diamond geezer

 Wednesday, October 05, 2022

Tubewatch (3) Random Train Indicators
If you stand on the platform at Bow Road station for at least five minutes you'll hear this announcement.
Some of the information boards on the platforms are not showing the correct destinations. Customers are advised to check the display on the front of the train for the correct destination.
This is strange, because ALL of the information boards on the platforms are not showing the correct destinations. The next train on the board bears no relation whatsoever to the next train that's about to arrive, on either platform, because the underlying digital system is completely messed up. For example here's a Barking train waiting on the eastbound platform, and yet the display says the next train will be here in 5 minutes and is going to Upminster. These boxes don't photograph well, sorry, but trust me, at Bow Road they display constantly incorrect information.

The westbound boards are much worse, displaying a sequence of trains that can change multiple times in a minute, a bit like someone's rolling dice behind the scenes. People really care which train is coming next and when, particularly if they're waiting for the Hammersmith & City, but the board tells constant lies. Here's an example I jotted down while watching for a couple of minutes.
An Ealing Broadway train is in the platform but the board insists it's going to Hammersmith. As the train departs the board updates to claim a Richmond train will be here in 1 minute, followed by an Ealing Broadway and a Hammersmith. The third train then switches to another Ealing Broadway, suggesting the Hammersmith train was a mirage. After a couple of minutes the Richmond train disappears and the board shows three consecutive Ealing Broadways, just as the next train rumbles in and is going to... Wimbledon, which is the only destination the board had never mentioned.
I watched for 20 minutes and nine trains pulled in, only one of which was correctly described by the information board.

Ealing Broadway (board said Hammersmith)
Wimbledon (board said Ealing Broadway in 1 minute)
Hammersmith (board said Ealing Broadway in 2 minutes)
Ealing Broadway (board said Wimbledon)
Wimbledon (board said Hammersmith)
Ealing Broadway (board said Richmond in 3 minutes)
Hammersmith (board said Ealing Broadway)
Richmond (board said Wimbledon)
Ealing Broadway (board said Ealing Broadway!)

I have a lot of scribbled-down data but can see no underlying pattern to any of this gibberish. It's not out of sync, it's not arrivals at a different point down the line, it's not omitting certain trains, it's just misleading rubbish. What I did unravel, however, is the underlying problem on the opposite platform.

1 Upminster 5 mins
2 Barking 8 mins
3 Upminster 10 mins

Here trains disappear from the eastbound display when they're two minutes away, so the train in the platform is never shown. Sometimes two trains are missing, which means the display is full of trains much further away than those about to arrive. And it's not the destinations that are important here, it's the times, because all eastbound passengers really want to know is "when is the next train coming?" Alas the board gives no reliable indication whatsoever.

It's not just Bow Road that has a problem - announcements at Mile End and Stepney Green also apologise for incorrect information. But my local station is by far the worst offender, indeed it's long been a next train sinkhole. The wiring round here is so bad that's it's still not possible to see departures from Bow Road online or in an app, something passengers at other stations have long taken for granted.

The way this cock-up manifests itself has varied over the years but I've been reporting on it since 2017, when an insider called Martin left comments explaining the underlying issue. "Put bluntly there is a whole mix of old and new systems all spewing out data that is confusing some Next Train Indicators such as the Westbound ones at Bow Road," he said. "It's continuity issues with data from Barking towards Bromley-By-Bow that's giving Bow Road a hard time." "The Westbound NTI at Bow Road will probably be patched when its source, the train describer at Whitechapel, is properly configured and isolated to accept and send data from the more accurate Trackernet system."

Don't worry, he added, the Four Lines Modernisation scheme will eventually solve things once they get round to Migration Area 6 which'll be no later than 2021. Alas Migration Area 6 has suffered repeated delays and is currently pencilled in for January 2023, so we have months more of this Next Train fiasco to endure.

What baffles me is that TfL have been content to display entirely incorrect information at Bow Road for the best part of five years. It means passengers have something reassuring to look up at, but these are fictional destinations with fictional departure times which ultimately frustrate. They could just switch off the Random Train Generator, but instead they play the "oh just look at the front of the train" message at regular intervals and hope that'll do. When's the next Hammersmith & City line train coming? No idea, shut up, stand there and wait.

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