Train announcements and what they really mean

Explaining trains

Because trains get busier than ever around this time of year, and because I seem to spend most of my life waiting on the train platform listening to an automated voice telling me how sorry it is that my train is late, I thought I’d poke a little fun at the announcements that mean so very little…

  1. Earlier delays

This is one of my favourites. Having earlier delays apparently means that you can continue to be late. So long as you’re consistent about it, everything will be ok. Unfortunately, when I get to work late (always because of my train) I can’t then explain my being late back from lunch by saying that I was late in to begin with. I lose part of my break instead. I think that when train companies use this excuse it can only mean one thing: in the eyes of the train company, so long as the gaps stay the same, then everything will be ok. Actual timing doesn’t matter. This is because they actually don’t use clocks on board the trains. They have sand-timers which they turn as soon as they leave a station. On every train there is a sand-timer-watcher who radios ahead to tell the next station at regular intervals how much sand they’ve got left. It is by this method that the staff at the station can guess how late the train will be. They then choose the automated message that seems the most accurate fit, and since it’s all rather a mouthful, they go for ‘earlier delays’. (This is also why the degrees of lateness vary wildly on the digital displays. Everyone is taking a different guess in the office. Incidentally, the one who makes the most accurate guesses wins the bonus at the end of the year which is usually paid in eggs).

  1. Signalling problems

There seems to be quite a regular problem with signalling on my line, which is a little worrying considering it’s a pretty major one that links Bristol to London. I think I’ve worked it out. Contrary to popular belief, trains actually work on an entirely human system, which is to say that signalling actually consists of several men with flags and walkie talkies. As we all know, walkie talkies fall out of range very easily and it is also easy to talk over someone by accident if you both hold down the button at the exact same time. Sadly, this can happen all too frequently, but due to financial issues and the overall age of the signalling staff, the use of mobile phones or indeed any digital technology is actually out of the question. One signalman in particular named Creighton Lacey has been responsible for 7362 late trains this year, as a result of pressing the button by accident and missing the message that tells him whether to wave the red flag or the green. The government is looking into plans to improve and digitise the railway system and hope that by 2060 we should be running an entirely flag-free system. Creighton Lacey will of course be awarded a full retirement package and honours for his contribution to the British railway.

  1. Waiting for a member of staff

This one is simple: someone has blocked the staff toilet and nobody on-board is willing to a) unblock the toilet (it falls outside of everyone’s job description) and b) move on without said staff toilet. As a result, a cleaner is ordered to the site to remove the blockage and fill in the required paperwork. Often the nearest cleaner is otherwise engaged and someone must travel down from the wrong side of Manchester. On numerous occasions, by the time the cleaner has arrived, a member of the waiting public has already got wind of the situation (sometimes quite literally), gone in to sort the problem themselves, and then having done so, will never be seen again. In this situation the cleaner from Manchester then turns back and heads for home, but won’t make it back for another 3 days due to train delays. They will, on average, miss 12 call outs in the Manchester area for fixing train toilet blockages and as a result, a Cornish cleaner and 11 from the Scottish Hebrides will be called in to clean up the mess. They probably won’t make it in time. This is all a bit embarrassing and also happens embarrassingly too often, so the station staff are briefed to tell any inquisitive customers that there is either a terrible cup shortage and they are waiting on a delivery, or no driver if it seems like that will be more appeasing.

  1. Leaves on the line

Whenever your train is delayed by the presence of leaves on the line, what they actually mean is this: The train system is run almost entirely by budding and/or failed writers and artists of every kind. As we all know, half of the world’s population is doing a job that they never actually wanted to do. Many of them chose to study art or literature at school in the belief that this would lead them to a life of creativity where they could live off their artistic genius and live in a gypsy caravan hung with ribbons and paper lanterns whilst they practice yoga sutras amongst the trees and sup on fine bohemian teas. When they find that this is actually fairly unlikely, they government enrol them on the little known ‘Failed Artist’ scheme. This involves retraining them in trains. Whilst providing these failed artists with a valuable income and plenty of direction, they are still, at heart, artists, and as such, possess a temperament which can lead to outbursts, rebellions and general outpourings of the soul. Whenever the announcement is made for ‘leaves on the line’, it indicates that some poor artistic soul has ripped up his manuscript, torn the leaves out of his only published book (the one he thought would be the start of everything but actually didn’t sell because it coincided with a great market depression) and tossed it onto the line, crying- ‘I am an artist! I shouldn’t be here!’ You may have noticed that this particular announcement has not been made quite so frequently in recent months. This is because the government is trialling a new scheme involving the provision of free ipads for anyone enrolled on the Failed Artist scheme, whilst also implementing a paper and pencil ban. Several signalmen have raised concerns about the over-digitisation of on-board services, but statistics currently argue against their case, since you are far less likely to throw any i device out of a train window, however many failed manuscripts it may hold. I mean, come on- it has a white fruit on the back- you need this thing…

Now that you’ve had the train announcements explained, I hope you can have a good gaffaw next time your train is late 🙂


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