Thomas the Tank Engine is sending out the wrong message to children and needs more female engines to encourage girls to become train drivers, Labour’s shadow transport secretary has said.
Mary Creagh said the lack of female train drivers in Britain was a “national scandal” and that the “negative stereotypes” seen in children’s shows were partly to blame.
Mrs Creagh used the example of Thomas, saying that while the books and television show are “wonderful”, they contain hardly any female characters.
“In the Thomas the Tank Engine books there are almost no female engines. The only female characters are an annoyance, a nuisance and in some cases a danger to the functioning of the railway,” she said.
She was referring to the original books’ only female characters: coaches Annie and Clarabel, Isabel the auto coach, elderly woman Mrs Kyndley, and female engine Daisy.
Thomas and the remaining characters are all male.
Train drivers' union Aslef is currently working to encourage more women into the industry, where only 4.2 per cent of workers are female - equating to 1,000 train drivers.
Mrs Creagh suggested train companies could recruit more female drivers by advertising in magazines such as Good Housekeeping and Women’s Own and by offering more flexible, part-time work.
According to the Telegraph, the mother-of-two said: ”There is a preponderance of men in the transport industry and I am very keen to unpack some of the myths that stop women from taking up what are often highly paid and highly skilled jobs.“
There are now 42 book in the Thomas the Tank Engine series, which was created in 1946 by the Reverend Wilbert Awdry. The TV show has been running since 1984 and is currently broadcast by Channel 5.
Mrs Creagh drew unfavourable comparisons with the CBeebies series Underground Ernie, which features a train called Victoria as its main character.
Hit Entertainment, the company which owns the rights to Thomas & Friends, admitted there was a ”historical imbalance“, but said more female engines are "in development."