Two Seconds... and they’re gone!

Research has shown that the average dwell time on the home page of a website is two seconds; such is the attention span of those whose brains must fidget. Never mind, this place is not for the 98%. There is no porn to view, no tat to buy. And no conspiracy theories are peddled. Well, except the one about how the railways were crippled to allow the rise of a new order.
This is an actual (as opposed to a virtual) place, where there are real people making and doing things.

Put it in an envelope

It is oh so clever to mock the Royal Mail, as those who have dubbed it “snail mail” do, as if the decline in service had nothing to do with the loss of its monopoly position, the advent of competition and indeed the mockers’ own actions.

Royal Mail does not deserve the railway’s support, its former friend having deserted stations in favour of motorway junctions and airports. But the connection will be made again in time; trains will carry letters and parcels; railwaymen and posties will rub shoulders on platforms.

Meantime, this railway maintains its principled support, as much as anything because of the value of the postal service in rural areas, for Royal Mail provides much good employment and the postman is more than just his deliveries.

Who with any concern for humanity would want to undermine this by using the handiwork of Satan instead of an envelope?

Contributions

By far the meanest contributors to the railway are enthusiasts. Often, members of the general public, having enjoyed a ride in Jenny Wren or the freedom of the place, or even listened to one man’s rail against the world of cars, are generous almost beyond their means; while those who come to Christow in pursuit of their hobby somehow never find one of the most obvious and interesting fixtures on the site: the Contributions box (an 1898 locomotive tool chest).

They may grumble that they don’t get anything for their money, but they do; they would not make a point of coming here if they did not. And if this forms part of their interest, they should be willing to contribute a little towards the upkeep of the place, even if there is not much evidence of expenditure on stock. For, at the very least, it has been kept from the breaker.

Ride on the Teign Valley equivalent of the

Darjeeling Himalayan Railway

Quarter-mile round trips in Jenny Wren, the Manumotive / Electromotive Observation Saloon

FARES
Adult 50p    Child 25p    Dog 10p Bicycles, perambulators and heavy items of luggage are carried free. Trains can be strengthened if necessary.

Parents who were asked for photographs of their children enjoying rides in Jenny Wren for use in this advertisement reacted in horror when the intended form was revealed to them. It is remarkable how quickly a new medium can be adulterated. So, until the railway can obtain some stuffed or cardboard cutout children, or get some small adults to dress up as children, this advertisement will have to make do with imaginary passengers. They are there: jumping up and down, screaming, waving their arms, yanking on the bell cord, goading the ‘horse’ to go faster, not being able to make up their minds where to sit. Has the picture come to life?

On the idea of covering a situation both ways, Railway Gazette International had this to say after the 1973 oil crisis:-
"A rail network capable of operating without dependency on oil would seem a necessity for this time. In the face of this one over-riding consideration-that there should be a transport network which could service the whole country in the case of interruption of oil supplies-there is an unanswerable case for the electrification of all but the most lightly-used branch lines.

"The point about such a decision is that it plays safe with the country's future. If those optimists who still deny any possibility of oil scarcities are right there will be no waste of oil; we will be able to burn it in the power stations to power an electrified network. If the pessimists (who call themselves realists) are right, there is going to be nothing we can do with our diesel locomotives in the absence of fuel to drive them. A fully-electrified rail network in the end is a question of national security."

The Triumph of the Image-Makers

You continue to believe that you've bought the most liberating tool ever known to man when the thing is getting you nowhere and is making you poor, unfit and downright miserable.

Car advertisers still portray free-spirited drivers flinging their steeds around the curves of an open road or canny ones running deserted back streets; when everyone knows that the awful reality of motoring involves daily death and injury, jams, environmental degradation and a general dehumanization. Even the obvious health and social consequences of sedentary lifestyles and corralled children actually lead to more car sales.

It is a wonder that Britain has a national railway system at all. As the late Sir Peter Parker, a former British Railways Board Chairman (arguably the best) once said: "B.R. is the bargain basement railway of Europe." Inter-City then made a profit and Railfreight received no subsidy. B.R. cost the taxpayer less than any of the European administrations. And it showed.
 

The Thinking Man’s* Railway at Christow Station

*This is the generic for all those who have asked if it could not also, or even instead, be The Thinking Woman’s Railway

Home of the Camping Vans, TOAD & TADPOLE
Centre of the Campaign for Real Railways

 

The address of the railway for all purposes is:-

Exeter & Teign Valley Railway,
Christow Station, Doddiscombsleigh,
EXETER, Devon
EX6 7YT

Telephone:- Christow (01647) 253 108

Cheques should be made payable to Exeter & Teign Valley Railway.
The railway has an account with the Co-operative Bank, one of the few which has an ethical position.

The Exeter & Teign Valley Railway is owned and operated by Colin Burges

The railway cannot accept electronic communications. Even it had the means to do so, it would prefer the use of established systems.

The Railway
A description of the embryonic construction project and articles about railways in general.

Political Campaigning
How the railway attempts to act as the powerful industry once did to further its interests.

Publications
The railway's own highly original, uncompromising view of transport in a book and pamphlets.

Friends of the Teign Valley Line
Join the others who want to see modern trains serving the East Dartmoor branch railways.

What's New and Happening?
Keep up-to-date with this miscellany of short reports and features.

Gift Shop
A collection of mostly unique items.

The Railway in the Community
How the world would be a better place if it were run by railway people.

Production
The railway's workshops have specialist capacity, as well as undertaking general building and fitting.

Camping on Rail
Humble accommodation for pioneering types of all sizes.

Neptune
Britain's only first generation Matisa Track Recording Trolley.

"It took 43 years, two railway companies, and eighteen Acts of Parliament (and six more failed Bills) to make the 15¾ miles of railway from Exeter to Heathfield that became known latterly as the Teign Valley Branch. Even in a country whose railway system at large had a distressing tendency to benefit the pockets of lawyers at the shareholders' expense, this was some achievement."

The opening words of The Teign Valley Line, by Peter Kay (Wild Swan Publications)

The Teign Valley Branch

The Teign Valley branch railway was built in two halves by two companies, with twenty-one years separating the completion of the first half from the second.
The line from Heathfield, situated on the Moretonhampstead Branch, to Teign House Siding (just short of the later site of Christow Station) was built by the Teign Valley Railway and opened in 1882. It followed the river valley for most of its length.
From Christow to a junction with the Great Western main line near St. Thomas in Exeter was completed by the Exeter Railway in 1903. The line left the Teign and fought its way through the hills to reach the Exe Valley.
Both railway companies were formed under different names, reflecting their grander ambitions, but each was to contract and end up with only eight miles of railway, worked together as one line by the G.W.R. and known in later years as the Teign Valley Branch.

The Exeter & Teign Valley Railway

In 1984, a railway reclamation project was begun in part of the goods yard at Christow, the mid-point and original crossing station on the Teign Valley Branch. This project was really the continuation of one started at Longdown in 1975 by an idealistic 17-year old with a burning conviction that the railway should not remain derelict. Longdown was given up in 1978 because there was no prospect of being able to purchase the land or secure a long term tenancy.
Before the end of the summer in the first year at Christow, the site was cleared of greenery, revealing that the place had in fact been part of a railway, although there was nothing much in evidence above the formation other than the crumbling cattle pen and lines of rotting fence posts.
In 1985, the first length of track was laid where one of Scatter Rock Macadams' private sidings had been and the following year a covered wagon was delivered to Christow. Work proceeded steadily for years, making the site look like a railway again and collecting materials and equipment, but onlookers could have been forgiven for being ignorant of the purpose, as little indication was given at this stage of what was actually going on.
Perhaps the surest demonstration that the railway had indeed returned was the arrival of a locomotive in 1993. The first diesel ever to reach Christow, Perseus, an 0-4-0 industrial shunting engine, enabled powered movement at the station for the first time since 1960.

Coinciding with the denationalization of British Railways, in 1995 the project became a small business and the trading name, Exeter & Teign Valley Railway, combining the two former companies' names, was adopted.Teign Valley Railway In June the same year, the first public open day was held, attracting many people to its blend of "fun, education and interest."

After just a year's operation, the E. & T.V.R. published its vision of the future, an effort unique among all the railways of Britain. Entitled A Journey in Time, it takes the reader on an imaginary train journey from Christow to Exeter in an age to come. But this is not the story of yet another pickled railway, with men and machines repeatedly enacting moments from some fabled golden era of rail transport.

A Journey in Time instead describes a complete public transport undertaking at work and the narrative ranges well beyond the railway in explaining the huge changes which have made the new structure possible. Two branch railways, a network of bus routes radiating from stations and light goods vehicles serving the surrounding country, provide the district of East Dartmoor with a sustainable system of mixed-mode transport; something equally splendid and useful to those who come and go, as it is to those within the company's sphere.

The E. & T.V.R. has made four land purchases, enlarging the site at Christow to about 2½ acres. Nearly 200 yards of standard gauge track have been laid, along with 290 yards of temporary narrow gauge. The loco and rolling stock register lists the diesel shunter, two covered wagons, a goods brake van (in use as camping accommodation), a track recording trolley, a ferryvan, a CCT and a gangcar.

Including 26 narrow gauge wagons and the road vehicles, the total is 118½ tons. Few of these are presentable but most are in running order. Many large and small works of all kinds have been finished and the railway has accumulated a lot of equipment; sufficient in fact to sustain the project for quite some way when at last it breaks out from its present confines, as it must do before much longer.

The railway is occasionally opened to the public during the summer and can be opened specially by arrangement on other days for parties of adults or escorted children. Guided walks along sections of the disused line are organized, which serve to introduce people to its scenic beauty as well as its potential. The Building Department trades from its yard at the station, offering a variety of services and, in so doing, helping to establish a reputation of one sort or another for the railway.

There are those, firmly rooted to their bar stools or patio relaxators, who are ever ready to mock the meagre accomplishments of the dedicated railwayman. This probable dislike of the active by the idle is but little removed from the general lack of concern about the extravagance of motorized mass mobility. The era of cheap oil will come to an end, yet most people refuse to contemplate this certainty and authorities attempting to effect even incremental change are therefore often rendered powerless.

A century ago, men with grit and gumption completed the Teign Valley branch railway-still one of the largest engineering works in the area. Today, along with half the former British railway network, it lies ruined and abandoned. It is dismissed by the petrol sniffers as the transport of yesteryear and the best this feeble generation can suggest is that the line be turned into a cycleway (so as to make the roads safer by removing the slow and vulnerable users).

But to do this would really be no better than primitives inheriting some sophisticated device from a higher civilization and then keeping it as an ornament, or for some mundane purpose, because the backward ones haven't the foggiest idea what it is or how it should be used.

The E. & T.V.R. is sure that its vision of the future will come true and that a revitalized railway system will be the backbone of tomorrow's transport. Small and insignificant though the E. & T.V.R. is, even after all the years it has taken to develop thus far, in many ways it is in better shape than some fledgling organizations and established companies which lamely hide behind charitable status, have large memberships and receive grants or other outside funding; and yet have no more positive aim than to play choo-choo trains and provide fairground rides.

When the conditions are right, or the right opportunity presents itself, the Exeter & Teign Valley Railway will be incorporated and people will be invited to invest in the "Thinking Man's Railway." Whether it then succeeds, and is able to press ahead with serious reconstruction, will depend upon enough people being convinced that sinking money into a railway project, and being prepared to lose it all, is a noble tradition-especially around these parts.

Christow Station Today

The Exeter & Teign Valley Railway is an embryonic reconstruction project occupying part of the goods yard of the disused Christow Station, which nestles beside the river in largely unspoilt Devon countryside.

The project is not a tourist attraction and is nowhere near being able to open to the public in a formal and regular fashion. At present, the E. & T.V.R. is essentially a little composite which does no more than conjure up a railway atmosphere in a pleasant setting.

Informal access is generally allowed in return for a donation and quarter-mile round trips can be enjoyed in Jenny Wren. The railway can be opened specially for parties of adults or escorted children.

The most popular facility is the camping on rail which has attracted a following of its own. People have come to the site from as near as Christow and as far as New Zealand; for some, railway camping has put the Teign Valley on the world map.
Occasional guided walks are organized, which reveal some of the hidden remains of railways and extractive industries.

The railway's Building Department undertakes a small amount of specialist work for external customers.
Behind the scenes, plotting continues in an effort to find the means to break out from the confines of the established starting point and commence railway reconstruction in earnest.

East Dartmoor Public Transport Undertaking

It is envisaged that the Exeter & Teign Valley Railway will eventually run branch railways from Exeter to Heathfield and Newton Abbot to Chagford, a network of bus routes radiating from stations and light goods vehicles serving the surrounding country; thus providing the district of East Dartmoor with a complete, sustainable system of public transport.

Transport for when the party's over

Fifty years after the withdrawal of passenger services from the Teign Valley Branch, it is easy to believe that its story came to a close, if not in 1958, then with the later dismantling of the line almost in its entirety. As evidence of the branch disappears bit by bit, and with many busier routes since lost from the national network and the railways of Britain still largely in decline, there would seem not the remotest possibility that another volume of history could ever be written about the Teign Valley line.

Yet there is a growing school of thought that reckons a series of events is looming which will shatter the developed world's reliance upon oil and rudely awaken people to the dangers of extravagant consumption of all resources. The notion is that many systems which cause less impact and which are more frugal in the use of energy-but which are still today generally mocked by a complacent society-will soon have to be rehabilitated.

Because some of the worst excesses occur in the realm of transport, this is bound to be affected by great upheaval. Much of what is now considered sacrosanct will be torn asunder and much that is now ignored, or held up as impracticable, will come to the fore. Particularly, it will be realized that there has been a vast underestimation of the capacity of public transport-buses, trams and trains-to provide an acceptable and viable alternative to the unsustainable shambles propagated by government for much of the last century.

Despite the promise of change, society is still moving uncontrollably in the wrong direction, at a time when any excuses it could once have used are worthless. Road transport carries on leading its charmed existence, even when it is seen to be taking its toll on the environment, on human health and temper, and on the fabric of society.

The sensible course now would be to invest in a long-lasting solution: a well-engineered, integrated public transport system with a complete modern railway network as its backbone. This would give the most freedom and genuine mobility to everyone, and would prove the most effective means of shifting freight, yet would have much less impact than the grossly-damaging dependence on private cars and heavy lorries.

The familiarity with public transport which was once universal is now uncommon, and to a great many people transport is solely cars and trucks; walking and cycling do not even figure. The same view is entrenched also with the authorities, though they will protest that this is untrue.

If visitors to Christow Station on the occasional open days leave with a better understanding of the railway-even some sympathy for this relegated mode of transport-then its efforts will have been worthwhile and visitors will have grasped something of the serious intention behind the project.

Championing the Railway Industry

The railway was Britain's gift to the world. At one time, railways were more developed here than anywhere else, yet now it seems that Britain values them the least. Many other countries understand the railway's strengths and fully exploit them; here, it is their weaknesses that are played upon and an institutionalized ignorance prevails.

This is in no small part due to the shortage of champions the railway has had in the last 60 years. Those stalwarts it has had have been opposed by numerous powerful organizations standing to gain from ever more use of road transport. And government has meekly pandered to the strongest lobbying.

However, the situation is changing. Not because these organizations have shut up, but because many more individuals are now concerned about the effects of road traffic growth and authority has been forced to make some half-hearted attempt to slow the trend.

It is so long since the railways were cut back that a generation has grown up without knowing about the work the railways once did, or about how extensive the system once was. Those who still rue the closure programme have been joined by younger people who feel that the railway should have a vastly expanded role today. But, in a country that has mostly forgotten about railways, where can they find support for this view?

Well, there is an outstation in the Teign Valley where the idea of a railway renascence is subscribed to in no uncertain terms. At Christow, visitors on open days are presented with a mixture of the practical and theoretical which makes clear the railway's capabilities, as well as its limitations. Looking ahead, rather than leaving the railway confined to a particular niche in history, the case for modern rail transport is presented in a novel and challenging form. Any visitor with an open mind should at least take away some food for thought.

The Paddington to Penzance, Great Western main line, as seen from Langstone Rock on the 12th January, 1996, looking towards Dawlish with the Parson and Clerk to the extreme left.

On this day, the Down line was closed because of damage between Dawlish and Teignmouth, and only some trains were using the bi-directional Up line; buses and coaches were substituting for the rest. The service was disrupted for several days on this occasion.

Formerly, there were two diversionary routes available: the Teign Valley and Moretonhampstead branches, via Christow and Heathfield, until 1958; and the London & South Western's main line via Okehampton and Tavistock, until 1968.

Teign Valley Railway

Generations of holidaymakers, bound for Great Western resorts and full of anticipation for their first glimpse of the sea, redolent of the week to come, have been awed as their train swept passed this point and the land fell away from the carriage windows. Even regular travellers are constantly fascinated by the changing behaviour of the sea in all weathers and states of tide.

From here to Teignmouth-three miles, not counting the shelter of the tunnels-the line is above the beach and below the cliffs. It is one of the most scenic stretches in the country and one of the most vulnerable.

Network Rail spends around £500,000 a year on maintaining the defensive, retaining wall. Except where rebuilt, it is the original 1846 masonry structure, not less than two feet thick, founded in the soft bedrock, often only just beneath the sand cover. Behind the wall is fill, readily washed out when there is a breach.

If the sandspit at Dawlish Warren, behind the camera, were to be greatly reduced-a process which is going on-then the line alongside the Exe estuary at Starcross would be exposed to the full force of the sea.

Throw a violent sou-easterly and a spring tide at it; raise the mean sea level; wash the cliffs down as well. What would be the effect of a catastrophic severing of the line?

Such is the diminished role of the railway today, the small percentage of passenger traffic and negligible freight it carries could easily be accommodated on the road system. And might it not then just as well stay there? Serpell put if forward as an option thirty years ago: a national network which went no further west than Exeter.

That is not going to happen. In time, the railway will reverse the present situation and become again the dominant mode. When it does, it will be essential that there is always an alternative to a vulnerable route.

Teign Valley Railway

Don't know what to do with your city bonus or lottery loot?
Help us to put this station sign where it belongs.

Trying to resurrect a railway which the state irresponsibly destroyed is no easy or small task.
Christow Station and a mile of track (10¼¼ acres) were sold by British Railways in 1963 for £3,000, then roughly a GP's salary. Today, well over £1 million is needed to buy it all back. This is just 1/16th of the line-one line of many-and before reconstruction can begin.

But it must not be thought of as impossible, just because a bungalow here and a road incursion there block the course of the railway.

Money sent to the railway produces results; the road interests have after all bought their success. A lot of money would cause obstacles to fall, minds to change and the gathering of a momentum that would lead to the railway system recapturing territory and traffics all over the country.

The E. & T.V.R. is sustained only by revenue and public donations. It needs people who want to see the functional, expansive railway breaking the dependence on oil and the petty mindset of the car, to give money. Those with lots of money they don't know what to do with here have the chance to make a lasting contribution to the future.

Is the Globe Warming?

No, of course it's not. It simply cannot be. Not in the way and to the degree that is being pushed like there's no tomorrow in all the news media. It is complete bunkum. It has not a shred of scientific standing.

This can be said with certainty because if there were any truth on the global warming bandwagon every man jack would by now have girded himself for action, with the same urgency that other forms of danger provoke, like fire licking his heels or a tidal wave approaching.

Even people in a lost valley would be clamouring to know how they could do their bit to change; how they could help reverse all the wasteful, damaging and disintegrative trends of the last 50 or 60 years. The cries would go up: "We need more things made locally" and "Access not mobility!" A bright spark would offer: "We need a community based on economic interdependence." The coalman would ejaculate: "Down with oil!" The village idiot would pipe up: "Let's reopen the railway!"

Instead there is silence and an observer could be forgiven for concluding that the lost valley's answer to global environmental problems is bigger cars and more of them, for this is the pitiful reality.

The layman cannot check the scientific reasoning. He can doubt, not whether modern man has had the power to bugger the planet, but whether he can now measure his influence, given that his whole existence has been so short. The layman can also question why the issue has only recently been taken up and why, despite the hysteria, nothing of any consequence has been done or looks near to happening.

Environmental campaigning is often unfairly tarnished by the negative assumption that what is being promulgated always involves stepping back, going without, having fewer conveniences; or being colder, hungrier, less empowered, etc. If the threat of global warming or climate change or peak oil-whatever the frightener-were to be treated positively as an opportunity for a massive awakening to modern follies such as oil dependency and globalization, then the search for different ways of continuing much of what is done today-for having much of what is had today-could be portrayed as hugely interesting and satisfying-great fun even. The challenges of establishing a more self-contained community-of working out ways to share and co-operate, to reduce the need to travel, to generate power locally and much else-should be seen as infinitely better than wallowing in a rut of gross over-consumption and fuel denial.

The great thing is, all that it is said needs to be done to avert or minimize global warming is surely worth doing anyway and long overdue. If in the centuries to come-barring flood, tempest, pestilence, volcanic eruptions or other shit-today's precautionary actions were found not to have made a scrap of difference to the climate, then the upheaval will have been justified alone for the new, better direction that was found.

"Doddywood"

Christow Station is registered as a film location with South West Screen, the agency whose task it is to promote the area's potential to film and television producers.

West Country locations have been used extensively for many years. Near here, Culver, a large "Tudorbethan" house, featured recently in a TV series and Exeter Quay came to prominence in the early 1970s, when tall ships could still navigate the canal.

One of the most frequented locations is Staverton, a station on the Ashburton Branch, the rump of which today is a hermitage railway.

But producers do not always want staged action; often all that is needed is a static backdrop for scenic accuracy or atmosphere.

The industrial or rustic narrow gauge and the camping vans at Christow are unique. When pictures of the small brake van, Tadpole, were submitted to the agency, it was suggested that an imaginative children's story teller at the Beeb could weave a whole series around the new prop. Perhaps a script should have been sent as well. (Does the railway have to do everything?)

One small connection with the world of film is the mine truck at Christow which was borrowed by Spielberg and featured in the chase sequence where Indiana Jones makes his escape from the Temple of Doom. Or so wide-eyed children are led to believe.
The location has never actually been filmed but enquiries have been made about using it as a set for a fashion shoot. And it has been used by first aiders in an exercise dealing with a casualty beneath a locomotive.

www.swscreen.co.uk

 

The lavish, grand design, road construction programme continues, with major schemes being promoted by Devon councils using heavily slanted cost-benefit analysis. Railway retrenchment also continues as those same councils stand idly by and refuse even to apply their own tame, unambitious policies. Corridors for new roads are kept open for decades, while closed railways are obliterated. Beneath the surface, it is really business as usual.

The search is always to find other fuels to perpetuate what has had so much invested in it, when the best brains should be working to extricate the world from this fix and begin a massive transition to other systems. These would not have to replicate present modes because sweeping change across the board would reduce the need for people and things to move so far and so fast, as well as dealing with other modern excesses. It might be found that many new ideas bore a striking resemblance to the way things used to be done.

Other Transport instead of Other Fuels
So where are the tub-thumping railwaymen?

Any discussion about sustainability must touch on why transport has become so unsustainable. And it would have to be questioned why the most complete railway system in the world, which held the potential to be developed into the fully-electrified nucleus of the nation's public transport, has been very largely destroyed and put out of focus in the eyes of the majority.

Beware the attraction of the new and the danger of the false promise. People grew tired of an established system, seeing only its faults, and flocked towards that which at first offered so much, seeing only its advantages. How many driving off in their first car had any idea that they had bought a living statistic which would be catered for in all sorts of ways, not least by the expansion of the road system to meet forecasted demand? How many knew that their choice would eventually lead to the deterioration, and often the collapse, of the transport which had been open to all?

But after the War (if not earlier, inspired by the Third Reich), government too had embarked on a policy of enabling mass, motorized mobility. If it was not intended that public transport should wither away as part of this drive to modernity - the evidence in fact points to such an accepted outcome - the result undoubtedly has been a huge loss of capacity; the greatest being with the railway, which now operates over half its former network with only "pipeline" and "conveyor belt" freight remaining from its comprehensive array of ancillary services.

It soon became clear that a juggernaut had been set in motion. The growth in car ownership and road freight demanded more roads. Not just the new arterials were built: ancient street patterns in towns and cities were bulldozed, to be followed by North American urban sprawl capable of being serviced only by cars and trucks. New roads filled up and the process continued, as if by accident.

However, there was nothing accidental in the promotion of road transport; its ascendancy has to be linked to the power of vested interests. The railway industry lost its political clout, if not at the outbreak of war in 1939, then certainly with nationalization in 1948. On the other hand, the interests that gain from road use are still among the most powerful and well placed in the land: oil, construction and motor manufacturing. Smaller fry like the motoring and road freight organizations lobby as one of their primary functions.

Only one road-rescue service, the Environmental Transport Association, lobbies for better transport, not for the car. Yet how many motorists know (or care) that their membership fee is partly a subscription to a lobby group? Most are happy to think that the massive expansion that has occurred over the years has just been normal human progress, aided by governments letting people have what they wanted.

If blame is to be attached, it would be easiest to say that the railway was brought down by its own inability to modernize and adapt; by its management, by its idle, unmotivated staff, etc. Lame accusations are still made today, as if the muddled constituents of the denationalized railway were not utterly at the mercy of political forces.

What almost complete dependence on road transport over so many years has done is entrench a belief that the system is untouchable; even meagre efforts to slow its rate of growth have been scrapped. Long enough has passed for politicians, planners and the man in the street, who can remember or imagine nothing else, to think of the structure as everlasting. Yet because of the sheer extravagance of its energy and material consumption, it must be the most prone to collapse.

Even those who care, when reminded that the railway has slipped from view, respond resignedly by saying that it is not possible to resurrect the former far-flung network for too much has been lost; as if all the shoddy development and road schemes that have littered closed routes should stand in the way of railway reinstatement, when nothing - priceless landscapes, settled communities or deeply felt protest - has prevented the construction of 60,000 miles of road.

People should not be cowed into excluding options for the future because of their seeming out of reach. The ideas need propagation and explanation. Folk should agitate for a modern, electrified national railway system run by zealous operators freed from the straightjacket of state control. The crapspeak of the road lobby should be countered at every opportunity.

"We want our railway back!" should be the cry, adding, "We cannot ignore the inherent advantages of rail: its free-running trains that can use any fuel and its highly-engineered routes. We should get as much traffic as possible of all kinds off the roads and onto an efficient, co-ordinated, spinal transport system."

Authority must be repeatedly challenged over its actions. Most of what is dressed up as worthwhile change is mere tinkering and leaves the established order well alone. Opening of cycleways, for example, wins councils green points, but letting the motorist think that he does not have to watch for exposed road users - or worse, letting him think that they no longer have any right to use the roads - serves the likes of Clarkson more than any sustainable transport agenda.

The lavish, grand design, road construction programme continues,

"Building for the future" - mindset as mission statement. In future there will be more cars, or there will never be fewer cars. End of discussion.
with major schemes being promoted by Devon councils using heavily slanted cost-benefit analysis. Railway retrenchment also continues as those same councils stand idly by and refuse even to apply their own tame, unambitious policies. Corridors for new roads are kept open for decades, while closed railways are obliterated. Beneath the surface, it is really business as usual.

The search is always to find other fuels to perpetuate what has had so much invested in it, when the best brains should be working to extricate the world from this fix and begin a massive transition to other systems. These would not have to replicate present modes because sweeping change across the board would reduce the need for people and things to move so far and so fast, as well as dealing with other modern excesses. It might be found that many new ideas bore a striking resemblance to the way things used to be done.

 

Nightstar

Almost everyone I speak to, who I think should know, claims not to remember Nightstar, the system of through services which was intended to connect the outer reaches of Britain with continental destinations after the opening of the Channel Tunnel.

The most lavish fleet rolling stock ever built was turned out of B.R. Engineering factories; the price tag in the early 90s - £1-million a coach - certainly smacks of high spec. If I remember correctly, the trains were described as hotels on wheels. I think that they had a restaurant, café and shop, as well as the sleeping accommodation.

And a first for B.R. was that the "day" coaches had airline-style, reclining seats, so budget travellers could make a long journey in greater comfort. The Electric Train Heating Index (a measure of the demand on the train power supply) was greater than any other coach. I'm sure that a maintenance shed was built at Laira (Plymouth) for the West Country service: Penzance to Paris/Brussels/Berlin/Milan - wherever.

Then, suddenly, as denationalization approached, B.R./government announced that the market for the services had been misjudged; it did not exist. A bit like, "There are no weapons of mass destruction." So, just a slight miscalculation, then. Unlike the "dodgy dossier," no mention was made of the research that must have been done to merit the investment.

The Nightstar stock, never used, was stored in secure military sidings, away from the public gaze and eventually sold abroad. And now, it seems, the whole project has been virtually forgotten.

Forced into competing with cheap flights, the European railways have built high-speed routes, now even reaching London. A traditional railwayman may marvel at the capacity of 19th-century technology to win against the new, at wagon wheels holding the rails at a speed which shows no sign of being the limit, but this must be tempered by the acceptance of grand vitesse train travel being as much of an environmental nuisance as motor routes and airports. The security-fenced lines are nearly as intrusive as roads.

They are not general purpose; they are duplicate; they serve far fewer communities directly; and the trains, in overcoming huge wind resistance, consume much more power than those that run at half the speed. The fact that in France the trains are effectively nuclear somehow does nothing for the environmental case. If, in competing, railways become as bad as air and road, then it is a competition that should never have been set up.

A future in which there is energy conservation and less flittering travel must have trains that are not as hurried, but ones that are reliable and comfortable, and which enable the journey to be savoured. It was this very concept that was abandoned at the break-up of B.R.

C.B.