On The Slow Train: Twelve Great British Railway Journeys
This beautifully-packaged book takes the reader on the slow train to another era when travel meant more than hurrying from one place to the next, the journey meaning nothing but time lost in crowded carriages, condemned by broken timetables. On the Slow Train reconnects with that long-missed need to lift our heads from the daily grind and reflect that there are still places in Britain where we can stop and stare. It taps into many things: a love of railways, a love of history, a love of nostalgia.
This book is a paean to another age before milk churns, porters and cats on seats were replaced by security announcements and Burger King. These 12 spectacular journeys will help free us from what Baudelaire denounced as ‘the horrible burden of time.’
7 ARPIL 2011
And what a story it is.
The railway system during the Second World War was the lifeline of the nation, replacing vulnerable road transport and merchant shipping. The railways mobilised troops, transported munitions, evacuated children from cities and kept vital food supplies moving where other forms of transport failed. Railwaymen and women performed outstanding acts of heroism. Nearly 400 workers were killed at their posts and another 2,400 injured in the line of duty. Another 3,500 railwaymen and women died in action. The trains themselves played just as vital a role. The famous Flying Scotsman train delivered its passengers to safety after being pounded by German bombers and strafed with gunfire from the air. There were astonishing feats of engineering restoring tracks within hours and bridges and viaducts within days. Trains transported millions to and from work each day and sheltered them on underground platforms at night, a refuge from the bombs above. Without the railways, there would have been no Dunkirk evacuation and no D-Day.
Michael Williams, author of the celebrated book On the Slow Train, has written an important and timely book using original research and over a hundred new personal interviews.
This is their story.
‘A magical world barely changed since the golden age of rail’ – Daily Mail
‘Captivating’ – Sunday Express
‘Deep in our soul, the railways represent an idyll that we love’ – Independent
‘On track to a trip back in time’ – Daily Telegraph
End of an era: Former Great Western Railway ‘Castle’ No. 5001 gets the ‘right away’ from Banbury on the 1.10pm Paddington to Wolverhampton on the final day of regular steam working on the Birmingham line, 9 September1962.
Journey’s end: An ex-LNER ‘V2’ mixed traffic engine restarts from a signal check at Chester-le-Street, Co. Durham, with a northbound train in February 1963, the year the station was slated for closure by Beeching.
Where time stands still: A moment for a gossip on the single platform at the remote station of Berney Arms in 1947. With no road access, this tiny Norfolk community is still reliant on the few trains that stop here.
The train that ran on the road: ‘Class 33’ No. 33116 eases its way along Weymouth Quay past a Hants & Dorset ‘Bristol’ double-decker in August 1987 on a boat train connecting with the Channel Islands ferry.
Little train, big journey: A single-carriage Class 153 unit meanders through Knucklas on its way from Shrewsbury to Swansea in May 2009. The service may be sparse, but it is one of the great railway journeys of the world.
My heart’s in the Highlands: ‘Standard Class 5’ No. 73078 and ex-LMS ‘Black Five’ No. 44976 take water at Crianlarich with the 2.56pm restaurant car train from Fort William to Glasgow in May 1959.
A breath of fresh air: Now rebranded the ‘London Overground’, the route of the old North London Railway still links the capital’s green oases of Hampstead Heath, Kew Gardens and Richmond. Poster, 1870-1913.
Age of elegance: The Golden Arrow at London’s Victoria station in 1957. With its luxurious Pullman cars and fine dining, the London-Paris service was always among the most glamorous of trains.
Steely heritage: Ex-LMS ‘Class 4F’ No. 44347 heads a special train past Millom Ironworks on the Cumbria coast line in August 1961. The industry has vanished and the site where the furnaces stood is now a bird sanctuary.
London’s last terminus: Great Western Railway ‘Hall class’ No. 6990 Witherslack Hall at Marylebone in June 1948. This was once the sleepiest of stations where the atmosphere was described as one of ‘cloistered calm’.
Watching the trains go by: Elderly ‘Class 02’ tank engine No. 31 Chale moves an empty stock train out of Ryde St John’s Road as the end of steam on the Isle of Wight draws near in 1963.
High drama: A ‘Black Five’ and a ‘Jubilee’ double-head the Waverley express over the Ribblehead viaduct, c1958. The picture is by Eric Treacy, Bishop of Wakefield, one of the line’s most devoted enthusiasts.
We do like to be beside the seaside: The Cornish Riviera Express arrives at St Ives station on a summer’s day in the 1930s. Although Beeching wanted to close it, the line was reprieved and is flourishing again today.