‘It’s an industry we all love to complain about,’ says narrator Kevin Whatley at the start of the BBC’s new show about Britain’s railway.
The industry would take issue with that statement, but watch the first five minutes into The Railway: Keeping Britain on Track and it becomes difficult to argue against it convincingly.
The programme’s opening sequences show a passenger pretending to steal a computer monitor to recoup a £99 refund, an odd exchange in which another passenger says he feels he’s being treated like a ‘rabbit’ and a generous sprinkling of bad language.
Any new TV programme, newspaper article or segment about our railway is treated with suspicion by those who spend their lives working with or writing about trains and track. Ask most commentators, engineers and train operators and you’ll get the same answer – mainstream news media is only interested in late trains and ticket prices.
The public get suspicious when train people try to tell them about the positive things that are happening on the network. It is not surprising if the person you are trying to convince has had their train home cancelled for the second time in a week.
It might be difficult for those who are frustrated to see a service which is used by millions every day represented by a few angry customers, but sometimes you’ve got to pick your battles.
Bad news is good news and viewers don’t want to turn on to see a documentary that is trying to convince them every train runs on time and no one ever complains when they’re asked to hand over more than £150 for a single ticket from London to Manchester.
The thing is, filmmakers don’t just want doom and gloom. They want engaging characters and human interest stories – real life.
The first programme in the series, which aired last night, followed the final working days of lifelong railwayman Laxman Keshwara, who has worked on the railways since coming to Britain in the 1960s, and demonstrated the kind of difficult circumstances station staff have to cope with every time they arrive at work.
Scanning Twitter after the show, it was clear that some people had a new-found respect for rail staff.
Kevin Groves, head of media at Network Rail, is the man who allowed the BBC to set up its cameras where few have been before. He said: “Having watched the episodes in advance, I think viewers will get a real and valuable insight into the challenges that railway staff face on a daily basis.
“It’s clear that people working in this industry are dedicated, passionate about the railway and their jobs and about good customer service.
“The series may also make it clear to those watching, some of the underlying reasons for journey delays and rail costs, where currently misunderstanding fuels public frustration.”
The Railway: Keeping Britain on Track is being broadcast in six parts on Tuesday’s at 9pm. The first episode can be found on the BBC iPlayer.