Literature / The Railway Children

Classic British children's novel by E. Nesbit, first published in 1905.

Three children, Roberta (aka "Bobbie"), Peter and Phyllis Waterbury, relocate with their mother to the country after their civil servant father is arrested on charges of espionage for the Russians. Their cottage is near the railway and they make friends with some of the people involved.

Oh, and they prevent a rail accident by use of red petticoats.

Adapted for stage and screen a number of times; the most recent stage version is currently running at a new purpose built theatre at King's Cross Station in London and features an actual steam locomotive.

This story contains examples of:

  • Brainy Brunette: Bobbie.
  • Call Back: Bobbie finds out about her father by seeing a headline in the newspaper. This gets twisted around at the end where everyone tells her the good news they read in the paper but she doesn't find out until her father arrives.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: The children sort of invoke this as the old gentleman they only know by waving is asked for help several times and turns out to be quite important to the plot later on.
  • The City vs. the Country: Subverted. While Plot B is there, the children don't dislike the countryside at all and, aside from a couple of instances of worrying about money, they enjoy living there. It's implied they get to go home to London in the end.
  • Clear My Name: For the father
  • Contrived Coincidence: The old gentleman the children wave to on the train just happens to turn out to be Jim's grandfather. Phyllis lampshades this.
  • Disappeared Dad: The children's father is taken away over Christmas and they are told he is away on business. It's later revealed he was falsely accused of treason and thrown in prison.
  • Fainting: Bobbie faints just as the train stops a few inches in front of her.
  • Leaning on the Fourth Wall: Towards the end of the story Bobbie starts talking to her mother about how nice it would be if this were all one of the mother's stories.
  • Railroad Tracks of Doom: The aforementioned red petticoat incident and the part where the boy in the red jersey gets injured inside a tunnel. The second one fortunately doesn't involve a race against a train.
  • Ship Tease: Bobbie and Jim.
  • Tomboyish Name: Both the girls. Roberta is called "Bobbie" and Phyllis is often just called "Phil".
  • Tsarist Russia: The Russian exile.

Various adaptations provide examples of:

  • Bitch Alert: Ruth gets this in the film where she snaps at Cook for playing with the children.
  • Bowdlerization: When the film appears on TV, some scenes have been edited out including the children kissing Aunt Emma, Peter stealing the coal and Perks and his wife in bed.
  • Casting Gag / Remake Cameo: Jenny Agutter as the mother in ITV's remake (she played Bobbie in the original).
  • Chekhov's Gun: The film conveniently shows Phyllis and Bobbie wearing their red petticoats a couple of scenes before they're actually needed.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Phyllis and Peter get this at times. When Pete gets caught stealing coal Phyllis remarks "at least we can burn the evidence".
  • Empathic Environment: When Bobbie sees the headline about her father in the paper, it starts to rain and thunder is heard.
  • Scenery Porn: Plenty of beautiful shots of the English countryside. Yorkshire is a beautiful place, and the filmmakers want you to know it.
  • Stepford Smiler: Implied with the mother, especially in the film. One scene has Bobbie coming downstairs and hearing her mother crying in the living room. The ITV version, too, with Jenny Agutter as the mother.