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Caricatures in carriages

rachelCYou can learn a lot from observation. It’s an undervalued approach to research in my opinion. And where better to observe others than while travelling on a train? It’s almost unavoidable.As my colleague Louise suggested in her recent blog, it seems that operators know so little about their passengers. So, with that in mind and, because I’ve been spending so much time on trains, I decided to use the time to take a look at my fellow rail passengers.

So here’s my observation-based and deliberately-exaggerated segmentation of my fellow travellers.

The social voyager

  • Often found in an aisle clutching their ticket while looking for their seat reservation.
  • Likely to be in possession of several, over-sized pieces of luggage (that they will still try and squeeze into an inappropriately sizes storage area).
  • Makes at least one phone call to announce their estimated time of arrival.
  • May seek advice from fellow travellers or staff.
  • Often well prepared with snacks and other food items, but may extend to purchasing a cup of tea from the trolley (while younger travellers of this type may replace this purchase with alcohol).

The techy traveller

  • Has an array of gadgets on display in front of them, frequently including more than one mobile phone.
  • May while away the time watching a DVD.
  • Tend to be under 25 years of age and often male.
  • Expect to receive at least one text message between stations.
  • When in pairs can often be found sharing headphones.

The important executive

  • Loud mobile phone conversations common.
  • Engage colleagues in business talk – often complaining about other colleagues’ inability to perform their job satisfactorily.
  • Laptop usually open. Loud typing essential.
  • Often found residing in someone else’s reserved seat.
  • Tend to require more seating space than allocated and always prefer a table seat. Usually have property on the adjacent seat and paperwork spread across the table.
  • Either first onto the train (having moved at speed to get a table seat) or board as the doors are closing.

The lone stranger

  • Likely to be reading (usually fiction), listening to music, looking out through the window or sleeping (older variants may knit or complete a Sudoku).
  • Eye contact with other passengers rare although will observe others discretely. Conversation under no circumstances.
  • Usually making short, routine journeys with minimal luggage.
  • May remain statuesque during their entire journey.

The confident communicator

  • A relatively rare but memorable passenger type (unless travelling in the small hours).
  • Assumes the entire carriage is interested in what he or she has to say. Particularly keen to share personal problems or gossip but it will always, always centre on themselves and most will have exciting future plans to talk about.
  • ‘Quiet zones’ of little significance.
  • In the dangerous case where nobody is interested in what they have to say, they will usually call someone to continue their conversation.
  • Often smartly and/or fashionably dressed.
  • Can span the age range, but most likely to be female.

The restless rider

  • Can be seen pacing up and down the carriage throughout their journey. May even move seats or carriages.
  • Will also fidget while seated. This may include rummaging through their property, texting, playing with a sliding table (which I just spotted as I was typing this), finger-tapping or eating.
  • Most likely to be male.

Of course that leaves one segment missing from this mix. I guess they’d be called…

The off-duty researcher

  • Normally to be found sat in the corner of the carriage pretending to tap away at their laptop, occasionally sipping at a bottle of water
  • It’s easy to confuse them with lone strangers, but look closely and they’re observing what everyone else is up to out of the corner of their eye
  • Can be male or female and any age. Their most obvious characteristic is the occasional chortle for no apparent reason.

Have I missed any? Which one are you?

3 thoughts on “Caricatures in carriages

  1. Great post. Plenty more to add to the list, but here’s my most recently observed…

    The Snorer
    Usually male, late fifties, overweight
    Wears white short sleeve shirt, tie askew, top button undone
    Sits on outside seat with bags on inside, to deter fellow travellers
    ASleeps/snores for 90% of journey
    Daily Mail usually evident, but unread
    Experienced traveller, will leave ticket on table so guard can check without need to wake
    Mobile on display. Wakes up occasionally to check it, but never any calls or texts so goes back to sleep
    Comes fully back to life 30 seconds before destination

  2. Youe observations wer most enjoyable. I am a volunteer Amtrak Passenger Assistant in Lafayette, Indiana. Daily I see variations (except our train service seldom attracts business travelers). Our passengers are like this: Purdue students going home for weekend-usually well-informed about train travel–not easily discouraged by late trains.
    Foreign students (many) confused by rather poor American train service–but appreciative for any help I can give.
    Senior citizens embarking on a long-thought of dream vacation. Hopefully they will get a good start in Lafayette. At least they are avoiding driving on I-65 to Chicago. They are relieved and so are their younger relatives who bring them to the station.
    German Baptists (Mennonites) other religious folk–always very polite, well-prepared.Going to meet kindred folk elsewhere in U.S. usually fairly long distance from Indiana.
    Young African-American mothers with two or three children. Some very well behaved, others just plain horrible. (had to call police on one recently.)
    Older African American women very nice, polite, understanding and appreciative. Some of my favorites. Helpful African-American men who know something about rail travel. Nice to talk to.

    People who are traveling for the first time and need all the help they can get. (tickets, luggage tags, seating, how to use Amtrak’s :”Julie”.

    A few weekly commuters. One guy volunteers at Wolf Park and he always has pictures of young wolves, fox, or bison. he has a job in Chicago Monday through Friday, but likes the week-end commute. Very knowledgable.

    And then there are the conductors. A whole other sort of folks. Hard-working, concerned about safety, punctuality, and service. I really admire them and warn them about what kinds of passengers I am letting get by me, since I am only a volunteer. Joe K. in Lafayette, IN

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