ENJOYED breakfast with Michael Portillo at the Great Northern Hotel at King’s Cross filming an episode for the new series of Great British Railway Journeys for the BBC. We were talking about the Golden Age of rail travel in the 1920s and 1930s, when the Flying Scotsman made the first non-stop journey between London and Edinburgh and the great streamlined trains such as the Silver Jubilee, the Coronation and Coronation Scot came into service, slashing journey times between London and the north.
There were other luxury trains, such as the Brighton Belle, the world’s only all-Pullman electric train, the Golden Arrow and the Night Ferry, which took passengers direct from London to Paris across the Channel without leaving their sleeping car berths.
Was it really such a golden age, though? Away from the glamour of the luxury trains, many services during the period were dirty, inefficient and slow. We debated this, but I concluded the the epithet still holds good, since visionaries such as the LNER chief engineer Sir Nigel Gresley made British trains the envy of the world – not least by establishing the world steam speed record of 126mph, achieved by A4-class Mallard, which still holds good to this day.