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.
My pendolino has got a clatter - is it the toilet tank emptying or a loose lid? Think it is under rather than panto above...?! @VirginTrains— Alex Burrows (@alexcburrows) March 3, 2014
A minute later, according to Twitter timestamps, Virgin Trains, which runs a 24-hour chat via its Twitter account, responded:
@alexcburrows Which train are you on, Alex? Also, which coach? :o) ^RM— Virgin Trains (@VirginTrains) March 3, 2014
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.
@VirginTrains guard just announced, driver is out looking at my coach for possible problems... We are blocking the fast line.... :(— Alex Burrows (@alexcburrows) March 3, 2014
@VirginTrains wow, I'm the train doctor!!!— Alex Burrows (@alexcburrows) March 3, 2014
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.
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