SBB criticised for new "unpleasant, robotic" announcer on trains
As of the Swiss Federal Railways (SBB) latest timetable change, passengers have been treated to a new announcer on rail services in the alpine nation. While only meant to be a minor adjustment, the change has been met with severe criticism from travellers, who say the voice is incorrect, robotic and unpleasant.
Isabelle Augustin replaced by digital voice on SBB trains
For over 10 years, passengers on Swiss public transport have been treated to the dulcet tones of Isabelle Augustin (German) and Carole Félix (French), whose voice recordings fill carriages with information about stops and routes on SBB trains. That was until December 2023, when SBB introduced a new digital voice for its announcements in German.
Speaking to 20 Minuten, SBB spokesperson Moritz Weisskopf confirmed that a digital voice was now being used on several public transport services. Some may recognise it as the voice used on station platforms run by SBB and BLS:
Passengers describe new voice as robotic and unpleasant
Despite SBB's best intentions, the new voice has been met with severe, and some may say, quite harsh criticism, with one "netizen" telling 20 Minuten that the new voice “sounds like a robot, mispronounces city names, stops in the middle of a sentence and just sounds extremely unpleasant.” "There are different tastes - but that's not a [professional announcer's] voice", wrote another, with some also questioning why SBB had gotten rid of one of the “best things they had.”
Even Isabelle Augustin herself has weighed in on the scandal; “I had to get used to the new voice…I personally don't like it, it sounds unnatural.” However, she predicted that the announcements will become better as the system evolves.
SBB working to make the new announcements better
For their part, Weisskopf acknowledged that “as a daily commuter, it’s really not cool to listen to”, explaining that the new system uses individual voice recordings of single words to make its announcements, which is why they can often sound stilted and mispronounced. “We will collect this information and make corrections where necessary,” he promised.
Weisskopf also assured travellers that the change wouldn't spell the end of human announcements on SBB trains, noting that it is not technically possible to implement the digital voice on some of the older locomotives. What’s more, to avoid confusion, announcements regarding rail connections on all long-distance trains will always be made by staff.