Archive for the ‘UK railways’ Category

Three anniversaries

Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Vacancy – Polish Poet Laureate


Grand Central Terminal in New York. Photo by Fcb981.

(Click image to expand. Click here for details of licensing.)

Three railway-connected anniversaries have featured recently in the mainstream media. The first is the centenary of Grand Central Terminal in New York which was celebrated on the BBC’s WWW News Magazine in an admirable article by Princeton University Professor of History, David Cannadine.

At the time of its construction, Grand Central was acclaimed as an engineering marvel. In the subterranean depths of Manhattan, a huge space was carved out, where trains could be boarded from platforms at two different levels, which were approached by gently sloping ramps rather than inconvenient stairs, and in terms of lighting and power, it was one of the first railroad stations to be all-electric…

…Above ground there arose a spectacular beaux arts creation, all marble and chandeliers and sculpture and glass, the centrepiece of which was a huge and lofty passenger concourse, which drew the eyes of awe-struck passengers heavenwards, where they could marvel at a vast, barrelled ceiling, painted blue and decorated with the signs of the zodiac.

I had no idea, until I read Cannadine’s piece that the preservation and restoration of Grand Central Terminal owes much to the growth of architectural conciousness which followed the public outcry after the demolition of Grand Central’s neighbour, the Pennsylvania Station in 1963.


Pennsylvania Rail Road Station shortly after completion in 1911.

(Click image to see original on Wikipedia.)

Penn Station, as it became known, was was faced with pink granite and built in the classical Doric style similar to the late lamented Euston Arch. The main waiting room, inspired by the Roman Baths of Caracalla, was at 150 feet high, the largest indoor space in New York City and one of the largest public spaces in the world.

Penn interior

Penn Station concourse shortly before closure and demolition.

(Click image to see original on Wikipedia.)

The interior of Penn Station’s 1910-built steel and glass train shed uncannily resembled the interior of London’s Liverpool Street Station which was opened in 1874. Liverpool Street Station has had a radical facelift, but was saved from demolition and comprehensive redevelopment thanks to the efforts of Sir John Betjeman and the Victorian Society.

Which brings the subject round neatly to the fortieth anniversary of the broadcast of Betjeman’s Metro-Land.

Sir John, one year into his 12-year tenure as Poet Laureate, took spellbound viewers on a 48-minute trip along the line from Baker Street, in central London, to Amersham, Buckinghamshire, through the suburbs created by the Metropolitan Railway between 1910 and 1933.

He met a birdwatcher in Neasden, the carnival queens of Croxley Green and a man who had bought a Wurlitzer cinema organ and rebuilt it in his home in Chorleywood. He visited semi-detached homes with freshly-mown front lawns and cars on the driveway that demanded a ritual Sunday sponge and suds clean.

The above piece comes not, as might be expected from the BBC website, but was published by the Daily Express. The BBC, one an icon of all that was best in broadcasting, has strayed far from the path laid down for it by Lord Reith and seems to be doomed to continue its decline and fall.

And the 3rd anniversary is, of course, the 150th anniversary of the journey of the world’s first underground train. Celebrated in style by LUL and given generous coverage by all of Britain’s mainstream media. The extract below from a sympathetic blog article by Dave Hill on the Guardian’s website is typical.

Two things stood out from my steam train ride yesterday evening down the route of the first ever London underground railway journey from Paddington to Farringdon: one was the nostalgic charm of the experience, especially the smells; the other was the enthusiasm of the many spectators gathered on the platforms of the stations we chuffed past.

Perhaps we need a rail-minded Poet Laureate in Poland to set the public’s imagination alight about the country’s railway heritage and and halt its wanton destruction?

Now who can remember the last regular, steam-operated, passenger service train on the Underground?

Gordon shunts Thomas into a siding

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Thomas at Bressingham Gardens

(Click on picture to see it in its original context with details of attribution and licensing.)

Tom Harris, who until his phone call from Gordon Brown on Friday evening, was the Under Secretary of State in the Department for Transport, has been sacked. It would be hypocritical for me to shed crocodile tears. I bayed with the rest of the hounds for Tom’s blood when he supported the DfT line that the Department should be modally agnostic. Yet it would be dishonest of me not to record that although I disagreed with Tom on many matters of policy he also had many good qualities.

He was well liked by the UK railway heritage movement and enjoyed a good working relationship with David Morgan, the chairman of the Heritage Railway Association, and Fedecrail – the UK and European umbrella bodies for museum and tourist railways. He was well respected by the Railway Industry Association, whose Director General, Jeremy Candfield, posted a tribute on Tom’s blog. Paul Martin, Director General of the Railway Forum, posted another.

Tom was the son of a lorry driver who actually travelled by train! He treated those who worked for him with respect and was respected by them in return. On the other side of the balance sheet there are those who felt that he had never completely managed to wrest rail transport policy out of the grip of the dead hands of his department.

It is the manner of his passing that is a shock. It means that with Ruth Kelly’s departure, two key positions in the Department are being rotated at once. Geoff Hoon, who takes over from Ruth Kelly as Secretary of State will not have a Minister who can advise him on the Byzantine nature of British railway policy and politics. Nearly 48 hours after Gordon’s phone call to Tom, the DfT website is still showing him as the man in charge of Britain’s railways, trunk roads and ports. Nor has Tom’s successor yet been announced.

Our own reading of the tea leaves is that the decision to sack Tom was not planned as part of the original reshuffle, but is a last minute afterthought. Tom had published a gushing tribute to his former boss, Ruth Kelly, on his blog. Ruth – although nothing has been said officially – had somehow contrived to become persona non grata with the Prime Minister. Since her departure from office she has nailed her colours firmly to the mast of David Milliband’s political ambitions. In the paranoid atmosphere that surrounds No. 10, Tom’s tribute to Ruth was seen as a coded attack against Brown, so the guns were out for Tom.

Oxenholme then and now

Tuesday, 18 March 2008

(Clicking on the above image links to the original on Wikipedia and the details of licensing.)

I was going to return to Poland today, but I’ve just come across two picture of Oxenholme Station which I thought UK readers and ex pats might find of interest. Oxenholme is the junction where the Windermere branch leaves the West Coast main line.

The first picture is modern photograph by Rob500. The second is a a painting by Peter Owen Jones depicting the station at the peak of the LMS in the 1930s. What is amazing is how little has changed. Yes, the station canopy and overall roof over the bay platform are now clad in ugly plastic covered steel sheet and the overhead catenary is prominent in the modern picture. But the station has survived intact, without being cut down to a bus shelter and the Windermere branch trains still run from their own platform. It shows how more of the UK’s railways could have loked and survived if HM government had not been seduced by the road lobby.

Those who read the Swallows and Amazons books as children may already know that Oxenholme is the model for Arthur Ransome’s station, Strickland Junction in the sixth book in the S&A series – Pigeon Post.

Peter Owen Jones prints

(Clicking on this picture leads to an on-line gallery showing-casing the work of Peter Owen Jones, including paintings of trams and vintage railway scenes.)