Which is the sexiest train? (*in Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s Starlight Express)

Not a clue what’s going on here, to be honest. Image: Getty.

While the rest of the world indulged in the fur-ore over the newly released CATS trailer, we were turning our attention to that other 1980s Andrew Lloyd-Webber hit musical, Starlight Express. Because, CityMetric readers, what could be sexier than human railway carriages on rollerskates?

Move aside, felines: it’s time to meet the stage’s steamiest trains. Here they are, in official and objective order of sexiness.

Electra

That contour! The mohawk! Train of the future Electra is canonically bisexual and genderfluid, with their key song AC/DC (listen, this show ain’t subtle) described by Andrew Lloyd-Webber as “transgender electro-pop”. So much in the worlds of trains and musical theatre shakes out down stereotypical gendered tracks, and Electra is here to stir Brendan O’Neill into a thousand columns about “woke politics” and the Times to run headlines suggesting they’re erasing… someone. Mostly Electra is exuding sex, power, magnetism and literal sparks.

Volta

She never smiles, seems aloof and comes across as arrogant. Is she a female politician running for office as reported by the Daily Mail? No, she’s Volta, everyone’s favourite freezer truck in Starlight Express. Switching genders between the numerous productions that have rolled across international stages since the show began in 1984, Volta is about as cool and sexy as it gets. We stan a goth ice queen.

Killerwatt

Well, don't you wanna know how he keeps startin' fires? It’s his desire, it’s his desire.

Grace Jones meets Vanilla Ice, but make it fashion: Killerwatt serves the best of all the lewks. He does not race, but that’s because he’s saving his high NRG for close protection. The bodyguard that makes Richard Madden look like the sweet boy of average height that he really is, Killerwatt will blow your circuits.

Dustin

Always willing to put himself forward to help his friends but shy of assuming power, Dustin is the ideal train to lead us through never-ending Brexit chaos. About as far down the line from toxic masculinity as its possible for a freight train to get, and with a body-positive narrative about self-belief and acceptance, Dustin is the train you’d take home to meet your parents. And you know that he’d do his best to get you there on time. 12/10 a very good boy.

Bobo

This hon hon hon honey is stuck with a clownish name, but has dark secrets under that striped Gallic exterior. Bobo is sometimes Coco, indulging his wilder dragged up side. And that nationalist fervour got channeled into the Coco Chanel-inspired token Female Engine in one production – inspired by a Nazi agent, sporting a tricolore skirt.

As a guy, his costume is all about his buffer, and as a gal, she’s got underwater Eurostar dreams. The real tea is that she doesn’t care what you think of her, and there’s nothing hotter than that.

Belle

Belle the Bar Car is a recent addition to the Starlight rolling stock. In her high-camp 1970s lampshade dress and sporting a ready supply of cocktails, Belle recalls the nostalgic glamour of railway travel before the onset of alcohol bans and talking lavatories. And with trendsetter Diane Abbott making onboard mojitos the hottest railway accessory of 2019, the stylish Bar Car easily makes our top-10 list of the sexiest trains.


Rusty & Pearl

Rusty and Pearl aren’t worth separate entries, they exist purely for basics new to sexy trains. Your mum loves them because they’re kind, dreamy, gentle and pretty – Rusty and Pearl are baby’s first crush. The Danny and Sandy, Dave and SamCam, Disney Princess and Little Mark Owen of Starlight, they teach you how to love but soon leave you craving more investment in your infrastructure and more capacity on your routes.

Joule

If ever there was a train that was mad, bad, and dangerous to know, it’s Joules. A dynamite truck with an explosive temper, she’s like a parliamentary scandal that can’t be contained and is just waiting to blow up. Sporting a Madonna-in-Gaultier style costume with “Danger” emblazoned across her chest, she’s an alluring BDSM fireball that will only hurt you in the end. She’s like voting Lib-Dem in 2010 but with an actual personality, and this time you might even enjoy the ride.

Wrench

Wrench is never out of uniform, ready for roleplay and the hot butch of your dreams. Don’t mistake her for a man, even when she’s played by one. Her aggression and masculinity is of the female variety. She does not appreciate you either misgendering her or assuming she does not respect and adore her boss Electra, however they are presenting. Wrench can repair you, or she can break you, but she is not to be crossed.

Purse

Purse, as his name suggests, is the accountant of the crew – second in command to Electra, he’s the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the Starlight stage. Wearing an armoured metallic vest and oozing posh-boy charm, he’d be the first train to cut the branch lines and close local stations come Budget day. Nevertheless, he makes the list. A darling of the Mumsnet brigade, Purse would also be the shameful secret crush of many a progressive millennial.

Dishonourable Mention: Brexit

That’s right, the 2018 German production of Starlight reintroduced the British national train to the show as none other than hopeless purple and gold Faragian doom-monger Brexit. There is nothing less sexy than a nation careering out of control like a runaway train hell-bent on crashing engine-first into disaster. But this German schadenfreude deserves our acknowledgment. If by any chance this train stops before hitting Calamityville, we want off. 

Penny Andrews tweets as @pennyb. Rebecca Harrison as @beccaeharrison.

 
 
 
 

What Citymapper’s business plan tells us about the future of Smart Cities

Some buses. Image: David Howard/Wikimedia Commons.

In late September, transport planning app Citymapper announced that it had accumulated £22m in losses, nearly doubling its total loss since the start of 2019. 

Like Uber and Lyft, Citymapper survives on investment funding rounds, hoping to stay around long enough to secure a monopoly. Since the start of 2019, the firm’s main tool for establishing that monopoly has been the “Citymapper Pass”, an attempt to undercut Transport for London’s Oyster Card. 

The Pass was teased early in the year and then rolled out in the spring, promising unlimited travel in zones 1-2 for £31 a week – cheaper than the TfL rate of £35.10. In effect, that means Citymapper itself is paying the difference for users to ride in zones 1-2. The firm is basically subsidising its customers’ travel on TfL in the hopes of getting people hooked on its app. 

So what's the company’s gameplan? After a painful, two-year long attempt at a joint minibus and taxi service – known variously as Smartbus, SmartRide, and Ride – Citymapper killed off its plans at a bus fleet in July. Instead of brick and mortar, it’s taken a gamble on their mobile mapping service with Pass. It operates as a subscription-based prepaid mobile wallet, which is used in the app (or as a contactless card) and operates as a financial service through MasterCard. Crucially, the service offers fully integrated, unlimited travel, which gives the company vital information about how people are actually moving and travelling in the city.

“What Citymapper is doing is offering a door-to-door view of commuter journeys,” says King’s College London lecturer Jonathan Reades, who researches smart cities and the Oyster card. 

TfL can only glean so much data from your taps in and out, a fact which has been frustrating for smart city researchers studying transit data, as well as companies trying to make use of that data. “Neither Uber nor TfL know what you do once you leave their system. But Citymapper does, because it’s not tied to any one system and – because of geolocation and your search – it knows your real origin and destination.” 

In other words, linking ticketing directly with a mapping service means the company can get data not only about where riders hop on and off the tube, but also how they're planning their route, whether they follow that plan, and what their final destination is. The app is paying to discount users’ fares in order to gain more data.

Door-to-door destinations gives a lot more detailed information about a rider’s profile as well: “Citymapper can see that you’re also looking at high-profile restaurant as destinations, live in an address on a swanky street in Hammersmith, and regularly travel to the City.” Citymapper can gain insights into what kind of people are travelling, where they hang out, and how they cluster in transit systems. 

And on top of finding out data about how users move in a city, Citymapper is also gaining financial data about users through ticketing, which reflects a wider trend of tech companies entering into the financial services market – like Apple’s recent foray into the credit card business with Apple Card. Citymapper is willing to take a massive hit because the data related to how people actually travel, and how they spend their money, can do a lot more for them than help the company run a minibus service: by financialising its mapping service, it’s getting actual ticketing data that Google Maps doesn’t have, while simultaneously helping to build a routing platform that users never really have to leave


The integrated transit app, complete with ticket data, lets Citymapper get a sense of flows and transit corridors. As the Guardian points out, this gives Citymapper a lot of leverage to negotiate with smaller transit providers – scooter services, for example – who want to partner with it down the line. 

“You can start to look at ‘up-sell’ and ‘cross-sell’ opportunities,” explain Reades. “If they see that a particular journey or modal mix is attractive then they are in a position to act on that with their various mobility offerings or to sell that knowledge to others. 

“They might sell locational insights to retailers or network operators,” he goes on. “If you put a scooter bay here then we think that will be well-used since our data indicates X; or if you put a store here then you’ll be capturing more of that desirable scooter demographic.” With the rise of electric rideables, Citymapper can position itself as a platform operator that holds the key to user data – acting a lot like TfL, but for startup scooter companies and car-sharing companies.

The app’s origins tell us a lot about the direction of its monetisation strategy. Originally conceived as “Busmapper”, the app used publicly available transit data as the base for its own datasets, privileging transit data over Google Maps’ focus on walking and driving.  From there it was able to hone in on user data and extract that information to build a more efficient picture of the transit system. By collecting more data, it has better grounds for selling that for urban planning purposes, whether to government or elsewhere.

This kind of data-centred planning is what makes smart cities possible. It’s only become appealing to civic governments, Reades explains, since civic government has become more constrained by funding. “The reason its gaining traction with policy-makers is because the constraints of austerity mean that they’re trying to do more with less. They use data to measure more efficient services.”  

The question now is whether Citymapper’s plan to lure riders away from the Oyster card will be successful in the long term. Consolidated routing and ticketing data is likely only the first step. It may be too early to tell how it will affect public agencies like TfL – but right now Citymapper is establishing itself as a ticketing service - gaining valuable urban data, financialising its app, and running up those losses in the process.

When approached for comment, Citymapper claimed that Pass is not losing money but that it is a “growth startup which is developing its revenue streams”. The company stated that they have never sold data, but “regularly engage with transport authorities around the world to help improve open data and their systems”

Josh Gabert-Doyon tweets as @JoshGD.