diamond geezer

 Wednesday, August 17, 2016

This is Platform 1 at Bow Road station.

It's not a bad place to wait for a train, except in one respect, which is knowing what train is coming next.

For several decades an analogue lightbox revealed the destination of the next train approximately 45 seconds before it arrived. In 2005 this was replaced by a modern electronic display, but this is dependent on the same signalling feed so gives no additional information, nor any better advance warning of the next train's arrival. The second and third trains are never revealed, only the first, neither does a time ever appear alongside. In this we're not particularly special - there are still many other stations on the Underground with similarly minimal displays, and some with nothing at all.

Then in early spring we got nothing at all.

Over the course of a weekend TfL took the welcome step of replacing the glass in the roof above the two staircases and the two platforms. It'd got terribly mucky over the years, and the replacement panes brightened up the station no end. Unfortunately their temporary removal also allowed the rain to get in, and the next train indicator boxes promptly steamed up and stopped working.

So for the last few months we've been hearing this message over the loudspeakers at semi-regular intervals.
Ladies and gentlemen. Due to condensation, and for health and safety, the train describers on both platforms have been switched off. Please check the front of the train for the correct destination.
Checking the front of the train is of course the obvious solution when all else fails. But until it rumbled round the corner and into the platform we had no idea where it was going, and absolutely no clue what might be following and how many minutes behind. And this has carried on for weeks and weeks.

Would we be waiting ages for the next District line train or was it imminent? Was the next Hammersmith & City line train one minute away or nine, or worse? We didn't know, we just stood on the platform and waited, sometimes more in hope than expectation.

It wasn't the end of the world. When you're used to getting only 45 seconds notice, getting none doesn't make a lot of difference. But when TfL's technology can now list every bus expected at a particular bus stop over the next 30 minutes, its inability to reveal the next train here at Bow Road does seem a bit feeble.

And even though our screens had gone blank the station staff didn't step in to advise us what was on its way, even though they probably knew, they just played the apologetic message again and left us in the dark.

Almost anywhere else on the tube you can whip your phone out and check online. Wi-fi makes this easy even underground, and TfL's open data policy feeds comprehensive 'next train' data to many a smartphone app.

But Bow Road has no data, we are a total data blackspot. Check your app for 'Bow Road' departures and you'll draw a complete blank, even though Bromley-by-Bow (one up the line) has a full and complete list. And sure, it is possible to check adjacent stations and try to extrapolate, but that's not ideal, indeed you might just have missed a train that's departed and is on its way.

I'm not sure whether Bow Road's unique on the Underground in having no real-time data feed, but I do know that whipping out Citymapper doesn't help, and checking the TfL website is no use whatsoever.

The only thing we had left was a small 'next train' display in the ticket hall, the catch here being that it too gives minimal warning, so by the time you've passed through the gates and reached the platform there's a good chance that the train you saw displayed has already closed its doors or left.

It's baffled me for years why it's proven impossible to provide proper 'next train' information at Bow Road, when passengers one stop down the line at Mile End can be told the next three trains up to five minutes away. And it baffles me why there's no live data feed for Bow Road, and never has been, when TfL surely know where all their trains are.

But I was once told by somebody important that the signalling system in the Bow Road area is held together 'by string', which might explain a lot, and might mean the black hole will continue until the long-delayed signalling upgrade programme finally bears fruit.

Anyway, the good news is that yesterday somebody finally fixed the problem with the steamed up box on the westbound platform and switched it back on. We now have our 45 second warning again, so can shuffle forward into position once we know the train we want is expected. The eastbound display still isn't showing anything useful, but that's been blank or hopelessly wrong for years, so we're pretty much used to that.

Maybe by 2023 we'll know what the second and third trains are, or even the next ten, using whatever passes for a smartphone app by then. But for now, if contractors just could avoid taking the roof off again for a while, that'd be appreciated.

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