CTA makes new effort to give riders clear, consistent info about rail delays

[Editor’s Note: Please see my post noting that the bulletin I’m reporting on here was not complete and not ready for release.]

The CTA is training motormen to give its riders a clear, consistent message explaining the cause of rail delays, according to a rail service bulletin issued last week.

The bulletin, found by a CTA Tattler reader on a train, states the problem that I’ve been complaining about for the last nine years on this blog:

“One of the biggest challenges that we face is getting clear, concise and accurate information to our customers during delays and incidents. The pre-recorded announcement system assures consistently correct, clear and helpful announcements. However, there are times when a manual announcement from the Operator can be more effective. . . . One issue with manual announcements is making sure that we are giving customers accurate information about the delay or incident and that we are all not only saying the same thing, but we are saying it in the same way. [Emphasis mine.]

The memo goes on to give an example where “Tower 18 experiences a total loss of indications and the switches and the switches have to be manually operated during the heart of the PM rush hour.”

It notes that a Pink Line operator may attribute the delay to” switching problems.” A Pink Line rider may then exit at Clark/Lake to await a Purple Line train, and hear the communications coordinator tell riders that the delay is due to “track circuit failures in the Loop.” Then the rider boards a Purple Line train and gets an announcement explaining that there was a “micro lock failure in the tower.”

“Even though all these announcements may be accurate, a customer . . . may be left confused and thinking that we don’t know what is going on or how to fix it.” [Emphasis mine.]

Yes, that’s exactly what we’re thinking! So here’s how the CTA is trying to fix that and “make sure we are telling the customer the same thing in the same way when we make manual announcements:”

The CTA is posting in all motor cabs and kiosks what it calls “Manual Announcement Delays Messages” decals. One column lists “delay types” such as (B) “Attention customers: We are experiencing major delays due to….” And the second column details the “incident types” such as (5) “signal problems.”

So in the example above, the rail controller will call the runs involved and tell them to inform “your customers using Manual Announcement B5.”

The operator would look in the left column for “B” and in the right column for “5” and announce:

“Attention customers: We are experiencing major delays due to signal problems. We apologize for the delay. Thank you.”

So simple. And yet this could be very effective. Let’s hope it works.

Read the full text of the CTA Rail Service Bulletin on Manual Announcement Delay Messages. (NOTE: I have removed this link because I subsequently learned this bulletin is not final.)


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  • This is nice. While we're on the subject of CTA communications, I think there needs to be a broader effort to simplify announcements. For example, it's bewildering to hear "This is Harold Washington Library-State/Van Buren. Doors open on the RIGHT at Harold Washington Library-State/Van Buren."

    The station name is cumbersome and that's a separate problem, but the second sentence can simply be "Exit to the right" and the third sentence This is what I hear on virtually all European systems. Short, sweet, and to the point. Same goes for the announcement of transfers.

  • Is it not possible for one person to do all of the announcing on all of the trains simultaneously? There's a way for the towers to talk to the motormen. Why can't they just send that out over the speakers in the cars?

  • Not too clear tonight on where Red line trains are reallu going. From:


    "After stopping at Fullerton, Ashland/63rd-bound trains will be diverted and will make the following elevated station stops:

    Armitage (accessible)
    Sedgwick (accessible)
    Chicago (at Franklin; accessible)
    Merchandise Mart (accessible)
    Clark/lake (accessible)
    Roosevelt (elevated station west of Wabash; accessible)
    Then, trains will stop at Cermak-Chinatown and make all normal stops to Ashland/63rd."

    I can't imagine Red line trains will really stop at Cermak-Chinatown tonight, considering the station is closed and the tracks probably aren't there.

  • In reply to JohnT:

    Besides that (others have noted the Chinatown error), since the alert mentions medical emergency on the tracks, it has the sound of the similar medical emergency a couple of weeks ago when someone from Glenview electrocuted himself and almost also his twin brother.

    However, it sounds like a bigger mess this time, as the radio traffic reports also indicate that the streets are closed at State and Grand and the #36 bus is being rerouted.

    Anyway, the Trib now has a man dead after being struck by a train.

    However, the "medical emergency" lingo and probably lack of a prerecorded message that "southbound trains are going over the top, but northbound ones won't." means basically whatever they do, it won't be standardized.

  • It doesn't matter what the manual says or the control center tells them to say, the motormen will still mumble into the mic & no one will understand it.
    I really don't understand why the control center can't do the announcements as 20 years ago they could make announcements over the then new PA system on the buses. As in "would the operator of bus 1123 pick up your phone"!

  • In reply to ScooterLibbby:

    It probably depends on whether the radio digital links are between the control center and the train. Supposedly the 5000s are better at that.

    The "operator pick up your phone" is a relic of the analog era. Soon after that, the message became unnecessary because the radio became digital and could be accessed directly without sending the message out to all 2200 buses. The Orbital system used for emergency communications is essentially a text message system.

  • Thank you. It would be nice if bus drivers made announcements when there is a reroute, and not keep the passengers in suspense.

  • Now if only most of the PA systems were not so distorted that you can not make out a single word they say. Words don't matter if you can not understand them.

  • In reply to Petrd1:

    Be glad you aren't in the era of the 6000s. The rest of the garbling seems to be going away with the last of the 2200s.

  • Well, color me impressed. Someone actually put their thinking cap on and left it on long enough to come up with a decent plan.

    Yes, some sound clarity would be nice. I take it Jack is trying to tell us they're working on it.

    Unfortunately, billdavis, no, this cannot happen on the buses because most of them apparently do not have microphones any more (the subject of a rant of mine Kevin posted as a guest commentary a few months ago). If someone has information to the contrary, please inform us.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    P.S., I especially like the part about speaking slowly and clearly.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    I've been on a couple of buses lately that still had the mics. They were both articulated buses.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    My comment was only if they have data links to the L cars like they do to the buses with regard to the Orbital and Clever Devices system.

    Obviously, they could make Mr. CTA say something on either vehicle, but it seems that this post is premised on that the L operators are going to read a script.

  • In reply to jack:

    Thanks Jack. Don't know about systems by name or otherwise. I was thinking about situations specific to a particular bus, as when I was on a shuttle (running because of a derailment) and the packed busload of passengers could not be told where it was going. Or numerous other times when a bus changes its route and passengers need to be informed. Unamplified voice of driver is completely inaudible to anyone not at the very front. Ridiculous that non-canned announcements on buses are no longer provided for, especially considering that they have been in the past.

  • In reply to CCWriter:

    I don't know about microphones in the bus, but it doesn't appear that even the automated systems could deal with that. For instance, when there is a detour, such as when the south LSD buses were rerouted at 31st for last year's Taste, they "fell off" the map and prediction system. The R buses are on the Google Transit Planner but not on BusTracker.

    I was also under the impression that the mics were an ADA requirement. I don't have time to research that, though.

    If you put together what I said to you and Scooter, the only thing I am raising is whether there is a digital radio link so that messages from the control center could be played through the cars' or buses' speakers, and I am not claiming to have an answer to that.

    I'll bet, as Olaf implied in the next post, that the proposal isn't more than making sure each operator hits "Whoop Whoop, signal problems" instead of some hitting "Whoop Whoop, switching problems." And to reinforce his point, I really doubt that there is going to be a message other than "we'll be underway shortly," as opposed to the operator of the train that hit the person on the tracks saying "we'll be here for an hour or two."

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