I must say that compared to when I joined the railways in 1994, the Passenger Information to passengers has changed for the better in many ways.
When I was working at Town Hall station in 1994/1995, on each platform we had a series of indicators telling people where the trains were going with a series of lights. This was limited in that while trains were going on their normal routes, each station had their own light and the entire line was listed in full.
However, it was often required to show trains on alternative routes due to planned trackwork, emergencies and other factors. Not all of the other routes had lights for each station so we were restricted in what we could show.
On the busiest platforms (1 & 2), the indicators on these platforms were massive. One of the jobs that the person running the platform on nightshift had to do was to turn all the lights on to see if they were working. Obviously, that’s not a job you can do when the station is open! But the indicators on platform 1 & 2 were that big that we got told not to test all the lights at once in order to avoid any electrical issue.
Apart from the indicators, we also had to do PA announcements either manually or via digitalised announcements. Each stopping pattern or message had a separate number. The message box had a play button and also a counter like found on cassette players with which you’d dial up the message number. I remember one night on nightshift that I accidentially put the number in for the “evacuate station” message and hit the button. As soon as I heard it, I thought that people would start leaving the station as I could not cancel the message. I looked outside quickly and saw no one moving but still made a “disregard that last message” manual announcement. Oops.
After I left Town Hall in particular and stations in general, staff were given computers to make the announcements with. With the old system, staff could not construct a new message in case there were altered stops, for instance. Now the system is so much better where you select the stations you need and then the computer does the rest. A few years ago now, the large indicators I described earlier were replaced by screens and now any stopping pattern on any line could be featured on the screen. While some passengers missed the lights and could easily see if the train stopped at their station, the new screens are so much better, especially when things don’t go as planned.
Another interesting change is about how we do announcements, especially in peak hours and after incidents. At some stage during my time on the stations, we got told that we were not to announce a “fatality” but rather something like “a person struck by a train” as some people were getting upset by the term “fatality”. Now we have gone full circle with fatality back on the list as well as cover-all situations that really tells no one (staff included) nothing such as “Police Operation” or “Operational Problem”.
The biggest change in relation to announcements is that once upon a time when I was on a station, you had to use the computerised announcements whenever possible. You’d only use the PA system when a computerised announcements did not fit the situation. But now, they are encouraging people to have a bit of personality behind the microphone, especially during peak hours. At places like Central, a computerised announcement during peak hour does not basically exist. In fact, some of these announcers have a cult like following especially in the case of Dorry Jammal who makes the announcements at Central station’s platforms 18 and 19 in the afternoon peaks. He has been extensively interviewed across the media and at the time of writing he has over 800 members on a Facebook Group. That’s a far cry from the “no comment” media policy that exists, that’s for sure!
And finally to the yellow sign you see in the photo above. These yellow signs are often used in case of planned trackwork and are a big improvement from the pieces of paper that were used when I was on the station. In fact, I believe there is a special place at Central for all of these signs to live when they aren’t being used. But despite these large and obvious signs, some people still complain that they have no idea that trackwork is going on. I have even seen people during the weekends waiting on platforms that are physically closed off with lots of signs waiting for a train that will not arrive until the first train on Monday. On these occasions I advise the Signal Box to notify the Security section or the station so an announcement can be made directing the person to a bus. Otherwise, they’d be waiting a while for a train!