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.
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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.
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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.
- Arup – Birmingham Grand Central (pdf)