Meet Matt from EMT
Meet the EMT Train Manager who has become a big hit on social media with his stream of entertaining announcements.
Before 0730, few can claim to be this animated. But Matt Dawson, train manager with East Midlands Trains, cuts a jaunty swagger along Platform 8 at Sheffield station. The distinctive nose of a High Speed Train glides past, and he throws a comradely wave to the driver.
Most of us grind (rather than grin) through our morning commutes, our brains perhaps still slumbering under a duvet. Dawson hasn’t activated the central door locking yet, and so the orange lights next to the doors haven’t clicked on, yet his passengers are already tugging on the handles frustratedly. Lights off and no one at home, if you like. But if they’re not awake now, they soon will be!
Spot on time at 0745, ‘The South Yorkshireman’ slips out of the station and starts climbing the bank, heading south towards Bradway Tunnel. Dawson has greeted his crew colleagues and taken care of house notices. Now he picks up the public address handset, clicks the buttons, and the familiar three notes echo along the mark three carriages.
“Welcome on board. Happy Friday! We are on the way to the weekend. How are you feeling this morning?”
In just a few words he has set a tone. After running through the station stops and safety notices he introduces: “Thanks to modern technology, our train is equipped with WiFi. Woohoo!”. Finally, he signs off: “Sit back, relax, enjoy the journey and enjoy the sheep and cows as they whizz past you at high speed.”
A train load of London-bound passengers has been woken up. Moreover, they’re smiling - and that’s having actually listened to an announcement, rather than dozed through it.
Dawson has been working for East Midlands Trains for 15 years, nine of them as a train manager. “I absolutely love this job. There’s no other job like this where you can meet everybody that you meet. Every day is different.”
Ten minutes after Sheffield he’s back on the mic, announcing our arrival at ‘Chesvegas’. Beyond the twisted spire there’s no neon flamboyance about the Derbyshire market town of Chesterfield, but the name works. So when did he start sprinkling humour through his announcements?
“We started putting it in as a crew thing, just to make people listen a bit more. And then when we started getting on Twitter with it and the [East Midlands Trains] Twitter team picked up on it, we started adding a few more things in. It has just gone crazy. With Twitter, we can see what people think - it is instant.”
I’ve seen this process first hand. One Saturday morning in May this year, I was on an early train north out of London. It was the first time I’d encountered Dawson’s unique style. I was soon tweeting about it to my followers, which in turn was retweeted by the person in charge of the EMT Twitter account that morning. It has 42,000 followers. Rather than a dry feed of engineering works and ticket news, it feels much more friendly and informal.
The result? A 2016 version of a Quad Royal poster, but with an interactive twist. This generation might not believe ‘summer comes soonest in the south’, but it does still want to be offered a good experience.
In Dawson, the East Midlands Trains brand has an ambassador who not only makes other people reach for their phones and do the heavy lifting of promotion, but also a voice which the company can amplify itself. In a market where travellers do have some choice, that’s
a heady combination. One can even imagine people seeking out an EMT service in the hope Dawson might be on board.
If the history of railway marketing teaches us anything, it is to be distinctive. Can he and his colleagues be a persuasive argument for making people actively choose the railways?
“Good morning. Our train is now arriving at Derby - or Derbados. The sun is out. Change here for other exotic destinations like Birmingham, Tamworth and Matlock. Matlock would be great for an ice cream today.”
If the power of branding effectively is not a compelling argument, there is also a safety aspect to consider. At the start of any flight, we’re implored to pay close attention to the safety demonstration, even if we are frequent flyers. If you are a regular on a train journey, the scripts of announcements become equally familiar and equally open to being ignored.
Dawson thinks adding a little humour can counteract this: “I think it makes people listen a little bit more. People are waiting for the next announcement just to see what you’re saying.”
So there’s a safety benefit there - it’s not just washing over people?
“Yes. We do put the humour in, but we put everything else in that we need to put in for safety.”
One passenger, an American who has boarded at Derby, bears witness. “I spend a lot of time on the train so it is always nice to know people love what they are doing.” Does it make you pay more attention? “Of course. I actually listened this morning. I wasn’t just staring out of the window zoning out.”
Now the station stops are every few minutes. My favourite announcement follows Derby: “The next station call is Long Eaton, and in a terrible twist of irony that isn’t lost on us here at East Midlands Trains, Long Eaton has
Our train is now arriving at Derby - or Derbados. The sun is out. Change here for other exotic destinations like Birmingham, Tamworth and Matlock. Matlock would be great for an ice cream today.
Thanks to modern technology, our train is equipped with WiFi. Woohoo! Sit back, relax, enjoy the journey and enjoy the sheep and cows as they whizz past you at high speed.
The next station for our service is Loughborough. Or if you are American, Luff-boro. Or if you are Australian, Looga-barooga.
We’re arriving slightly ahead of schedule today so if you do wish to thank our driver maybe a high five as you walk down the platform. Or maybe a cuddle. Feel free.
a very short platform. You’ll need to alight from the front of the train.”
Next stop is Loughborough - I grew up here so I am eager to catch what follows.
“The next station for our service is Loughborough. Or if you are American, Luff-boro. Or if you are Australian, Loogabarooga.”
I can’t do justice to the note-perfect pronunciations in the transcription. I wonder what is his favourite? “Probably Chesvegas.” You’re a Sheffield man. Do you keep anything up your sleeve for the steel city?
“I sometimes announce that it’s Sheffield gateway to the north or Sheffield capital city of the north, but the people from Leeds won’t like that!”
What sort of reaction do you get from the passengers?
“I think it’s very positive. We get a lot of people laughing and joking with us. It makes the day go quicker as well.”
A lady passing the buffet where we are chatting agrees: “It’s really the most entertaining passenger announcement I’ve ever heard.”
Today’s service is semi-fast. After Leicester (“home of your Premiership champions, Gary Lineker and crisps”) we’re straight through to London (“We’ve given our driver a cup of tea and some fruit cake which guarantees our arrival”), which means tannoy time is almost over. A train manager’s work isn’t, however, and soon Dawson is walking through the train on a ticket grip. But he’s still making the same effort to properly talk to passengers.
One group of four has already opened the fizz. “Where are you off to?” he asks. “And don’t say London.”
The briefest of pauses and the inevitable reply follows: “London - well the Dorchester. It’s my 60th year.”
Two of them are about to board a plane to Milan. “So how about we kick off your weekend in style,” offers Dawson. “Come and sit with us in First Class.” There’s a polite ‘thank you’ followed by a less British but more appropriate mini-fist pump and exclamation of “yes!” - as well as a gasp from other passengers. That upgrade moment you might boast about to friends has just happened.
Later I catch up with them in the leather seats at the other end of the train. “He has been amazing. Very funny. It cheers you up and makes you smile, that’s what you need.”
Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they? But the company is pleased, too: “We’re lucky to have fantastic staff such as Matt at East Midlands Trains,” says Head of Customer Experience Delivery Jonny Wiseman.
“We want our customers to have a great experience with us and enjoy their train journey, and we encourage our staff to provide the best service they can. In Matt’s case, he uses his announcements as a way of getting better interaction with his customers. He is a very popular Train Manager with customers and colleagues alike. It is great to see so much positive feedback about him.”
Dawson repays the compliment to his crew mates: “They’re a fantastic crew.” How do they put up with you? “I think they switch off to be fair, they tune it out!”
As the train slows and the international line hoves in from the side, we’re moments from St Pancras. Dawson makes the traditional announcement thanking passengers for travelling and reminds them to take all their possessions, including husbands and wives.
“Thank you for tweeting in. We’re arriving slightly ahead of schedule today so if you do wish to thank our driver maybe a high five as you walk down the platform. Or maybe a cuddle. Feel free.”
Drivers can’t hear the on- train announcements, so one wonders if this has ever caused any confusion or bemusement. Perhaps wisely the front cab door, at rest by the buffer stops, remains firmly shut.
On the platform, often the scene of a sprint for the ticket barriers, passengers stop for a chat. One good-naturedly reprimands Dawson over a grammatical choice. This part of his shift over, there’s time for one more quip. Does he have a stand-up gig at the Edinburgh Fringe in him?
“Maybe. I’m hoping we could turn the Christmas lights on in Meadowhall!”
Well, that is the peak of celebrity in South Yorkshire.
Audiences don’t come much tougher than commuters, and yet Dawson still raises smiles in the aisles for miles. It may not be to the taste of every battle-weary passenger, but for others it makes a journey a delight.
As he walks away to pick up another northbound train, you can’t help wondering who else is about to have their day brightened...
Matt Dawson’s Twitter feed ( https://twitter.com/
mattymidland/media) is proving popular. From left: a well-earned brew, a selfie with ‘fellow comedian’ Jack Whitehall, and with Tom Ingall and his BBC cameraman.