diamond geezer

 Saturday, August 03, 2013

DISTRICT: Next Generation

Something amazing has happened at Bromley-by-Bow station this week. A Next Train Indicator has appeared in the ticket hall. It's like the 21st century has suddenly arrived.

Whole sections of the Underground are entirely Next Train Indicator free. Head east of Barking and there's not a clue what's on its way. Stand anywhere between Uxbridge and Rayners Lane and no useful destination or time will ever flash up before you. Between Paddington and Hammersmith they have to announce the next trains over the loudspeakers because there's nothing to see. My local section of the District line isn't quite that bad, we do have signs that indicate the next train's destination, sometimes even with a minute's notice. But there's no indication of how far away the train is, nor what might be following behind. So awful is the signalling through E3 that at Bow Road even TfL's Departure board webpage can't cope, it's always blank - "There are currently no details for this platform."

So it's a complete surprise to see this little beauty popping up in my part of town. Bromley-by-Bow's platform still has its job-lot dot matrix indicator, but the ticket hall just got a swish electronic screen. Down below we get one next train and where it's heading, but up top we can see the next four trains in each direction AND how long until they get here AND where they are now. It's a quantum leap in terms of display technology, and probably leapfrogs whatever you might have in the ticket hall at your local station.

Westbound - Platform 1
1. Wimbledon       
At platform
2. Richmond       
Between West Ham and Bromley-by-Bow   
1 min
3. Richmond       
At Plaistow platform 1
6 mins
4. Hammersmith       
Between East Ham and Plaistow
7 mins

It shouldn't be rocket science, this sort of thing. TfL know where all their trains are at any given time, obviously, and network technology should allow this information to be sent wherever it's required. Indeed there are already apps that can do this "lots of next trains and where they are now" stuff with panache, so it's not surprising the same detail now appears in public display.

Admittedly the screen is relatively small. You should be able read the bigger yellow letters as you stride into Bromley-by-Bow station, assuming your eyesight's good, but the white text would be entirely illegible unless you get up really close. Something about the location of the display close to the ticket office makes me think the intended target audience is a member of station staff, not passing members of the public. Indeed, health and safety usually prevents TfL from announcing to passengers that a particular train is "In platform" in case they might dash to catch it and trip on the stairs and injure themselves.

Whatever, rejoice. After years of being told almost nothing, we local travellers now know that the next service to Hammersmith's the fourth train, arriving in seven minutes, which is excellent to know. And this is no one-off. I've seen an identical screen at Chiswick Park, again on the District line, again near the ticket window where the station supervisor stands. This level of information could easily be rolled out to a station near you, maybe, if the budget and the intention are there. The Next Generation Next Train Indicator, coming soon?

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