Wednesday 14 April 2010

Turnstiles and Robot Voices on Railways

A few months ago I made this HPANWO TV film about the introduction of turnstiles in British railway stations. See: . They’re appearing everywhere and as a regular rail traveller I’m concerned by this. They effectively split the station into two zones, one which is accessible by all from the public streets and another which is the exclusive domain of railway travellers because the turnstile only opens when you put a valid ticket through the slot; this system has been used on the London Underground since 1929, but this is the first time it has appeared on the national railway network. When I see people passing through these turnstiles it reminds me of a flock of sheep being herded for dipping. I've started calling the turnstiles the "Peace Line" or "Demilitarized Zone" and make jokes when I go through them like holding my arms above my head like in the movie of 1984. It’s a symptom of the increasing aggression and possessiveness of social control that is leading up to the Big Brother New World Order. Already rail travellers are getting used to them. Another thing that bugs me is announcements made by electronic voices. They sound awful! And they’re all the same! Banality and uniformity are becoming more and more common values in this world, as is social interaction with computers instead of real people. A few years ago you could get on a train and go somewhere and would really feel you’d travelled somewhere exotic because of the different accents you heard on the station tannoy. There’s an announcer on Derby station with the most beautiful voice. She could be a singer I’m sure! I did mention this to the staff there and they said they’d pass that on. However I’ve written this letter to the customer service department of Network Rail:

Dear Network Rail,
I’m a regular rail traveller seeing as I live in Oxford and my girlfriend, (Ustane), lives in Nottingham and I take the train to visit her about three times a month. I could take the coach; it is slightly cheaper, but it takes longer and is not as pleasant. Unfortunately there have been changes to the railway system in recent years that make it less pleasant. One of these is the introduction of turnstiles at many stations. I know turnstiles have been used on the London Underground since 1929, but this is the first time I’ve seen them on the national railway network. This represents a worrying cultural shift in the British railway tradition. For me this destroys much of the romance of rail travel. Since turnstiles were introduced on Nottingham Station (Ustane) can no longer come down onto the platform to see me off. I don’t mind saying that we used to find this romantic and miss doing it today; and it has inspired many scenes in the movies and fiction. It also seems to me to be a symptom of the increasing authoritarianism and intrusion that is creeping into society in general, the emergence of a Big Brother state. I know that it’s necessary to check that travellers have a valid ticket, but I thought that’s what the on-board inspectors were for. I’ve never completed a journey without my ticket being stamped at least once.

Another issue for me is the increasing use of electronic announcers. These electronic voices are very obviously fake and lack any character. This is another worry for me because I see more and more social interaction with machines rather than real people; EG: self-service checkouts in supermarkets. It would be a great shame if electronic tannoy voices were introduced in Derby Station because one of the human announcers there has a beautiful voice. She really could be a great singer or orator. I’ve mentioned this to the staff there and hopefully the message will get through to her that she is appreciated.

I’ll continue to use the railways regardless. I’ll pay an extra tenner to get to Nottingham by train because I enjoy it and like to spend as much time with (Ustane) as I can when I’m not at work and don’t want to be travelling the whole time. I hope that Network Rail will maintain the great tradition that Railways are and the important place they have in the history and social makeup of this country.


Ben Emlyn-Jones

I’ll let you know what reply I get.

(Latest HPANWO Voice stories:


New HPANWO TV film:


Ben Emlyn-Jones said...

All I've had so far is this:

"Dear Mr Emlyn-Jones

Thank you for e-mailing Network Rail.

Your enquiry has been passed to our local Community Relations team who are investigating the issue as quickly as possible. For your convenience, this enquiry has been assigned the unique Service Request number SR2668380

In the meantime, should you need to contact Network Rail again, please do not hesitate to call our 24-hour National Helpline on 08457 11 41 41 quoting the reference number provided.

Yours sincerely,

Community Relations Team
Network Rail"

Sto said...

Nice post!!

Frances said...

While installing the security turnstile system might surely take away plenty of the romantic scenes and just prove to be a hassle, you could only hope that this could be acted upon as soon as possible.

Ceci said...

Haha love your turnstiles comment Frances! Nice blog.