On-Train Announcements Should P.I.S. Off

Transport minister Norman Baker has complained that on-train announcements are becoming too verbose. At last, someone agrees with me. I have loathed these announcements for years.

The media were quick to jump on this, highlighting the language-mangling and pointless phrases like: this train will be calling to (it’s “calling at “); there’s a gap between the train and the platform (really? I would never have guessed); the train doors will not be unlocked until the train has come to a complete stop (I didn’t know there were any other sort of stop); this is a no-smoking train/station (they all are and have been for years); etc etc. However, they largely missed Baker’s main point, which was about the automated announcements. And there lies my greatest loathing.

I can see some point in them, especially with regard to sight or hearing impaired passengers. However, they are invariably too long, too frequent and too loud. When they first appeared on London Underground, staff called the system Sonya (‘cos it get sonya nerves). It’s official title is the Passenger Information System (P.I.S.) I’ve travelled widely since it took to the rails, and its sheer intrusiveness has become yet another thing that spoils train journeys. I now always travel with my ipod, simply to drown out out the din.

London Underground has got the balance right. Their announcements are generally limited to things like This train terminates at X. The next stop is Y; or This is A. Change here for B. Contrast this with a recent journey on Merseyrail. I boarded a train at Liverpool South Parkway for the short journey into town. The train was going to Southport, a journey of an hour or so, with twenty stops. After each stop, the P.I.S. listed all the remaining ones. As these are generally only two or three minutes apart, this rapidly became very intrusive. I had the list ringing round my head for ages afterwards, like the annoying song you can’t forget, no matter how hard you try. Seriously though, just what use was this? It was a nuisance, and provided nothing of value or use. On these sort of journeys, where trains call at all (or most) stations, the London approach is surely better: concise and useful, conveying only what is needed.

I do wonder if this is part of a wider culture of dumbing down, treating people like idiots with no capacity for thinking for themselves. Think of call centre scripts, where they invariably ask something like Is there anything else I can help you with? No, if there was, I would have said so.

I would like to see the P.I.S. banned, but realistically I know this won’t happen. Train companies should, however, follow Baker’s lead and pare them down to the essentials. Oh, and improve the phrasing too.

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