Why do we all love railways

Started by grumbeast, August 18, 2023, 12:18:43 AM

Previous topic - Next topic

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.


Hi All,

 I chose the title of this carefully, I used the world love because I think deep down most of us would admit that the regard in which we hold the aspects of railways dear is a form of deep and sincere affection.

I have been quite unwell this week, but now, hopefully thanks to horse-tablet sized antibiotics I'm on the mend.  While suffering in misery I did as I always do turned to my Railway books to comfort me.  I pulled the wonderful 'Treacy's British Rail' off the shelves and actually started to read rather than simply look through the wonderful images of a world before my time.

I came across a quote from one of the Railway Bishop's earlier books (all of which I must now save for and buy!!) that I wanted to share with the forum and see if it rings true for many of you, as it did for me.  Some of the imagery is from a railway before my time but it was so easy to substitute my own experiences in their place.

So here it is, enjoy, Bishop Treacy may have been an inspired railway photographer but I have never read a more apt and fitting description of what it means to be a rail enthusiast of whatever stripe.

"The spell of the Railway is made up of so many things which through the years have imprinted themselves on one's memory.  Like Wordsworth's Daffodils:

  "They flash upon that inward eye . . . .
   Then my heart with pleasure fills."

For me the spell began with those holiday journeys from Liverpool to Penrith, with the sight of the first stone wall between Carnforth and Oxenholm: the distant Lakeland hills as the train began the climb up to Shap - That lovely but sometimes somber cutting at Dillicar: then the slogging climb to Shap summit, what time the engine's beat became indignantly emphatic, and the grazing sheep on the fell fled to quieter pastures. A glimpse, perhaps, into that lonely one man box at Scout Green - other glimpses into farmyards in which man and beast seemed to be momentarily transfixed.

 The spell - it's the friendly noise of shunting during the long and wakeful hours of the night: and it is the noise of coal being broken in the tender as the engine awaits its job.  Its the fussy little 'Cauliflowerr' making its shaky way from Penrith to Keswick and it's the gleaming monster bringing its 500 tons into King's Cross.  It's the sight of signal lights winking and gleaming on a winter's evening: it's the orange light of the fire reflected on the billowing steam of the engine at night.  It's the deafening noise of an engine blowing off in a station: it's the sound of carriage doors being slammed: it's the noise of milk churns being trundled, of eerie whistles in the night, of a signal bell tinkling in a nearby box, of the heavy thud of a signal level being operated.

It's the sight of a plume of steam away down in the valley as you stand on some hillside like Pen-y-Ghent watching a train on its way: the torture of standing on Euston platform on a hot summer's day with your own holiday past, and watching a train pull out marked LONDON-HOLYHEAD; and as you watch you think of the lovely ruins of Chester, the mountains of North Wales, and the golden sands of the Welsh Coast - and as you stand, you pine. It's the excitement of meeting someone you love on a railway station: of deciding where you will stand when the train draws in: of how you will greet them: of trying to anticipate what they will look like. It's the misery of separation too, as a train draws out carrying someone away whose company is perfect happiness - and whose absence is utter gloom. It's that Tea Room in Euston where they make the loveliest China Tea anywhere in England: it's the swig of cold tea on the footplate of a rebuilt Scot that has laboured up the hill to Blea Moor on the way from Leeds to Carlisle, when engine and crew relax with the prospect of several miles easy running. The fireman mops his brow: the driver looks at his watch, and grins when he finds that he has done it with two minutes to spare - and out comes the bottle of tea. And it's the sulphurous smell of an engine shed: it's the fishy smell of a guard's van: it's the oily smell of the porter's room: the hot smell of an engine at the end of its journey. It's the whiff of ozone which comes through the open window of your carriage as the train approaches the sea: the smell of cut grass as you pass through the farmlands of England. It's the fun of knowing a bit more about the workings of the railway than the other people in your carriage - the fun of waving to pretty girls from a moving train knowing that it is quite safe!

Seeing, smelling and hearing - thus come our memories and impressions: thus is the spell created, and thus maintained. The Railway isn't just a thing which exists for our convenience. It is a world into which we enter for the time of our journeying. It is a world peopled with clearly defined types - a world with its own traditions and way of doing things: a world in which there is a strong camaraderie, which is by no means closed to those not of it who are prepared to appreciate it and learn more about it."

  Bishop Eric Treacy from Steam Up published 1949


I guess being born in 1953 in Wolverton with its large (in those days) Carriage & Wagon Works to a dad who worked in those works I was surrounded by railways from a very early age. I do recall lying in bed at night listening to the clanking of wagons being shunted, and wishing school would end so I could get down to the railway to watch and log what came through on what is now known as the West Coast Main Line.
1/4 fare travel and 6 free passes a year got me, at a very early age, travelling around the country to my favourite spotting locations and railway sheds such as Stratford and Finsbury Park to name but two.
My favourite routes were down to Bletchley then across to either Bedford (for the Peaks) or Oxford ( for motive power from 4 regions). Also, as many London termini as I could cram into one day.
In the early 60s electrics began to rule the roost on the WCML. I 'cleared' all the AL locos and the AM10 units but then 'big school' happened and I lost all interest in modern traction. Any interest I have now in railways is limited to steam specials.


For me classes 81 to 87, am10, am4. Plus 08, 2x 20s, 25, 31, 40, 47, first generation dmu 101, 108, crewe/ Warrington

Brute trolleys
Steam locos on charters


I guess I'm a bit unusual because I don't really have much interest in real size railways but I have a big interest in model railways. I don't go out of my way to visit preserved railways. Even though I live in Devon it's 30 years since I went on the South Devon Railway Paignton to Kingswear route and I've never done ghe Buckfastleigh to Totnes run.  Last week we had a few days away in the Cotswolds and we did take a trip on the GWSR but mainly because I wanted to see the model railway at Winchcombe station and it was an easy way to get to Broadway without sitting in traffic for ages trying to park.

My only real railway interest dates back to the late 1990s and being aware of all the different privatisation liveries that existed which was a big change from all that BR blue.  That's why my own model railway is modeled on that era.

It was the electronics side of things, and especially dcc, that lured me back to the hobby.

Jerry Howlett

I was a train spotter thanks to my Big Brother who allegedly took me with him down to Weymouth Station as I was annoying my mother. ( I was probably 4 years old).   In my teens I found "other ,more shapely interests" but still had a OO model railway and dabbled in 009.  Then on a brief return to interest in real railways I stumbled upon the GWS at Didcot circa 1971 and soon became a volunteer and eventually a regular spending almost every weekend there for the next decade until the Vintage train was stopped from running main line then I quit that game. So to escape from my hobbies I got a job..  yes with BR (until something better came along)  30++ years later I packed it in and now reside here in Italy with a sizeable  layout based on the 60's of my youth.  Interest in real railways ... Well privatisation pretty well killed it for me job , trying to keep track of who owned what and who I was working for...    So for now I travel on them and complain as required...
Some days its just not worth gnawing through the straps.

joe cassidy

I love real railways because :

- trains don't break down or get stuck in traffic jams
- you can get up and walk around, and watch the scenery go by
- there is no middle row (or rows) of seats
- I feel safer in a train than in a plane, a car or a boat

I have even travelled from Paris to Schipol airport by train in preference to flying.

As for model railways, I love them for nostalgic reasons, and also because it allows me to "play God".


Quote from: joe cassidy on August 18, 2023, 11:21:51 AMI love real railways because :

- trains don't break down
- you can get up and walk around

Bold statements not necessarily applicable to railways in Britain :no:  ;)

port perran

I grew up in Trowbridge on the Bristol to Weymouth/Portsmouth line spending countless happy hours either at the station or at our favourite black bridge location in the early 60s.
We saw a constant, it seemed to us, steam of Halls, Castles, Counties, small and large praries, panniers, 28ers, Collett goods plus tgevodd Grange and Manor.
As the 60s passed by we witnessed the introduction of green diesels in the form of dmus, hymeks, warships, westerns, brushes, 08s and so on.
The seed was sown and as I got older trips to Westbury became regular (it was still possible to see Kings on the main line and in full flight on the cut off).
Bristol was also within easy reach which opened up the Midland Region with Jubilees and Black Fives amongst others as was Bath Green Park on the old S&D where we saw 4Fs, 7Fs, 9Fs etc plus Southern pacifics and various Standard types.
And finally we had Salisbury, only a 45 minute train ride away with Southern locomotives galore.
So..the railway bug had well and truly bitten.
Happy days indeed.
PS I forgot to mention visits to Swindon and Eastleigh works which were both still servicing steam locos and in the case of Swindon building the new diesels.
I'll get round to fixing it drekkly me 'ansome.


Quote from: Newportnobby on August 18, 2023, 11:46:49 AM
Quote from: joe cassidy on August 18, 2023, 11:21:51 AMI love real railways because :

- trains don't break down
- you can get up and walk around

Bold statements not necessarily applicable to railways in Britain :no:  ;)

Not even in Switzerland.
According to Railway workers in Switzerland there is a huge traffic jam resuting in all parking slots for freight trains FULL

Reason: the derailment in the Gotthard tunnel caused by a broken wheel of a single freight wagon
have a disney day


Remember: vapour is just water and therefor clean

joe cassidy

I live in France so I am referring to my experience on French railways during 30+ years. Only one breakdown, and my wife didn't expect me to fix it.

I have never travelled on a freight train so I can't comment on traffic jams in freight yards.


Quote from: grumbeast on August 18, 2023, 12:18:43 AMWhy do we all love railways

I'll quote my blog:

"There's a magic that draws me to railways and trains. The magic of exploration, of taming geography and connecting the world, of being transported effortlessly to new places, of the point where engineering and elegance meet. Sounds poetic? Well, there's a certain poetry to trains. Betjeman got it."

Aside from that, there's also something amazing about the sheer audacity of the investment involved in building a railway. All that excavation, concrete, steel, wire - months, sometimes years of construction, based on a non-guaranteed forecast that there is money to be made. It's really quite something when you think about it.

And the trains themselves can be quite stunning (or at least really interesting-looking). Think of the Krokodil, the TGV, those SNCF locos with the windscreens sloping the opposite way to what you'd expect, the TEE multiple units, etc etc.

I could go on...

Eltikon on the forum:  https://www.ngaugeforum.co.uk/SMFN/index.php?topic=59390.0
Eltikon on the web:  https://www.eltikon.online
Who am I?  https://www.drewtowler.com


For me it started at a very early age. My father was a driver/shunter with the NCB at Glasshoughton Coke Ovens and took me for a footplate ride when I was around 5 years old. Then came the outings by train from Pontefract to Leeds  and Scarborough. My interest in trains was further cemented by my parents buying me a Triang train set for Xmas which was added to from one year to the next. Then came the trainspotting years in the early 70s until music, beer and girls intervened.

After a first job in a chemicals factory, I was lucky enough to be recruited by BR as a traction trainee and after spells at Holbeck and Healey Mills as a secondman, I got my driving post at Manchester Victoria where I stayed until 1991 when I decided that the way the railway was going held less interest for me as a professional railwayman and I went off to build a new life in France.

However, the flame never died and was rekindled through a project I worked on after finishing university that focused on SNCF services in the Rhône-Alpes region, and now lives on through my interest in railway history, railway modelling and contemporary European railways.   


I never had any real interest in railways, neither as a youngster nor an adult. In our house it was either Airfix models or Scalextric. Dad built a layout that was about 12 feet x 6 feet, which was hung on the lounge wall - if you were in the lounge when the layout was down, the only way out was through the window! Although I have always been into models of some sort - I think the fact that Mum and Dad were quite gifted with their hands helped there - I did not even think about railway modelling until I was in my 60s and, mainly through/because of this forum, I decided to make a 2 feet x 4 feet coffee table layout. From there I created 'Averingcliffe'. My interest, due to health and other reasons, has waned a bit, but I hope to get back into it before long.  :) . Reading some of the modelling posts can be really informative/fun/interesting.  :thumbsup:
I used to be indecisive - now I'm not - I don't think.
If a friend seems distant, catch up with them.

joe cassidy

My best/worst experience on the real railway was in Malaysia. I was there for work. I finished my work in Kuala Lumpur on Friday and my next appointment was in Penang the following Monday, so I had a free weekend.

Penang is one hour by plane from Kuala Lumpur but I chose to travel by train.

Kuala Lumpur station is something to see, the station buildings being a mixture of european and oriental architecture.

I travelled first to Malacca, spending Saturday there.

On Sunday I took the train from Malacca to Penang. I remember seeing a very nice "preserved" Ramsomes & Rapier travelling crane in Malacca station.

The line from Malacca to Penang is single track.

Unfortunately a freight train broke down in front of our train so we had to wait a while for a fleet of buses to rescue us and take us to another train waiting beyond the breakdown to continue our journey.

It was Sunday, I wasn't in a hurry, it was an adventure :)


Quote from: Newportnobby on August 18, 2023, 11:46:49 AM
Quote from: joe cassidy on August 18, 2023, 11:21:51 AMI love real railways because :

- trains don't break down
- you can get up and walk around

Bold statements not necessarily applicable to railways in Britain :no:  ;)

Same in Australia, too. Especially the line from Wollongong to Sydney.

But oh my, isn't this thread Jackanory!  ;)
Vision over visibility. Bono, U2.

Please Support Us!
March Goal: £100.00
Due Date: Mar 31
Total Receipts: £12.34
Below Goal: £87.66
Site Currency: GBP
March Donations