Have you visited TfL's online departure boards lately? A place on the web to discover where your local tube station's next train is heading. The next three trains, in fact, in both directions. Plus full details of whereabouts those trains are at the moment, be it in the platform or several stations back down the line. For some underground lines these details have been available for a couple of years. But now they're available for all eleven lines. How wonderful is that? (thanks Rob for letting me know)
Barbican stationplatform 2
Imagine the situation. You're four minutes from the station - maybe at home, maybe at the office, maybe checking the web on your mobile. You check the TfL departure board and discover that the next train to your chosen destination is five minutes away. So there's just time to rush down to the platform as the next train arrives, and no time wasted waiting around. We've had a similar system on the DLR for years, and it's saved me many a premature journey.
If you want to give it a try for yourself, the departure boards page is here. Pick a line, pick a station, track the trains. Or if you can't make your mind up, try the Circle line, or the Central line, or Camden Town, or Acton Town. Clever, isn't it?
In fact it's so clever that in many cases it's better than the information being provided at stations. Take Earl's Court, for example. The information provided online is far more comprehensive and useful than anything you could discover while standing baffled on the platform wondering how long you've got to wait to get anywhere. Or how about Bromley-by-Bow - one of my local stations whose next train indicators were recently upgraded. Online I can see the next three trains plus all relevant timings. Standing on the platform I can see only the destination of one next train, and with no clue as to when it will arrive. I hate that, and I shall hate it more knowing that I'd be better off viewing from home.
The online system may be comprehensive, but it's not yet perfect. I've been clicking around and noted a few issues here and there. Particularly here. Bow Road: The one station I really care about, my local - no next train information whatsoever. Ditto Mile End (District line). But on either side, at Bromley-by-Bow and Whitechapel - full information? Why the black hole round where I live? Sigh. Beyond Edgware Road on the Hammersmith and City line: another 'next train' black hole, both online and in real life. But check out the Hammersmith arrivals page and TfL clearly know where all their H&C trains are, they're just not telling you. The Circle line: A lot of stations are listed as being on the Circle line even though they're not really. Ladbroke Grove and Hammersmith for starters (not until December). And Aldgate East and West Ham (never!). Waterloo & City line: Abbreviated to the "Waterloo line". When it's working, the online system often lists far more arrivals than departures. A number of stations have information for some platforms, but not others:Stepney Green, westbound only. White City, no terminating services. Grange Hill, clockwise only. Last trains: Often gets these wrong, promising additional services even after the last train has passed by. Blackfriars: No trains stopping until 2011, but full platform information available. Some stations don't yet exist: Chesham. Wood Lane. Shepherd's Bush Market. The whole of the London Overground. Any more?
But enough nit-picking. This is a clever system with considerable potential, and it'll no doubt all work one day. Now you can watch London's trains chug around, updated every minute, without even being there. And if only there was web access underground, it'd probably even be more useful than the existing (sometimes visible) next train indicators. It's a grand departure.