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11 Rules Of Railway Etiquette

Ignore at your peril.

Yes, yes I do.

I use the railway frequently, even more so since moving out to the leafy suburbs. But Great Britain has some serious problems with its railways at the moment, notably so with the operator in my area, Northern Rail. There’s strike action that has been going on for months over keeping guards on trains. In the context of actually running a service, the guard and the driver are the only two railway personnel on board. While we can’t yet dispense with human drivers, many railway companies have been seeking to retire the guard’s role. There are a number of reasons why this would be technically feasible, yet practically undesirable.

The thing is, we all know that the trains are shit at the moment. There’s no use getting mad at the railway companies, or their staff, when the pressing need is to get on the train right now. Complaining loudly about a crowded service while manspreading and blocking people’s path is not doing anyone any favours. Yeah, that actually happened on the last train out of Manchester on Saturday evening. And so I felt compelled to pen this tirade guidance for proper railway etiquette. While this is a truly cathartic essay, it is also aimed at ensuring we can all get along while using the railway. Because the added excitement of someone lamping you for being a dick on the train isn’t appreciated by all railway users.

Let me give you a little more background. I work occasionally in the centre of Manchester for a local charity. My shifts are variable and often cover unsociable hours. I knew that I would need to catch the last train else I’d be walking the 12 miles home to mine (the buses are equally shit). I also knew that with it being Saturday night, it’d be full of drunks and packed full to bursting. And that the previous two trains would be cancelled due to the planned industrial action (which I support).

I walked over to Piccadilly station with plenty of time to spare. It was a surprisingly nice evening, so I treated myself to an ice-cream and went over to platform 6 to await my carriage home. The train hadn’t arrived yet, so I found a comfy bench and did a little people-watching. There didn’t seem to be that many people around, so I assumed I’d find a seat and my journey would be uneventful. When the train pulled in, a swarm of humans descended from all directions. The two carriages were not going to be enough to contain this volume of passengers — unless we did a serious amount of breathing in. But before we could play Human Tetris, people needed to get off the train first.

Rule #1 — Allow Other Passengers To Disembark Before Boarding

It’s not difficult, is it? You need to let people get off the train before you can get on. But time and again, station staff have to intervene and demand that selfish arseholes step away from the doors and stop trying to force their way on to the train when others are trying to disembark. On Saturday night it predictably happened again, and there was a wall of entitled jerks blocking all of the doors so that no-one could get on or off. It took a full ten minutes to herd them out of the way just so that people could actually get off the train. And we left late because — guess what — these knobheads had prevented the train from leaving on time by causing a blockage.

Rule #2 — Move Down Inside The Carriage

Another failure of common sense. Once passengers had finally been allowed to get off the train, what did people do? Stand around in the vestibule when there’s loads of (more comfortable and pleasant) space within the carriages to stand. There were even empty seats, for goodness’ sake! Another five minutes were wasted yelling at fools hanging around in the lobbies to move down the damn train.

Rule #3 — Stand Clear Of The Doors

A difficult one when you’re all crammed in like sardines, but you’ve got to keep those arms and legs out of the way of the doors just until they close, and then you can breathe out and expand a little. The train can’t leave if the doors aren’t secured, and if someone loses a foot then we all get delayed for even longer (I’m running low on sympathy here, soz).

Rule #4 — Be Realistic About Reservations

Not all seat reservations are taken up — for most journeys they are optional, and only enforced for advance purchase tickets. It’s common for people to be offered a reservation on a particular train, yet their ticket isn’t restricted to that service. As a result, there are many reserved seats that remain empty. In typically British style, many people won’t sit in a seat that has a reservation card. But you know what? If you sit in a reserved seat, it’s owner will ask you to move if they do turn up (awkward, I know). And if they don’t, you’ve gotten yourself a seat while those other mugs are standing in a half-empty carriage. Why do I care about this? See rule #2 and the knobheads who won’t let other passengers get on the train.

Rule #5 — Don’t Hog The Seats

While not taking up a seat causes problems, so does taking more than your fair share. Are you sitting in an aisle seat and blocking off the window seat? Does your bag have it’s own special seat next to yours? Even worse, have you put your feet up on the seat opposite? Pack that shit in, right now! It’s antisocial and forces other people to stand while you lay about being a massive arsehole.

Rule #6 — No Manspreading

Some people are bigger than others and need to take up more space due to their larger frame, and that’s just one of those things. But what’s not acceptable is treating train seats like a chaise longue. If you want to use the armrests, fine. But I don’t want your elbows encroaching on my space. Need to spread your legs as far apart as possible like a dog about to lick its balls? Put it away. Yeah, it might be uncomfortable to have to sit like a decent person for an hour or so, but we all have to do it. Cramped seating isn’t nice for the ladies, either, so less of the spiel over how your delicate man-parts need a good airing. Would you sit like that in your boss’s office? Then what makes you think you can do it around strangers?

Rule #7 — Help Your Fellow Passenger

There are all kinds of political issues around whether to intervene and assist people who are disabled, elderly or with child. If you offer help and they refuse it, that’s that — don’t push it, they know their own needs. But on the transport network, things can be especially tricky for those with varying access requirements. Also, we all need to keep moving so that things run on time. This can mean that we don’t have time for a lecture on the ethics of giving up your seat. You can, however, help out by moving out of spaces reserved for wheelchair users and the easy access seats, giving a hand to anyone trying to get prams and bulky luggage on and off of trains, and by alerting railway staff if there’s someone who needs help (say with a wheelchair ramp, or navigation issues). Just be polite and aware of other people’s needs, that’s all.

Rule #8 — Don’t Be A Gobshite

Things sometimes go wrong on public transport, as I got to see first-hand on Saturday night. What really doesn’t help is some smartarse mouthing off and making everyone even more stressed out. I was only on the train for 10 minutes and we came close to three fights in that short time, all within 12 feet of where I was stood. Be kind to railway staff and other passengers, if only to avoid a smack in the teeth. Seriously, someone called this man’s dog fat and he looked like he was going to punch them (the dog wasn’t even fat BTW). Someone else thought it’d be wise to give a lecture about how they need to put more trains on (we know) and continued to be insufferable for the rest of the journey. I hope he steps in a really deep puddle.

Rule #9 — Shut The Hell Up

Closely related to Rule #8, and often involving the same people. If you’re in the quiet carriage, respect it and enjoy the relative peace and tranquillity. If you need to make a phone call, go into the lobby. If you want to play music, use headphones. I think it annoys me more because we have special designated quiet coaches with rules. It’s about being considerate, which seems to be a challenge for some people. And while we’re on it, if you’ve had a drink or two before boarding the train, please could you keep the singing to a reasonable level (i.e. none)? Cheers.

Rule #10 — No Faffing Around

Every time, every bloody time. We’ll get off the train at the last stop, a big crowd of us, and 50% of them won’t have their ticket ready at the barrier. It’s like it’s a complete surprise, as if this specific part of their memory has been erased. They remember everything else about taking a train journey, but not this bit. And so there’s a huge crowd at the barriers, because the most appropriate place to stop and find your ticket is definitely right before the barrier, apparently. Bonus points if you can’t find it.

People just generally getting in the way in railway stations is the bane of my life, but none more so than my final rule:

Rule #11 — Stand on the right so help me God

If you’ve ever been on the London Underground, you’ll have seen the signs all over the place “Please stand on the right”. The “please” is one of those ironic British linguistic quirks, in that what we actually mean is “Stand on the right, or you’re going down, motherfucker”. Most large transport hubs have similar signs, because if you stand on the right on an escalator it allows those in a hurry to walk briskly on the left side. Do people obey this rule? Do they balls. It’s a massive pain in the arse, not least because while I am internally plotting the death of those stood on the left, I’m also afflicted with the British condition of not wanting to make a fuss. The inner turmoil is just too much sometimes, and I have to ask people to move out of the way. This is the harsh reality we live in.


Those are my rules for using the railway, aimed at pissing off as few people as possible, but mainly me. Of course there are basic safety guidelines, but I’m coming from more of a wellbeing angle. Because being told firmly to Get Out Of The Fucking Way can cause offence.

If you experience or see anything illegal on the railway, you can discreetly report it to British Transport Police by texting 61016. This option is a godsend for anyone experiencing harassment on public transport, and the police are getting better at investigating these crimes. And even just reporting it means it gets noted and added to the crime stats — so if the police receive more of these reports they’ll take the issue more seriously and devote resources to where they’re needed. Sadly, “being a dickhead on a train” isn’t a specific criminal offence (if only I were Transport Minister…) but occasionally that sort of behaviour does cross the line.

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