diamond geezer

 Saturday, February 25, 2017

This blog abhors an inept Next Train Indicator, and Bow Road station has a particularly hopeless pair. In the past I've focused on the westbound display, which currently works, if belatedly and part-obscured through condensation. Today I'm going to focus on the eastbound display, which totally fails to perform its core task thanks to inappropriate legacy systems. For a start it doesn't show when the next train is due, only where it's going, but that's common to most of the District line east of Tower Hill. More importantly "where it's going" is generally either incorrect or unhelpful, which means you can't trust what flashes up on the display.

I've long thought there was something wildly wrong with the eastbound screen at Bow Road, because Check destination on front of train appears much too often, and particularly because Plaistow keeps flashing up even though trains no longer terminate there. But only when I stood watching for a while on the platform did it finally click how badly wrong things were, and did I manage to unravel the underlying pattern...

LineWhere the
train's going
What the display says 
 Hammersmith & City BarkingBarking
District Dagenham East  Check destination on front of train 
DistrictUpminster Check destination on front of train 

If a Hammersmith & City line train is next, then Barking shows up, and that's correct. But if a District line train is next, bad information is given. If the train's going to Barking then Plaistow (Plaistow!) is displayed, but if the train's going further then the display gives up and offers a default message. In fact if Check destination on front of train pops up then it means the train must be going at least as far as Dagenham, and probably to the end of the line at Upminster, not that you'd know. It's madness, but at least it's consistent madness.

It's well known that the signalling system on the District line is archaic, indeed that's why TfL are spending millions to upgrade it. The current automatic train description system dates back to a solution conceived in 1905, and is based on a set of four-digit binary codes. Even though the electrics have been upgraded since, there's nothing modern about the underlying technology, and I'm told the current signalling system around Bow Road is hanging onto life as if held together by string. But the Next Train Indicator used to work until a few years ago, and no longer does, so what might be going on?

There are only a set number of reversing points on the District line, which to the east of Bow Road have long been Plaistow, Barking, Dagenham East and Upminster. Each of these is allocated one of those four-digit binary codes, and perhaps these have somehow got muddled up. A new reversing point was added at West Ham in 2011, which might be around the same time this problem first arose, so I wonder if that's at fault. Also my table is missing data regarding what's displayed for trains terminating at Plaistow, but there's now only one of these a day, at ten to midnight, and I can't be bothered to check.

It's not the end of the world, because with eastbound trains it's not a matter of which way they go, more how far. Indeed one stop up the line at Bromley-by-Bow the display merely says Eastbound trains: District & H&C lines all the time, which at least is true, if not especially helpful. But for whatever reason, the eastbound Next Train Indicator at Bow Road displays incomplete information, lies repeatedly to passengers, and is not fit for purpose. The long-delayed signalling upgrade can't come soon enough - we live in hope.

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