The Polish Way – Part 1

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10:06 to Moreton-in-the-Marsh arriving at Slough Station on 7.2.2012. Part of the new footbridge with ‘gun port’ windows can be seen just below the old. Photo BTWT.

(Click image to enlarge.)

Travelling by train in the UK has changed since I was a young man. I remember travelling from Towyn to Paddington by train just after the Euston electrification had been commissioned, the GWR route to Birmingham Snow Hill and Wolverhampton Low Level downgraded and the Cambrian Coast Express abolished. I had decided to try to stick to the ex GWR route as much as possible rather than using the newly electrified former LNWR route via Rugby.

Between Birmingham and Banbury I found myself sharing a carriage with the late John Slater, editor of the Railway Magazine. After New Street our train negotiated a freight spur and rejoined the GWR lines. The DMU bumped its way cautiously over sagging rail joints. Though we were both returning to London after volunteering on the Talyllyn Railway not a word was spoken in true British ‘stiff upper lip’ tradition.

But alas Britain’s post-privatisation railway muddle plays havoc with tradition. A journey from Slough to Carmarthen gave me an excellent opportunity to savour current practice on what was once one of the most prestigious GWR Routes.

Slough is a town where the municipality has systematically destroyed every building of any architectural merit. Its councillors would feel perfectly at home with their colleagues in Lodz. Yet miraculously, the railway station, though each year crowded in by more soulless tower blocks, survives intact – a Victorian gem built by the GWR in honour of the monarch who gave her name to the age when British engineering and manufacturing was at its zenith.

If ever a station deserves listing, and restoration to its former glory, it is Slough. Built for the use of Queen Victoria, its typical GWR brick-and-stone construction is topped by an extravagant roof covered with, even more extravagant cast iron lily-shaped tiles. So I was not very happy to see Network Rail erecting a brash new footbridge to replace the existing structure which had served well since 1884.

Temporary platform arrangements at Reading. Platforms 12,13,14 and 15 are still to be constructed. Photo BTWT.

(Click image to enlarge.)

In contrast to the senseless desecration at Slough, the improvements taking place at Reading deserve full marks. On the south side of the station, the bottleneck that existed since the demolition of the LSWR station has at last been tackled. The single track ramp from the Wokingham line to the GWR station has been doubled and a new platform with two faces facilitates termination and servicing of Waterloo-bound third-rail electric trains.

On the north side of the station the railway formation is being widened and five more platform faces will help handle mainline services particularly when Crossrail gets extended to Reading. The investment makes a great deal of sense and – unlike the strictly cosmetic improvements being carried out at Birmingham New Street – will massively increase the capacity of the station to handle train movements.

I’m always depressed by Swindon. How could any government have allowed one of the greatest railway engineering workshops in the world to have been completely destroyed? At its peak the Works employed 30,000 people making everything from the harness for horses that shunted GWR trucks in remote country sidings to the steel plate from which the frames of the ‘Kings’ and ‘Castles’ were cut. Alas all that remains of its former glory are some rusty sidings and the Brunel-era buildings in its historic core taken over ironically enough by English Heritage.

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6 Responses to “The Polish Way – Part 1”

  1. Podroznik Says:

    But apparently Swindon has gained the “Swindon Designer Outlet Village”. That must surely make up for it?

  2. White Horse Pilgrim Says:

    Considerable thought was put into what to do at Slough – I know because I was the project manager at option design stage and introduced the concept for the footbridge now being built. The new footbridge at Slough will provide step-free access to all platforms, something the existing footbridge does not do and cannot be adapted to do without substantial and intrusive changes to the old fabric. The new footbridge also adds capacity, the existing being congested at peak times now and incapable of coping with increased traffic when Crossrail arrives. Yes it is modern – but do you really want a piece of kitsch pastiche? It is also the key to leaving the historic building as nearly untouched and complete as possible.

    Reading adds five new through platform faces, not three as stated, making four through island platforms plus the old platform 4 which will have a through track but will mainly be used by CrossCountry trains to reverse. The former goods subway will allow grade separated access between the new Relief line island platforms and the Southern route for Gatwick trains.

    The new scheme at Birmingham New Street is far from cosmetic, however it is a constrained site and HS2 is needed to create a step change in capacity. That said, Chiltern has increased its frequencies and platforms are being brought back into use at Moor Street.

    • Dyspozytor Says:

      Let’s agree to differ about the aesthetics at Slough. I’ve a good mind to give the station a proper write up on the resurrected English Rail blog and would be delighted to give you a whole post to reply.

      Re. Reading your corrections noted and article corrected.

  3. Gavin Whitelaw Says:

    And I second that!! Unless Podroznik was being ironic……….in which case I agree. Confused? You will be after the next episode of SOAP! (1970s American comedy series in case you were wondering)

  4. Mike Winslow Says:

    Hello,

    As a former signalman at the old Slough Middle Box, I was very interested in the piece about Slough. My home in those days was in Upton Park. Has that area changed? My home town is Swindon, I left there in 1955 to do two years National Service. When that was completed I went to Badminton, then Avonmouth Dock Sidings, followed by Langley. When Slough Middle closed I went up the line to Southall West Station box. That was the longest I ever stayed in one box, four years. The end came in 1968 when Old Oak Common areas of control took in as far as Hayes. That year I transferred to the clerical grades ending up at Crewe in the train planning office.

    Lovely to reminisce.

    Mike Winslow

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