Saturday, 14 November 2015

It was an Education

Train Regulation for Beginners
One of the privileges of the visit to Sheffield was to be able to squeeze in a short Friday morning session under the tutelage of Professor B Fuddlink from the Public Transport Faculty of the London School of Economics. The course was a fieldwork module taking his students through various "front-end" transport experiences. 

Because this segment was live and thus in real time, fbb has had to recreate the displays etc. upon return to base in Seaton. The Professor's words, suitably abbreviated, are shown in blue text.

Note that Sheffield Station platforms are numbered in a superbly confusing sequence. At the south end of the station, reading from top to bottom we have:-
These are shown on the diagram thus:-

7 and 2A are bays for terminating (small) trains. The north end has the "b" through platforms but with bays 3 and 4 between 2a and 5a.

Also note that 8, 6 and 5 are signalled for through southbound working.

We are expecting two trains which are approaching from the north both scheduled to use platform 8.
At 0954 the Cross Country service to Plymouth consists of a five-coach Voyager; and at 1005 we expect a two car Northern Trains service to Nottingham.

Platform 7 contains a four car "Voyager" on a Stagecoach trip to London St Pancras, Platform 6 is occupied by a three-car Trans Pennine service to Manchester Airport. Platform 5 is empty. 

The scene is set for a practical demonstration of how to manage trains and passengers.

On arriving at the platform, the class notes the indicator display.

This is followed quite soon by a "2nd Train" line.

Now, students, observe what happens when the system reports a further delay in the Plymouth train. The "First Train" now shows:- 

Inexperienced train regulators may not realise that two trains on the same platform at the same time might present some difficulties. The Professor continues with some enthusiasm.

Next we hear that the Plymouth train is further delayed; possibly because it is BEHIND the Nottingham train.

Now we are seeking to be of as much assistance as possible to the passengers says the Professor with an evil glint in his eye. But, you think, how can the Nottingham train leave if the Plymouth train is blocking its exit. Answer:-

Swap them over. This happens and we are all happy. But hold fast.

The Nottingham train stops at Dronfield, so it will make the Plymouth train even later causing all sorts of problems down the line. Swap them back again.

But, interrupts a keen student, "If the Plymouth train is behind the Nottingham train as it approaches the station, how can it overtake?" To add to the confusion the Nottingham train duly arrives creating consternation for the passengers who aren't at all sure whether the train is for Plymouth or Nottingham or neither.

Then we have achieved our objective. Passengers confused, staff confused, announcements inaudible on the platform due to engine noise. Time to ...


... swap them back again!

Hang on; haven't we forgotten that the Nottingham train will make the Plymouth train even later. Anyway, the screen remains the same but the announcer has just told us that the Plymouth train due on platform 8 is "delayed by 12 minutes". No departure change announcement yet for Nottingham.

The guard of the Nottingham train has whistle in mouth; the right passengers have sorted out their seats and the Plymouth people are poised to nip smartly onto the train as soon as the Nottingham train departs. Everything in the platform 8 garden is lovely.

But now the regulator reveals his final and hilariously devastating hand!

Disbelieving and confused passengers hear this.

Your attention please. This is a platform alteration. The delayed 0954 to Plymouth will now leave from Platform 5. Would passengers please proceed across the footbridge to join their train.


There is panic and mayhem as a gaggle of gobsmacked and gullible geriatrics (mainly) attempt to haul themselves and their luggage across the bridge as the Plymouth train draws in!
Platform 5, until now, has remained empty throughout this whole procedure. It is normally used by terminating London trains.
fbb is joining the Plymouth train so misses the end of the Professor's class. But he expects the learned gentleman to be delighted with the way in which the station team have mishandled the situation. The simple solution, namely to decide send the Plymouth train into Platform 5 as soon as the conflict appeared, had not occurred to the mysterious creators of customer confusion.

As the Plymouth train left, fbb craned his creaky neck and saw the Nottingham train still stactic in Platform 8. It was later shown on-line as running 14 minutes late from Dronfield.

Double success!

fbb is seriously considering applying for this particular course next year. After his recent experiences on Sheffield buses, he will be well qualified to share a few "intermodal" tips on how to manage public transport and its passengers.

But for the old man and No 3 son, the journey, although delayed slightly, arrived at Exeter St David's in good time for his SouthWest trains class 159 to Axminster. His delight was redoubled at "The Plymouth Train" was an HST and oh so superior to a voyager.
A letter to "The Star" in Sheffield
I live in Bradwell and used the bus to get home from Sheffield last Wednesday, my first experience of the new timetable. I waited at the bus station for the 1340 and the bus was 20 minutes late, no explanation as to why. Some people waiting said the earlier bus hadn’t arrived.

I caught the bus both ways on Friday. I caught the 9.25 to Sheffield, due to traffic and the number of pick-ups it makes on the new route, it was late getting in so I was late for my 10.30 appointment. I intended to catch the 14.40 return bus, however, the timetable shows that this no longer serves Bradwell ...
.... but goes straight on to Castleton. Rather than face a 1.5-mile walk along a narrow main road with no pavements, while carrying shopping bags, I decided to get the earlier bus at 13.40, thus cutting short my trip out. This bus didn’t turn up. I waited at the bus station with another resident of Bradwell for over an hour. I could have cried with frustration.
Of course the next bus was the one I didn’t want to catch as it doesn’t go to Bradwell. When we got on I had to plead with the driver to go to Bradwell. Eventually he agreed to do this after phoning for permission.

Why has First decided to cut Bradwell out on the 14.40 run? How much time/money is it hoping to save by doing this?

Incidentally, the Hope Valley (Castleton etc.) did not receive any forward notice of the changes or any consultation.

Has anyone noticed how many more cars there are on the roads in Sheffield? Is there any wonder?
 Next bus/rail blog : Sunday 15th November 


  1. There appear to be keen students of the good Professor's work at Exeter signal box regarding Newton Abbot. Also the signallers at Basingstoke areorking on a variant for single lines and reversible loops, using Axminster as their occasional test bed.

  2. Fbb's Sheffield CIS nonsense is standard practice across the country as far as I can see... Starting trains leaving "on time" when the incoming terminating service is clearly far too late to possibly achieve this, and trains showing as going in service to depots and sidings are particular favourites of mine... CIS is only any use of all the trains are running on time, which is when you don't need to refer to it.... CIS is totally useless as soon as anything is late or goes wrong, and may as well be switched off.... But this is, of course, when everybody wants the correct information!!! TOC managers and network rail won't acknowledge its shortcomings, let alone start doing anything about it.....

  3. The automated CIS will not show a delayed train as being so until after 4 minutes, it will then show expected 1 minute late for up to another 5 minutes, by which time it will give up and just show delayed.

    Platform alterations will not show until the route is set by the signaller, unless the operator has specifically contacted the signaller and requested one and the station team have overridden the CIS.

    1. The worst but very basic problem with CIS is the assumption that every train is "on time" unless the system specifically knows different... No info means no problem... This is at odds with how humans interpret the "on time" message, which is that the system has checked all the various components to make that train arrive, and to do so on time (such as working stock, crew members, delays on previous journeys, problems on the track or at stations between where the train is now and this station)... A train that CIS has no idea where it is or when it will arrive will still default to "on time", which is totally the wrong way around!!! The "on time" message should only EVER be displayed when the system has confirmation that it is "on time" !!! A more accurate message for all other trains at all other times would be "no info", or even more accurate "no idea" !!!!!!!!