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.

 
 
 
 

Cycling on London’s Euston Road is still a terrifying experience

Cyclists on the Euston Road. Image: Jonn Elledge.

The New Road, which skirted the northern boundaries of London’s built up area, first opened in the 1750s. Originally, it was intended to link up outlying villages and provide a route to drive sheep and cows to the meat market at Smithfield without having to pass through the congested city centre. 

As with bypasses and ring roads the world over, however, it increasingly became congested in its own right. Today, you won’t often find livestock on the route, which is now Marylebone, Euston and City roads. But you will find up to six lanes of often stationary buses, cabs, and private vehicles. In a city whose centre is largely free of multi-lane highways, London’s northern ring road has long been the sort of abomination that you avoid at all costs.

But now, somewhat surprisingly, the road is seeing yet another new use. Earlier this week, the first phase of a temporary cycle lane opened on the Euston Road, the middle section of the route which runs for roughly a mile. As London rethinks roads throughout the city, this addition to the cycling map falls solidly into the category of streets that didn't seem like candidates for cycling before the pandemic.

It is, to be clear, temporary. That’s true of many of the Covid-led interventions that Transport for London is currently making, though those in the know will often quietly admit to hoping they end up being permanent. In this case, however, the agency genuinely seems to mean it: TfL emphasized in its press release that the road space is already being allocated for construction starting late next year and that "TfL will work with local boroughs to develop alternate routes along side streets" when the cycle lane is removed.

At lunchtime on Friday, I decided to try the lane for myself to understand what an unlikely, temporary cycle lane can accomplish. In this case it's clear that the presence of a lane only accomplishes so much. A few key things will still leave riders wanting:

It’s one way only. To be specific, eastbound. I found this out the hard way, after attempting to cycle the Euston Road westbound, under the naive impression that there was now a lane for me in which to do this. Neither I nor the traffic I unexpectedly found myself sharing space with enjoyed the experience. To be fair, London’s cycling commissioner Will Norman had shared this information on Twitter, but cyclists might find themselves inadvertently mixing with multiple lanes of much, much bigger vehicles.

It radically changes in width. At times the westbound route, which is separated from the motor traffic by upright posts, is perhaps a metre and a half wide. At others, such as immediately outside Euston station, it’s shared with buses and is suddenly four or five times that. This is slightly vexing.

It’s extremely short. The publicity for the new lane said it would connect up with other cycle routes on Hampstead Road and Judd Street (where Cycleway 6, the main north-south crosstown route, meets Euston Road). That’s a distance of roughly 925m. It actually runs from Gower Street to Ossulton Street, a distance of barely 670m. Not only does the reduced length mean it doesn’t quite connect to the rest of the network, it also means that the segregated space suddenly stops:

The junction between Euston Road and Ousslston Street, where the segregated lane suddenly, unexpectedly stops. Image: Jonn Elledge.

 

It’s for these reasons, perhaps, that the new lane is not yet seeing many users. Each time I cycled the length of it I saw only a handful of other cyclists (although that did include a man cycling with a child on a seat behind him – not something one would have expected on the Euston Road of the past).


Though I hesitate to mention this because it feeds into the car lobby’s agenda, it was also striking that the westbound traffic – the side of the road which had lost a lane to bikes – was significantly more congested than the eastbound. If the lane is extended, it could, counterintuitively, help, by removing the unexpected pinch points at which three lanes of cars suddenly have to squeeze into two.

There’s a distinctly unfinished air to the project – though, to be fair, it’s early days. The eastbound lane needs to be created from scratch; the westbound extended. At that point, it would hopefully be something TfL would be keen enough to talk about that cyclists start using it in greater numbers – and drivers get the message they should avoid the Euston Road.

The obvious explanation for why TfL is going to all this trouble is that TfL is in charge of the Euston Road, and so can do what it likes there. Building cycle lanes on side nearby roads means working with the boroughs, and that’s inevitably more difficult and time consuming.

But if the long-term plan is to push cyclists via side roads anyway, it’s questionable whether all this disruption is worth it. A segregated cycle lane that stops without warning and leaves you fighting for space with three lanes of buses, lorries, and cabs is a cycle lane that’s of no use at all.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.