Since being redeveloped Southern Cross Station has been full of advertising, and in the case of the next train displays, they are no different. Since the current system was commissioned the rightmost screen in each bank of displays has been dedicated to advertising – something that fits in with the general level of hostility the private station operator has towards commuters.
However in early August 2012 something amazing happened, when a new Red Rooster campaign took over the screen.
Here is a closer look of said advertisement: down the left hand side it lists trains by their destination, along with platform numbers and time until departure, and a suggested set of Red Rooster menu items to eat in the time you have left.
At first I assumed that the new Red Rooster screen was just an advertising gimmick displaying fake data, and would end up just misleading rail travellers. Why would you expect any different from Southern Cross Station!
However as I stood watching the screens update every minute or so, I saw a correlation between the ‘real’ information displayed on the existing screens, and the trains listed in the Red Rooster advertisement. Here is one example: a Cranbourne train departing platform 12 in 26 minutes, displayed on both screens.
From what I can work out the Red Rooster sign is not displaying the complete feed of real time train data, but is operating on a subset of it – some destinations never appear on the board, and it also ignores trains if the departure time is less than 10 minutes away (presumably that doesn’t leave you enough time to queue up for and scoff down their junk food).
So how did they Red Rooster get a feed of realtime train data to use in their display? I’m going to assume the story starts around 2004, when the redevelopment work at Southern Cross Station started. With the removal of the yellow on black text CRT screens, the next train displays on each suburban platform and concourse were replaced by a battery of cheap and nasty CRT screens, which were fed with display data from the previous system via a video converter.
Fortunately that bodge job did finally get replaced, when the current PID system was switched on for suburban trains in March 2009. The reason for the delays was never made public, but the rumour doing the rounds at the time was that the main contractor (Honeywell Limited) encountered many difficulties in massaging the data stream from Melbourne’s train control centre into a format they could use with the building management system that ran all of the LCD panels around the station.
Whatever their solution was, it is supposedly very clunky, with least three systems involved between retrieving the data and showing it to you on the LCD screens.
So the question I have is this: Public Transport Victoria still haven’t gotten around to releasing their timetable data for use in Google Transit and the best their developers can give us is a clunky smartphone app that doesn’t work and relies on static timetable data, so how how has a private company at Southern Cross Station managed to end up with a real time feed of train departure information to use in their advertising signage?
I’m going to say money has something to do with it, with a side order of government incompetence.