Robert the Rail Regulatory Engine is late again

Thomas's pal likes to chug around like he's important but if he actually did his job the railways would be in a better state 

Choo choo! Another imagining of what it might be like if Thomas worked for the privatised railways
Choo choo! Another imagining of what it might be like if Thomas worked for the privatised railways

“Choo choo,” Thomas the Privatised Franchise Tank Engine tooted cheerily. He had spotted Gordon the Express Engine in the station he was pulling into. Thomas liked chatting to Gordon. He liked chatting to everyone. He was a relentlessly cheerful soul.

Gordon reflected that he could really use Thomas’s determined refusal to let the state of Britain’s privatised railways get him down. It might help to keep him away from the whisky that he quietly chugged out of the Fat Controller’s sight.

But on this day, he wasn’t feeling very tolerant. He’d been left stranded at the station after a near riot had broken out over ticketing and over crowding. Pushed to the limit, his passengers had staged a sit down strike leaving him stranded at the station.

“Bugger off Thomas,” he growled, gloomily wondering how much damage might be done to him if things really got fresh. “Can’t you see I’ve got problems?”

“Yes I heard about that, but surely Robert the Rail Regulation Engine will sort them out. He’ll be along in a jiffy.”

Gordon sighed again. It frustrated him that Thomas, having come from a series of books aimed at pre schoolers, had to be talked to as if he was one to get the point across.

“Thomas, Robert is a Rail Regulation Engine,” he said. “The clue is in the name. There’s only one thing you can be sure of with Rail Regulation Engines: They’re always late. Like a lot of trains these days, come to think about it.”

“But, but, I saw Robert this morning. He said they’d sent mystery shoppers out all over Sodor and found out lots of people were buying the wrong tickets from the machines and paying too much. He’s told me he's determined to get this ticketing malarky sorted! He’s written a firm letter to the rail company and told it he’s very cross and this has to be sorted out.”

“You’re finished for the day now, right?” Gordon asked, looking at his watch. It was lunchtime. For some reason, Thomas never seemed to have to work the sort of hours his friends put in.

“Yes.”

“OK, pull into the siding, and see what happens.”

Thomas did as he was asked, keeping up a cheery monologue that he hoped might improve Gordon’s mood. Gordon just wished he’d taken the risk of stashing the nice bottle of aged Lagavulin he’d squirrelled away in his cab.

Late in the afternoon, Robert chugged lazily into the station: “Hullo chaps, what seems to be the problem here then?”

Gordon explained what had happened and why he was sitting on the station surrounded by press people with cameras and besuited officials from the rail company, all jostling for position as Primrose the PR woman held court. She had, of course, told Gordon to keep quiet if he knew what was good for him because his employment contract banned him from talking to the media.

“There’s no need for these passengers to make a fuss really,” she said. “The Rail Delivery Group is trialling a system that will ensure passengers get the cheapest fare when they use our ticket machines.”

“Yes,” Robert called over. “And we’ll send out our mystery shoppers again to keep an eye and promise to write a really cross letter if it doesn’t work.”

Slowly, the passengers started to file off Gordon. They’d made their protest and they’d had enough. It wasn’t long before the trains were chugging back to the sheds where Thomas excitedly told all his friends the news.

“Shall I or will you,” said their friend Harriet to Gordon, who’d just poured his first shot and nodded his head to indicate she should do the job. “Off to see Tessie the Truthful Engine with you Thomas,” she said.

“Here again?” said Tessie. “Oh, you poor dear. Look, here’s what you have to realise. If Robert was really doing his job he wouldn’t have needed a small army of mystery shoppers to tell him what everyone already knows. It’d have been nipped in the bud ages ago.

“Robert has a nice office, and gets to chug around acting like he’s important and that he’s doing something. If he actually was, the railways would work better, Primrose would be out of a job and everyone would be a lot happier. Choo choo!”

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