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Have you ever been mistaken for rail staff, or helped those less familiar with the network?

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py_megapixel

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This question is primarily aimed at the people on this forum who are just enthusiasts, and aren't employed by the railway - though if you are a railway employee and have something relevant to share, by all means feel free

Turns out if you stand in the doorway of a 323 (pre-Covid) at Manchester Piccadilly and wear a big blue coat, people will assume you're Northern staff - who'd'a thought (!) - and, in my case, ask how to get to Sandbach. Simple answer was "get on this train" (it was a Crewe stopper). This wasn't intentional of me by the way, and indeed it took me a while afterwards to realise the impression I'd created!

Any other cases of this kind of encounter?
 
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Polarbear

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Oh it happened frequently when I was younger & out on the rails more often. If I could help, I’d be happy to do so, but knowing when not to get involved was also a useful instinct that I developed over a number of years.

One of those latter occasions was at Crewe on New Years Eve, in the days when there were no services to Scotland on New Years Day. A rather inebriated chap asked me when the next Glasgow train was, about an hour after the last service for two days had left! Needless to say, he wasn’t terribly impressed when I told him!
 

Bletchleyite

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Yep, had pretty much exactly that. Early 2000s at Preston I had been on a work trip and was waiting to head back South on a VT, and found that my sister was passing through the station, so we were chatting stood next to the door of the Mk3 set. Me in a blue shirt and tie (FNW uniform, near enough), her in a red puffa jacket (early VT uniform). Got (and answered) quite a few queries before realising why everyone was asking us! :)
 

Jan Mayen

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Standing on a platform at Hamburg hbf about thirty years ago, waiting for a train, minding my own business. Someone comes up and asks, in English, about a train to wherever.
I get my Thomas Cook timetable out and answer the question. Not sure if they thought I was simply someone who spoke English, or was staff.
 

BrettSy96

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Once I was sitting on a bench on a fairly busy platform, a lady was asking some passengers near me if they knew what time and platform her train was on. She seemed to skip asking me and asked a couple more people who again weren’t sure. I was quite young at the time so I’m guessing that’s why she didn’t ask me so she looked fairly surprised when I went up to her and let her know the time of her train and the location on the platform where her train would stop :lol:
 

StephenHunter

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I seem to have an "ask for directions face" - I'm frequently asked for them whenever I am out and about.

More specifically railway related, I was wearing my heritage railway volunteer uniform, a suit-and-waistcoat affair way smarter than what TfL Rail wears and leaving Harold Wood station when I got asked for information by an elderly South Asian couple.
 

40129

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Okay. This is kind of the opposite scenario

As trainee Station Assistants twenty years ago, several of my then colleagues kept being asked questions about various items in Tesco despite working for LU whose uniform at the time was somewhat similar. I've also heard of LM staff having similar issues in Asda

To answer the OP more relevantly, I've frequently been asked for directions etc when not in uniform. More often than not it's happened on metros/subways, including in NYC and Sydney. Thankfully, I've pretty much always had the right answer
 

telstarbox

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Similarly I have been to my hospital appointments before/after work in vaguely smart office wear and been asked where various departments are!
 

nr758123

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I was once asked, on Piccadilly station, whether this was the train for Huddersfield. I said that I hoped so, which prompted a stream of insults and invective from the person who had asked me the question. It was only afterwards that I realised he thought I was a railway employee, rather than just another passenger waiting for the train to Huddersfield. Maybe it was the navy blue coat and tie that confused him.

It was an interesting insight into how odious some passengers can be towards staff.
 

s'land

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I was waiting outside of Euston Train station waiting for my grown up kids coming down from the hotel opposite, an Italian couple asked me a few questions, I politely answered them the best I could, next thing I noticed that I had a queue of three other couples wanting similar advice, I felt as though I should have got half an hours wage from Network Rail or whoever runs that station.
 

philthetube

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The opposite to what the op asks, one underground uniform had identical shirts to Tesco, this was an issue to the extent that if ever I was shopping in uniform I always went to Asda
 

6Gman

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I was waiting outside of Euston Train station waiting for my grown up kids coming down from the hotel opposite, an Italian couple asked me a few questions, I politely answered them the best I could, next thing I noticed that I had a queue of three other couples wanting similar advice, I felt as though I should have got half an hours wage from Network Rail or whoever runs that station.
I had that experience at Manchester Victoria on a day when Engineering had rearranged the timetable and staff were nowhere to be seen. It was actually quite difficult to get away!

And at Crewe a few months ago I was asked about trains to Abertawe and was able to give details of the platform and that it would be the second train from that platform all in Welsh, which was much appreciated!

:D
 

Gloster

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When I lived in Eastern France I used to get my daily exercise by walking across town to the station and watching the trains, before doing my shopping on the way back. While watching the trains one day a woman came up and asked me a question, which, being a fairly simple one, I was able to answer. I was wearing railways uniform: an old black BR signalman’s jacket and dark, though probably not matching, trousers.

More recently on Southampton station, I was asked a question by an over-dressed woman, but couldn’t answer as I didn’t know. She then had an all-round go at me for incompetence, rudeness, untidiness (I wasn’t wearing anything that would normally be mistaken for railway uniform), etc. She ended by saying she would make a complaint to my bosses. I asked her what her complaint was and got a slightly abbreviated version of the original diatribe. I just said, “I am self-employed and my own boss. Complaint dismissed.” (I will admit that wasn’t spontaneous: I had been saving it up for some time.) I was tempted to say that I would be making a complaint to her about false statements and time-wasting, but didn’t have time.
 

Peter C

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I've not been asked anything when out-and-about, but I've often been asked by friends/family/family friends to help with various things, whether it be route planning, ticket purchasing/collecting, etc., which I'm more than happy to do. The only issue is when people assume that, being a railway enthusiast, I know everything they need to know, which is semi-often not the case! :)

-Peter
 

Bob M

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I once arrived at Kings Cross much delayed, at 2 in the morning, on my way to Dorset. GNER (as it was then) offered me a minicab, but I suggested a hotel for the night might be cheaper and more pleasant.
They duly sent me off to a hotel with a chit, and when I checked in, the reception clerk started asking me questions about the next days rosters. Clearly this must have been the hotel they used for their staff.
 

Spartacus

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The opposite to what the op asks, one underground uniform had identical shirts to Tesco, this was an issue to the extent that if ever I was shopping in uniform I always went to Asda

I used to have a couple of yellow shirts which caused a bit of confusion when I went shopping in Morrisons for my lunch, my responses would be coloured by the attitude of the shopper. One particularly bad example of a human being got totally ignored, I then saw them chase after a manager, which prompted a little chuckle from myself as the manager was clearly explaining to the now very irate shopper who probably wanted me sacking, that he'd no power to do so as I wasn't an employee!

I've been mistaken for platform staff a few times, both in Britain and abroad, I think there's clearly something about someone who's comfortable in a railway environment 'station-smart' if you will, I've even been able to help people out despite us only sharing a few common words. Then again I've been on a local platform in Belgium with seemingly everyone in earshot helping me when the ticket machine refused to accept my foreign card, apparently a common problem there where they have to help out travellers from all over.
 

Dave91131

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About 10 years ago I was at Leeds on a winter Saturday, wearing a long dark blue coat as referenced by the OP, standing near a 91 in platform 6 waiting for the set to be unlocked so I could board the coach behind the loco.

One chap asked a question which I answered, then for a few minutes I had a constant steady stream of passengers asking me various things - I had to "confess" to not actually being staff and on about question 15 when a couple asked if their reservations for a service the following day would be accepted on this service as they were having to return home a day early due to a bereavement.
 

Bletchleyite

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I forgot to mention...not being mistaken in this case, but the night the bridge near Carlisle went down in floods I got stuck at Preston for a considerable period of time, and found that the staff had completely lost control of the situation, with probably 500 people stood outside waiting for buses which existed but were in very short supply, and others walking round the station looking lost. A bit of RTTing found that the last Barrow was still running, so by walking around shouting that out (to the dislike of quite a few staff, it seemed) I got a good few passengers to Lancaster (it went out full and standing, though I don't think anyone was left behind) who might have got stuck otherwise.

In the end I got put in a taxi to Edinburgh, probably to get me out of the way :)

The whole thing was so incompetent that I stung VT for a good £300 or so worth of Delay Repay over the period of disruption, as I had a load of tickets booked up front for several weeks' travel, all of which were eligible for full refunds. The RTVs were used for work travel as work had paid, but it was one of those cases where I'd probably not have claimed as it wasn't the railway's fault and to avoid the moral question of what that should be used for, but it was *so* badly handled I wanted to give them a financial whack for having to do their job for them.

I did write them a detailed letter about it alongside the Delay Repay claims, but unfortunately it didn't get read and a standard response was issued.

Another one, when I was commuting to Slough for a bit there was one particular train I tended to use on the way home, a Turbo from Oxford which was then fast to Paddington, and always showed on the displays at P5, but very often got switched to 3 last minute. I called that before the staff (and started telling people to avoid too much of a crush on the then very narrow footbridge) on a number of occasions.
 
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AlexNL

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I have been mistaken for a guard in the past. One day while I was commuting home, while wearing a three piece suit (as I worked for a client in the financial services industry). While changing trains I helped some people who were standing on the platform with a rather puzzled look on their face with their onwards itinerary.

As I was helping them, my connecting train pulled in so I tried wrapping things up. I was the last person to board, when I walked from the vestibule into the coach I saw a couple of passengers reach for their tickets and offer it to me for inspection!
 

YorksLad12

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Years ago I'd either dropped off something at Left Luggage or been to the gents on Platform 8 at King's Cross. As I walked back towards the entrance a lady started to ask me for directions to P9, before realising I wasn't GNER staff... I had a mid-length black wool & cashmere coat on, GNER staff had full-length ones. As it happens I could read signs and pointed her in the right direction.

I also have one of those "ask me for help" faces, but I also can't help myself. I spotted a couple looking at a map outside Leeds Station, pointed them the right way, then two more couples lined up for help. Makes me feel good if I can help but one person every day.
 

gimmea50anyday

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As railway staff if I am in my blue TPE uniform in a supermarket I often get asked where the baked beans are, especially as my circular face mask exempt badge looks very similar to the name badges worn by that supermarkets staff!

I will identify myself as not shop staff, however if I can help and they genuinely need it I'll do what I can, after all, every little helps...
 

172007

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Wearing London Midland's soft shell jacket in Marks and Spencer was quite an experience. Quite often questions would be asked about produce etc.
 

Lockwood

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Often.

On a tube service, stopped short and told to make our own way on foot or bus onwards. Member of public starts saying something to me, I have earphones in. Other MOP: "he doesn't work here, he can't help." first MOP: "but I have to get to (somewhere)" 2nd MOP: "He doesn't work here." me: "what?" "How do I get to (wherever)" "I don't know. I'm going there myself. Let's find out together.". Other guy walks off.

Another time, going to/from work in uniform - one that is miles away from SWT staff... "Hey, which platform for such-and-such? Can I use this?"

Went to a London station to meet people after a job interview, had someone, possibly the gateline contractors, ask me to look at something. (found out after that that the suit and shirt colour I chose was fairly common for management)

Loads of other times, but those were some that stuck out.


I also seem to have one of those "I work here" faces wherever I go
 

Romsey

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I worked for the railways for many years so I'll stick to non UK examples.

More than once in Switzerland or Austria I have been asked for travel directions, not just by lost Americans. Incidentally many Americans were completely confounded by conductors asking for tickets in French, German, English and Italian! Also why we were treated with such deference - something to do with FIP free passes.
One journey was a bit wearing when a group of Japanese or South Koreans had lost their tour guide and had to be directed how to get from Brig to Lauterbrunnen. Eventually I wrote out the connections and handed it to the two most pushy members of the group. Eventually (about Blausee - Mitholz ) they wandered away just before the conductor arrived and I explained what was going on.
My wife and I were alighting at Spiez and could stand back and watch. SBB were on the ball and ensured the group were shepherded to the correct platform.

Many years later at Zell am Zee, an American family asked in halting German whether this the train to Innsbruck. They were a bit startled when I answered in English and that they need to change at Worgl. All to the good they bought us lunch at Innsbruck. ( Knowing which end of the service from Worgl was empty helped as well.)

Finally boarding a Coaster suburban service in Seattle I was asked whether this was the train to Edmonds. I was tempted to say "I don't know as I don't live here" but thought better of it. A few minutes into the journey the BNSF conductor was walking through the train and greeted me with " Hi Bud, which railroad to you work for?" Network Rail in the UK wasn't the answer he expected, but a good chat ensued!
 

Peter Mugridge

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Like several of the above, I am always being asked - regardless of what I wear! I suspect the sight of a shoulder bag, camera and notebook must trigger an instinct in people that says: "Ah! An enthusiast - he probably knows..."
 

Cheshire Scot

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At the time we were railway staff but not in uniform or wearing any form of indication.

My colleague and I were standing on platform 6 at Crewe waiting for the train back to Manchester after attending the funeral of a colleague who had died unexpectedly.

I can't remember what the question was but an individual walked straight up to us and asked us about the next train to ??? - we helpfully accompanied the person to the adjacent departure screen and found the required train.
 

Mag_seven

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I'll quote myself from a similar thread from a while back:

I remember an incident at Reading station a few years ago. An old lady stopped a man in a high visibility jacket to ask him train times. This was greeted with a shrug of his shoulders while pointing to the words "POST OFFICE" on the back of his jacket!
 

Dr Hoo

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I reckon that it is largely an 'ask me' expression on my face, coupled with eye contact (which the overwhelming majority of British people seem to avoid if at all possible unless they need help). Having been a Station Manager I suppose that one subconsciously learns the body language that still has an effect decades later.

A yellow cycling hi-vi (whilst not with bicycle) is also a big magnet.

I commuted through St Pancras for around 20 years (whilst still working in the industry but in a suit rather than uniform) and would reckon that I got asked for assistance by somebody every day. My limited French was often called into use too. High proportion of unfamiliar/irregular travellers I suppose.

By standing still and 'looking out' it was always possible to attract a queue.
 

47271

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Only once, years ago on a Scotrail train between Queen Street and Charing Cross.

I was in a hurry to get to work and was nipping from coach to coach to get in the right place to jump off at Charing Cross. I happened to be wearing a dark suit and blue shirt and tie and, because of my rush, had put my briefcase strap over my shoulder. This made it look like a ticket machine, so when I burst through a connecting door about five people looked up with their tickets in their hands. They seemed quite disappointed that I wasn't who they thought I was...
 
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