariably some slowcoach puffing up the tunnel late and you'd only get in their way. So you stand to one side, which is almost the right angle, and wait for the view down the platform to clear. First you have to wait for the crowd on the platform to vanish, which happens when a train arrives and they clamber on board. Then you have to wait for everyone getting off the train to leave the platform, which can take some time because there's an exit fairly close to where you're standing. By now a further surge of people has usually spilled in, and they haven't walked far because people rarely do, but they've walked far enough to be standing in the way of the shot you want. Either you wait patiently for "one minute after a departing train" to coincide with "no wave of passengers pouring in from the Central line", or you come here at six in the morning. I managed neither, and this out-of-focus blurry mess is the best photo I've got.

But you get the idea. Passengers walk along the winding passage from the Central line, they turn the corner and emerge onto the Bakerloo line platform, then they stare ahead to see where the next train's going. No can do. The Next Train Indicator is almost perfectly blocked by a sign of similar size and shape hanging in front. Destinations, 100% invisible. Timings, maybe the "mins" part if you're lucky. Is the next service going all the way to Harrow & Wealdstone? Don't know. Is there a lengthy gap in the service ahead? No idea, because there's a white rectangle in the way.

And what's the especially ironic thing? It's that the offending blocking sign points the way to the Central line platforms, from which emerging passengers have just come. The one piece of information they don't need is blocking the one thing they do. Next Train Indicator, installed by cretins?

Maybe not. TfL have an important rule of positioning which decrees that every platform exit must always be clearly marked. Wherever the exit to the Central line is located, it's got to to have a ← Central line sign beside it. Passengers alighting at the rear of the train have to locate this sign to find their way off the platform, so it needs to be here. Maybe it doesn't need to be so wide - there's a big white space at the end of the sign which appears to be entirely superfluous. But look from the other side and you'll see that this extra length is needed, there's something there, an electronic "Way out" sign which occasionally flashes up. The problem isn't the platform exit sign, no, it's where the Next Train Indicator's been placed.

TfL have another important rule of positioning, once explained to me in an email by a nice lady called Tracey.
The layout of many of our stations means it will never be possible for customers to see the train indicator boards from anywhere on the platform and it is for this reason that we stipulate that train indicators 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. Using this criteria, although customers may not be able to see the display wherever they stand on the platform they should be able to access the information in the majority of cases.
There are indeed two Next Train Indicators on the northbound Bakerloo platform at Oxford Circus. One's close to the middle, so is relatively easily seen by the majority of those waiting around. And the other's further up where the majority of passengers enter the platform, including those arriving down the main escalators from the surface. Everyone else gets to see where the next trains are going, but not the unfortunate folk arriving from the Central line. They can only stop and stand and hope, or else walk further up the platform until the crucial information appears. TfL's budget doesn't stretch to having three Next Train Indicators on the same platform, even at one of the busiest stations on the entire network, and so a black hole of information remains.

And you might say who cares, just move along the platform. But that might not always be possible, if the station's particularly crowded. You might not want to walk any further, indeed you might not be able. And as Tracey alluded, the one time you particularly want to know about the next train is the very moment you enter the platform. In this case that information is blocked, thanks to a mixture of prescriptive rules, poorly-positioned signage and lack of budget. Expect no change at Oxford Circus. The next northbound train to somewhere will hopefully be along shortly.

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