DfT pledges ‘bonfire of the banalities’ for pointless train announcements

Crackdown comes despite reduction in passenger numbers and projected £20bn bill from coronavirus pandemic
Grant Shapps stars in a promotional video for his ‘bonfire of the banalities’. Screengrab: DfT/Twitter

By Jim Dunton

21 Jan 2022

The Department for Transport has pledged to wage war on “unnecessary train announcements” in a bid to make “quieter train journeys the norm” for passengers.

Transport secretary Grant Shapps dubbed the drive a “bonfire of the banalities” that will make journeys more comfortable for commuters and travellers.

However, the coronavirus pandemic has reduced rail passenger numbers and saw DfT supporting the rail industry to the tune of £8.5bn in 2020-2021 alone, according to a report from the National Audit Office last month. The NAO said that as of September, DfT estimated the lifetime costs for its Covid-19 support measures across all sectors would hit £20bn.

Announcing the crackdown on pointless announcements today, DfT said repeated instructions to have tickets ready when leaving stations and peace-breaching requests asking passengers to keep noise levels low were “Tannoy spam” that distracted from safety-critical information.

The department said it would work with industry body the Rail Delivery Group, passenger groups including Transport Focus, and train operators to identify how the vast number of announcements on rail services can be cut or reduced over the course of this year.

Shapps said the cull of unnecessary announcements would be one element of efforts to make rail journeys more comfortable as passenger numbers increase after the pandemic.

“Train passengers are all too often plagued by an endless torrent of repeated and unnecessary announcements,” he said.

“In line with the passenger improvements, we are rolling out with our Plan for Rail we want to see improvements to the railways for those who use them day in day out. 

“That’s why I’m calling for a bonfire of the banalities to bring down the number of announcements passengers are forced to sit through and make their journey that little bit more peaceful.”

In a DfT video shot in a railway carriage to accompany Shapps’s announcement,  the transport secretary feigned breaking away from reading a copy of the Daily Telegraph in exasperation after a series of the kind of announcements he wants to ban.

“Do we really need to be told to put our newspapers in the bin,  or that the weather outside is inclement?” he asked. “Passengers just need to be treated as grown ups and be able to use their own common sense.”

Norman Baker of the Campaign for Better Transport said passengers would welcome any reduction in pointless announcements.

The former Lib Dem MP, who served as a transport minister in the coalition government, said feedback given to the group indicated that excessive announcements spoiled rail journeys for passengers.

He asked: “What is the point of telling passengers a particular set of doors doesn't open as the train is leaving the station? Or inviting passengers to inspect the safety card at the end of the carriage? Has anyone ever done this? Or announcing that you are in a quiet carriage – now no longer quiet.”

Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said reducing the number of announcements was not a main concern for rail users at a time of service reductions and fare rises.

“This government is completely out of touch with the country's priorities,” she said.

Mick Lynch, general secretary  of the RMT union, told the Press Association the DfT’s drive was a “PR stunt” on the part of a collapsing government.

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