Posted on January 2, 2014

Thomas the Tank Engine Is to Blame for a Lack of Female Train Drivers Because All Characters Are Male, Claims Female Labour MP

Lucy Crossley, Daily Mail (London), December 28, 2013

Thomas the Tank Engine has been blamed for a lack of women train drivers by the shadow transport secretary.

Mary Creagh said it was a ‘national scandal’ that there were so few women drivers on the railways, but was ridiculed for saying that the popular children’s story was partly to blame.

She said all the main characters in the original books–published in the 1940s–are male, and the only female characters are an ‘annoyance, a nuisance and in some cases a danger’ to the railway.

‘There is a preponderance of men in the transport industry and I am very keen to unpack some of the myths that stop women from taking up what are often highly-paid and highly-skilled jobs,’ she said.

Her remarks led Rob Wilson, a Tory MP, to suggest that Thomas’s creator, the Reverend William Awdry, ‘forgot he was meant to serve as one of Labour’s agents of social change’ when he wrote his stories all those years ago.

‘This is rather emblematic of Labour and socialism,’ he said. ‘It can’t stop meddling with things that really shouldn’t concern it–even children’s stories.’

There are 1,000 women working as train drivers, which equates to just 4.2 per cent of the total number.

Train drivers’ union Aslef is currently working to encourage more women into the industry.

Mother-of-two Ms Creagh said that the Thomas The Tank Engine books and television show were ‘wonderful’, but criticised the series for not having enough female characters.

In the original books the only female characters were coaches Annie and Clarabel, Isabel the auto coach, Mrs Kyndley, an elderly woman, and female engine Daisy.

Thomas and the other main characters–James, Edward, Percy, Henry, Gordon, and the Fat Controller are all male, although a principle character named Emily, another steam engine, was introduced to the Thomas & Friends series, which aired on Channel 5, in 2003.

Ms Creagh said that the tales of the little blue steam engine should follow the example of CBeebies series Underground Ernie, which features a main character called Victoria.

She also suggested that train companies could up the numbers of female drivers by advertising in womens’ interest magazines, or offering more part-time posts.

Hit Entertainment, which owns the rights to Thomas, said that more female characters were being developed to address a historical imbalance.