Bloggers, Hashtags and Trains

So last week I spent a couple of days at World Travel Market at the ExCel centre in London. Surrounding the event were three Twitter-related tweetups (meet-ups arranged through Twitter).  I went to two. The first was set up by Andy (@501places). Andy picked me up from the train station and dropped me back later. I met travel bloggers there and ate and had a glass of wine and it was lovely. The second tweetup I went to was at the Courthouse DoubleTree by Hilton. There was food, drink (cookies!). I saw some of the people I’d met in St. Albans and some new people. I had a long conversation with @axpet about India and I’ll be re-posting her subsequent post about the trains there on Friday.

I also finally met @jools_octavius and @TurnipRail, who were both wonderful human beings. Spoke to @irenep, who was about to get the train to Europe and asked to write a blog post which she did and I’ll also be re-posting. @velvetescape, @traveldudes, @kymri, @KCKiwiGirl, @IsabellesTravel, @pitchup and @abigailking were all lovely too (apologies for the repeated adjectives).

@kymri and I bumped into each other at World Travel Market and went to the Does Mobile Matter? seminar together, the sort of thing that happens when you’re backpacking.

There was a real sense of community and for a few moments London felt like a leg of a round the world trip. So thank you to everyone I met, for everything.

I asked if there were any trains in Vegas during #TNI and @TravelingWithS posted this. Brilliant

The contacts I made led to the discovery of #TNI (Travel Nights In) on Twitter. This happens every Thursday and was set up by The premise is one place anywhere in the world is chosen each week, people tweet questions about said place,  ten of the best questions about said place are chosen and one is posted avery ten minutes by People tweet answers with the hashtag #TNI. I ‘met’ @TravelingWithS who posted the above photo and @donnadeau who tweeted loads of information about rail projects and Amtrack after I tweeted about proposed high-speed rail between what he calls ‘So Cal’ (Southern California) and Las Vegas. #TNI is great fun and a way to continue interacting with travel bloggers no matter where they are as well – as meeting new people.

Britain’s Railwaywomen Before 1914 | @TurnipRail | A Guest Post

David Turner is a Railway Historian. He’s currently studying for a PHD, which finds him surrounded by all kinds of ancient railway documents. You can read his blog at and follow him on twitter as @TurnipRail Here he talks about female workers on the Railway before 1914.

Before 1914 women worked on Britain’s railways in small numbers and a limited number of capacities, and in July 1914 only 13,046 were employed out of a total workforce of 630,000.

Further, it was only women who didn’t have the support of a husband that were employed, and the vast majority were either the daughters or widows of railway workers. Indeed, as with most industries in the era, marriage was the end of work for most railwaywomen, and only in certain cases did married women gain employment. Lastly, a woman who did not have a relative working on the railways could not apply for a job within the industry.

It was after 1880 that the daughters of railwaymen began to be employed in large numbers by railway companies. Firstly, the increase of women in railway employment was made possible by the introduction of universal education in 1870. This meant the majority of women were sufficiently literate to undertake many forms of railway work. However, more importantly for railway managers, women were seen as a cheap source of labour that was easily accessible through existing railway employees. Women were also considered more compliant than male employees.

Thus, in an era when the cost of running railways was increasing, from a purely financial standpoint, the employment of women was logical for railway managers.

While, as a universal rule, railwaywomen’s positions had no responsibility, were menial and low paid. A daughter’s employment, particularly, was defined by their father’s position and employing department. For example, between 1873 and 1914 the London and South Western Railway employed nine women in the relatively good job of telegraph clerk. All had fathers that were either clerks or stationmasters in the Traffic Department; two jobs that were of high status, had job security, good wages and many promotional prospects. Indeed, this would have been the case for the majority of the 1,120 female clerks employed nationally in 1914.

However, many daughters employed on the railway had fathers who were in positions that were low- status, had low job security and almost no promotional prospects. Because of this, these women usually received jobs that were more menial and lower paid than a telegraph clerk. Thus, if a father was employed by the Traffic Department, for example as a porter, carriage cleaner, inspector or signalman, their daughter would most likely obtain employment as a ticket sorter, office cleaner or laundress. Additionally, if a woman’s father was employed in the Locomotive Department, where the majority of male employees were of a low status, such as labourers or firemen, she could expect to receive work in the railway workshops as a carriage lining sewer, French polisher or carriage blind dyer. Indeed, at the Great Eastern Railway’s Wolverton Works in 1906, 40 women were engaged in French polishing, 24 worked in the laundry, and 60 worked in the cutting out room as sewers and trimmers.

While the daughters of railwaymen joined the railway in large numbers after 1880, the widows of railwaymen who had been killed while on duty had been employed by railway companies since the 1840s. However, they were without doubt the lowest paid and most poorly treated railway employees. This was because their employment was regarded as an act of charity by the companies’ managements, especially as many railwaymen who were killed while on duty were considered to have been so because of their ‘own misconduct or want of caution.’ As such, railway company management felt no obligation to provide better pay or better employment to their widows as it was their husband’s fault that they were in their situations. Indeed, this is evidenced by the fact that the death of a railwayman did not automatically secure his widow employment, and she had to wait on a list for a vacancy to become available. Thus, there was no urgency to find widows employment to support her and any family she may have.

Therefore, many widows were given employment as office cleaners, waiting room attendants, laundresses, carriage lining sewers and gatekeepers, on lower rates than their colleagues who were the daughters of railway employees. As such, their income would have provided them with barely enough money to support themselves, let alone a family. Subsequently, many railwaymen’s widows and children continued to live in poverty. In extreme cases, many suffered from ill-health, alcoholism and mental health problems, with children being taken into the workhouse.

So for all railwaywomen on Britain’s railways before 1914, their employment was dependent on their marital status and, especially in the case of railwaymen’s daughters, by where their relatives worked within the company. Women were treated poorly on the 19th and early 20th century railway and were the worst paid employees, simply viewed as cheap labour or a burden. For railway managers, women’s employment, was always simply about money.

1 Wojtczak, Helena, Railwaywomen, (London, 2005) p.4

2 Wojtczak, Railwaywomen, p.29

3 Walkden, A.G. A Word to Women, Railway Clerks Association Booklet, (1915)

4 Wojtczak, Railwaywomen, p.19

The Man Who Designs 3D Environments | Conversations on the Train

Richard Fraser

Richard Fraser

I try something different on a trip home to Bristol. I sit down at an empty table and leave it to chance as to whether anyone will join me. Not long after sitting down, a man wearing a leather cowboy hat walks past.

“Do you mind if I sit here?” he asks.

“Not at all,” I say.

He puts the hat on the luggage rack and takes out a large Packard Bell computer. I make a comment about the size of the thing and ask what he does.

“I used to do website design but it became monotonous. I live and work in Glastonbury. Most of them are luddites, so they can’t afford a website.”

“Could they build their own?” I ask.

“No, they’re 30 years behind.”

“So, sorry, what do you do?” I ask again.

“I design 3D environments…Like Ringworld,” he explains. I stare at him blankly.

He shows me his screen. There’s a virtual image of a grassy landscape. He flicks through some more images. I think I get the idea.

“Hopefully, fingers crossed, touch formica, I’ll have an interview with 422 this week,” he says.

“What’s 422 ?” I ask.

“You know when you watch a programme like Horizon and you get a digitally created image of what they think the temple/fort/ship they’ve uncovered would have looked like?”


“That’s what they do.”

“So you’re a freelance 3D Environment Designer?”


“And what was your last job?

He pauses for a second, then says, “it was for EDF Energy. They were putting up windmills in Rutland. Part of the process of putting them up involved public consultations. They wanted to produce a virtual image of what the landscape would look like once the windmills were up. People could type in their postcode and see a computer generated image of where the nearest windmill would be. So if you saw a windmill planned for right in your back garden, you could point it out to them.”

“How were you involved?” I ask.

“Well the landscapes were real images, I had real digital terrain maps and real photographs – it was just a case of matching it all up. Just editing reality a bit.”

“And what do 422 want?”

“The 422 guys want real guesswork – I think they’re working on something at the moment that’s like; if you removed all the ocean in the world what would it look like? And if you think about it, the Mid-Atlantic Ridge would make the Grand Canyon look like a little trough.”

I notice a tattoo on his arm, “what’s that?” I ask.

Richard's Tattoo

“It’s the seven-antlered stag. It comes from the Mabinogion (eleven ancient Welsh romances). The line is ‘I am a stag of seven tines.’* The Welsh is the closest we’ve got to what we’re all thinking now.”

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“The Welsh folklore is the oldest in the UK and what connects us most to our original spiritual thinking.”

“You definitely are from Glastonbury,” I say.

“This is me unfluffy – you should see me when I’m fluffy,” he says, “and I’m from London, not Glastonbury – but I came to a small festival 23 years ago and I haven’t left.”

“Ah, so as a resident you get in free?”

“I haven’t paid for a Glastonbury ticket in 23 years – but not because I live in Glastonbury, it’s only a small radius around the site that qualifies people for resident’s tickets. I get in free because I’m one of a crew of about twenty to thirty running backstage passes in the circus area. Glastonbury Festival is the most nepotistic environment.”

I consider asking if he can get me in backstage but can’t think what circus act I would perform to justify it. We talk a little about where he lives – in a cottage off a main street, where Google Street View’s tentacles do not reach. And he has a girlfriend, ‘whose brother is a wizard.’

“A wizard?”

“Yes, one day I’m going to watch all the films he gets his quotes from,” he laughs, “he hates me though.”


“Oh I dunno, he’s Italian and I’m going out with his sister.”

At this point, two people come and join us on the table. And I think both of us know the looks we’ll get if we continue talking about Italian wizards. So I look out the window and make a comment about the beautiful autumnal colours lining the railway just before Bath. He calls me a hippy.

* On looking this up it appears to be from the Song of Amergin, translated by Robert Graves in The White Goddess.

Oliver East on ‘Trains Are…Mint’ and that.

Oliver East is the author of three (very cool) train-related graphic books: Trains Are… Mint, Proper Go Well High and Berlin And That. All see him walking from one station to another following the railway. You can find the books on as well as and most of the original artwork is for sale.

I meet Oliver to discuss his book Trains Are… Mint, amongst other things. He’s based in Manchester so I’ve taken the train up. I’m invited in and offered a drink. There’s a PUSH sign on the kitchen door. We go in. He explains that the two cabinets in the kitchen are old bunsen burner cabinets bought from the university – 100 quid for the pair. We walk out to the living room, where we will sit to talk. There’s evidence of his baby son, Hunter, in the form of books and a blanket and a large Amelie film poster sits on the table. I tell him to relax about my coming up ‘just’ to interview him. I say I love the book. It’s dry and wonderful.

“I like getting the train to London because there’s an M&S there and they sell pre-mixed G&T in cans,” he says. I laugh and thumb through artwork from the book.

“Introduce the books a little,” I say.

“Well they’re sort of a loose trilogy. Proper Go Well High was Manchester Piccadilly to Liverpool Lime Street. I walked Manchester Piccadilly to Warrington then Warrington to Liverpool Lime Street. For Trains Are… Mint I walked to Blackpool from Manchester.”

“How long did it take?” I ask.

Trains Are… Mint took twenty-six hours over three trips. Six hours for the first leg, eight for the second. I did it years ago – five years – and self-published it in three parts. Berlin And That was Berlin’s Alexanderplatz to Frankfurt (Oder) on the Polish border. It was four to five hours walk a day for a few days. Twenty-seven hours in total to Poland.”

I look out to the garden and see a massive pear on a pear tree. I point it out. Oliver explains that he’s keeping the ones him and his wife picked in the freezer mushed up – until he can work out how to make alcohol out of them.

“Do you draw en-route?”

“No, I write in shorthand in a Moleskine as I walk along.”

“Same as this one?” I say, holding up my plain notebook.

“Yep, exactly the same. If I hear a conversation while I’m walking I try and slow down. I’ve got three full Moleskines – all writing. I don’t keep a sketchbook and whatever goes in the book is a first attempt. In Trains Are… Mint I followed the trainline. If I’m not doing that I’ll be doing something else with lines. Once you’ve decided to walk by following a self-imposed line, the decision of where to go is taken out of your hands. Then you’re free.”

World Travel Market Trends 2010

I’ve just been in The World Travel Market Global Trends Report conference. In fact, I’m sitting in the press centre right this minute to write this.
The report covered several trends (including, interestingly, the fact that Iraq is at WTM for the first time in a decade). I was most interested in what it had to say about social media.

The report states that, ‘Following the success of the iPhone, smartphones are revolutionising the travel industry.’
In fact Quno teamed up with with SCVNGR a few months ago to set up station-related smartphone games that you could download the SCVNGR app and play.

The report goes on to suggest that, ‘smartphone penetration is expected to reach 92% in Europe by 2014 according to Ovum.’ That’s a very ambitious statement, but exciting nonetheless.

Social media was mentioned as the ‘next battleground’ for travel booking companies. So I stood up (a little shakily as my face was magnified on a screen at the front) and asked how the panel envisaged this battleground playing out…

The consensus was that social media would become increasingly important and was changing the face of the travel industry. The panel also alluded to internet television in the more distant future.

I’m off to grapple with the sheer size of this conference now!

To find out more about the report visit

8th November 2010 | Last Week In Trains

As a follow up to my previous Last Week In Trains post – this post brings news that last week High Speed 1 was bought by a consortium comprising Borealis Infrastructure and Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan. High Speed 1 was a government owned company. They’ve sold it off for 2.1bn. The private sector, in buying the asset, is effectively paying back the government, which will help debt recovery a wee bit. Analogous to buying a really, really expensive house – like the White House, were the White House worth quite a bit more than it is.

Trading stats from rail franchise  Stagecoach suggest rail travel is continuing to beat the economic downturn ‘to meet its expectations of profitability’ for the year ending 30 April 2011. Stagecoach has a large share in Virgin Trains and owns South West Trains and East Midlands Trains. This ‘profitability’ may spark protest from rail users if fares rise (which I reported last week that they may do in two years time).
But the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC) says the extra cash would be handed back to the government, as the operator’s agreements allow for the adjustment of payments to the Department of Transport if the RPI (prices index) changes.

On Friday, a cement mixer lorry crashed into a bridge in Oxshott, Surrey and subsequently fell onto the Guilford – Waterloo South West Trains passenger train passing below. The Lorry driver and one train passenger were taken to hospital with serious injuries and three other passengers were taken to hospital with minor injuries. A relief such a catastrophe didn’t result in any fatalities.

@stillawake On A Train

I like the way Joanna’s Twitter name makes the title suggest she’s awake on the train… anyhow. Today I have a guest blog post from Joanna Papageorgiou. Joanna is a researcher into higher education with an interest in statistics, politics and media. She writes a blog, which, happily, has a section called ‘Transported‘ in which she writes about her commute by train from Bristol. In this post she talks trains versus time.


In December 2009, I was running for the morning train through the dark and rainy streets of Bristol. The time was just before seven and the train doors were beginning to close as I sprinted towards the barriers. The guard used his pass to let me through the gate then pointed towards the end of the train while the manager held the remaining open door for me.

The train left only a few seconds late that morning because of efforts at Bristol Temple Meads. I was so enthused by the wonderful treatment that my compliments were effusive on Twitter. The response from some was that at least the staff were nice this once. I realised, however, that there had been very few bad days overall. One majestic event out of a series of pretty okay ones travelling over four years.

The inside of the train is usually warm in the winter and cool in the summer. I tend to get a seat and occasionally have the privilege of having a table to myself. The waiting part is the worst because not only is it indeterminate but the standing around is done outside. Buses are more variable in their service, probably due to traffic and other urban centre issues. Trains seem to be better at getting there.

This isn’t just anecdotal information; the annual public performance measures by the Office of Rail Regulation backs up my memories with data. A train is defined as being “on time” if it arrives within five minutes or ten minutes of the planned destination arrival time.

The service I use is now run by CrossCountry but was run by Virgin. In Quarter 2, the on time measures were 89.9% for 2008/09 and 91.8% for 2009/10. Compare that to Virgin whose on time statistics were 81.9% for 2008/09, a huge difference, especially for anyone waiting out in the cold. However even they have improved to around 90%.

When everything runs on time, and that includes my waking up, I can be home in Bristol by 6.30pm. Other times, of course, it’s not that easy.

I remember a winter three years ago when I was still reading my Terry Pratchett book at 8pm in the snow while waiting for the Virgin train which didn’t want to arrive.

I went home through Newport once because the track to Bristol had to be closed off. There was snow and ice on the tracks that closed off the Severn Tunnel. This made a morning’s journey much longer (the slow journey behind a regional train that extended the 42 minutes into over 160) but provided some beautiful Welsh scenery. These tales of woe, however, are sparse. In February 2009, the snow in England which shut down most work places, was mostly ignored by the trains. Although I was warned to avoid travelling by a colleague who arrived in Cheltenham and couldn’t get to work because the buses had been stopped. He’d paused for a coffee then gone back home.

The commute may not be as lovely a journey as that on the Orient Express but it’s usually a nice break from reality and punctuated by a cup of coffee and a good book.