Labour's shadow transport secretary has claimed the popular children's series Thomas the Tank Engine "perpetuates cultural stereotypes about the sort of work men and women do."
Mary Creagh, who is campaigning for more women in the train industry, told the Daily Telegraph:
In the Thomas the Tank Engine books there are almost no female engines.
The only female characters are an annoyance, a nuisance and in some cases a danger to the functioning of 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.
Thomas, the fictional steam locomotive, was created in 1946. The majority of the main characters in the popular TV and book series, are male.
But Thomas has two coaches, called Annie and Clarabel, who often warn him of potential hazards.
This episode of the TV show Thomas & Friends starred an engine called Emily:
Ms Creagh praised Undergound Ernie, the popular animated series on CBeebies which includes more prominent female train engines and other characters, but added that "again it is called Underground Ernie, not Underground Rosie."
She later took to Twitter to explain her argument further:
@jameschappers never said thomas tank was sexist James. Said it perpetuated cultural stereotypes about the sort of work men and women do.
@jameschappers just like the Boots toddlers reins. How come underground has 30% women drivers and rest of network 5%?
@jananganesh not at all. The debate on gender neutral toys and tv is about not pigeonholing kids at 5 into jobs for boys and jobs for girls.
She is calling on the industry to do more to recruit female drivers, including targeting adverts in women's magazines and offering more flexible hours for childcare.
The train drivers' union Aslef, which is also campaigning on the same issue, says around 4.2 per cent of train drivers are women.
Hit Entertainment, the company which owns the rights to Thomas & Friends, admitted to the Telegraph that there was a "historical imbalance", but said more female engines are "in development" and that "every engine has a job to do...gender is irrelevant."