‘The next announcement will arrive shortly’: just how annoying are train messages?

As the Department for Transport promises an end to banal train announcements, Simon Calder takes a one-hour trip to keep count

Friday 21 January 2022 18:08 GMT
<p>Test train: the 2.07pm from Guildford to London Waterloo waiting to leave</p>

Test train: the 2.07pm from Guildford to London Waterloo waiting to leave

“See it, say it – sorted.” Yes, it’s that maddening “Sisis” message before my journey even starts.

Rail passengers are constantly cajoled to act “if you see something that doesn’t look right”. In these difficult days, you might want to report a busy train to British Transport Police on 61016: as passenger numbers weaken, such events certainly constitute an unusual sight.

The 2.07pm stopping service from Guildford to London Waterloo, formed of 10 coaches, has only 11 passengers on board when it begins its one-hour journey, which means only two people need to share a carriage.

The doors close, bringing some welcome respite from the Sisis exhortation.

The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, has pledged a “bonfire of the banalities”: to review and remove train announcements that add unnecessary noise and disruption to journeys.

The Department for Transport (DfT) claims the changes mean passengers will no longer be bombarded with public-address “spam” that distracts from “important safety-critical messaging”.

Mr Shapps said: “Train passengers are all too often plagued by an endless torrent of repeated and unnecessary announcements.

“In line with the passenger improvements we are rolling out with our Plan for Rail we want to see improvements to the railways for those who use them day in, day out.”

On the South Western Railway train from Guildford, the first announcement is from the guard, welcoming us on board and specifying the arrival time of 3.07pm.

After that the messages settle into a rhythm: about 30 seconds before arriving at a station, we are told “The next station will be Oxshott.”

When the train stops and the doors open: “This is Oxshott. This is the train for London Waterloo. The next station is Claygate.”

With 14 stops, that is 28 pre-recorded messages.

Some extras are thrown in. After Surbiton, the guard makes another “live” announcement, but it is too quiet to make out.

Then comes the inevitable pre-recorded demand: “If you seen something unusual, text British Transport Police on 61016. See it. Say it. Sorted.”

Just ahead of Wimbledon, passengers are reminded to “mind the gap between the door and the platform edge”. As it is the first such warning, it looks well judged.

Ahead of Clapham Junction, all the connection possibilities up to and including Willesden Junction are reeled off – again, a useful service.

In a video message on Twitter, the transport secretary cites examples of superfluous announcements as being told to have your ticket ready when leaving the station, warnings of inclement weather and putting newspapers in the bin.

“Passengers just need to be treated as grown-ups and be able to use their common sense,” he says.

“Train travel should be a chance to relax, read a book, catch up on some work or even take a nap.”

A total of 34 announcements in an hour’s journey might seem excessive, but the vast majority are useful “locators” for people who have nodded off or, more importantly, are visually impaired.

Jacqueline Starr, chief executive of the Rail Delivery Group, says train operators will “plan more useful and consistent announcements across the network”.

I have sent her a note saying that besides the Sisis repetitions, the only other annoying request is on reaching Waterloo: “Please remember to take all your belongings with you.”

I had brought only a small bag, but now it appeared I am supposed to lug my wardrobe, bicycle, travel book collection, fridge and prized poster of the Soviet supersonic jet, the Tu144, around with me.

It would be shorter and more appropriate to say: “Check you haven’t left anything behind.”

On arrival at Waterloo – until the the coronavirus pandemic, the busiest transport terminal in Europe – there was one more messaging mystery to clear up.

The film accompanying Mr Shapps’s tweet shows a railway carriage with him and two other passengers, none of whom are wearing face coverings.

The transport secretary is reading a three-day old copy of the Daily Telegraph. It appears, therefore, that the video was filmed on Tuesday – when mask wearing was still compulsory.

The DfT tells me the carriage was not in public use, so effectively it was a film set and unaffected by the prevailing rules. Which I hereby announce.

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