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.
Stay uninformed 🙂 pic.twitter.com/jS3YSjpHdJ
— Metro Trains (@metrotrains) November 2, 2013
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.
- What time does the next train depart
- Here is that train going to
- Where does the train stop on the way
- 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.
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.
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.
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.