Drop The Pantograph! The Hunt For London’s Obscure Train Signs

Ruth Hargreaves
By Ruth Hargreaves Last edited 13 months ago
Drop The Pantograph! The Hunt For London’s Obscure Train Signs
Photograph by Sarah O'Carroll
Photograph by Sarah O'Carroll
Photograph by Paul Robertson
Photograph by Paul Robertson

London public transport is the source of many mysteries. How do the mice on the underground not get electrocuted? Is there a way to get a ride on a ‘special’ train? Why do double decker buses no longer have that REALLY fun window on the top deck where you can look down at the driver’s head?

However, for this week at least, our attention is focused on bizarre or obscure train signs in and around London. Nestled in among the Mind the Gaps, Priority Seats and Please Stand on the Rights are a quiet army of incongruous signs that mock us in their ambiguity. There is no doubt that they have meaning, and indeed many people probably know that meaning (smartypants), but for the ignorami among us, trying to work it out is bloody good fun.

So here are our finds and interpretations. We have already written up the Top 10 Tube Mysteries, and guerrilla Tube signs are well covered elsewhere, but our thirst for useless nonsense is unquenchable. Please help us in our quest and notify us of any suitably random signs you might find.

Drivers do not forget to drop the Pantograph!
The pleasure here partly comes from the combination of the syllables ‘drop’ and ‘pant’, but this sign, spotted at Farringdon station, also wins our (un)official Unnecessarily Jaunty Railway Sign 2013 award. Perhaps the least elusive of this collection, it only takes a quick Google of Pantograph to unravel the mystery. However, the enthusiastic exclamation mark at the end is so wonderfully unlike all other London train signs. Perhaps it is the beginning of a new wave of more positive signage: ‘Warning: Danger of Death :)’ or ‘Please report suspicious behaviour to a member of staff immediately MEGALOL’.

Private Rod
At Embankment underground station there is a door marked ‘PRIVATE ROD’. That is it. Even staff cannot say exactly what it is for. This sign’s brilliance lies in its multiple possible meanings. ROD could, of course, be an acronym (Railway Operating Department has been suggested), or it could refer to a rather shy man called Rod (which would explain why we are still none the wiser), or Rod could be in the military and have a Private’s rank. There is also a rather unsubtle, salacious interpretation which we will leave you to ponder.

Emergency Gap Jumper
At South Kensington tube station there is a box, and on that box there is the sign ‘EMERGENCY GAP JUMPER’. Is it for those late spring/early summer evenings when you forget to bring a light jacket with you, or perhaps for those times when you are invited to a last-minute dinner party but — gasp — you only have smart work wear with you and you desperately need more casual attire? Either way it is good to know that Emergency Gap Jumper is there for us in our times of knitwear need.

Mr Private
There are only two logical possibilities to this sign at St Pancras Station: 1. Mr Private is the distant cousin of Private Rod, or 2. The door on which the sign is placed takes us through to the underground residence of Roger Hargreaves’ renegade Mister Man who went rogue while Mr Happy and Mr Bump sat sweetly and pandered to consumer needs. GO ON MR PRIVATE, FIGHT THE SYSTEM!

If you have spotted any other bizarre train signs on your travels, or have your own silly interpretations, then please do comment or email us at hello@londonist.com.

Many thanks to Sarah O'Carroll and Paul Robertson on Flickr for kindly allowing us to use their images.

Last Updated 01 December 2017