Announcement madness

I know this is slightly a hardy perennial, but last night’s trip to Ashford International and back was the pits in terms of the number and vacuousness of the announcements. Both trains were late, and that did not help, but on the outward one, there really were about a dozen in the first 20 minutes, and even when a measure of peace had been obtained as the station had been announcement, for some reason the ‘do not leave your baggage unattended…destroyed’ belted out automatically, even though the same information had been given a few seconds before.

The train companies claim that they have to do this to comply with Transsec rules or whatever, but that is simply not true. They have just set up these automatic feeds and they actually ruin the pleasure of a train journey. On the way back, waiting at Ashford it was even worse. The train was around a quarter of an hour late, but every time the estimate changed, the automatic voice made a new announcement saying it was 11 or 13 or whatever minutes late – eventually of course it was 20. Even if these were necessary – and they are not – they could be shortened so as not to include ‘Southeastern apologises blah blah blah’ No one takes an automated apology seriously. Then on the train, the apologies multiplied, interspersed with security. And oh, why are there announcements about ‘this is a non smoking station in the interests of safety and comfort’ — all indoor spaces are smokeless and everyone knows that now.

So come on ATOC, set out some clear guidelines. One short announcement, per station – not the full recital of stations every stop (‘and all stations to Dover Priory..’ would do fine) and think of your customers…. I am used to working in busy newsrooms, or to very tight deadlines, but trying to read a slightly difficult book on the train yesterday was quite impossible.

  • IanBrooker

    Taiwan provides some great examples. “Mind the gap” announced at all stations on the high speed line in English and Chinese when the gap in question is less than 1cm! Every station on the metro announced in four languages. Escalators which shout at you. Escalators which inform you audibly that the handrail has been thoroughly disinfected.

  • Greg T ingey

    Oh do come on!

    This is nice, quiet restful & soothing … compared to LUL.

    The repetitive, LOUD, boring triply-unnecessary “announcements” made over the tube’s pa systems is ghastly.

    What a relief to go to Paris again two weeks ago.
    A modern, full, frequent metro system.

    Announcements are rare.

    When they happen, people LISTEN … ( “pickpockets are around here, les flics have been notified”, “the next station is closed”.

    The one exception is line 4, & even there it is only the station name (for all the visitors) quietly spoken.

    So any excuse you hear from LUL about how these rantings over the pa are necessary for the visitors/disabled/security. health & safety are blatant LIES.

  • salientwork

    My teeth grinding “favourite” is the Thameslink concrete box at St P where automatic announcements echo with simultaneous but diferent announcements for platforms A and B interweaving on different subjects: add the trains’ arrival and it’s bedlam. One wonders how often senior managers actually go and listen to all this?

  • Haven’t traveled on it for ages so don’t know if it’s changed but many years (around 2003) ago the Piccadilly Line had an on-train “automated” announcement (I suspect the driver had to press a button for it) that went “Please accept my apologies for the delay”.

    If there’s one thing worse than an automated apology, it’s an automated apology from a machine which is pretending to be human.

  • Luke Briner

    It raises an issue that’s massively prevalent in this country where people suppose so many expensive measures to comply with imagined or exaggerated laws. How many times are things done because, “well, health and safety mate” without any inkling that people understand risk assessments? How many “child protection” measures are implemented by organisations, many of which are overboard because, “well, it’s child protection isn’t it mate”. Also, the other day I did shake my head where I saw a road sign describing, “camera not in use” below a speed camera at some road works. Really?

  • Fiona Ledger

    My favourite announcement was the one which ran for years in Reading in 70’s-80’s. It was a frightfully posh woman, saying ‘Reading, this is Reading’, with a pleasing roll on the ‘R’. No mention of smoking, unattended baggage or any of that. I suppose it was recorded, because it always sounded the same.

  • Greg Tingey

    Another LUL one is the automated rantings…
    “Stand behind the yellow line at all times” – when the train doors are open(!) or when there ar 6 people on the platform …
    You get the idea?

  • Keith

    I’ve noticed you never seem to get “…all station to…” any more. Why not? I wouldn’t mind automated announcements if they made them sound a bit more human. It’s not that difficult to vary the phrasing and pacing a little to avoid the repetition. And why the obsession with telling us the operator of each “service”(often cut in awkwardly as the franchise has changed since the original recording).

  • It is profoundly irritating when waiting for a Sunday evening train from Bristol Parkway to have to put up with the numerous announcements reminding us not to smoke when nobody is smoking! The westbound trains are always late at the time of the week that can hardly be called peak (despite congestion being the usual excuse) so it is annoying to have hopes raised at the start of an announcement, thinking that it may contain useful information only to have them dashed.

    Can we also have less of the repetitive, droning voices as well? Most automated announcements appear to be designed to play havoc with our blood pressure. In the old days they used women with soft voices that sounded like the Queen and were much easier to listen to (watch the BTF “Elizabethan Express” film when the train arrives in Edinburgh).

  • stimarco

    There is plenty of research in cognition that points towards overuse of announcements, warnings, etc. as being not just pointless, but even *counterproductive!* A related problem is the endless popup warnings and dialogs that you see on computers – Windows is particularly guilty of this “notification spam” approach – that yank you out of your work and demand you pay them attention to messages that have no value whatsoever. (So, Symantec Security Suite, you’ve updated your virus database, have you? And you’re telling me this every bloody time because…? I don’t inform my boss of every report I file, every letter I write, or every spreadsheet I update, because that’s my bloody job! I don’t expect an ego-boost every time I do something I’m damned well *paid* to do!)

    Nagging only really works for keeping appointments. We rapidly learn to tune out anything we consider ‘noise’ and ignore it. The more you spam us with announcements, posters warning people against doing extremely dumb things, and so on, the less notice we’ll take of them. This is *normal* behaviour. Just watch how teenagers react to repeated nagging from parents: they tend to *rebel*, even to the extent of deliberately doing the *opposite* of what they’re being repeatedly told to do.

    Any decent book on good design – particularly those on user interfaces and interaction design – will explain the above in great detail and point you at the relevant sources. There’s proper cognitive science research behind it.

    It’s particularly distressing to hear how bad the London Underground has become as LU used to be one of the leaders in good design. If blind people are the issue, then just print more Braille maps. Announcements should be limited to: “This station is…” (which should be coming from the on-platform PA, not the train – the blind can then take advantage of the announcement’s direction to work out where the platform is), and “The next station is…” (which should come from the train’s on-board PA.)

    The *only* reason for making other announcements should be in case of emergencies, or delays that are longer than usual. (I.e. if you’re stuck on a train that’s waiting for a platform at London Bridge – an everyday occurrence – this is _not_ a reason for an announcement. Just put up posters at the termini explaining what all the clearly visible engineering work is for and what routes are affected.)

    The Rome Metro (well, line A, at least; I don’t use the other line) has just two announcement formats: “The next station is [NAME], exit from the [SIDE] side”, with a slightly modified version when the doors open at the platforms. (The voice actor should have had some better direction in the studio as the “left” and “right” recordings don’t match the intonation of the rest of the phrase, but that’s the only real problem with them.)

    On the other hand, the suburban lines (beginning with “FR”) have some godawful announcements that are so badly made, they’re almost funny: they play an Italian “The next station is” announcement, followed by an English version… but with the station name read by the original Italian voice artist. It sounds bloody awful, and very cut-rate. (Although that’s a pretty good description of the “TAF” rolling stock too.)

  • bluestar

    The Southern companies seem to be plagued by excessive announcements. Southern is the worst; try travelling on a stopping train along the south coast. EVERY station being served is announced after the doors close, then the carriage number, then short platform announcements (which are necessary, but not ‘ensure you are in correct part of train’ TWICE before relevant station). Stops are often 3 mins apart, so the babble is constant. PLEASE can we just have destination and next stop, Southern trains provide a good service but spoil it with above.

  • Dan

    A word for East Mids Trains on this – they do not seem to use automated announcements on trains at all – even the newish Meridians which must have the technology. Much of the local fleet is too old of course but even post refurb not fitted with it (although sadly I fear this will be a negative by product of the next round of dda compliance work).

    The 156 units are good of course, at least for some times of the year you can open the windows and drown out the noise of pointless announcements, tinny ‘personal’ stereos, mindless chat on other people’s mobile phones etc etc and enjoy reading or looking at the scenery.

    If these things were compulsory cars would have to have them ‘for the benefit of your passengers surely “welcome to your Ford Focus, please ensure you have closed all the doors and locked the boot before moving off”

    SNCF were good – on their modern local trains all you got was, after boarding “this is the train for x, next station y” – end of message. All you need to comply with DDA, and all you need to know.

    It’s all Sirius Cybernetics Corp stuff!!

  • Thameslink Passenger

    Thameslink – Farringdon is just as bad! Same announcement on two different platforms, but a couple of seconds out of sync. Just distracting enough that you can’t listen to it.

  • Guest

    (edited to appear in the right order)

  • Ian

    The one that gets up my nose is on First Great Western “The next station stop is …” Why not the” next station” or the “next stop” – I think if you speak English, you’ll get the drift with just one of the two words.

  • Stephen

    I have to comment if only to let off steam. My particular favourites are Leeds station automated announcement reminding users to “keep off the tracks” and Northern’s constant blithering on about security and notifying a member of the British Transport Police or staff if you notice anything suspicious; any the absolute nadir about “do not leave baggage unattended”. If you don’t want people to leave luggage unattended then perhaps the luggage racks aren’t a good idea. Maybe I should take my suitcase to the toilet with me. East Midlands Trains; I know you don’t use automated announcements but there is no need to go on and on with so much gibberish – particularly about charging full fare if you’re not on the right train etc, WE’VE ALREADY LEFT THE STATION, would you like anyone without the correct ticket to jump off or something.
    I feel better now for getting that off my chest.

  • Martin Gray

    True, as ever, but it’s all very well people bringing up the ridiculous surfeit of on-train announcements as so much verbal diarrhoea, but what about those you hear within large stations? Surely train users must be fed up to the back teeth of being harangued, chastised and patronised on a near constant basis by the neo-fascistic zealots [of Notwork Rai] who allow an incessant stream of some of the most asinine ‘stating the bleeding obvious’ drivel [that they see fit to programme into the voice computers] to spew forth every minute in the name of ‘elf, safety and security, whilst being blissfully unaware and ignorant of the fact that the more announcements fill up the airwaves and pollute the lugholes of us mere mortals, the more people will just ignore them and tune them out – then of course miss the GENUINELY IMPORTANT announcements concerning our own train arrival and departures. Counter-productive, indeed!

    I have already repeatedly spoken/emailed/written to station managers at Manchester Piccadilly and Liverpool Lime Street – the two stations that I travel between by far the most regularly – about this problem over the years and the situation is still exactly the same: both stations’ respective managers simply dismiss all my findings and survey results over the years, and insist that they are right and I am just moaning for the sake of it, and that such utterly inane gobbledygook as [as at Manc’r Piccadilly] “A secure left luggage facility is located on Platform 10, to enable passengers to store their luggage”, “Manchester Piccadilly is a no-smoking station, please refrain from smoking whilst at this station” (er, you don’t SAY….!!!) or “THIS is a safety announcement….” (WELL WHAT ELSE COULD IT BE, DUHHHHH??!!!!) is what passengers actually want to hear. Yeah, and I am the reincarnation of Joan of Arc! Their collective arrogant, condescending, ivory-tower-dwelling attitude on this most vexing of issues is actually quite astounding…

  • Martin Gray

    If anything, finding it so unbelievably difficult to deploy / use the simple two-syllable word ‘sorry’ and instead resort to cliché and continually ‘apologise for any inconvenience’ is to me, by FAR the greater sin in my view……

  • Martin Gray

    Manchester Piccadilly’s infamous left-luggage announcement now consists of FOUR sentences, all basically a variation on the same debased and meaningless drivel: “Please do not leave any luggage unattended at this station. Luggage left unattended may be damaged or removed and destroyed by security personnel. A secure left luggage facility is located on Platform 10… enable passengers to store their luggage…” !!!!! I’m waiting for them to add a new one telling us that “toilet facilities are located on Platform 13/14, to enable passengers to use the toilet.” Now if you look closely at that luggage one, the sheer inanity – not to mention unprofessionalism – of that last bit is glaring….as we know, all railway staff have now adopted the word ‘customers’ instead of ‘passengers’ – and yet here we are, the word ‘passengers’ has been re-used – which suggests that whoever scripted this extra superfluous bit [of garbage] into the computerised voice machine and then recorded it, did a slapdash and hurried fist of it. It doesn’t matter who is programmed to speak this part – the semi-Sloane voiced “Anne” seems to be the voice you hear at most termini these days – it reads like very bad English – end of story!

  • Martin Gray

    The Network Rail standardised voice you hear at most large termini in the regional cities is now that horrible, condescending, Sloaney-sounding female wittering wench who is actually called “Anne”, (so I now refer to er as “Anne-oy” – nice pun, get it???) It’s incredible to realise that all of these automated male/female voices have names!! Every Northern city terminus now has her voice. But what an astounding waste of money it all is eh? Programming these soulless automatons to witter on at great length every single minute of every day the same pointless condescending messages that only wind most mortals up and do absolutely nothing to ensure that our journeys are less stress free…. especially when a succession of trains are late or cancelled, “Anne-oy” simply repeats EVERYTHING VERBATIM over and over again – repeating the same message for the same train several times before moving on to the next delayed service, and so on and so on into one super-long extended ramble of sheer robotic inanity, so the barrage of repetition becomes utterly brain-destroying…. I absolutely detest waiting at stations for trains now because I simply cannot abide the sound of “Anne-oy” wittering on and on – even late at night there is no let up despite there being far less traffic and passengers – on an average count at Piccadilly, Manchester, “Anne-oy” spouts off 17 security and health and safety messages in the space of 20 minutes. THAT TO ANYBODY IS JUST EXCESSIVE!!

  • Martin Gray

    Totally SPOT ON re: cognition: that’s the way I too see it, and I have said the same thing! Everything you have written here I have also done likewise many times – we surely do think alike. There is absolutely nothing in your words here that I would even disagree slightly with – because it is the absolute truth. And this is exactly what I have been telling staff and managers at Network Rail and TOCs over and over again for years now in my campaign to implore them to CUT THE CRAP – less is more: too much wittering drivel and people shut off cos it’s counter productive. Excessive rambling announcements have become part of the problem, and not the solution, etc etc etc…. it’s only because they’ve got the technology to do this that they do it at all – has anybody else not realised that? It’s blatantly, glaringly, obvious!

  • hildyjohnson

    My wife works for Transport for London and says that the reason there are so many PAs, the majority of which are unnecessary, is because they are tied into targets and targets are tied into the management bonuses. It’s one way of management getting their bonuses without just getting … a bonus. In order to justify their bonuses, management decided to introduce
    targets for PAs and if the target is reached, it triggers their bonuses. This is probably also true of Network Rail.

  • christianwolmar

    Are you seious? Thats mad! Tks for the info. CW

  • John Cadman

    I am a conductor for a train company “up north” and i absolutely despise these stupid announcements we are made to say, People do not want to hear it, fine make relevant announcements regarding train running etc but it really is just waffle. If we are found not to have spewed out this “please report suspicious bags etc to staff” and “read the safety information” we are hauled in front of the line managers and told off like little children, it really is a joke, we are told it is a Transec requirement and Transec inspectors ARE on our trains and ARE listening….Rubbish. I havent heard these announcements made by any other train operator in our station to the same degree as us so it cant be that vital !

    As for the station announcements, how i miss the good old days when you could walk around the station in peace, recent ones i am amazed by are “please wait till the stopping train has stopped before boarding” and “high speed trains may pass this station at ANY time without warning” i doubt it. Also why does the name of the toc have to be included in the announcements for every train ?.

    When it was BR and things went wrong and the passengers vented off by saying ” bloody British Rail….. better when its privatised ! I hope they are enjoying their better service !


  • christianwolmar

    thanks for that…confirmed what i thought

    Follow me on Twitter @christianwolmar and see more than 1,000 articles and blogs on my website archive For my mayoral campaign, the twitter account is @wolmarforlondon and the website

  • John Cadman

    Thanks Christian, I am afraid any common sense has well and truly gone and the lunatics really are running the asylum. The management at all levels do not want to listen and they think they know best all the time.
    We are all sick of it and when we say passengers hear it all the time and are not interested all we are told is “well let them hear it again and again, crazy !
    I am so sick of the “script” we have to spew out i am now composing my own announcement so their bull is incorporated but so it comes across in a way people might listen to and get some relief !. And the poor buggers have to pay good money to endure it too.

    Keep up the good work


  • andrewbowden

    One company did promise to tackle announcements – First Great Western reckoned as much as 40% of their announcements were not useful

  • Helen Bangs

    I am forced to wear ear plugs on my way to work on the Victoria line tube in order to reduce some of the excessive white noise from unnecessary announcements.