British railways might seem like a niche interest. So why are young men interested in left-wing politics often also obsessed with timetables and Pacers?by Marie Le Conte / August 29, 2019 / Leave a comment
“Railways are conservative,” Peter Hitchens once wrote. “They are conservative because they help to conserve countryside, and because they are, when well run, a disciplined service requiring loyalty and dedication from their workers, not unlike the armed forces.
He went on: “by giving a centre to towns and cities, they promote cohesion and discourage shapeless ribbon development and the atomisation of society which follows when everyone relies on the car for transport.”
A few hundred young men would disagree.
Though it never would have been a surprise to find that people following Westminster closely also happened to enjoy an occasional afternoon of trainspotting, political discourse moving online has shown just how strong the correlation between the two interests is. On social media, where communities form around specific political views, the love of trains has become a synecdoche for a certain political leaning.
More specifically: if a Twitter account belongs to a left-wing man in his twenties or thirties, and this man tweets about Labour politics often, it is almost certain that he will, at some point, passionately tweet about trains as well.
As the quote above points out, it was never obvious that a fondness for transport would translate into involvement in left politics so often. Still, as Twitter user Simon Alvey puts it, “Liking trains is in the left-wing man starter kit.” The question is, then: which came first for those men? The infrastructural chicken or the socialist-adjacent egg?
For 27-year-old Patrick, the former provided a slippery slope towards the latter: “Being into trains means you’ve got to be into politics at least a little bit,” he said. “With the way Britain’s rail system is set up, sooner or later you’ll end up thinking about government franchising, infrastructure spending and things like that.”
“I spent a lot of time on huge long forum arguments about whether or not such and such a town should have a direct train to London—which is essentially the ‘left behind towns’ concept but in rail form.”
Bob, 25, had a similar experience; his dad was a trainspotter until he met his mum, and took him to see trains from a young age. “A lot of these steam train events, the kind of museums which specialise in restoring old steam trains, are by necessity harking back to the age of nationalised rail,…