No sooner have Geoff and Vicki boarded the 12.32pm train from Leeds to lkley, they cry out in excitement. “I think that might be new moquette,” says Vicki, as she rushes to post a picture on Instagram of the patterned carpet-like seat fabric. “We haven’t seen that one yet!”
Vicki Pipe, 34, and her partner of seven years, Geoff Marshall, 44, are on a three month journey, travelling to every single national railway station in Britain. When I join them, they are on station 2,024 out of 2,563. Since they departed from Penzance on May 7, their YouTube videos - during which they enthusiastically point out everything from unusual level crossings to friendly staff - have racked up hundreds and thousands of views. The couple have won fans with their unique mission, not to mention their ‘gorpcore’ style (fashion speak for dressing like you’re on a camping trip).
It all came about last September, when they joked about the idea a dinner party - and then decided to follow through on it. By February, they had crowdfunded £38,000, which has paid for their travel, YouTube videos and a feature-length documentary to be released once they are back home in south London.
Their mission statement is to inspire the nation to fall back in love with its railways - as well as having a bit of fun. “We could just do 9 to 5 jobs, go to the pub, get old and then die,” explains Geoff. “Or at the end of our lives, we could say, ‘look what we did.’”
As far as they can tell, no one has ever done attempted the same feat in such a short space of time. The pair visit around 30 stations a day, only ticking each one off if the train actually stops there - but they don’t disembark at them all, as some are so remite that they would end up stuck until the next service, often 24 hours later.
Geoff is no stranger to breaking records. The freelance video producer has previously held the fastest time for visiting every single London Underground station (16 hours, 20 minutes, 27 seconds). Vicki is equally passionate and works in the London Transport Museum’s education team, from which she has taken a sabbatical. Their family and friends have been supportive in the main, though some think they “have completely lost the plot”.
The couple insist, however, that they are not ‘mad train-obsessed people’. “I’m not a trainspotter,” says Geoff firmly. “I don’t like trains; I like railways. I don’t go, ‘ooh that’s a number 23 train.’” Vicki interjects, “You do sometimes, though.”
She feels the same way. “You can get labelled as a trainspotter. You become a stereotype. But we wanted to show the fun side of railways by putting our journey on social media. It’s about social history, community, and exploring our country.”
Our conversation is halted when the train pulls into Bradford Forster Square station, and Vicki starts filming. I ask her how she judges a ‘good’ station.
“What does this line mean to the people who use it? How does it connect them and impact their lives? Also, I’m thinking that building is new,” she says swinging the camera round, “what was wrong with the old one?”
The history of Britain’s railways is a subject of mutual fascination for the couple - but for Vicki it has also become personal. When she told her mum of their plan, she discovered that her ancestors had worked on the trains, and her grandfather had been a signalman at Shipley Hill in Cambridgeshire.
“It was part of my life I didn’t know about, and I realised that would be the case for many other families,” she says. “For me, the human story is so important. We have this network that’s steeped in history. People are what makes the railways run.”
By way of example, they tell me about the night manager in Penzance who personally shunts the train carriages every night to put them in the right order for the next day. And their excitement at seeing a manually operated crossing gate at Brundall station, Norfolk borders on the infectious. “It’s amazing,” says Vicki. “I never knew how complicated railways were.”
The couple have planned their trip to a minute level of detail and are on a tight schedule, often with just minutes to spare between connections. There are set break times, during which Geoff fetches cups of tea and Vicki sandwiches. At night they stay in B&Bs, or where possible, friends put them up.
They estimate that less than 10 per cent of their trains have been delayed over the past three months and urge passengers - particularly those complaining to beleagured Southern Rail - to spare a thought for the hundreds of workers trying to get them home on time. “Everyone thinks their train company is the worst,” says Geoff. “But often any problems are actually signal failure, which they can’t control.”
They are hesitant to express an opinion on the Government’s High Speed 2 (HS2) rail project, which will run between London and the Midlands, Manchester and Yorkshire and cost an estimated £55.7 billion. The exact route and the impact on those living in its path has made it one of the most controversial transport issues of recent years. All Geoff will diplomatically say is: “We need more railways, but we do need to respect people’s homes.”
Their journey is now coming to a close, and they expect to finish up in northern Scotland in a few days time. It has been a gruelling 15 weeks but they have kept their spirits up, bar one argument at Peterborough Station. “We didn’t speak for an hour, though I can’t remember what it was about,” says Geoff.
They are sad to end their adventure, but hope it has helped to change the way people see railways. “We’re trying to bring back some of the wonder of trains,” says Vicki. “They don’t just get you from A to B. I hope we can inspire people to just jump on one, and see where it takes them - rather than always going to the same destination.”
Why train chic is so on trend
By Stephen Doig
Normcore? Passe. Applecore (the Palo Alto aesthetic of the middle-aged Apple exec?) Over. Meet gorpcore - the latest sartorial buzzword. Gorp, as anyone with a Duke of Edinburgh award will know, stands for ‘Good Old Raisins and Peanuts’ and is more commonly known as ‘trail mix’ - sustenance for outdoorsy types from the Brecon Beacons to Ben Nevis.
Just as normcore was a celebration of the mundane - chinos and navy polo shirt - gorpcore shifts that premise to the functional. The sort of activewear favoured by binocular-toting trainspotters and your dad on that rainy weekend in the Lakes, circa 1982.
Think puffas, cagoules and mountain boots (extra points for a bit of mesh or bobbled fleece). All you need is a thermos of luke-warm tea.
Miuccia Prada’s SS17 collection featured flasks jangling from rucksacks, climbers cords, flash lights and nylon parkas, one printed with a thermal imaging map - ideal for gauging the temperate weather as you wait for the 2.42pm East Coast Mainline to Durham.
Even the most functional outerwear specialists are turning up the fashion factor. North Face will debut a second collection with avant garde Japanese designer Junya Watanabe, while Moncler - famed for quilted ski jackets - will showcase a collection from experimental London menswear star Craig Green.
So tuck those chunky socks into your cargo trousers and set off - whether in Snowdonia or South Kensington - safe in the knowledge you’re following the gorpcore trend. In practical shoes.