Forgive me for a moment whilst I talk about trains…

As a volunteer on a heritage railway, I’ve come to see railway operations from the point of view of the Fat Controller, rather than his passengers. And in particular, I’ve noticed some of the misconceptions the public have about the role of the train guard.

You see, when most people think of a train guard, they tend to think of him leaning out his compartment door, waving a green flag and blowing the whistle to set the train on its merry way.

However, that would be wrong.

First things first, on railways in Britain, blowing a whistle has absolutely no meaning at all and plays no part in the departure of a train. Instead, blowing a whistle is only used to provide an audible warning telling passengers to stay clear of the train before departure. Therefore, a guard is normally able to get by without a whistle – provided that they have a big, deep, booming voice, of course.

Then there’s the waving of the flag, and again this is generally not practised, or at least not where I work. Instead, a steady green flag is used to set the wheels in motion. Innocuous as it may seem, waving a flag can cause all sorts of confusion and if the train encounters any overzealous flag wavers along the line, then it may, in some cases, be interpreted as a signal to stop. So do be careful if you find yourself in possession of a red or green flag, because – trust me – you’ll go red faced if the whole train stops just for you…

So there you go: a different perspective on railways. Perhaps a good conversation starter at parties…