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By John McGoldrick on

If you’re sick on the train…

Passenger comfort may have increased vastly since the early days of rail travel, but one problem remains...

This is something I had to share with you.

People often complain of air, car or sea sickness, but train sickness is a less widely reported phenomenon. It does affect a lot of people though, especially with modern tilting trains.

It became enough of a problem in the late 1970s to early 1980s for British Rail to issue double-arrow branded sick bags to passengers. A lady called Sally Smith approached me recently to enquire if we would like the one she had for our collection. A quick search of our collections database confirmed my suspicion that we didn’t already have one, or indeed anything in the collections relating to passenger sickness.

There is plenty of advice out there on combating train sickness, including drinking ginger tea, immersing yourself in your favourite album on your mp3 player, or sitting as close to the middle of the train as possible. If that fails, try focussing your gaze on distant objects such as clouds or hills!

The problem of train sickness is an altogether new one. The Atchison,Topeka and Santa Fe Railway experimented with suspension cars in the early 1930s, but the passive technology they employed resulted in a sea sickness rolling sensation that doomed the experiment.

Today’s tilting trains benefit from processing which senses the line ahead and sets the optimal tilt for individual carriages – although this doesn’t appear to be failsafe judging by the numbers of rail passengers who continue to complain on rail forums about nausea on tilting trains.

4 comments on “If you’re sick on the train…

  1. Today’s tilting trains do not sense the line ahead (they are not that smart) but, as I understand it, they do not fully compensate by tilting for the curve they are on. BR’s APT did fully compensate for the curve which led to passengers’ brains becoming confused – their eyes told them they were tilting but they could not feel this sensation. By tilting just that bit less on today’s trains, passengers can both feel the tilt and see the tilt and therefore their brains do not feel quite so confused.
    That’s my understanding of the tilt problem. And yes, I do sometimes feel nauseous on today’s tilting trains.

    1. Hi Phillip,

      Many thanks for your comments on the BR sick bag post. I must say that your understanding of the tilting mechanisms on modern tilting trains does sound right. I’m not the most techie person in the world, so can only go on what look like authorititive sources. Comments appreciated.

  2. I suspect your sick bag came not from a tilting train, but a rolling ship. When British Rail Shipping & International Services still used the double arrow logo, up until the early 1980s, such sick bags would have been available in their hundreds on the many shipping services operated by the railway. Those were the long lost days of integrated intermodal services being offered to travellers.

    1. Hi Edmund,

      Thanks for your comments. Shipping does seem like a highly likely environment for these bags to be used. I had discounted this intially, because the lack of Sealink branding. Colleagues here do recollect seeing this type of bag being made available on trains, so perhaps these were used on rail and sea?

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