Taktfahrplan and Changing Trains

One of the goals of NDPTU is a faster service for rail passengers between Barnstaple and Exeter Central but every timetable involves compromise. These passengers’ need for a faster service has to be balanced against long-distance passengers’ need for efficient connections. At the moment, the long-distance traffic is subordinated to local travel needs. A Taktfahrplan scheme at Exeter St Davids would allow 62 minute Barnstaple – Exeter Central journeys in both directions, which is much better than the 70 to 80 minutes we have today. The greatest gains, however, would be to the long-distance travellers, who would have efficient connections in all directions. One could reasonably expect substantially increased long-distance usage in particular.

So how is Taktfahrplan achieved in Switzerland?

  1. Having all trains running to standard patterns makes daily operation much easier. Drivers know precisely how rapidly to accelerate, where to brake and how hard. A much simpler problem than now, when almost every train has its own, bespoke schedule. Similarly for signallers: just repeat the hourly pattern. Much tighter margins become possible.
  2. Platforms and the routes they serve are clearly signed. Tickets are complemented by printed information about arrival and departure platforms at change points.
  3. Ticket inspectors give directions to individual passengers as they check tickets. This is increasingly happening here.
  4. Trains have fixed formations, which are shown in clear diagrams on platforms. Platforms have clearly-marked zones which relate to train formations.

All the above is becoming standard practice in Germany and Austria as well as Switzerland. In the last-named, ramps and escalators are increasingly being installed in place of stairs.

The above comments raise some interesting thoughts about technology, in particular, better passenger communication/information. With more standardisation of services it should be very easy — we already have the technology — to display required platform changes for interconnecting destinations, not only at stations but also on the trains themselves, many of which already display the next station stop. This could include real-time updates to cope with last-minute changes, e.g. the odd ‘incident’ temporarily closing a platform. We already have in-cab signalling in Scotland; this is an almost trivial extension. Bus shelters routinely display information about the next two or three buses to arrive. With properly integrated train/bus interchanges, bus information could also be included at railway stations.

Ticket inspectors advising passengers? This used to be completely routine “in the old days”: nowadays it’s given the added-value term “customer service”. Ticket inspectors may one day become a dying breed but, if they get replaced by machines, there’s no reason why the machines shouldn’t display or optionally announce (let’s not forget the visually impaired) appropriate platform changes, given the information in the magnetic strip within tickets. With the use of RFID technology, this could be even more cost-effective.

Finally, regarding stairs, although there would be extra cost involved, one has to wonder why, at major stations like Exeter St Davids, second busiest after Reading between London Paddington and Penzance, there hasn’t been a programme of replacing fixed stairs with escalators. Shouldn’t the Disability Discrimination Act have some influence here? Imagine what the London Underground would be like with stairs instead of escalators, say at Tottenham Court Road! I believe that some new and/or refurbished stations (e.g. Ivybridge, Digby & Sowton?) are installing ramps where space permits, preferably with anti-runaway strips every couple of metres.

All this can be done if the will is there!

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