The former radio DJ who cheers delayed railway passengers
James took his communication skill from radio to become the South’s best-loved train driver.
Meet the train driver who calls passengers his “little apple strudels” and keeps them amused through the delays of one of Britain’s worst performing railway operators.
According to a recent Which? report Southern Railway ranks worst for delays.
39% of its passengers said their last journey was delayed and the company operates one service that didn’t arrive on time once in a whole year. The 7.29am Brighton to London Victoria train was late 240 times in 2014.
With a record like that, it’s an uphill struggle to keep passengers happy. But Southern driver James from Penge is doing just that with his chirpy wisecracks, memorable compliments and useful facts about the journey.
Known as @traindrivingJ on Twitter, James’s announcements for passengers are more like the friendly mix of entertainment and information you’d hear on the radio than the dry messages of a train operator.
So it’s no surprise to discover that James worked on radio stations like Q, Capital Gold and the children’s station Fun Kids before becoming a train driver.
It was on the radio that James developed his understanding of listeners and how to entertain them while conveying useful information. James explains some of his radio work in this Earshot podcast from 2010.
Described as “a smoothie” and “heartwarming”, James has found his one-liners reported by delighted passengers via social media. His most shared phrases merge fact with a strong understanding of what his passengers are probably thinking. Some of his most popular messages include:
“We are now arriving at Hell on Earth. AKA Clapham Junction.”
“If you’re leaving the train here please mind the gap between Southern Trains timetable and reality.”
“Good morning you fabulous folk of Forest Hill.”
and his repertoire has included poems for Valentine’s Day, comments about how good looking the people of Streatham Hill are and cheeky references to Fifty Shades of Grey.
The sign of things to come later than scheduled.
While James may have swapped a media career for his passion for trains, his work is starting to make beleaguered passengers feel slightly better about their journey on Southern Railways while his new captive audience has been quick to notice his professional sounding vocal skills.
BBC DJ Chris Moyles famously called himself the saviour of Radio 1. It is too early to say whether James’s approach to passenger announcements can rescue the battered reputation of Southern Railway.
Nonetheless, James’s radio presentation talents leave passengers with such a smile on their faces that they’re asking his bosses to give him a pay rise.
Southern Railway says it is working hard to improve levels of performance. But now that its greatest customer service asset is getting such a positive audience reaction, might he be tempted out of the driver’s cab and and back into the radio studio?
Updated 3 September 2016 with new Twitter handle. James now works for a different train company.