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UK rail staff to get kitted out with WinCE Pocket PC timetables

Is this the end to useless rail folk? (Don't be stupid)

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Computer services group Sema has signed a £24 million deal with ATOC (Association of Train Operating Companies) to supply handhelds to rail staff in the UK.

The idea is that all staff will have access to the latest timetable information, thus making your average commuter's journey that little bit less frustrating. Hopefully the deal means all the rail operators will kit out their employees.

Armed with a Pocket PC running Windows CE, suddenly all the rail staff hanging around in their bright blue uniforms but with stubble and nicotine-stained teeth will become your friends - useful human beings that will be able to tell you when your train will arrive (if ever) and, if you're really lucky, which platfrom you can expect to arrive on.

Not that we're mocking the technology - we think this is a great idea. You can always tell the virgin train travellers because they look at the printed timetables rather than the departures/arrivals board. The idea of staff actually being accountable for this information is too beautiful to be missed.

Don't get too excited though - it'll be the middle of next year before they even arrive and even then, we're not guaranteed that all the information will be available on them. Here's the PR guff: Bernard Dunn, Chairman of the Rail Settlement Plan said: "With this innovative use of new technology, rail staff will no longer need to carry large, heavy manuals in order to give information to passengers. Furthermore, passengers would have on-train access to fare and timetable information that is both accurate and up-to-date." When was the last time you saw rail staff carrying large, heavy manuals about? I think 1992 was the last time for me. And I reckon that was an office move.

More: David Tait, Managing Director of Transport for Sema Group explained: "By providing this innovative solution, Sema Group is consolidating its close relationship with the rail industry by continued delivery of highly innovative technical solutions. This agreement demonstrates our significant edge over our competitors and illustrates our ability to develop services that deliver real value to our customers in this sector."

You will note of course that nowhere does it suggest that trains will turn up on time - you will simply be informed how late they will be. Or, of course, if it has been cancelled. It seems unlikely as well that the Pocket PCs will tell you if you'll have to stand in the corridor for the entire journey or how many carriages you'll have to walk through until you get to a toilet that hasn't been territorially marked by some unknown scum several hours earlier.

If this a little harsh it's because I actually use the trains. ®

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