A staple of TV schedules are progammes about railways

Looking at the TV schedules it’s obvious that programmes on railways are popular, and I imagine inexpensive to make. Programmes revolve around a presenter, and if they are well known, then all the better. There’s Michael Portillo and his Great British Railway Journeys, Chris Tarrant and his Extreme Railways, and new on the scene, Tim Dunn with his The Architecture that the Raiways Built, and then there’s Tony Robinson’s Around the World by Train.

I’m a sucker for the first three, though am not so enamoured with Tony Robinson’s progamme, and don’t watch it. They’re easy TV viewing, as there’s no sex, violence or politics.

Earlier this week I joined a Zoom lecture entitled “1st December 1847, a defining moment in railway time”, which was mostly about railways and their technological innovations in general. Mentioned in the discussions after the lecture was the Surrey Iron Railway, about which I knew nothing. Those discussions pointed me towards this short video. There’s plenty of other information about it on the dear old Internet if you type in Surrey Iron Railway.

Looking inside the largest working mechanical signal box in the world

Among the many TV programmes about railways, there a a couple that I look forward to watching, none more so that Tim Dunn’s programme The Architecture The Railways Built. It’s an hour long programme on the Yesterday Channel, in which it uncovers some fascinating architectural railway gems in the UK and in Europe.

One place that Tim Dunn promised to visit and describe is the Severn Bridge Junction Signal Box at Shrewsbury Railway Station. That visit was in yesterday evening’s episode  – Series 1, Episode 7. My fascination about the signal box is that I’ve been past in, by train, numerous times, and often wondered about it, and why it was so large.  Below the photo of Tim Dunn and the Signal Box, I’ve written a little about it’s history and list some of the sources of information about it.

From a Network Rail website article on the signal box, it states,

The grade II-listed building houses 180 levers, all dating from 1903. The box doesn’t just embody a rare tradition, it continues to perform a vital function on a modern railway. Severn Bridge Junction, which opened in 1904, will remain open for the foreseeable future.

[The origins of the box are from] two railway operating companies – the London & North Western Railway and the Great Western Railway – worked together to build five lines converging at Shrewsbury despite rivalry between them. They competed to connect South Wales’s coal and materials supplies with the industrialised regions of the Midlands and North West, and to transport passengers between Liverpool and London.

Sources of information about the signal box

A miscellany of railwayana No.2: Metroland with John Betjeman

Continuing with the works of the Metropolitan Railway, after World War 1 they developed land adjoining their electrified railway to the Chilterns, and called the area Metro-Land.

A BBC documentary film on Metro-Land described the promotion of this rural idyll serviced by the Metroplolitan Railway. The film was written and narrated by the then Poet Laureate, Sir John Betjeman. The film begins with a high speed journey on the train line from central London to Amersham.

The fim was first broadcast on 26 February 1973.

A miscellany of railwayana No.1: Baker Street tube station

There’s a wonderful British fascination with all things railway related – well there is for some of us.

In the week when the decision on the HS2 railway line from London Euston to Birmingham and beyond could be decided, I’ll post a series of railway related articles.

The first article is about Baker Street London Underground station. It is one of the original stations of the Metropolitan Railway, the world’s first underground railway, opened in 1863.  Here’s an image of the station in 1863 and in 2018. I have @MrTimDunn [travel editor at the @thetrainline] to thank for this combined image.

Should you be so fascinated with Baker Street Underground Station, here’s a video to entertain.

A documentary showing train travel in the 1950’s

I’m confident you’ll know of my interest in steam locomotives, and so I feel I’ll not have to apologise for posting this wonderful film of working, and travelling life in the 1950’s.

As documentary films go, this one of 1954 by British Transport Films on the Elizabethan Express – 60017 Silver Fox is a really good example. It tries to respect the roles of everyone involved in the express train service, though issues of class are evident, with an engaging narration of poetic humour.

Among the things that surprise is the dress of some of the characters, such as the fireman with in his polished brogue shoes.

Not politics, about Waterloo Station Upgrade instead

Enough about local politics, for the moment.

On our recent visit to London, I did what I always do, and that’s to take a photo, from the mezzanine balcony, of the redevelopment work at Waterloo Station.

The redevelopment has been going on for years, with my earliest photo of the work being in December 2015. Looks like the new platforms 20-24 are now in use. Looking at my photo, it appears that the pedestrian link bridge is not open at present.

There’s also much work to develop the lower level, known as the sunken Orchestra Pit, into a retail hub. Here’s my photo for you to inspect. All my previous photos and blog articles can be seen HERE.


Thoughts on a rail journey between Reading and Birmingham

We recently travelled to Birmingham by rail for a family get together. Coming from different places, meeting at Birmingham New Street Station was a convenient for us all.

We travelled from Reading on Cross Country Rail. The train was just four carriages, and this was a train from Paddington to Manchester, via Reading and Oxford. Just four carriages, and so the train was crowded.There must be a reason for such a small train, though I fail to think what it might be.

Enough of the train. Here are some thoughts on the journey.

  • Apart from the places the train stopped at, Didcot, Oxford, Banbury, Leamington Spa, and Coventry there was vast amounts of open countryside. Just a few small villages and hamlets passed in Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire, with variety of church spires.
  • The countryside was almost entirely arable. No cattle, or pigs, just one farm with sheep. Oh, and a house with a solitary chocolate-brown llama.
  • Arriving at Birmingham New Street, we were immensely impressed with the station concourse see photo.
  • While waiting for our relatives to arrive I noted that almost 50% of the people in the station were wearing trainers.
  • The crowds passing through, meeting one another, or chatting to friends, I never heard the word Brexit mentioned once.

The uncertain future of tube trains on the Isle of Wight

On assured sunny days, visiting the Isle of Wight is for us a favoured adventure day trip. We’ve travelled there by almost all possible ways.

The easiest way for us is to go from Portsmouth. We can get there easily by car, park in Gun Wharf Keys, then catch the foot ferry to Ryde. Occasionally we might take the car ferry to Fishbourne. We’ve not yet used the hovercraft to Ryde esplanade, nor have we yet caught the train from Woking to Portsmouth Harbour, perhaps we will try both in 2019.

Arriving at Ryde Pier by foot ferry we either walk down to Ryde esplanade, or catch the Island Line tube train from the pier-head. On one visit we caught the tube, and got off at Brading station– such good fun, lovely heritage station and Signal Box.

The tube trains are reconditioned 1938 London Underground trains, and boy don’t you know it. While fun, they are uncomfortable, as you might expect with 80-year-old carriages. The rail track is similarly uncomfortable, bumpy, noisy, and in need of replacement.

Most recently, this year, we caught the tube to Lake station, walked on the promenade to Shanklin up to the station and thence for late afternoon lunch in Ryde. We’d not been this far previously by tube. Handy yes, uncomfortable, certainly. I thought, at the time, that the rolling stock and line were in urgent need of replacement.

Hence, the point of this story. The tube train from Ryde Pier is something that adds to the tourist experience, which the island should endeavour to retain. But how?

All the arguments about possible alternatives are addressed in London Reconnections article Third Ryde Tube: Transfer Troublesome. It’s a longish article, but fun for train buffs. Below are a few photos on the tube from our past visits.

A Waterloo Station upgrade report

The revised Waterloo South Western Railway timetable from December 2018 is predicated on the reopening of the old Eurostar International platforms – see HERE.

The work to bring those platforms into use has been part of my regular Waterloo Station photo reports of the ongoing work – see HERE for all the articles in descending date order.

My most recent article – HERE – surmised that the engineering works would not complete by December. I’ve not been to Waterloo station since. Therefore I’m relying on comments in the Back to the Future: (Re)lengthening and Shortening at Waterloo article in London Reconnections website.

These comments, the latest on December 11th, indicate that platforms 19, 20, 21, and 22 are in use, and that the new walkway is open, although there is ongoing work in the ‘orchestra pit’. My most recent photo opposite – click to expand..

Meanwhile, again reading in the superb London Reconnections website that the revised time table for additional, and longer trains will not apply before May 2019. There’ not mention of this fact in Network Rail websites that I can see. Apparently there is insufficent power to operate the trains. The situation is fully explained in A Good Spark is Getting Hard to Find: SWR and the December Timetable.

Waterloo Station upgrade inching towards completion

It states in Network Rail’s Waterloo Station Upgrade web page that the project extends from July 2017 to December 2018, and what they say about December 2018 is as follows,

Platforms 21–24 re-open permanently and will be included in the December 2018 timetable, with additional train services provided.

As, dear readers, you will know of my predilection of photographing the ongoing works at the station from the same vantage point on the upper concourse – see HERE if you’d like to see all my past articles on the work, which goes back to March 2016, a little earlier than Network Rail’s stated timings.

I took a photo of the works on Tuesday this week, and show it next to the one I took on November 26th. From my perspective, the work seems to be inching forward. Whether they’ll have completed all the work by the end of December, it looks to me most unlikely. [Click on images to expand – Nov 26th on left and Dec 4th on right.]