It is 5pm on a Friday afternoon, you are standing around at the railway station waiting to head home, but there hasn’t been a train for ten minutes. If you haven’t got your smartphone out to find out what the issue is, then you’ll be listening out for the platform staff making announcements over the public address system. So how do they get kept in the loop?
At Central station on Hong Kong’s world famous MTR network, the platform supervisor sits in a glass booth facing a bank of CCTV monitors that shows everything going on around them at the station, in addition to a computer screen that displays the current location of each train on the line. With all that data, working out how long until the next train arrives is a simple task.
Over at Central station in Sydney, CityRail’s platform staff also have computer screens showing them where their trains currently are, but only for those running through the inner city area. If the issue is out in suburban whoop-whoop the platform staff won’t see it, and need to get on the phone to the control room to find out, but at least it gives them something to work with.
Meanwhile back in Melbourne, getting any form of real time data is wishful thinking – the platform staff at Melbourne Central Station gets an A4 ring binder containing a printed version of the timetable, a telephone link back to Metro’s main train control centre, and a window to look at the same screens that every passenger is squinting to see.
Thankfully Metro Trains have realised that that lack of up-to-date data provided to their frontline customer service staff is an issue of critical importance, as seen in this tweet from late August:
He normally calls the footy but today he’s calling the trains. See Dennis Cometti, guest platform announcer, Richmond Station, after 4pm.
— Metro Trains (@metrotrains) August 31, 2012
So just remember next time the rail service in Melbourne heads up shit creek and the staff on the platform can’t tell you anything – antiquated technology means they probably know just as much as you do.
It seems that the train tracking system up in Sydney is more advanced than I through it was: a report from 2005 describes the “Train Location System” as such:
RailCorp is gradually rolling-out the Train Location System (TLS) which enables station staff to see where trains are on the network and reduces their reliance on telephone calls from the signal box. It is now available at 201 (out of 306) stations and covers about two-thirds of the network. The TLS allows station staff to see where a train is and provides advanced notice of late running services or cancellations.
Their main control room is also a world ahead of that in Melbourne: this 2011 article from the Daily Telegraph takes you on a tour.
I have also been told that the “Train Location System” has since been rolled out to virtually the entire CityRail network – putting Melbourne to shame yet again.