Thursday, 29 October 2009
In Praise of Railways
What man or woman of my generation does not hold fond memories of railway journeys?
The age of steam was in it's death knell when I was a boy, but I can still visualise my first journey on a train going on holiday to Llandudno in North Wales.
Arriving at the station I rushed ahead of my father to see the engine and watch the great man who was to drive this leviathan wiping his oily hands on an old rag, whilst the fireman shovelled coal into a greedy boiler.
The hiss and steam and smell live with me today, and then, the journey began, travelling in comfort, at speed through the English countryside, I was completely captivated and totally forgot that I was taking my first visit to the seaside.
I was blessed, in 1959 there were not many children who went on holiday to the seaside and travelled on a train, I was in heaven!
As a result, I have never lost my love of trains, even as a young man, when I was a compulsory commuter travelling every day in and out of London, I would simply think of the poetry of John Betjeman on the subject of railways.
Now as an older man I have rediscovered the pleasure of railway journeys, from the buying of the ticket to boarding the train,observing your fellow passengers and watching the English countryside go by, the little villages with their Church spires are still there as we whistle past at high speed, pondering the daily lives of the people who live in these timeless communities.
All this is possible because of a man who was barely literate, a man from my home county of Northumberland, called George Stephenson.
Born in 1781 in the village of Wylam, about 10 miles west of Newcastle, to a typically impoverished family, he started work in the mining industry and couldn't afford to teach himself to read and write until he was seventeen, he over the years became an accomplished engineer, working at various collieries in the region.
Waggonways were in common usage in the mines of the time and his growing knowledge of steam locomotion encouraged him to consider using steam for motive power.
Whilst not accredited with the invention of the steam locomotive,this prize goes to a Cornishman, George Stephenson built the Worlds first public railway, known as the Stockton and Darlington.
A twenty five mile track, that was to change the World.
Today most societies could not function without the train. How many commuters travel into Berlin,Paris,London or New York using this method of transport?
So when you next get on a train think of George, he opened our horizons.