Peace and quiet on the trains!

“There will be fewer annoying and repetitious recorded announcements,’ Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, promised in a recent white paper, as the government takes back control of the railways and privately run franchises are sidelined. The scale of the problem was illustrated on a recent journey of two hours and 33 minutes from Manchester to London. Passengers were subjected to 17 automated messages, including three helpings of what has been described as the most irritating (not to mention unhelpful to foreign visitors) slogan in the history of British transport: ‘See it, say it, sorted’. There were also four live messages, advising passengers on how to buy refreshments and urging them not to walk down the aisle unnecessarily. The train’s PA system was activated on average every seven minutes.

Norman Baker, a Liberal Democrat former transport minister and a regular traveller from Lewes station in East Sussex, spoke with exasperation of the ‘inanity of announcements’ he had heard. He was once informed ‘that there is no skateboarding allowed at the station. Well, I’ve never seen someone skateboarding at the station. Maybe we’ll have an announcement that elephants aren’t allowed at the station.’ He added: ‘People seem to be incapable of having a space without filling it with noise.’ As chief executive of Transport Focus, an independent watchdog, Anthony Smith sees the comments of passengers who have felt strongly enough to submit formal complaints. Extracts from the logs include: ‘Just pure noise pollution’; ‘Buzzers going off every time the doors open and close. Trains survived without these for over a century and people managed to get on and off without difficulty.’ Another passenger spoke of his favourite: an announcement to passengers in a quiet carriage reminding them that it was meant to be quiet.

As the relevant minister clearly can decree peace and quiet in one area under government control, this example sets a precedent for demanding that the Minister for Health does the same in hospitals, banning piped music and television so that patients, the ultimate captive audience, are not tormented by inescapable noise.