Metro Trains says ‘Stay uninformed’

Back during the 2013 Spring Racing Carnival rail operator Metro Trains Melbourne ran an advertising campaign titled ‘The Uninformed Guide‘, featuring a fake newspaper that mixed a satirical form guide with targeted tips for racegoers who never catch the train.

The name was rather appropriate, as the ordinary passenger waiting on the platform is similarly uninformed.

Keeping passengers informed

At most stations, the only forms of information available to passengers is a printed timetable, automated announcements that kick in one minute before each train arrives, and a ‘talking brick’ that announces the next three trains to depart each time the button is pressed.

When an ordinary passenger walks onto the platform at their local suburban railway station, there are a few things they want to know.

  1. What time does the next train depart
  2. Here is that train going to
  3. Where does the train stop on the way
  4. If I miss the next train, how long until the next one

The ‘talking brick’ is the key way for passengers to find out the above information, but the way it is delivered is inefficient, as seen in this transcript of a typical message:

Services departing Kensington station platform 2 are the:
1:05pm Craigieburn, stopping all stations to Craigieburn, departing platform 2 in 5 minutes
1:25pm Craigieburn, stopping all stations to Craigieburn, departing platform 2 in 25 minutes
1:45pm Craigieburn, stopping all stations to Craigieburn, departing platform 2 in 45 minutes
When travelling with myki, remember to touch on and touch off.

The key piece of information for a regular traveller is ‘how long until my train departs’ – yet in the typical message from the talking brick that is hidden at the end of the long-winded spiel telling you:

  • station name (I know where I am!)
  • platform number (I know that too!)
  • timetabled departure time (if the train is late, I can’t do anything about it!)
  • stopping pattern (sometimes useful, but best left to the end of the message!)

In addition, if you’re standing there just as a train rumbles into the opposite platform and drowns out the announcement, you need to wait for the stupid myki spiel to finish before you can try again and push the button a second time.

Given how frustrating listening to train information is, back in the early 2000s a limited number of suburban railway stations across Melbourne received LED next train displays on their platforms.

PIDS display at Burnley station platform 3 - 57 minute wait for the next train? This is the express line...

The critical ‘time until departure’ information is displayed on these screens 100% of the time: along with the destination and scheduled departure time on the top line, and the stopping pattern scrolling along on the bottom line.

The majority of these LED displays were installed by Connex under a program called ‘Stations Plus’, in the days when they only operated half of the suburban network. The result of this is stations on the Lilydale, Belgrave, Glen Waverley and Hurstbridge lines are well served by the displays, and anyone out in the southern and western suburbs dependant on the frustrating talking bricks.

In the years before Metro took over the suburban network, installation of next train displays at existing stations stalled, but at least new stations haven’t been left in the lurch.

New stations such as Lynbrook, Cardinia Road, South Morang and Coolaroo have all received LED next train displays as part of their initial fitout; as have recently upgraded stations such as Laverton and Epping.

X'Trapolis 63M terminates at Epping station

The only downside of the early LED display installations is that they can’t be read from everywhere on the platform, but even that has been fixed in the years since – three sets of displays per platform now appears to be the now standard, as seen at the recently reopened Footscray platform 1.

Three sets of PIDS per suburban platform appears to be the new standard at Melbourne stations

Now all we need is the government to the rest of Melbourne’s rail network out of the stone ages, and fund the installation of LED screens on every other platform!


The deployment of visual displays for train departures is also an important part of complying with the Disability Discrimination Act – audio announcements are useless to anyone who is deaf or hearing impaired.

And an example from England

A reader pointed out this piece by Vincent Franklin of Quietroom, a British writing consultancy.

“The train now standing at platform 4 is the 11.35 service to Exeter.”

This is how train companies announce trains. They tell you the platform number, then the time of the train and finally the destination.

It’s bonkers. Why? Because, standing on the concourse at Paddington Station, the one thing that a passenger almost certainly knows, is where they’re going. In this case, Exeter. They might know what time their train leaves. What they almost certainly don’t know, is which platform it leaves from. That’s why the station makes announcements.

But the passenger doesn’t know if this announcement is for them until the end – when they hear the destination of the train.

Who also gives a possible explanation.

This is a perfect example of how organisations fail to think of their communication from the other end – what their customer needs. Instead they let their processes drive the order of information – their business is platforms for trains, so that’s where they start. But their customer’s business is destinations.

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8 Responses to “Metro Trains says ‘Stay uninformed’”

  1. Michael Bell says:

    I am continually frustrated by a flaw in the ‘next train’ displays at Caulfield, when travelling towards Frankston. I travel mostly in peak times, when there is usually a choice of stopper and part-express services. I travel to Parkdale Station, so either service will get me there, but the part-express service usually passes the stopper, so where possible, I’d prefer to get the part-express.
    The problem with next train displays at Caulfield is they only indicate the next train. What I really need to know is the next 2 trains, so I can decide to either get on the stopper, or wait for the part-express. Today, it’s a roll of the dice to let a stopper go and wait for next scheduled part-express… not knowing if it’s going to be on time, delayed, cancelled or pattern altered to be another stopper.
    If Metro Trains actually considered what people need to know, when they need to know it, where they need to know it and why, their information channels – including concourse displays, platform displays, onboard displays and mobile apps – could be vastly improved.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Another issue with Caulfield is the multi line displays down in the subway and the booking office – while they show a total of *four* trains across the entire station, but that isn’t enough for a major junction – it can only show two trains in each direction.

      With multiple stopping patterns on both the Frankston, Pakenham and Cranbourne lines, you will have to wait some time for the trains before yours to depart, before your train shows up in the top two list.

      Footscray suffers from the same issue, but it is even more frustrating, with trains for almost a dozen different termini passing through it!

      – Williamstown
      – Laverton
      – Werribee
      – Geelong
      – Warrnambool
      – Bacchus Marsh
      – Ballarat
      – Watergardens / Sunbury
      – Bendigo
      – Swan Hill / Echuca

      Stations like North Melbourne and Richmond have a bank of LCD screens that display the next trains on each line – the interchange stations further out from the city now need these as well.

  2. mich says:

    It’s not rocket science. If the incompetents in Sydney can manage competent and comprehensive station displays, it’s hard to see why Melbourne cannot.

  3. Shocker says:

    I have a couple of gripes regarding the provision of service information.

    Firstly, the electronic signs at Southern Cross are in a different format to those elsewhere on the loop, as they alternate between listing the stations for the next service and a list of sevices after that one – rather than listing future services on the same screen (which I think works better).

    Second, at least for platform 2 at Flagstaff, when leaving the city I’ve gone to check the complete timetable on display only to find it is for incoming services … Go figure!

    • Marcus Wong says:

      I’ve been caught out by the screens at Southern Cross as well – as soon as the train arrives on the platform it freezes on the list of stations that service will stop at, which hides the listing of the next trains that are due to stop there.

  4. […] in the week I talk about the delayed rollout of LED next train displays around Melbourne railway stations, the uselessness of the green buttons that serve as their […]

  5. […] While everybody else gets stuck with the hopeless “talking bricks”. […]

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