Archive for the ‘Transport’ Category

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I’ve been watching and learning about trains and railways from television since I was a toddler. In past articles I’ve discussed the BBC series Making Tracks, which was a big influence, and The Train Now Departing, probably the classiest railway television series ever made. Many more documentaries like these were made, particularly during the 1980s, when railway enthusiasm was still bordering on the mainstream.

Today’s railway programmes don’t reach the major channels, but YouTube is your friend, both for contemporary videos and archive footage. The only problem is you have to cut through hours and hours of videos of people stood on the edge of a platform with a camcorder as Tornado flashes past to get to the real gems. I have a whole playlist of railway videos, ranging from classic British Transport Films from the 1950s and 1960s through to the bang-up-to-date All the Stations series. Here are five must-see documentary-length videos for any enthusiast:

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Bristol Parkway is a pretty soulless place, devoid of any character or interest. It is one of Britain’s most modern railway creations, which developed from being a couple of platforms and a car park in a field in South Gloucestershire to an important rail interchange. The construction of everything on the site gives the impression that any architects involved tried to build the most features with the smallest amount of money. Everything looks lightweight and tinny. It’s no place to be stranded to change trains – there’s nothing there – and yet that’s exactly what it was meant to be.

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The TransPennine revolution

Posted: May 16, 2017 in Transport

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Rail travel in the North of England is currently undergoing nothing short of a total transformation. By 2020, the fleet of regional operator Northern will have been totally transformed with nearly 100 new trains to replace the outgoing Pacers, while Virgin Trains East Coast are ditching their InterCity 125s and 225s in favour of the new Hitachi InterCity Express trains, known as Azumas. But perhaps the most interesting changes are those planned for TransPennine Express. Currently the region’s intermediate franchise, operating semi-fast regional services on the East and West Coast routes and through the heart of the North, the operator is morphing into the full express form its name suggests, with huge fleet changes and a radical shift in emphasis in its routes.
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Britain’s last boat trains

Posted: March 26, 2017 in Rail, Transport

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As part of the package for my current job (working for a train operating company), I currently have free travel throughout much of the British railway network – a dream come true. Over the last few months I’ve been exploring parts of the country that I could never have imagined visiting – places that were just names on a map to a little Welsh lad who rarely ventured past Birmingham prior to turning 21.

Two of my recent trips have been linked. On 18 March, I found myself heading west from Leeds on the only train of the day to Heysham Port. Today, a week later (25 March), I was on one of the few services across South Wales from Cardiff to Fishguard Harbour. Both are amongst Britain’s last surviving services to ferry ports, linking with services to the Isle of Man and Rosslare respectively.

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Railways: service or business?

Posted: November 4, 2016 in Rail, Transport

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Llanfyllin station in North Wales (image used in the spirit of fair use)

When do railways stop being a service and become a business? When do railways stop being a business and become a service?

Dr Richard Beeching thought he had the answer. As chairman of the British Railways Board, he helped set out the criteria for what we understand as the modern railway, after which the idea of railways being solely operated as a service regardless of cost finally died – although it had already been dying in the decade leading up to it. Railways were expected to cover their losses, and could only be retained if “hardship” would result from the closure, a vaguely defined term which was easily exploited in times where pruning the network was accepted wisdom in Whitehall.
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I’ve been following the South Wales Metro project for some time, and have been very supportive of the idea of creating an integrated public transport network in the region – this sort of thing should have happened decades ago, as was originally intended when Britain’s railways were nationalised in 1948, and should bring us in line with the other big cities of Britain.

However, recent developments have seen a move away from the original plan to add tram lines and rapid transit bus networks to the electrified Valley Lines. It seems that after post-election budget cuts to the electrification project and now our impending exit from the EU, the Welsh Assembly is moving towards converting the core Valley Lines network to light rail. Previously the only light rail conversion was expected to be the Cardiff Bay Branch, with that line being extended in the process, but this now seems to be going much further.

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Amidst the media circus today about whether or not Jeremy Corbyn, Leader of the Opposition and rail enthusiast, deliberately sat on the floor of a train to fake overcrowding for a PR stunt (which of course the man himself has denied, with no evidence to disprove his explanation), one particular hot take leapt out at me.

“He should have reserved a seat.”

As a regular rail traveller and train buff, there’s nothing that screams middle class entitlement and privilege more to me than telling people they should book in advance to travel by train. The implication of this is clearly exclusionary – it reaffirms the inaccessibility of the train in society, rather than supporting any changes to make it more accessible, something Corbyn is a prominent supporter of. But then this is just the outcome of decades of shifting thinking about what rail travel should be, a shift that was managed for political purposes.

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