Meet Matt from EMT

Meet the EMT Train Man­ager who has be­come a big hit on so­cial me­dia with his stream of en­ter­tain­ing an­nounce­ments.

Rail (UK) - - Contents -

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.

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