“This is coach 11 of 8” and other nonsense

Coach number 11 of 8Recently seen on a journey from Victoria – this train was to split en-route at Faversham, with the front 8 coaches going to one place, and the rear 4 going forward to somewhere else.

Thanks to a software bug in the train’s passenger information displays and automated announcements, it gave out confusing information as shown in this picture. The software could understand the train would split, but couldn’t understand it was a 12 coach train at this point.

I’ve written about this sort of automated ridiculousness that we have to put up with before – Torrential Tannoys – all about the endless stream of hectoring announcements a user of public transport has to deal with in the UK.

What’s doubly annoying is that the announcements are frequently verbose and use patronising language, or worse still, use flowery and unclear language, which means they don’t get their message across.

I heard an announcement at Finsbury Park a few weeks ago, advising of upcoming weekend engineering work. The announcement went on for about two minutes, starting with something along the lines of “Can I have your attention please, this is special information for customers who might be travelling this weekend. As we invest in the railway, we will need to make changes to the train services at the weekend”, blah, blah, waffling on about “services will be subject to alteration and road transport might be provided if appropriate”.

Why couldn’t it just say, “Travelling this weekend? There is engineering work, a different timetable will be in operation, some trains will be replaced with buses. Check your train times.”

We also have the situation where the staff on a train will use the PA, and then the automated announcement will repeat, almost word for word, what the human being has just said – reminding us to “watch the gap”, “take personal belongings with us”, “look out it’s raining and you might slip”, and “report anything suspicious to the Perrlice“… Why say something once when you can repeat yourself, eh?

Which brings me onto the terrible pronunciation on these recorded (or synthesised) announcements. If you’ve been through Kings Cross St Pancras tube station, you can’t have failed to notice “Laydees and Gentle Men”, right? Apparently, one of the speech synthesis systems can’t even pronounce “Wrotham” (which is pronounced “Roo-tem”), so the station is now just referred to as “Borough Green” by the automatic system.

The Transport Minister, Norman Baker, has now spoken out in the media against the never ending announcements. I don’t know if it will do any good.

Really, the people responsible for this at the train companies need to actually realise that by bombarding us with automatic announcements, we’re making the actual important stuff less easy to pick out. Announcements need to be clear, concise, correct, and to the point.

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