Archive for the ‘Railways’ Category

On Monday, Sir David Higgins, produced his review of the high-speed train project, HS2, which included the ambitious proposal to completely rebuild Euston railway station in London, and at the same time maximising the commercial opportunities. The original redevelopment plans for the station had been downgraded last year, but in February this year, Chancellor George Osborne came out in favour of the complete redevelopment of the station and surrounding area which would lead to the creation of more jobs, and more houses being built.

Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin in responding to the Higgins report agreed, saying that he will ask HS2 Ltd and Network Rail to work up ‘more comprehensive proposals for the development of Euston’, but added that ‘this work should include proposals for the Euston arch which should never have been knocked down and which I would like to see rebuilt’.

What was the Euston Arch?

Euston Station, when it opened on 20 July 1837 as the terminus of the London and Birmingham Railway, was the first mainline terminus station in a capital city anywhere in the world. The architect was Philip Hardwick, who worked with structural engineer Charles Fox. Although at first the station only had two platforms, one for departures and one for arrivals, the directors of the railway thought that:

The Entrance to the London Passenger Station opening immediately upon what will necessarily become the Grand Avenue for travelling between the Metropolis and the midland and northern parts of the Kingdom … should receive some architectural embellishment. They adopted accordingly a design of Mr Hardwick’s for a grand but simple portico, which they considered well adapted to the national character of the undertaking.

euston arch, london, painting, john cooke bourne, augustus pugin

The construction of the London & Birmingham Railway was the subject of many paintings by John Cooke Bourne. This one of the Euston Arch likely dates from 1938 not long after the arch was completed. The arch was not admired by everyone in its early years. Augustus Pugin, designer of the new Palace of Westminster, said in 1843 that it was ‘a Brobdignaggian absurdity’, and a guide to the Great Exhibition in 1951 described it as ‘gigantic and very absurd’. Courtesy of EAT

Hardwick’s arch, completed in May 1837 at a cost of £35,000, was huge, 70 feet high, and was the first great building of the railway age. It was built using Yorkshire gritstone, in the Doric style with the arch also supported by four 8 foot 6 inch-diameter columns and four piers, with bronze gates placed behind them. Gatehouses were also built on either side. The arch, which architects would call a propylaeum (‘the entrance before the gate’ to a sacred place in Ancient Greece), complemented the Ionic entrance, which still stands, to the Curzon Street Station in Birmingham at the other end of the new railway line.

great hall, euston station, waiting room, george stephenson

The Great Hall in Euston Station completed in 1846, served as a very grand waiting room. This photo was taken in 1960 and being a Sunday there are relatively few people around. The staircase leads to the gallery and shareholders’ room, past the 1852 statue of George Stephenson. Tickets were bought from hatches in nearby passageways.
© Ben Brooksbank/Creative Commons Licence

In 1849, in order to cope with the increasing number of passengers, Hardwick’s son, Philip Charles Hardwick designed a magnificent waiting room, the Great Hall. This was built in the Italianate Renaissance style, and was 126 feet long, 61 feet wide and 64 feet high, with a coffered ceiling and a sweeping double flight of stairs leading to offices at the northern end of the hall.

The early station was set a long way back from Euston Road and the arch faced Drummond Street that ran east-west through the area, though only the western end of the street going towards Hampstead Road remains today. For many years there was nothing on the arch to say that it was the entrance to the station, but in 1870 the London and North Western Railway Company inscribed ‘EUSTON’ on the architrave in letters of gold. A road was also created for the first time from Euston Road to the portico.

By the end of the 1950s, the station was considered to be poorly located and impracticably small, and at odds with the British Transport Commission’s (BTC) plans to upgrade and electrify the main line between Euston and Scotland as part of its Modernisation Programme. In January 1960 the BTC served notice on London County Council (LCC) as planning authority that it intended to demolish the entire station, including the arch and the Great Hall, which were both Grade II listed buildings. To allow for longer platforms and a  much larger station concourse, the station was to be extended southwards over Drummond Street and Euston Square towards Euston Road. This led to an almost two-year long battle to save the Great Hall and the arch.

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dr richard beeching, british railways board, reshaping of british railways, railway line closures

Dr Richard Beeching, former ICI director and first Chairman of the British Railways Board, holding his 1963 report The Reshaping of British Railways. Beeching had not been asked to look into the social and economic value of the railways, but to find the means to make the railways pay.

In March 1963, a report The Reshaping of British Railways written by Dr Richard Beeching, Chairman of British Rail, was published by the then British Railways Board. The report identified 2,363 stations and 5,000 miles (8,000 km) of railway line for closure, that is 55% of stations and 30% of route miles, with the objective of stemming the large losses being incurred during a period of increasing competition from road transport.

This was at a time when roads and cars were the future; rails and trains were the past. And it didn’t help that the Transport Minister in the Tory administration at the time, who had opened the first section of the M1 motorway in November 1959, and who appointed Beeching, was Ernest Marples. Marples was a businessman with rather too many fingers in an ever-meatier road construction pie, being previously managing director of the road construction firm Marples Ridgway. By the bye, even though his department was awarding road building contracts to his ‘old’ firm, he still held shares in the company until he was forced to sell them, but he sold them, in secret, to his wife. His political career came to a bizarre end in 1975 when pursued by the taxman, Marples did a flit to Monaco by the Night Ferry owing the Inland Revenue £10 million.

The cuts in the network were driven by a mistaken hypothesis: that cutting the network sufficiently would yield a ‘profitable railway’. But British Railways had little real information as to where its costs were actually being incurred; a large share of which were interest charges and a sizeable bureaucracy. Further, the branch lines that were closed had been feeder routes for the remaining main lines, and traffic on these lines fell disastrously. In the four years following the Beeching report, the route mileage of the railways fell from 14,000, to 11,000 in 1967 (though since 1950 about 3,100 miles had already been closed), but the cuts failed to achieve their objective, and BR’s losses continued to increase.

british railway network, dr richard beeching, railway line closures

This is what the BR network would have looked like by the 1980s, had a second phase of Beeching’s closures gone ahead. The faint lines are major through routes that would have closed. Creative Commons Licence/Cronholm144

Fresh thinking was urgently needed: how do you put the UK’s road and rail infrastructure on an equal financial footing and get long distance heavy freight traffic off the roads? However there was an anti-railway and pro-road culture amongst senior civil servants in the Department of Transport, which was headed by David Serpell, the Permanent Secretary. Reducing the costs of the railways by further cuts to the railway network were seen as the only answer. It was Serpell who much later in 1983 was to write an infamous report on railway finances for Margaret Thatcher, which included an infamous Option A, which would have cut the railway network to a mere 1,630 miles.

In 1968, Dr Stewart Joy, an Australian economist, was recruited to advise Barbara Castle, the Transport Minister in the Labour administration, on implementing a pro-rail policy of subsidising unprofitable railway lines. The Cambrian Coast Line which ran from Machynlleth in mid-Wales to Pwllheli in the north, and which had survived the Beeching cuts, had been selected as the first line to be looked at in a cost-benefit study of these unprofitable lines.

This is where Reginald Dawson, who in 1960 had been appointed a principal civil servant in the Ministry of Transport at the age of 38, comes into the story.

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Daughter Anna Gryce had a further success at the Lambeth Horticultural Society Show, this time at the Summer Show on 7 September 2013.

Her two exhibits in the ‘Dark and Light’ photographic class won first prize, and best exhibit in the photographic section!

sharpthorpe tunnel, bluebell railway, west sussex

‘Dark’
The train in Sharpthorne Tunnel

The original photographs were taken from a steam hauled train on the Bluebell Railway heritage line in West Sussex as the train approached Sharpthorne Tunnel between Horsted Keynes and Kingscote stations.

The image of the train in the tunnel was modified to emphasise ‘dark’. In this photograph, the red from the fire of the engine is reflected on the tunnel roof and the light from the carriages reflects off the smoke and the stone ballast of the track.

sharpthorpe tunnel, bluebell railway, west sussex

‘Light’
The train enters Sharpthorne Tunnel

The image of the train as it is about to enter the tunnel was modified to emphasise ‘light’. Here the light from the sky and the smoke from the engine merge into one.

Incidentally the wooden carriages are from the London Metropolitan Railway and date from 1900.

Anna’s previous success at the show can be seen here.

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Like the London Underground, the Paris Métro has its share of interesting or unusual station names: Campo-Formio, Dupleix, Europe, Glacière, Invalides, Le Kremlin-Bicêtre, Malesherbes, Oberkampf, Poissonnière, Pyramides, Rome, Stalingrad. The names of historic figures or battles are far more common than they are in London. Are the French more international in outlook and do they have a greater sense of history than we have in Britain? Authors, intellectuals, revolutionaries, military men, and even scientists, are prominent. There is a station for Robespierre but no station for Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc).

pont de passy, seine, bir-hakeim, battle, free french

In 1948, the Pont de Passy over the Seine was re-named Pont de Bir-Hakeim to commemorate the Battle of Bir-Hakeim, fought by Free French forces in Libya in 1942. Bir-Hakeim métro station is off-camera to the right

In you have ever been to Paris, you will likely have been to the Eiffel Tower. And if you have gone there or left there by metro, you will have used the elevated station close to the left bank of the Seine that is nearest to the tower: Bir-Hakeim. In fact the sign on the station walls says ‘Bir-Hakeim – Tour Eiffel’. It’s an unusual name. Is it the name of an Arab leader? To me it has the feel of Egypt or somewhere else in the Middle East about it. Well it is the name of an abandoned oasis in the Libyan desert in north Africa, the former site of a Turkish fort located at the crossroad of Bedouin paths. But to France it is the place where its pride was restored after its humiliating defeat by Nazi Germany in June 1940 in the Second World.

bir-hakeim, paris métro, battle, free french, france

This plaque at Bir-Hakeim métro station translates ‘At Bir Hakeim from May 27 to 11 June 1942, the First Free French Brigade repulsed furious assaults from two divisions of the enemy and affirmed to the world that France has never ceased fighting’

For fifteen days in 1942, a Free French force of 3,700 soldiers under General Marie Pierre Koenig and vastly outnumbered by 45,000 attacking German and Italian forces led by General Erwin Rommel, defended the site from 26 May to 11 June. This allowed the retreating British Eighth Army to escape the annihilation that Rommel had planned, and to gain time to reorganize and subsequently halt the Axis advance at the First Battle of El Alamein in July. The full story of the battle can be read here. Koenig’s report after the battle said that 1,200 men were killed, wounded or were missing. (more…)

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calvert, varsity line, great central railway, east-west rail, hs2, high speed line

This little used railway line near Calvert in Buckinghamshire, is a vestige of the Varsity Line that used to run between Oxford and Cambridge. The Great Central Railway between London, Nottingham and Sheffield also used to cross over this line just before the road bridge, but that line was also closed and dismantled. But by 2017, the old Varsity track will be replaced by the East-West rail line between Oxford and Bedford, and by 2026, at this spot, HS2 will be diving under the new line and along the route of the Great Central Railway.

This is a very ordinary picture of a railway line near the village of Calvert in Buckinghamshire looking west towards Bicester in Oxfordshire. The line is used only by freight trains, currently one a day, carrying containerised household waste from Bath and Bristol, known as the ‘Avon Binliner’, to the nearby landfill site at Calvert, one of the largest in the country. This single track is all that remains of the once double tracked Oxford to Bletchley railway that was constructed by the Buckinghamshire Railway Company and which opened on 1 October 1850. The line later formed part of a cross-country line from Oxford via Bletchley and Bedford, to Cambridge, which came to be known as the Varsity Line. Although not listed in the original Beeching report, the line was closed to passengers at the end of 1967 with much of the line mothballed, though not dismantled.

The reinstatement of the line was first promoted by the East West Rail Consortium of local authorities and businesses in 1995, but this was rejected by the Strategic Rail Authority in 2001. Efforts to have the line re-opened continued for the next ten years, with innumerable reports prepared and cost-benefit surveys carried out.

east west rail link, varsity line, claydon

The East-West Rail Consortium organised a site visit in October 2012 to a mothballed section of the former Varsity Line near Claydon, Buckinghamshire. This followed the government’s announcement that East-West rail link scheme would go ahead.

In November 2011 however, the Government announced that the western section from Oxford to Bedford was to be constructed as part of a strategic rail link, East-West Rail (EWR). This would run between the electrified Great Western, West Coast and Midland main lines, including the mothballed section between Claydon, just west of Calvert, and Newton Longville, near Bletchley. The new line, which would be twin tracked, and capable of speeds of 90 to 100 mph, will cost £400, with electrification, and completion is expected in 2017. In five years time then, the view of the line as above will be gone. But this is not the only change that is going to happen at this spot.

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metropolitan railway, underground railway, paddington station, w e gladstone

A trial run on the Metropolitan Railway near Paddington station shortly before opening in January 1863. The gentleman with his elbow on the side of the truck in the foreground is W E Gladstone, future Prime Minister but Chancellor of the Exchequer at the time.

The London Underground, or the Tube, was the world’s first underground railway. On 9 January 1863, a train puffed out of Paddington (Bishops Road) station* bound for Farringdon, three and a half miles away under the streets of London. The next day the line was opened to the general public. It was an immediate success; almost 40,000 passengers were carried, and long queues formed at every station. The Tube was born and London would never be the same again.

(* Now the Hammersmith & City underground station)

The line was built in 33 months using the ‘cut and cover’ method (the tunnels were dug from the surface and then covered again) by the Metropolitan Railway, and cost £1.7m. The Metropolitan was a private company formed in 1854 to link the mainline stations at Paddington, Euston, and King’s Cross with the growing City business district to the east. The line now forms part of the Circle, Hammersmith & City, and Metropolitan lines.

metropolitan railway, london underground, baker street, anniversary

Metropolitan locomotive No 1 built in 1898, pulls a train through Baker Street underground station on 13 January 2013, led by restored Met carriage No 353 which was built in 1892,

This year, to celebrate the 150th anniversary, London Transport arranged many events starting with re-enactments on Sunday 13 January of the original journey using a 1898 steam locomotive (trains were steam-powered until the first electric locomotive was introduced in 1890) and restored carriages. Unsurprisingly the limited number of seats that were available, £180 first class, £150 second class, were sold out months before the event.

The London Underground seems to have a fascination worldwide. As well as a huge variety of gifts, souvenirs and memorabilia on sale at the London Transport Museum shop, there are any number of books, DVDs and websites about the Tube.  And questions about the Underground, often in the form of cryptic clues, always crop up in pub quizzes. On the anniversary, as if to confirm this interest, the Daily Telegraph ran a feature,150 Fascinating Tube Facts. I’ve selected five of the facts from the list, and added some details (in green) of my own.

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‘Inspector Sands, please report to the operations room immediately’ is an announcement that many commuters will have heard on the London Underground or on mainline railway stations. Inspector Sands is a code phrase used by public transport authorities in the UK to alert staff to an emergency, or to a potential emergency such as a fire alarm being operated or a suspect package, without alerting the public and creating panic. The actual phrase used may vary so as to direct staff to the location of the incident.

‘Mr Sands’ has long been used in theatres as a code for fire, where sand buckets were used to put out fires since the word ‘fire’ backstage or anywhere else would cause alarm to the performers and the audience. Indeed the phrase ‘it’s like shouting fire in a crowded theatre’ is a popular metaphor for a person recklessly causing unnecessary panic.

Apparently the alert usually means a fire alarm has been tripped and 90% of the time it’s a false alarm. The use of ‘Sands’ may arise from the sand from the fire buckets that would have been to put out fires. Less likely is the suggestion that it comes from the period of time that elapses between the staff investigating and resetting the fire alarm, as might be measured in a sand-timer, before the station’s systems automatically switch to a fail-safe evacuation mode.

Incidentally in theatres, Mr Gravel was the code name for a bomb alert. I wonder if this is true, and if so, why Mr Gravel?

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