Time to restore a bit of romance to the railways

AS the plans for the once-grand HS2 fell apart of the weekend – with the Manchester line set to be canned and the Euston terminus dumped in favour of ending up in some West London wasteland – I journeyed into a different kind of railway universe on Saturday. Aboard the 7am from Paddington, Brunel’s magnificent terminus, I headed along the Great Western’s main line to the West Country.

Here old-school style combined with efficiency. Hauled by steam loco No 45596– the product of Sir William Stanier, among world’s greatest railway engineers – the coaches were a paragon of comfort, with seats that lined up with the window and food freshly cooked in the kitchen car. Silver-served by uniformed waiters on white tablecloths, it was possible to order a full breakfast and later in the day a four-course dinner.

Ah, you might say – not as fast as modern trains. Yet our Jubilee class engine nipped along for long parts of the journey at speeds higher than those allowed on a a motorway, and in a six-hour journey there and back, was not a single minute late.

Of course, not all trains can be like this. But isn’t there a cue here for modern railway managers? How about transplanting some of the old-fashioned romance of the traditional railway into today’s services. Train travel in 2023 is too often a dismal and utilitarian experience. With one or two notable exceptions, the folk who run our railways just don’t seem to get it.