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The Trains Now Departed: Sixteen Excursions into the Lost Delights of Britain’s Railways

Trains Now Departed coverSixteen Excursions into the Lost Delights of Britain’s Railways

What is it about the romance of the railways that appeals so powerfully to the soul of the British? Why is a fondness for the lore of rail travel so deeply ingrained in our national consciousness, even among people who never travel on trains? Michael Williams invites the reader into a vanished world where the engines gleamed, the trains ran on time and our railways oozed with character – even if sometimes only in the popular imagination He brings the story to life with an odyssey around present-day Britain to revisit 16 key icons of railway history that have vanished – not just the grand expresses, with their mighty engines and Pullman cars, but tiny branches and curious and eccentric rail byways that were once as much part of the British fabric as the slick modern trains of today. But maybe the magic hasn’t gone for ever…

Here are sixteen excursions into a transport of delights:

  1. The Holy Grail of lost railways: The Somerset and Dorset line – the Holy Grail of vanished railways, and the one they couldn’t save
  2. Final ticket for the Boat Train: The exotic life and death of the ‘Night Ferry’ to Paris, haunt of spies, diplomats and sultans. Even in the era of the Eurostar, it ranks as Britain’s only truly international train ever
  3. Kippers and champagne on the Tube: The great days of dining cars on the Baker Street train recalled in a walk along the line to the London Underground’s loneliest outpost
  4. The railway that touched the sky: Beeching butchered the bleak Stainmore line over the Pennines – the highest in the land. But the track is still there, and the tales of the tough men who worked it, battling against the elements, are legendary
  5. The glamour that ran out of steam: The Flying Scotsman, the Coronation Scot, the Cornish Riviera, the Cheltenham Flyer. In days gone by, every line had its grand named train. Now these magnificent expresses are a fast-receding memory in the corporate world of today’s privatised railways
  6. The train that got ahead of its time: In its heyday the Liverpool Overhead Railway was a state-of the art urban network. Now it is just a memory on Merseyside – but emulated around the world, even in Bangkok
  7. On the Slow, Mouldy and Jolting – the railway that time forgot: In search of the ‘Slow, Mouldy and Jolting’. The charms of the old Stratford-upon-Avon & Midland Junction Railway were legendary – but not if you wanted to get anywhere in a hurry
  8. In the company of ghosts on Britain’s spookiest service: All around Britain abandoned lines are kept open with minimal services to avoid the political difficulty of closure. But they can be a joyous journey into the past…
  9. Goodbye to the Toy Train: The little Lynton & Barnstaple, our most famous narrow-gauge railway, over beautiful Exmoor, closed in 1932. It was the most emblematic of a country railway breed. But the legend lives on as enthusiasts try to rebuild it
  10. Engineering genius in the scrapyard: the fiery marvels of the steam age that are lost for ever, including Sir Nigel Gresley’s legendary Cock o’ the North, the powerful Big Bertha and the Leader, the steam engine that thought it was a diesel
  11. Last call for the dining car: Starched tablecloths, silver service and six-course meals – the railway restaurant car was once the acme of civilised travel. Now in the world of the Virgin burger, it is all but vanished. Though not quite…
  12. The country railway terminated: Thousands of miles of secondary railways once meandered across the land – and none more typical than Betjeman’s favourite, the ‘Withered Arm’ into the loveliest reaches of Devon and Cornwall
  13. Final whistle for the grand stations: It wasn’t just the grand termini, such as Birmingham’s Snow Hill, London’s Broad Street and Philip Hardwick’s Euston that fell to the wrecker’s ball, but mighty viaducts and branch line architectural gems, too
  14. A day return on the Heath Robinson special: the weird world of the Shropshire & Montgomeryshire Light Railway – a journey along Britain’s most eccentric railway, run by history’s oddest proprietor
  15. We do like to be beside the seaside: The vanished pleasures of the railway excursion to the seaside, re-created on a journey to Blackpool’s Golden Mile
  16. The train that came back from the dead: The Waverley line across the Borders to Scotland was the most romantic and scenic main line ever to close in Britain. Now, incredibly, the Scottish government is painstakingly rebuilding it – with an opening date set for the end of 2015


Reviews of  The Trains Now Departed

‘In elegant prose Michael Williams takes us chuffing on nostalgic journeys along rail tracks long since overgrown to cathedrals of steam long since demolished; reminding us of the elegance and decorum – and smuts and smells – that we have lost’ – Michael Portillo

‘Williams celebrates the best of what is gone from our railways in 16 vivid highly-readable chapters’ – Andrew Martin, The Spectator

‘A wonderfully evocative read” – Andy Peebles, BBC Radio 1 DJ

‘Williams is to railway writing what his namesake Portillo is to railway television’ – Philip Haigh, Rail magazine

‘Revel in what we’ve lost and wonder how on earth we ever had it. It’s a perfect book for a leisurely, long rail journey. If the scenery leaves you uninspired, then read a chapter, refresh your mind, and gaze once more from your window’ – Rail magazine

‘Chock full with enjoyment – will capture and transport’ – Bookbag

‘It’s an excellent read, and amongst the most enjoyable and entertaining railway books of the year’ – Andrew Roden, Steam World ‘Book of the Month’

‘Underlying Williams’s prose is a sense of joy…and real knowledge of his subject…Evokes the appeal of the railway to so many millions of people… Here is a journalist with a real passion for the railways’ – Steam World

‘Even if you are not particularly interested in railways, you will find much to enjoy in this book. Williams writes well and engages you in his passion’ – Shropshire Star

‘From charming rural branch lines to the glamourous Night Ferry, the accounts in Williams’ new book are sure to give a nostalgic thrill to anyone with the least longing for the lost age of steam. Anecdotes detail eccentric lines where crews would stop services to pick mushrooms, then fry them on the firebox; luxurious carriages are lovingly detailed, producing a pang in anyone familiar with drab modern services’ – Aberdeen Press & Journal

 ‘Williams explores old routes and services with an historian’s eye for detail and a novelist’s sense of pace. Who can now imagine having kippers on a commuter train or know that the ‘Slow and Dirty’ was the nickname for the old Somerset and Dorset line? Well written, with a wealth of detail for the railway buff’ – The Tablet magazine

‘Meticulous and extensive research – once started, it’s difficult to put down’ – Russ Rollings, National Railway Museum Review

Gallery from The Trains Now Departed:

You can buy the book online at Amazon.

7 May 2015

Preface Publishing


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