ScotRail: The 'found poetry' of train announcements is now available to enjoy in your own home – Laura Waddell

It was discovered last week that, in response to a freedom of information request, ScotRail has released a two-hour sound file of platform announcements.

Railway announcements can have an evocative, poetic quality (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Railway announcements can have an evocative, poetic quality (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Have you a desire to listen to train audio in the comfort of your own home, and I have no doubt some do, rejoice for now it is possible. A gift to sound artists, satirists, scholars of everyday life, fans of found poetry, and transport fanatics, the creative potential is plentiful.

Upon wading through the files, handily clipped into individual segments by Twitter user Matt Eason, some things surprised me.

Who knew what an alarming volume of information was tucked away to explain failures, cancellations and delays? Fortunately I’ve never ticked off my bingo card for "there is a fire on this train”.

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I am transfixed by the variations, which unspool like a Thomas the Tank Engine plot: “A boat colliding with a bridge.” “A bus colliding with a bridge earlier today.” “A bridge having collapsed.”

I skip through the segments announcing increasingly lengthy delays, because nobody needs to bring that stress home with them: “delayed by approximately 15 minutes… 20 minutes… 25 minutes…” all the way up to one hour. Shudder.

But there’s no need to get too despondent – here comes the catharsis of “A fault on this train… which is now fixed.” Ahh.

What I’m intrigued by most of all is in the grain of the most mundane stuff – the day-to-day announcements that things are moving – or not. The more I listen, the more I think I hear minute shifts in tone.

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I think of those who live in snow-blanketed landscapes for months on end (Arctic researchers, for example) who report becoming very attuned to minor variations in what they see, their eye picking out tiny details, like sticks and stones, from the vast white landscape.

I once had a terrible, lengthy commute regularly plagued by transport woes. I noticed among the monotony of making the same journey day by day any variations amidst the usual delays and cancellations – any new sights, sounds, or sensations. Any sense of meaning, warmth, humanity in the bleakness of pre-7am starts trudging through an industrial environment.

Is that a touch of world weariness I hear, in the announcement of a train to Dunfermline Queen Margaret? A bright and cheery note, hoping that the sun just might come out on arrival at Loch Awe?

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There’s only admiration here for the voiceover artist, who did a stellar job. I have the merest sliver of insight into the process.

Once, in a prior professional life, I was roped into contributing to the narration of an online dictionary which required an array of regional pronunciation for the benefit of English language learners.

I enjoyed the process thoroughly. I sat on a stool in a dusty room on a sleepy afternoon, under a warm light.

As each word came gliding up the autocue, I repeated it twice, as clearly and crisply as I could. Deviant. Culminate. Death Rate. Champagne.

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No matter how straight the reading, some words can’t help but come out with subtle inflections of meaning, striking some chord in their speaker.

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