Archive for the ‘Rail’ Category


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:




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.


Britain’s last boat trains

Posted: March 26, 2017 in Rail, Transport


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.


Railways: service or business?

Posted: November 4, 2016 in Rail, Transport

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.


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.



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.



In 1993, BBC One launched a new programme focusing on steam railways in Britain and around the world. Hosted by Bob Symes and Mary-Jean Hasler and produced by Lineside Location Productions, Making Tracks ran for three series with 18 episodes in total up until 1995. However, in years since, it seems to have disappeared from the radar, with very few clips and very little information on the internet.

Luckily I have 15 of the 18 episodes taped off the TV, and recently bought two of the VHSs from eBay, which each included two episodes. I decided to watch all the episodes I have and complete a review of each, so that there is at least some record online of what the programme covered.

Series One
The first six episodes, broadcast in autumn 1993, included between three and four features in the 30-minute programmes. At least one of these was at a major preserved railway in Britain, from which the programme would be hosted on location, and one of the other features was usually from Britain as well, either looking at main line action or another preserved railway. There would also be two features on steam abroad, produced either by Lineside Location Productions or by another company.

S1E1 from the Great Central Railway, Leicestershire (15/10/93, BBC1)
The first MT feature was a look at steam around the famous Wolsztyn depot in Poland, a rare hive of steam activity in Europe which still remains a mecca for rail enthusiasts. This was followed by the first of what would become a regular look at British main line excursions, which included 777 Sir Lamiel and 4771 Green Arrow on the Settle and Carlisle line, 60009 Union of South Africa on the Marches line, 6998 Burton Agnes Hall on Didcot-Oxford shuttles, and 4472 Flying Scotsman on shuttles between Cambridge and King’s Lynn. The main feature on the Great Central Railway was filmed during a significant gala, with ten locomotives filmed: 5231, 5593 Kolhapur, 7029 Clun Castle, 7760, 30926 Repton, 34105 Swanage, 35005 Canadian Pacific, 68009, 68088, and the replica of Planet. The episode was completed by a look at the Cumbres and Toltec Scenic Railroad in the USA, including spectacular footage of the railroad’s steam-powered rotary snowplough.

S1E2 from the Mid-Hants Railway, Hampshire (22/10/93, BBC1)
The show opened with the launch of a new steam-diesel locomotive on the Schneeberg rack railway in Austria. This was followed by a brief look at the preserved narrow-gauge Ravenglass and Eskdale Railway in Cumbria. The main feature was on the Mid-Hants Railway, again filmed in a gala with engines 7760, 30053, 30506, 34105 Swanage, 70000 Britannia, 76017, and one locomotive as Thomas the Tank Engine all featuring. The closing feature was the series’ first visit to South Africa, specifically focusing on the Cape Mountaineer 2 railtour.

S1E3 from the Middleton Railway, Yorkshire (29/10/93, BBC1)
I do not have this episode on tape, but as well as looking at the Leeds-based preserved line, it included footage of steam operations in Ukraine, British main line action including LMS Pacifics on the North Wales Coast line, and highlights of the 1991 Sacremento Rail Fair, which can be seen on YouTube.

S1E4 from the North Yorkshire Moors Railway, Yorkshire (05/11/93, BBC1)
The episode opened with a look at narrow gauge lines in the former East Germany, including the well-known Harz railway network. British main line action included a brief glimpse of 70000 Britannia at Warwick, followed by footage of 71000 Duke of Gloucester pulling into (and failing at) Stratford-upon-Avon, after which it was replaced by a Class 47 diesel. North Yorkshire Moors footage included 3670 Dame Vera Lynn, 6619, 30926 Repton and 80135, and the episode closed with the magnificently run-down Guayaquil and Quito Railway in Ecuador.

S1E5 from the Bluebell Railway, Sussex (12/11/93, BBC1)
Unfortunately this is another I don’t have, but aside from the Bluebell, it also included more action from Poland and a look at steam in southern Argentina.

S1E6 from the Kent and East Sussex Railway (17/11/93, BBC1)
The series’ second visit to South Africa focused on the De Aar-Kimberley line, which, until shortly before broadcast, had been a rare main line with significant steam action; among the engines featured included one of the distinctive Class 25 Condensers. The K&ESR action was again set at a gala, with 14 Charwelton, 23 Holman F Stephens, 26 Linda, 1638 and 32650 Sutton all spotted. The final section of the series was on steam in Pakistan.

Series Two
Just under eight months on, MT returned for its second series, with a largely unchanged format but slightly more polished and no longer exclusively looking at steam power. It also saw two episodes hosted from outside the UK, suggesting a bigger budget.

S2E1 from the East Lancashire Railway (06/07/94, BBC1)
The second series began with the Durango and Silverton Narrow Gauge Railroad in Colorado, one of the most scenic lines in the USA. As usual, the preserved steam action in Britain was set at a busy gala, with 5224, 5407, 7828 Odney Manor, 42765, 46441, and 71000 Duke of Gloucester in action at the East Lancashire Railway, and there was also a glimpse of future main line star 6233 Duchess of Sutherland, which had become a play area for children while on static display. The final feature was on the Viceroy Special, a luxury steam-hauled excursion train from Colombo to Badulla in Sri Lanka.

S2E2 from the Talyllyn Railway, Wales (13/07/94, BBC1)
The episode began in Paraguay, where the railway network was still dominated by steam; this included comic attempts at trying to use a steam-powered water pump on a bridge to refill the engine. The British main line steam feature focused on 34027 Taw Valley, first looking at a run over the West of England line to Yeovil Junction and then another special in the snow from Didcot. The main feature was on the Talyllyn Railway, the world’s first preserved line (where Bob Symes was among the original team of preservationists). Surprisingly, only one engine – 7 Tom Rolt – was seen in action hauling trains, though 1 Talyllyn, 2 Dolgoch, 3 Sir Haydn and 4 Edward Thomas (as ‘Peter Sam’) were all shown. The closing feature was on narrow gauge industrial lines in India.

S2E3 from Austria (20/07/94, BBC1)
This was the first episode hosted from outside the UK, and with no Briitsh preserved railway action. It began with a look at the Postlingbergbahn tramway in Linz, which has since been upgraded. There was a brief feature on British main line steam, with Southern Railway S15 828 in action at Sheffield. After this, there were two further features on Austria: firstly looking at Das Heizhaus, a railway museum in Strasshof, and secondly at the Mariazellerbahn. Finally, there was coverage of steam action on the now-closed Barkly East branch in South Africa.

S2E4 from the Severn Valley Railway, West Midlands (03/08/94, BBC1)
The opening feature was on a railtour on the windswept Esquel line in Patagonia, Argentina, which now has a much brighter future than it did at the time of filming. British main line action featured 45596 Bahamas at Shrewsbury and on the Marches line. 45596 then also popped up during the Severn Valley Railway feature, which again took place in a gala – other engines featured include 4422, 5029 Nunney Castle, 6024 King Edward I,  46443, 46521, 48773, 80079 and 80080, as well as 600 Gordon and 7325 lurking in the background of shots while static. The final feature was the first of two memorable looks at steam in Indonesia, the first being on the island of Java around sugar mills; this has since largely disappeared.

S2E5 from Ljubljana, Slovenia (10/08/94, BBC1)
Again, with the episode based abroad, there was no action of British preserved steam. It opened with another visit to South Africa, this time to another since-lost line: the MacLear branch. This was followed by another look at British main line steam, opening with a look at 6024 King Edward I on a special through Bristol Temple Meads and then another from Kidderminster to Didcot. The King was compared with 5029 Nunney Castle, though the footage used was from the Severn Valley feature seen in the previous episode. After this, there was a brief look at 46203 Princess Margaret Rose and 4498 Sir Nigel Gresley en route to working in the Farewell to BR specials on the North Wales Coast line, and eventually 46203 hauling one of those services through Llanfair PG. After this was the feature on the railway museum in Ljubljana, and then finally a look at industrial lines in Sumatra, serving the Indonesian island’s oil palm plantations; as with the Java lines, these are now largely history.

S2E6 from the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway, Yorkshire (17/08/94, BBC1)
This is the last of the episodes I do not have on tape, but from the preview given in Episode 5, I can tell you that as well as a look at the K&WVR, there were features on a tramway in Verona, broad gauge steam action from India, and British main line action include 80079 and 80080 working excursions in Devon around the Exeter rail fair.

Series Three
A year on and MT returned for its final run. Though relegated to BBC Two, episodes were packed with more features, including a regular feature looking at British miniature railways.

S3E1 from the Foxfield Railway, Staffordshire (19/07/95, BBC2)The series opened with the first of three visits to East Asia with a steam excursion in western Japan and a preserved line near Nagoya. British main line action included 777 Sir Lamiel and 828 on D-Day anniversary shuttles between Salisbury and Southampton Docks, and 96 Normandy returning to the docks for the first time in preservation. It also included more of the Farewell to BR specials from North Wales, with 4498 Sir Nigel Gresley, 5029 Nunney Castle, 828, 46203 Princess Margaret Rose, 71000 Duke of Gloucester all in action. 46203 was then shown leaving London Paddington on a further Farewell to BR special. The first miniature railway feature was on the Eastbourne Miniature Steam Railway, with a brief look at Bob Symes’ live steam model railway. After this came a look at the Foxfield Railway, and the closing feature was on working industrial steam in, yes, South Africa.

S3E2 from the Paignton and Dartmouth Railway, Devon (26/07/95, BBC2)
The episode opened with a look at steam on the steeply-graded Chengde Steelworks Railway in China. This was followed by what was essentially a double-feature on British main line steam. The first part was on Steam on the Met, with 69523, 80079 and L99 seen running the 1994 trains. This was followed by a look at 70000 Britannia (as 70014 Iron Duke) at Dover, and 80079 and 80080 on a special on the now-closed Folkestone Harbour branch. The miniature railway series was continued with footage of the Exmoor Steam Railway in Devon, now no longer open to the public. The main feature was on the Paignton and Dartmouth Railway, with only two engines in action: 4920 Dumbleton Hall and 6435. Finally, there was a three-part feature on Ireland, looking at the nascent Cavan and Leitrim Railway, the Bord na Mona railway network, and the Sea Breeze excursion between Dublin and Rosslare Harbour via the streets of Wexford.

S3E3 from St Florian, Austria (and the South Devon Railway) (02/08/95, BBC2)
First up was a feature on the first preserved railway on mainland Europe, the Blonay-Chamby Railway in Switzerland. The feature on British main line specials was once again longer than usual, with 46441 on the Hope Valley line, 70000 Britannia working through from Waterloo to the Mid-Hants Railway (with help from 30506 and with 92203 Black Prince looking on) and later on the Marches line at Abergavenny, and finally 5029 Nunney Castle on a Didcot-Worcester special. The miniature railway feature was on the much-missed Dobwalls Miniature Railway, while the preserved railway feature was on the South Devon Railway, featuring 7714 and 68011 Errol Lonsdale in action, and glimpses of 1369 under overhaul and LSWR Beattie Well Tank 3298 and broad gauge engine Tiny in the museum. The feature from Austria covered the Florianerbahn tramway, and to close the show, there was a second feature on steam in Switzerland, looking at the Furka Mountain Railway.

S3E4 from the West Somerset Railway (14/08/95, BBC2)
This episode began with a return to Sri Lanka to briefly look at the then-narrow gauge line from Colombo to Avissawella, since converted to broad gauge; it featured a Sentinel steam railcar, now the subject of a preservation bid. The British main line feature covered two engines owned by the NELPG: 60532 Blue Peter in action in Scotland, and 2005 on a special between Darlington and Newcastle. The miniature railway series covered the Romney, Hythe and Dymchurch railway, and there was another visit to Austria to look at the tramway museum and Vienna and its royal imperial saloon. The episode closed with the main feature on the West Somerset Railway, with five engines seen in action: 4160, 4561, 7802 Bradley Manor, 75069, and industrial tank Kilmersdon.

S3E5 from Bolzano, Italy (18/08/95, BBC2)
The series returned to Eastern Europe for the first time since the first series with footage of the Baltic Coast Express railtour in Russia and Estonia. The British main line section was devoted to 44871 in action on two railtours in Scotland. Next up was an interview with a miniature locomotive engineer from Belgium, before the regular miniature railway feature focusing on the now-closed Mull and West Highland Railway. The main feature was a look at the scenic Rittnerbahn Tramway in northern Italy, and the episode concluded with industrial steam around Bulawayo in Zimbabwe and a Garratt-led railtour on the East Nicholson branch.

S3E6 from the Midland Railway Centre (24/08/95, BBC2)
The final MT episode saw yet another feature on South Africa, this time looking at main line steam on the line to Johannesburg. British main line steam included 48151 on an excursion from Carnforth to Scarborough, and the double-headed railtour from Glasgow to Fort William with 2005 and 3440 The Great Marquess. The final British main line action of the series was a sequence showing 4468 Mallard in action in 1988. Two miniature railways were covered: the Moors Valley Railway at Ringwood, and the sadly closed Gorse Blossom Railway in Devon. The main feature was on the diverse Midland Railway Centre at Butterley, with 46203 Princess Margaret Rose, 47327 and 80080 all in action on the standard gauge line. The final feature was back where the series started in Japan, looking at an excursion in the east of the country.