diamond geezer

 Thursday, November 10, 2011

Tubewatch (39) Mile End (sigh)
As we've established on many a previous occasion, TfL employ a special team of cretins to install their next train indicators. Is there an ideal place on a ceiling to install one? Great, let's fix it somewhere else. Is there a clear line of sight all the way down the platform? Right, let's block the view. Can you read the text clearly? Tell you what, let's stick a security camera and a "Way Out" sign directly in front. I am convinced that there must be two groups of contractors working at underground stations - those who install next train indicators and those who install everything else. There seems to be no coherent planning whatsoever between the two, and one somehow always gets in the way of the other.

For example I have, several times, moaned about the next train indicators at Mile End station. Here we are at one of East London's busiest interchanges, where stepping between the District and Central lines should be easy as can be. But if you want to know when the next train's due and where it's going, bad luck, because from much of the platform the information's entirely illegible.

Mile End station got upgraded a couple of years ago, after a lengthy hiatus where it looked like the decorators had gone home mid-job. As part of that upgrade the roof was lowered, concealing the station's lofty arches beneath an artificial white ceiling. Problems with water ingress were to blame, with the new shielding needed to conceal drip trays which prevent customers getting occasionally damp. Trouble is, they're really rather low ceilings, low enough that tall people can easily reach up and touch them. And this created a problem. Hang a normal-sized next train indicator from the new rather-low ceiling and very tall people might easily hit their head. Health and safety decreed that this would never do, so the overhead obstruction had to move.

So contractors removed all the next train indicators from the middle of every platform at Mile End, and relocated them instead at the far western end. You can't bump your head on a metal sign if it's at the end of the platform, that was their rationale. Trouble is, you can't see it easily either, especially not from 130 metres away at the far eastern end of the station. And then the planners made things worse by installing four new platform signs, at the bottom of the stairs, one a few yards in front of every NTI. Even fortunate souls with keen eyesight didn't have a hope of reading where the next Central line train was going, because a sign telling them this was "Central line westbound platform 1" now blocked the view. Important real time information hidden by simple static information, that was the problem. Installed by cretins.
Westbound platform 1: next train indicator at far end of platform, blocked by platform sign
Westbound platform 2: next train indicator at far end of platform, then shunted in from edge of platform so it's unreadable from anywhere other than the foot of the stairs, then blocked by platform sign
Eastbound platform 3: next train indicator at far end of platform, blocked by platform sign
Eastbound platform 4: next train indicator at far end of platform, blocked by platform sign

TfL thought they had a partial solution, however - a second size of Next Train Indicator, You've seen them - smallish, squarish, several lines of electronic display. So they added a few of these to the central pillars in roughly the middle of the platform. Great if you're the member of staff hanging around waving your plastic bat despatching trains, but tough to read from much further away because they're concealed by the next pillar along. Plus almost all of the boards point away from the far eastern end of the platform, so they're also impossible to see. From a significant proportion of Mile End's platforms, alas, next train information cannot be seen. Is there a train coming? Dunno. How many minutes away is it? Not a clue. Shall I just stand here and hope for the best? Fingers crossed.

With Mile End being an interchange, and hundreds of rush hour commuters crossing along the full length of the platform, lack of visibility proved a problem. Passengers were leaning out over the edge of the platforms to try to peer round the edge of the annoying intermediate sign, in the vain hope of maybe seeing what was coming next. They all knew that standing in front of the yellow line was dangerous, but they stood in front of the yellow line all the same in a quest to uncover unseen information. And did TfL care? Nope, they just left all the signage where it was, because that was where rules and regulations deemed it had to be. And so things would have stayed, had not health and safety intervened.

Enter HM Inspector of Railways, who turned up at Mile End earlier this year to carry out a risk assessment of his own. He was particularly interested in the information displays mounted on the west end walls and concluded that the display on the westbound Central Line platform effectively invited passengers "to put themselves in a position of danger". While they were trying to stare long distance down the platform, a train could whoosh up from behind unseen and knock them down. That was his expert opinion, so station staff were forced to take urgent immediate action... removing the blocking sign on platform 1! I rarely cheer for health and safety, but it's only thanks to the inspector's visit that the next train indicator is visible again. Admittedly you still need the eyes of a hawk to read it, but that's better than the continuing obstruction on platforms 2, 3 and 4 where no similar decapitation risk was perceived.

Two underlying problems came to light in the inspector's report. Firstly, the lack of coherent risk assessment procedures when installing passenger displays. Nobody had thought "might it be a bit dangerous to position all the next train indicators at one end of the platform at the foot of a busy staircase?" - they'd only thought "nobody'll bump their head down there, so that'll do". And secondly, the limited technology available to the project team involved in the station upgrade. TfL only had two types of next train indicator - the long thin one and the small square one - and neither of these were appropriate at Mile End. But TfL are now looking at procuring different-sized next train indicators for use across the network, including a less deep information display which can be mounted on low ceilings without causing a further hazard. Well, that's what they told the inspector anyway.

Will Mile End really get its own bespoke next train indicators? Only time will tell. But it would be nice to think that information displays on all four platforms might one day be fit for purpose, thanks to a nice man with a clipboard, rather than some inadequate off-the-shelf solution installed by cretins.

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