Pacer trains offer plenty of excitement as setting of a thriller story - Ian McMillan

A Pacer train leaves Leeds station.
A Pacer train leaves Leeds station.

Guess where I’m writing this from. Listen: what’s that noise? It’s a screech and a creak and a groan and a moan as though a ghost is making an old rusty pub sign creak madly.

Look out of that window: you can’t see a thing because the dirt has piled up on it in archaeological layers. Feel that? It’s the bumping and lurching that almost lift you out of your seat and make you stick to the ceiling like gravity has gone on a winter break. I’m shivering; no I’m not, I’m sweating, no I’m not, I’m shivering, no I’m not, I’m sweating.

Ian McMillan: Chapter and verse

Any idea where I am? Here’s another clue: I keep looking at my phone to see what time it is. I should be somewhere at 1400 but I’m not going to make it. I’m standing uncomfortably close to somebody I’ve never met before, but it’s almost as though we’re intimate friends because you would never usually stand this close to anyone unless you knew them really well.

Have you guessed yet? I’ll tell you. I’m on a Pacer Train, one of those railbuses that are eventually going to be phased out of the Northern rail fleet but which still keep hanging on in less fashionable areas of the network. I have seen a few of the new ones and I’ve been on one or two of them and they’re an improvement on the Antique Railshow that is the Pacer.

There’s one group of people who won’t welcome the arrival of the new sleek and modern trains however, and that’s the thriller writers of Yorkshire. Imagine having to set a whodunnit on a silent, clean, on time train where everyone was sitting in an allocated seat and everybody had got a ticket. It would be almost impossible.

On the other hand, a thriller set on a Pacer train would be much easier to construct. You wouldn’t hear the cry for help because the engine was too noisy. The robbery would feel like a perfect one because everybody was so crushed together, you wouldn’t feel the pickpocket’s hand picking your pocket. The suspect would be at the far end of the carriage, but the detective couldn’t get to them because there were far too many people standing up in the way; the detective could shout ‘Stop thief!’ but the aforementioned screeching noises would mean that nobody would hear.

Ian McMillan: To erm is human

If the train was on time you’d have no agonising wait by the tunnel for the suspect to run through it, taking a chance on the train being late. A clue could be written in the condensation of one of the old windows, but not on a new one.

So I will welcome the new trains with open arms and an open return ticket, but I won’t welcome their lack of any opportunities for plot-based excitement. On the other hand, they’re so new and so quick they could almost be the basis of a science fiction story. All aboard to the future, chapter one…