I could write for days about how great that automated female announcer is at National Rail stations. There are so many tiny but impressive little UX things going on with it. Sadly, somebody at Nuneaton railway station has ruined that by adding their own announcements into the mix. And now I’m going to go unnecessarily over-the-top ranting about it.



Okay, since this is the first post I figured before I start should clarify that I’m deliberately going to go out of my way to be ranty here. This post – and all future posts – will essentially just be me taking a tiny nitpicky thing and ranting on about it. It’ll probably turn into incoherent rambling by the end of it. Honestly, I’m just writing this blog because I can see my sanity degrading eventually if I don’t. It’s here if you want to read it but nobody’s forcing you. Most of the things I write about will be things that make you go “Wow, somebody is getting paid to do this?” rather than things that could be considered genuinely annoying. Right, now that’s out of the way – rant time!

So, picture this situation: You’ve just been sat on a train for three hours. Your back aches, your legs are squished and your arse is numb. You’re finally approaching Nuneaton station – it’s the final change on your journey home! Your train’s arriving a bit late but you should still have a few minutes to catch your next train. You don’t know the platform yet, but after all, all you’ll have to do is listen for one of ATOS’ handy-dandy announcements, right? RIGHT? WRONG. You’re at Nuneaton now! Nothing here is logical.

You’re now on foot, walking about the station searching for a departure board. By your watch your train should be about a minute away from the platform. “Perfect!” you mutter to yourself, attracting strange glances. It means the magical automated voice will be springing into action any second now and will let you know exactly what platform to go to for your train. Sure enough, the voice starts: “The next train at platf-..” and is cut off and replaced by a low quality recording of some brummy bloke talking about the escalators being out of use at London Euston until July next year. You miss your train and it was the last train home. You spend the night sleeping rough between two station buildings and in the dead of night most of your clothes are stolen.


Now, that’s not a story from experience. I’ve never missed a train due to this but that’s only because I’ve been going there since before the announcements fell apart. I spend a lot of time at Nuneaton station – almost 3 hours a day – changing trains there and back on my daily commute. The announcements aren’t the only thing backwards about Nuneaton but it’s what I’ll be focussing on mainly in this post.

Over the past few months more and more stupid off-topic low-priority self-recorded announcements have been added to the cycle of announcements made over the tannoy at Nuneaton. They all play twice an hour and right now there’s three of them. That means one announcement every 10 minutes. Oh, and they override the actual important announcements. To their credit, it seems like they’ve tried to time them so they’re not scheduled around the times trains usually stop but since trains are almost always late, that doesn’t work.

 

Right, let’s get specific.

If you’re going to do it, at least do it right.

One particularly annoying part of all this is that they easily could (and should!) have used the nice voice already provided to them by National Rail. It has professional, well-structured versions of everything Nuneaton wanted to add.

Let’s pick apart the announcement about the escalators being closed at Euston. Here’s what the announcement says. I’ve also gone ahead and highlighted in green the parts that are actually relevant – you’ll notice most of the quote is not green and that’s part of the reason why I’m ranting.

Ladies and gentlemen. At London Euston station until mid 2017 there will be reduced escalator facilities due to planned engineering work, and queueing systems will be in place daily at busy times. Passengers are advised to consider using Euston Square underground station at busy times. Thankyou.

Why was it necessary to give us all this extra information. Even if I were travelling to London Euston (and, by the way, most people at Nuneaton aren’t), I don’t care why the escalators are closed or how long they’re closed for. I just need to know that it’s closed.

It’s also announced automatically on every train actually going into Euston anyway, before they reach the station. So honestly there’s no need for it to play twice an hour at Nuneaton anyway is there. Robbing me of precious seconds of my life this is!

Why does this need to be an announcement?

Yeah, they made a tannoy announcement about CCTV instead of just putting up a bloody sign. Maybe they thought people would pay more attention if they have to listen to it? Like, maybe they thought people would miss the sign? But it only plays twice an hour so chances are if you’re there to commit a crime you’ll completely miss the announcement. And just incase anybody from Nuneaton reads this – that does not mean make it play more often. Put up a CCTV sign like any other place in the entire history of forever. However, if you INSIST on putting it on the tannoy, at least use the built in National Rail one. It communicates the same message in less than half the words, and it’s a much higher quality recording, and it wouldn’t interrupt higher priority announcements…

You’re ruining it for every other station too, Nuneaton.

Nuneaton should know that their stupid announcements don’t just screw things up at their own station, they screw things up at every station. To understand this, you need some background into how amazingly thought out the official National Rail voice is. So, here goes:

  • Announcements are all structured in a very specific way.
  • If the announcement starts with “The next train at Platform X will be”, it means it’ll be here soon.
  • If the announcement starts with “Platform X for…”, it means the train is arriving right now. As in, ‘Go to Platform X’
  • Announcements about platform alterations start with “This is a platform alteration.” – because that instantly grabs your attention
  • If it’s urgent, then the most important part comes first. For example, if a fast train is approaching, it always starts with “Stand well back from the platform edge” before saying which platform or why.
  • If it starts with “We are sorry to announce…”, it’s a delay. Only messages about delays start like this.
  • If it starts with “May I have your attention please”, it’s a cancellation. Only messages about cancellations start like this.
  • Phrases that demand attention, like “May I have your attention please” are strictly used only for messages which genuinely require the public’s attention. These would lose their power if used too often.
  • The messages are all as short as possible, because if it’s talking all the time then people will ignore it.

Because the messages are so clearly structured, it’s possible to tell what an announcement is about from only the first word. (eg. if the first word is “The”, it can only be “The next train at…”). No two messages start the same. This means that, subconsciously, people are conditioned to know what to pay attention to and what they can safely ignore.

When Nuneaton ignores all of these rules and decides to start all their low-priority, unimportant messages with attention-demanding phrases like “May I have your attention please”, they ruin it for everybody. Imagine if we used sirens and flashing blue lights to warn motorists about an upcoming 10 degree bend. That’s essentially what Nuneaton’s doing with these announcements.

The Late Train Announcement

Right, this one is the worst one. It’s actually what finally pushed me to start this blog. This one isn’t even nitpicky – anybody can see how stupid this announcement is. You don’t even have to be a loser nerd like me to find this one stupid. And yet somebody approved it. Admittedly this one isn’t specific to Nuneaton, it appears to be the train operator, but oh my god it’s stupid.

So, the announcement below plays whenever a train on the Birmingham-Leicester line is delayed anywhere on the line. That’s not the main line for Nuneaton, it’s basically a little local-stopping service. And I don’t mean massively late, I mean like five minutes late. And it plays at Nuneaton even if the train is late at any other station on the line, not specifically Nuneaton. Train pulls into Coleshill Parkway a minute late? This announcement plays at Nuneaton. And if you think I’m making this up, I even recorded it, and you can play it below. I highlighted the green bits again,  and you’ll notice almost all of it isn’t green.

“May I have your attention please. You are hearing this message because we have just been informed of a situation on this line which may affect your journey. We are in the process of working with our partners at Network Rail in assessing the situation, deciding which trains will be affected, and the likely impact on your journey. We will commence preparing specific announcements and updating our station information systems very shortly. We will also be informing electronically our local stations and award winning Twitter team as well as our colleagues at National Rail Enquiries. At manned stations station teams please monitor your information provision both on your ticket issuing system and Blackberry device, and assist with local announcements where possible. Passengers please listen for further announcements, keep an eye on the display or join us on Twitter. Thankyou for your attention.”

I have to be lying right? Surely that didn’t get signed off on? On the contrary, they seem to have got a professional voiceover artist in to do it!

 

Somebody had this idea, and thought it was good. Then they sent it to their boss and their boss thought it was good too. It got all the way here to being played on the platforms and nobody along the line questioned it. All of those people are being paid money to do this. It’s unbelievable. I just don’t know what to say.

You know, like, when you take somebody who isn’t great with computers and give them Windows Movie Maker? They’ll almost always sit there and make a movie using every single ugly-as-sin effect and it’ll be the worst thing ever but they’ll be so proud of it. I feel like that’s what’s going on with Nuneaton. Maybe they just got an upgrade which allows them to add these announcements, and they’re just so happy to use it that they aren’t really thinking about whether they should use it.

Please though, for the love of god, stop.

 

Complaints.