As my train pulled into King’s Cross, I spotted a serious-looking sign bearing the edict:
Electric Trains Only To Access Platform 0
A couple of questions struck me:
- Is King’s Cross the only station with a Platform 0?
- Why was my electric train (like many others) NOT pulling into Platform 0, disobeying the serious-looking sign?
It turns out there are other UK stations with a Platform 0: Edinburgh Haymarket and Cardiff Central at least. But I’m fairly sure King’s Cross is the only station with a Platform 0 AND a sign for Platform 9 3/4.
As for disobeying the serious-looking sign, I reckon the train driver was right to ignore the Ministry of Signs’ half-baked wording. Since Platform 0 is more enclosed than the other platforms, station management probably want to avoid pollution/fumes (e.g. from diesel trains) building up in the confined space. So, they want to restrict Platform 0 for use by electric trains only, but not prevent electric trains from using the other platforms. Sadly, the Ministry’s carelessly placed “only” fluffs both intentions.
A simple “Platform 0: Electric Trains Only” would have sufficed. But the Ministry ambiguated, consigning the poor placard to an enigmatic existence.
Today’s wordsmithing lesson inspired by the Ministry of Signs:
Say what you mean, then check you mean what you say!
Update 29/06/2010: Stockport also has a Platform 0 (thanks Oli!)
In pursuit of unambiguous on-train announcements, train crews seem to have coined the cumbersome expression “Station Calling Point” or “Scheduled Station Stop”. As in, “Stevenage is the next Station Calling Point for this service”.
I understand that plain old “Stop” just won’t do, because trains can (and frequently do) stop at places other than stations. I’m sure train staff got sick of people saying “Ha, you said the next stop was Peterborough – but look, we’re not in Peterborough and we’ve stopped”. So, “Station Stop” is safer for on-train announcers, but there’s still the chance that your train glides to a halt whilst in an intermediate station at which you can’t alight. Which brings us to “Station Calling Point” or “Scheduled Station Stop”, both of which pretty much nail the intended meaning – albeit at the expense of brevity. Thank heavens lucky travellers, just because the instantaneous speed of your journey may at some points be zero, your obliging train staff have enhanced their terminology to reflect this transitory discontinuity.
But hang on a minute, isn’t there already a perfectly good word they could use instead? One that predates the train and has stood the test of time: “Port”. The same length as the word “Stop”, with all the right embark/alight meaning, but without the oh-so-confusing speed-related ambiguity. “Stevenage is the next Port for this service” – you never know, brevity might just win out. Pass the Port…
Update 7/7/2010: My train has stopped at Alexandra Palace. A stop. A station stop. But not a scheduled station stop. Phew!
“Welcome aboard this 0735 service to Leeds, calling at blah blah, tickets are only valid blah blah, buffet car situated in blah blah, trolley service blah blah, Wifi available blah blah, safety information is located in blah blah, if you’re not intending to travel blah blah, Quiet Carriage situated in Coach blah blah…”
A long, intrusive announcement. In the Quiet Carriage. At least there’s no extra charge for irony.