St Pancras, a truly grand railway station

I’ve found some photos I’ve not shared with you previously, hence this short article. Not long ago I visited St Pancras Station while on a trip to London. I’ve been there numerous times, and in the past have taken the Eurostar trains from there, when I’ve suffered, like many others, the horror of long queues to board the train – mostly due to immigration and stuff.

To my mind St Pancras one of the finest, if not the finest, railway station in the country. I know there are many other grand stations: the combination of the hotel/station frontage, plus the stunning station roof must make it a strong candidate for being the finest station.

My last visit was at the end of September. There were very few people about that I saw while taking  lunch in Carluccio’s. Admiring the architecture over lunch, I was minded to take some photos. Here they are – plus one of the frontage from longer ago.

The unlikely name of these railway station canopy features

The twitter feed of Tim Dunn, a railway historian, I find is a source of oddities about all things architectural and railway related.

I imagine you’re unlikely to ever have wondered about the name for those jagged bits at the edge of railway station canopies, like this one at Wanborough Station I photographed a couple of years ago.

Tim Dunn has the answer in his tweet on the topic you can see below my photo.

The Island Line receives an investment boost

A day trip to the Isle of Wight is a regular favourite of ours – though not in lockdown times. Portsmouth to Ryde on the ferry is our preferred route. Where to then, we sometimes take the tube train or occasionally a bus from Ryde.

I’ve discussed the state and future of the Island Line in The uncertain future of tube trains on the Isle of Wight. I’ve also commented of the joys of train travel on the island in A magical day out to the Isle of Wight, and of fun to be had at Brading station.

It’s pleasure to report on something annouced last year, which I missed. It’s the £26 million investment in new trains and track for the Island Line. The troubles of the current tube trains are that they are over 80 years old, and were last given a major overhaul in 1990. Here are the announcements,

Here are the proposals for the Island Line upgrade,

September 2019 Island Line investment announcement made at Brading
Late 2019-2020 Build of new Vivarail Class 484 trains begins at Long Marston, Midlands
Late 2019 onwards Design and planning work for Island Line infrastructure
April 2020 Testing begins on first Class 484 Island Line unit
Spring 2020 Wifi and Ticket Machines installed at stations
Summer 2020 First Class 484 train arrives on the Isle of Wight for testing
October/November 2020 More new Class 484 carriages arrive on the Isle of Wight
Winter 2020/2021 Disruption during infrastructure works – shuttle service in operation
February 2021 Final new Class 484 carriages delivered
March 2021 Last 1938 stock Island Line train decommissioned
May 2021 Brand new timetable introduced with new trains

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.