Couple visit over 2,000 of England's train stations in 15 weeks
No sooner have Geoff and Vicki boarded the 12.32pm train from Leeds to lkley (in the UK), 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 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 at a dinner party - and then decided to follow through on it. By February, they had crowdfunded $67,543 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 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 remote they would end up stuck until the next service, often some 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. "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 make 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 grabs sandwiches. At night they stay in B&Bs or, where possible, friends put them up.
They estimate that fewer than 10 per cent of their trains have been delayed during the past three months, and urge passengers - particularly those complaining to beleaguered 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 many problems are actually signal failure, which they can't control."
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."
- The Telegraph, London