I’m on an LNER Azuma heading south from Grantham to London at the end of January. As we approach Peterborough, the Train Manager comes on the PA with the usual announcement for passengers leaving the train and a lengthy list of connections. The announcement concludes: ‘This is a special announcement for customers travelling to March – I’m very sorry to announce you’ve arrived six weeks early.’
The voice I’ve heard is that of Graeme Wright, a Train Manager for LNER who has gained something of a reputation for adding a touch of humour to his on-board announcements. ‘I decided I wanted to be different in the way I do things’ Graeme explains as we chat on-board the York to London service. ‘I wanted to have more interaction and start dropping the odd joke in. Once you start talking to people it’s easy to get them on side so then I started doing it some more.’
Although he’s been on the railway for 25 years, it’s only recently that Graeme has developed this humorous touch to his announcements. ‘It can turn a situation on its head – it’s hard for people to become angry with you if you’ve entertained them’ he says.
This is particularly the case when there is disruption on the railway, and Graeme is clear that providing timely information is crucial. ‘I will always tell people everything and give them the full picture’ he says. ‘I won’t try to hide any information. People can use social media to find things out very quickly nowadays, but if I know anything my customers will be the first people to hear it.’
For the more amusing announcements, Graeme says he has some stock one-liners that he uses on the approach to particular stations, such as London King’s Cross. Others he will change depending on external events; ‘I’m a Sunderland season ticket holder and go to matches home and away if I’m not at work’ says Graeme. ‘So if Newcastle United have been beaten I might make a joke about that!’
Timing is key, and Graeme says he also tailors his announcements to his audience. For example, people travelling at the crack of dawn aren’t the most receptive to his humour, and are most likely to be business travellers, so on early morning trains leaving London he tends not to make too many jokes. By mid-morning however it’s a different story, with a broader mix of customers. ‘LNER has lots of leisure travellers, and those people travelling off-peak are a more likely target audience’ Graeme says.
In an industry bound up with rules and standards, Graeme says his managers have been very supportive of his approach. ‘It breaks the mould by doing something different, and I’ve had some high-profile people say good things about it’ he explains. This has included some of his announcements being featured in the Comments section of The Times and more recently appearing on BBC local news reports.
TWEET ALL ABOUT IT
As well as being notable for his announcements, Graeme is one of a growing contingent of on-board staff to have set up a public presence on Twitter, where he goes under the moniker ‘That Train Guy’.
One of the pioneers of this approach was Blake Cracknell, who featured in our July 2019 issue when he worked for Greater Anglia (he has since moved to Eurostar), but Graeme explains his account is slightly different. ‘Blake’s is company oriented whereas mine isn’t quite as much’ he says. ‘I do the LNER stuff, such as providing information about disruption and claiming delay repay compensation, but I also tweet about things like football and rugby league.’
Graeme will often announce on a train that passengers can contact him through Twitter, which is particularly useful on busy trains, and he also gets the occasional query from rail enthusiasts. ‘It’s another resource for people to make direct contact’ he says. ‘I’ve even been recognised in bars as that bloke from Twitter and have had people asking for selfies!’
Despite social media often being a challenging environment, Graeme says his experience has been very positive. ‘Yesterday I posted a picture of the sunrise from the train I was working, and it got 360 likes’ he says. ‘I’m amazed by the response you get and the amount of people who take to it.’
BEST JOB IN THE WORLD
Like with any job there are changes all the time, and for LNER that includes the introduction of the new Azuma trains to replace HSTs and most of the InterCity 225s (some of the latter are now to be retained for longer than planned). Asked what he thinks about the new trains, Graeme is philosophical. ‘Times change and things move on’ he says. ‘The Azuma trains have faster acceleration and better deceleration. They offer more legroom, better access to power sockets and better Wi-Fi. Some colleagues might disagree, but I think the change is a positive one.’
One change the Azuma trains bring is the presence of automated announcements, which don’t feature on the legacy fleets. While there is a facility to turn this feature off, Graeme says he generally lets these run, particularly when they do the post-station announcements and warnings about safety and security. They are activated by GPS tracking, but when approaching stations Graeme will often try to get in there ahead of the automated announcement, which he affectionately dubs ‘Doris’. ‘People can think they are white noise, especially during things like security warnings’ he says. ‘When they hear a real voice, it makes them take notice.’
Graeme’s efforts to do things a bit differently were rewarded last year when he picked up the Customer Choice prize at the LNER Legends awards. The awards are designed to recognise LNER staff who go the extra mile, with the prize Graeme received nominated by customers. However, he is customarily modest about the success: ‘It’s great recognition, but I’m just doing my day job.’
If it wasn’t already clear, Graeme has a passion for working on the railway. ‘I love doing this job – I think I have the best job in the world’ he says. ‘You can’t beat it – I always come to work with a smile. There’s a different challenge every day and no two days are the same. I don’t want to go and work in an office, I’ve done that before and would much rather keep doing what I’m doing.’
Graeme, brought up in Gateshead, joined the railway in 1995. ‘I left university after one year and saw it as a stopgap, but 25 years later I’m still here’ he explains.
After a period working in telesales for what was then InterCity East Coast, during the GNER years he worked at Newcastle station before becoming a guard.
He has remained with the company during the various ownership changes that have followed, but most significant for Graeme was the decision to move to London in 2010 to join the station management team at King’s Cross.
However, in 2016 he opted to return to the role of Train Manager, but this time based at the southern end of the East Coast route, from where he works trains from London to Leeds, Lincoln and Newcastle.