Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Romance of the Railways

There's nothing I like better than a slow tootle down the Severn Valley Railway.
Much as HS2 excites me, or the impending new rolling stock on the Stourbridge line, or the future potential for reopening old rail lines using Parry People Movers, appreciation of the past is good for the soul.
In the current edition of Classic Bus magazine, editor Ray Stenning writes a very thoughtful column about enthusiasm for buses themselves within the industry.
"It's as if enjoying the history and culture of the very business you make your living from means you're inferior to someone who simply does it as a job", says Ray.
And he's right!
Ever since I can remember I've been a bus & rail enthusiast. And I've lived with the strange looks for a lifetime.
Ray goes on to observe "Why is it fine to be an absolute petrolhead and brag about your unbridled passion for cars and motoring - braying in the pub or around a dinner table about how tumultuously excited you get about the burble from an Aston Martin V8 engine? Yet mention the thrum of a Gardner 6LW, or anything else about a bus, and you will run the risk of total ostracism by your colleagues and people thinking you're a suitable case for a visit by a social worker".
Of course it's OK not to love buses and trains if you work with them. I never really got emotionally attached to hospital trolleys when I worked in the NHS. But Ray picks up on something I've noticed before in the transport world.
Of course it's important to keep things in perspective. Buses, trains, trams and coaches have jobs to do every hour of every day. They are part of the fabric of our daily lives.
But in many ways, this is the point! There are many of us who celebrate this, and the history of how we got to where we are today.
The phrase "The Romance of the Railways" evokes many images. Many of which are brought back to life in places such as the Severn Valley Railway. Back in the halcyon days of the 30s when train travel represented a great adventure for many,owning a car was not an option for many. Trips to the seaside, to London, and to other far away places were great life experiences, and the train and bus were integral parts of these experiences.
Of course, life moves on, and in our faster, more hectic lifestyles of today, the train and bus maybe mean different things to different people, although an essential part of life they remain.
But remembering, appreciating and preserving our transport heritage is so important.
Whilst of course, the efforts of the volunteers at the Severn Valley Railway and other similar undertakings are without question priceless, celebrating our transport heritage in a modern-day setting is something that particularly pleases me to see.
Today, Chiltern Railways have celebrated their restoration of Leamington Spa station. In doing so, they have recreated the experience of travel in the 30s, but in a functional setting that is used by commuters and travellers every day. It is a wonderfully tasteful way of celebrating our heritage and history, and follows the theme they have applied to London Marylebone and Birmingham Moor Street stations. The magnificent restoration of St. Pancras in London is another example of celebrating our transport heritage in a modern, functional setting.
Modern is good and the future may be bright, but lets raise a glass to the transport pioneers of the past who got us to where we are today, and to those who have the vision to be able to recreate elements of that past into a useable setting today.
We can be both proud of our transport past, appreciative of our transport "current" and optimisitic of our transport future!

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