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.

 
 
 
 

Transport for London’s fare zones secretly go up to 15

Some of these stations are in zones 10 to 12. Ooooh. Image: TfL.

The British capital, as every true-blooded Londoner knows, is divided into six concentric zones, from zone 1 in the centre to zone 6 in the green belt-hugging outer suburbs.

These are officially fare zones, which Transport for London (TfL) uses to determine the cost of your tube or rail journey. Unofficially, though, they’ve sort of become more than that, and like postcodes double as a sort of status symbol, a marker of how London-y a district actually is.

If you’re the sort of Londoner who’s also interested in transport nerdery, or who has spent any time studying the tube map, you’ll probably know that there are three more zones on the fringes of the capital. These, numbered 7 to 9, are used to set and collect fares at non-London stations where the Oyster card still works. But they differ from the first six, in that they aren’t concentric rings, but random patches, reflecting not distance from London but pre-existing and faintly arbitrary fares. Thus it is that at some points (on the Overground to Cheshunt, say) trains leaving zone 6 will visit zone 7. But at others they jump to 8 (on the train to Dartford) or 9 (on TfL rail to Brentwood), or skip them altogether.

Anyway: it turns out that, although they’re keeping it fairly quiet, the zones don’t stop at 9 either. They go all the way up to 15.

So I learned this week from the hero who runs the South East Rail Group Twitter feed, when they (well, let’s be honest: he) tweeted me this:

The choice of numbers is quite odd in its way. Purfleet, a small Thames-side village in Essex, is not only barely a mile from the London border, it’s actually inside the M25. Yet it’s all the way out in the notional zone 10. What gives?

TfL’s Ticketing + Revenue Update is a surprisingly jazzy internal newsletter about, well, you can probably guess. The September/October 2018 edition, published on WhatDoTheyKnow.com following a freedom of information request, contains a helpful explanation of what’s going on. The expansion of the Oyster card system

“has seen [Pay As You Go fare] acceptance extended to Grays, Hertford East, Shenfield, Dartford and Swanley. These expansions have been identified by additional zones mainly for PAYG caping and charging purposes.

“Although these additional zones appear on our staff PAYG map, they are no generally advertised to customers, as there is the risk of potentially confusing users or leading them to think that these ones function in exactly the same way as Zones 1-6.”


Fair enough: maps should make life less, not more, confusing, so labelling Shenfield et al. as “special fares apply” rather than zone whatever makes some sense. But why don’t these outer zone fares work the same way as the proper London ones?

“One of the reasons that the fare structure becomes much more complicated when you travel to stations beyond the Zone 6 boundary is that the various Train Operating Companies (TOCs) are responsible for setting the fares to and from their stations outside London. This means that they do not have to follow the standard TfL zonal fares and can mean that stations that are notionally indicated as being in the same fare zone for capping purposes may actually have very different charges for journeys to/from London."

In other words, these fares have been designed to fit in with pre-existing TOC charges. Greater Anglia would get a bit miffed if TfL unilaterally decided that Shenfield was zone 8, thus costing the TOC a whole pile of revenue. So it gets a higher, largely notional fare zone to reflect fares. It’s a mess. No wonder TfL doesn't tell us about them.

These “ghost zones”, as the South East Rail Group terms them, will actually be extending yet further. Zone 15 is reserved for some of the western-most Elizabeth line stations out to Reading, when that finally joins the system. Although whether the residents of zone 12 will one day follow in the venerable London tradition of looking down on the residents of zones 13-15 remains to be seen.

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