Sunday, May 22, 2011

Voices of the Railways: suburban train and station annoucements

Harold Clapp famously said that railways are "95 percent men and 5 percent iron".

One duty of those 95% is informing passengers of arriving trains, delays, changed platforms or altered running. Unlike some overseas subways where different lines operate independently and rarely share track, trains can and are swapped between different lines on Melbourne's more complex network. Platforms can change at short notice and late arrivals may form trains other than those specified in the working timetable. In addition point and signal failures commonly cause delays and City Loop bypasses.

It is often platform and control staff (at stations) or the driver (on trains) who first inform passengers of delays and alterations. At other times they make safety annoucements and inform passengers of connecting services.

The multiple skills required are not always obvious. They must understand the network, think on their feet and quickly process and translate what may be incomplete information from train control into advice useful for passengers. Their enunciation must be understood by passengers of all backgrounds through varying station acoustics and public address system quality. And announcing may be only one part of the job - other roles include signalling, selling tickets or driving trains.

The video presented is a compilation of train and station announcements, recorded on the 19th and 20th May, 2011. A few are automated but most are manual. As you'll hear automated annoucements are fine if all is running to plan, but when it is not manual annoucenements rise to the fore. And it is precisely these times that they are needed most.


Andrew said...

The English/Indian woman at 2.30 had the clearest voice. I don't agree with platform staff and train drivers making announcements when the system has gone wrong. They are never well informed.
Announcements need to come from the train control centre who do actually know what is happening.

Peter Parker said...

Andrew - it's a damned if you do/damned if you don't thing - whatever is done people will criticise.

This underlies a systemic issue of information flow in a complex network - something that is both difficult and essential to get right.

Train control may not necessarily be all-knowing, especially further from the CBD.

It's like the story of the blind men and the elephant people in different locations see only parts of it and not the whole picture.

The voice I really liked for its rhythm was the lady announcing the Frankston-train-on-Platform 9-will-run-direct-to Richmond at 1:30.