I spent some time on Iarnród Éireann last week because the only alternative was heading for the west coast on Irish buses. Which are only slightly slower and more painful than designing and building a cannon to blast your own ass straight up, impacting eighteen minutes later when the world has turned beneath you. The train arrived forty minutes late and missing a carriage, the staff cunningly combining the worst of all possible options: being able to delay the train while trying to fix something instead of being able to actually fix it. Nothing defines a transport network like saying “I don’t know if this will work, but I do know the passengers can suck it while I try.” The already late train then slowed down as the engine overheated, becoming The Little Train That Could You Give Me A Minute Here.
All this despite tickets prices apparently index-linked to the price of a palanquin carried by Olympic marathon medallists. So where has all the money gone?
It’s all gone into the crapper.
(This is where I’d show a picture of the toilet, if I was the sort of person who visibly took pictures of toilets while standing near doors of speeding trains I could be hurled from.)
I don’t have a picture, but trust me, these things are bigger than the train’s control cabin. They’re probably bigger than some of the crew’s apartments. I don’t know if the Sumo Transport Corporation sold off excess modules, but it’s a pooradox, because the only humans who’d need a chamber this big couldn’t pass into the train to pass into the toilet. It would have been more space efficient to beam excrement out of passengers with a full transporter bay.
The huge curved sliding door turns like the Earth, and about as quickly, and the automatic motors can’t be manually pushed. Because if there’s one door you want to have a chance of crippling failure it’s the one to the toilet. Let a robot give your newly lightened load a stately unveiling with plenty of time for eye contact with your impatient successor. They’ve already slowed down toilet access more than mathematically possible – the new chamber takes up the space of three regular toilets, and there are normally only two at the end of the carriage – so the door helps them space ablutions out in time as well as space.
Once you’ve made it past the half-hourly opening of the portal, the natural instinct to lock the door faces three buttons the approximate size and frequency of traffic lights. Green to open the door, red to close the door, and another red to lock it. Because the builders (not makers, we’re on construction-site scales here) can’t aspire to such cunning as traffic lights. You’re given a whole zero seconds to work out the difference between red and green before being blared at by recorded message to lock the door. If Irish Rail have heard of comfortable interface design, they decided the toilet was no place for it. The male voice commands with the disgusted authority of, well, of a man who knows its now his eternally automated job to tell grown humans to lock the toilet door behind them.
Having gained access to the small mobile county of Toiletford you find the standard small toilet tucked in the corner. You get the feeling they’d built this chamber for an ornamental fountain before shamefacedly remembering the realities of filling people with tea in a sealed and shaking container. The vast unadorned floor is the most and least perfect breakdancing surface ever built.
The only possible reason for building this vast delay chamber (instead of the two most luxuriously spacious standard train toilets they could have included in the same area for half the cost) is some bogger being a bit too impressed by a product pitch. I know we all want the robotic future, but it probably shouldn’t be built by the the guy in charge of installing shaking shitshacks on a rail line whose primary PR message is “Aye, aye, we’re working on it.”
There is another explanation. Sliding armored panels, reinforced plumbing, and voice synthesis: that’s all we’d need to build a fully functional RoboGarda. I can only think this is a prototype to test how the components put up with pissing people off, and the opposite, in preparation for a Dublin night deployment.
UPDATE: Doy, of course it’s for wheelchair users etc. This has been my daily reminder of “Shit I take for granted, quite literally, because it’s not a problem I have“. Respect to Iarnród for implementing such accessible facilities so thoroughly instead of shoving a single disabled legal requirement into a corner behind locked doors.