Lady at a tram stop in Amsterdam. Photo Alan Colville.
(Click photo to see more of Alan Colville’s pictures.)
On Saturday, I saw a lady waiting in a tram stop. She was alone, preferring to wait in quiet meditation rather than to be part of the scrum waiting at the bus stop. Unlike the lady in the picture above she did not look anxiously over her shoulder to see if a tram was on the way. She knew that if she waited long enough the tram would come.
Rail transport – be it a city’s tram system or a nation’s railway network – provides our information-overloaded minds with a reference grid, a stable element in a confused world. It was railways that first unified Britain’s time keeping. In November 1840, the Great Western Railway ordered that London time should be used in all its timetables, and at all its stations. On 2nd August 1880 the rest of the country followed suit.
Railway networks also provide a convenient navigational grid. Just like migrating birds following rivers, I still refer to my mental map of London’s canals and railways when crossing the great city and delight in exploring new links such as the Croydon Tramlink and Docklands Light Railway.
No wonder then that so many of Britain’s heritage railways started with ambitious plans to restore what had been taken away – to operate a transport service for the local community. Sadly most were forced to cut down their ambitions when faced with mounting obstacles put in their way by BR and the mandarins at Marsham Street.
The importance of railways as a uniting force is understood by governments. Hitler planned the Reichsspurbahn – a new broad gauge network to help him retain a grip on Großdeutschland the greater Germany that was supposed to arise after he won WW II. The opposite is also the case. The current disillusionment with Westminster-style democracy has its origins in the Beeching Axe – the wholesale dismemberment of Britain’s railway network which took place without any reference to Parliament. Poland’s politicians planning further rail cuts please take note.
Is it any coincidence then that the UK Prime Minister has chosen to announce an 8-year railway electrification programme at a time when his popularity is in meltdown? Sceptics will ask why the benefits of electrification were ignored during the last 12 years when the Labour party were in power.
And the lady at the tram stop? Well she’s probably still there. The trams were suspended and replaced by buses some two weeks ago when a programme of track repairs commenced.
(This post is also being posted on Tunnel Vision.)