Visiting all 2563 train stations in the UK!

We all know now that Dorchester’s own Maya Jonas-Silver is the new world record holder for visiting every single station on the Green, Blue, Orange and Red Lines in the shortest time; it took her 7 hours, 4 minutes, and 29 seconds.

But how, I’m sure you’re asking, would that compare to visiting all the train stations in the UK? Well, the T has 121 stations on the four “regular” rapid transit lines; British Railways has slightly more stations, namely 2563! Of course we’re talking about an entire country, not just one metro area. Before she tackles the British task, Jonas-Silver can try the New York City MTA, since she is about to move to New York.

But imagine visiting 2563 stations! What a wonderfully nerdy project! Meet Vicki Pipe and Geoff Marshall, who successfully completed that self-imposed task. It took a lot more than seven hours: 14 weeks and 6 days, in fact. I recommend watching the entire documentary about their journeys. It won’t take you 14 weeks or even 14 hours, as it’s just over an hour in length:

One viewer appropriately described it as a “lovely documentary: warm, friendly, and thoroughly compelling watching.” Yes indeed. But if you don’t watch it, you will at least want to know that they started in Penzance—no pirates there, sorry, but at least there’s a sign in the wonderfully obscure Cornish language, one of the lesser-known Celtic tongues. In fact, one of the lovely things about the video is the multilingual station signs. One tends to think “it’s Britain: everything is in English” but of course that isn’t true; while the principal language is always English, we see lots of signs in Cornish, Welsh, Gaelic, Irish, and Manx, so Celtic outnumbers Anglo-Saxon!

I’m not the only one to describe this project as “wonderfully nerdy.” See all the enthusiastic YouTube comments. Unfortunately a few of the YouTube comments remind me of high school:

  • “You lot need to get out more”
  • “I miss Nothing, You trainspotting nerds certainly do.”

The documentary is not just stations. There are plenty of great conversations, and there are the “Vicki explores” segments showing many towns and villages along the way.

Of course this was Britain, so they complained about how horribly hot it was one day: 86°! (As I’m typing this, it’s 91° right here in Boston, so I don’t feel much sympathy.)

Look at this clip. “What,” you are wondering, “is that?”

It’s an actual still-in-use train token from 1870!

“And what,” I hear you say, “is a train token?”

Well, you know how you’re sometimes driving on a two-way road with a lot of automobile traffic, but one lane is closed for construction or a downed tree limb or whatever? So there’s a one-lane section, and they have to control which direction gets to go when? Well, if you think about it, you realize that that’s always (permanently) the case when a double-track route has to become single-track for a while, as is surprisingly common. Modern signals can take care of any problems, but many parts of England use a physical token like the one in the photo above: an employee on the ground hands it to the northbound train driver who then holds the right of way until the end of the single-track section; it then goes to a different employee stationed on the ground, who prepares to hand it over to a southbound train driver who goes back. Expensive, perhaps, in terms of human resources, but you don’t have to worry about signal failure and you don’t have to build and maintain a separate track! It all reminds me of the old Avalon Hill board game Dispatcher, which I used to play enthusiastically (and often!) with several of my friends back in 1958–1961.

One really cool thing is that they were live-streaming the trip in real time over the 14 weeks as a YouTube channel, so people started keeping track of where they were and then showing up to say hello at the various stations! And then they would offer Vicki and Geoff rides to go from a station on one line to their next stop where they were getting on a different line, or to go to a tourist attraction during a layover! Unlikely to happen in the US.

Anyway, a great show! Go watch it on YouTube.

Categories: Model Railroading, Movies & (occasionally) TV, Travel