From the vaults: Railways (26/12/2009)


(Some things never leave you…)

Walkers seem to have a natural affinity for railways; one which goes beyond the obvious connection of the environmental benefits of public transport. There’s something which makes the intrusion of a railway line into the landscape somehow less disagreeable than a comparable stretch of road. Maybe it has something to do with railway architecture having contributed some of the finer man-made additions to our list of landmarks: Ribblehead Viaduct, The West Highland Line, The Forth Railway Bridge …

 Driving that stretch of the ‘Great North Road’ (The A9), north of Dunkeld, can feel like traveling through a publicity newsreel for Highland tourism: the Tay valley, the pass of Killiekrankie, Drumochter, Loch Ericht, the southern Cairngorms …
But the road, for all the possibilities it opens up, can never match the romance of the Highland main line which shadows it for much of its route. Something feels ‘right’ about watching a passenger service tracking north, calling at Dalwhinnie, Kingussie, and beyond; a sense of amenity somehow surviving the onslaught of ‘deliverable outcomes’ and ‘targeted solutions’ in the post-privatisation era. Sadly the days of a locomotive dragging coaching stock are all but gone, so we make do with ‘Sprinters’ and ‘Turbostars’; better those though than line closures in the name of shareholder value.

I grew up around railways, and all too many years have slipped by since the days when I would lie awake, windows open, listening to the night mail paused at our local station. Invariably, in steam days, there would be wheel-slip and clatter from the departing locomotive – usually a Stanier Black ‘5’, occasionally something a bit more exotic. Later came the familiar ‘whistle’ of the old english Electric Class 40s at idle, the growl as they eased away from rest; railway sounds are one of life’s indelible imprints. We need to preserve our railway network, extend it and reclaim some of what’s been lost. And there needs to be a change in the impenetrable complexity of ticket pricing to ensure that walk-up fares are pitched at more realistic levels.

Pictures: (Top) Back in the days of GNER livery the northbound ‘Highland Chieftain’ passes the station at Dunkeld & Birnam. (Above) A Class 153 unit, having finished its stint on Europe’s shortest branch-line, waits by the signal box at Stourbridge Junction.

Chris Townsend’s blog (October 2009) includes an excellent piece on trains:


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