Monday, 29 March 2010

Ticket to Ride

Having done a couple of stints on the Nene Valley Railway as Travelling Ticket Inspector and Platform Bouncer, I was now ready to start learning the next step of Booking Office Sales. This entails selling tickets in the booking office; obvious I know, but in this day and age it’s refreshing to find a job title that does what it says on the tin. I imagine that on the ‘real’ railway these days they call themselves Executive Mobility Solutions Co-ordinators or suchlike.

So it came to pass that on Sunday I turned up at Wansford ready to get to grips with the job. The till system is all computerised, and like any such task it’s easy enough once you do what the computer wants you to do, and not what you want to do. Or what you think the computer wants to do now but doesn’t because it wants to do that later and will freeze up if you ask it to do anything complicated. Like issuing a ticket two minutes before the train departs. Slow but steady is the key here – just like driving an Actros with a tiptronic gearbox, really. Without all the swearing.

I enjoyed my time in the booking office a lot more than I thought I would – there was plenty of interaction with the public, who were generally very friendly and tolerant about the rather slow process of getting their tickets. The age-old adage of first impressions really does matter, though (speaking as a grumpy old git who actually thinks customer service should be a given, and not a script dreamed up by some marketing guru). For many visitors the booking office is the first point of contact with the railway, and making everyone feel welcome is a key part of their overall enjoyment. One of the reasons I joined the NVR in the first place was precisely because of the pleasant atmosphere I’ve encountered during previous visits.

To be fair, here – digressing a bit as usual – one of the things Britain generally gets right are its tourist attractions that are run by volunteers or people interested in the environment that they’re working in. All my trips last year to places such as Beamish, The National Coal Mining Museum, Crich Tramway and various preserved railways last year were enhanced by people being genuinely welcoming and creating a pleasant atmosphere in the process. It’s when you step outside into the real world of McDonalds, Starbucks, Carphone Warehouse and B&Q that you wonder if you’re actually in a parallel orbit that has been taken over by 12 year old grunting monosyllabic texting zombies that have a mobile phone welded to their palm and i-pods glued into their ears. This would explain why they are unaware of your presence even when you’re stood 2 feet in front of them over the counter – and when it does finally dawn on them that you are there, ready to part with money in order to get a product that they alone can provide at that moment in time, gaze blankly over your shoulder at a fixed point in the distance and welcome you warmly to their world with something along the lines of, “ ‘elp yer?” Or if you’re really lucky, a straightforward, “Yeah?”

I really do think that it’s time for an overhaul of the gun laws in this country.

Wanna go large yeah wotever. Do I look bovvered? Do I?

But back to the point, and the booking office. The railway wasn’t overly busy, although we had passengers for all three train services that ran during the day. I switched with another trainee at lunchtime and took a ride as relief TTI on the 12:30 train up and down the line, which provided an opportunity to inspect the tickets I’d just sold!

I enjoyed this aspect of the day as it was a great opportunity to build up a good rapport with the visitors and it was a chance to show the human side of the railway operation. Once the train returned to Wansford I finished off in the Booking Office and that was that.

During the day I was able to catch up on the news, and found out that we have two locos coming into traffic shortly. The first is that Austerity J94 number 22 is arriving shortly for a long-term stay on the line (I know who’ll be interested in that snippet!) Secondly, the massive Polish 0-8-0 Slask tank 5485 is almost ready for service after a lengthy overhaul, and hopefully will be in steam over Easter. This loco was employed in its native Poland at the coal mines until they closed down – then, like so many of its countrymen, came to Peterborough to start a new life. Fortunately all the Polish plumbers came too, so the boiler has finally been repaired …

During overhaul, 5485 received a new coat of green paint that matches the DSB coaches. It will be pleasing to see a foreign loco hauling the European stock up and down the line – much more of an authentic appearance. I look forward to experiencing the sights and sounds of this interesting beast in due course. More information about this loco can be read here.


  1. I do think that you, me and Gene Hunt have a lot in common. Really enjoyed this post, especially the news about the J94, that might even tempt me from my Snowdonian fastnesses!
    I have to take my hat off to you, I couldn't do all that adding up of money under pressure in the ticket office. The people here at Porthmadog (FR)are so patient and endlessly pleasant, unlike at Morrissons...When in shops, I often feel that I could get a job with MI5 as I seem to be invisible. What surveillance skills I would have.
    I read the excellent Nene Valley write up about the "Slask" class loco from your link, look forward to seeing more of that. No doubt it will be happy to tackle the difficult and unpleasant jobs that the British loco's can't be bothered to
    Tiptronic gearbox...nuff said. In the mid-range, no gear feels like the right gear, there's always a feeling of unease. Silly, when the engine is so good!

  2. Booking Office - the swan theory. Calm and serene on top, thrashing away like mad underneath and out of sight! Fortunately professional help was a phone call away (and no, not to a helpline in India!)

    The Tiptronic box and I had words recently when I got stuck at Peterborough. It really is a teenager underneath - the more you shout, the less co-operation you get. In the end, back off, calm down and let it do what it wants to do. Not the best 15 mins of my life, however.

    I've heard that the J94 has arrived - more info as and when it reaches me. I drove past Wansford today, and think I caught a glimpse.


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