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How to stop a train with 140 characters

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How would you stop a moving train if you had to? Superman used raw force, but one resourceful passenger used Twitter.

Alex Burrows was riding a pendolino in Birmingham, England, last Monday when he heard a disconcerting noise.

A minute later, according to Twitter timestamps, Virgin Trains, which runs a 24-hour chat via its Twitter account, responded:

Virgin's Twitter operator kept up the cutesy emoticons throughout the exchange with Burrows, who told them which line he was on and gave them more details about the problems. Just under half an hour later, Alex tweeted again, noting apologetically that the train had stopped.

So how did Alex manage to stop the train? According to Virgin's Twitter, the Twitter operator relayed his SOS signal to the train's construction and maintenance service, Alstom, who in turn called the driver directly. Alstom's Twitter chimed in and corroborated, noting that "we usually do" in case of any concern.

The train was inspected and dubbed safe for passage. The Metroreported that once arrived in London, inspectors discovered a damaged sandpipe that could have been responsible for the noise Alex heard.

For his part, Alex seemed to think the train's sensors had relayed something wrong to the engine. "Now not for one minute would a train be stopped, blocking the West Coast Main Line towards London on a Monday morning, on the say of one passenger!" he wrote on his blog about the incident.

But it's quite possible that Virgin, which has over 110,000 followers on Twitter, was thinking of the possible fallout if they didn't stop the train on the say of one passenger: A passenger with access to social media, that is.

Photo via Geograph.org


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