As I mentioned in my blog about Starting out at Crewe Works, I had been interested railways since I was frightened by an A4 Pacific as it stormed through the old Stevenage station from the North. I was a small child sitting in my pushchair on the Up platform.
I thought it would be fascinating to find out about how some interesting railway people first discovered their love of railways. Their responses are fascinating!
Transport historian, broadcaster and writer
I was brought up with model trains all around: I learned how to read with a thousand of my grandfather’s railway books informing both my comprehension of the world around me – and my vocabulary. Whilst he drove 5” gauge locomotives “at quite reckless speeds” and was known for his tram-chasing holidays across Europe, my other grandfather encouraged vast networks of plastic toy train tracks around his vast garden.
Dad, always one to encourage, took me trainspotting at Paddington. Just round the corner, we had Bekonscot Model Village, Britain’s biggest public model railway. Lo, the die was cast. By the age of 12 I was signalling trains around Bekonscot and by 21 I had acquired a 70 foot long ride-in InterCity 125 in 7.25” gauge.
At 30 I found myself helping a team run the Sierra Leone National Railway Museum, at 35 part of the team helping the Postal Museum and Mail Rail. Now I find myself working for Trainline, Europe’s largest independent rail ticket retailer, and sometimes presenting programmes or writing about railways. I am an unashamed railway enthusiast because it is the thing that strings both my past – and very likely my future – together, and it lets me meet the most devoted, kind, and joyful people.
Chair of the SVR Charitable Trust
In my case, I was exposed to railways from my pram every day as Mum used to take me for a walk along the “line path” at Potters Bar on the way to the shops, and I would see friendly crews wave to us from what I now know to be N2’s. Our landlady used to give piano lessons so I had to be got out of the house even if there was no shopping to do! Additionally, my grandad and three of mums brothers worked in Darlington works, so we used to travel up by train once a year for a 2-week family visit and all the talk at that time was of Beeching’s cuts and the probable closure of the works itself.
As a teenager at the end of steam I resolved to join a preserved railway to do a week’s voluntary work every year, and after considering the options and transport arrangements to each, chose the Severn Valley Railway, even though I had never visited it. That turned into two weekly visits then a move to Shropshire and eventually very heavy involvement, including directorship for 13 years, workshop paid staff employment for over 20 and counting, and chairmanship of the railways own charity. I now live in a former railway cottage (built over 100 years before the line was) which has the line so close that I can check dynamo belts on passing trains from the kitchen sink.
Chair of North Tyneside Steam Railway Association
My passion for railways didn’t start until I was 17, as a visitor to the Stephenson Railway Museum. I had absolutely no interest in trains but was offered the opportunity to try firing a steam locomotive. I was hooked instantly and I’m still involved 11 years later.
Museum Director – National Railway Museum
My great-great-grandfather was one of many to die in the building of the Forth railway bridge. I remember travelling across the bridge from a young age, in awe of its scale, beauty and the possibilities it embodied. Joining the National Railway Museum to work amongst the great ‘firsts’—Stephenson, Brunel, Mallard, Rocket and of course Flying Scotsman—was a childhood dream come true.
The National Railway Museum in York and Shildon is a fantastic place to visit and don’t forget that both are completely free of charge!
President – A1 Steam Locomotive Trust
When did I become interested in steam locomotives and trains?
I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t fascinated by them.
My Mother said I was ‘mad about trains’ as a toddler. She used to tell me that when we visited the local beach at South Shields I would insist on watching the miniature railway by the North Marine Park before going home.
My earliest memory of any kind is from the age of two or three, standing fascinated on the beach at South Shields watching a green locomotive on the Trow Rocks railway, a line owned by the Port Commissioners that carried stone from the Trow Quarry to repair the South Tyne Pier.
The next memory is of a trip to Nottingham at the age of 5 and standing with my Mother next to a level crossing gate. I had never been so close to a locomotive and as this great black tender locomotive thundered past making a fearful din, I was both terrified and fascinated. And about that age I would entertain myself endlessly with pencil, crayon and paper, drawing railway systems with trains of all kinds navigating the tracks of the imaginary system.
At that same age a trip to Cornwall in 1953 to see paternal Grandfather who had suffered a stroke necessitated a journey that is hard to imagine today. Leaving by road coach from South Shields Town Hall at 8 a.m., we travelled to London on the then single carriageway A1. Stopping for beans and toast at teatime in a cafe in Bedford, after admiring a Bedford shop window display of models of the Coronation procession, we arrived in London Waterloo bus station late at night, then transferred to Paddington where even then I could see that the Western engines were different, I still retain an exciting picture in my head of a Great Western engine blowing off at the Paddington buffer-stops. The journey to Cornwall continued through the night, we had a compartment to ourselves and I woke that morning to the fantastic experience of running alongside the red Dawlish cliffs with the sea on the other side of the train. We arrived at Redruth at 9am, a combined journey of 25 hours!
Fortunately, my younger brother, Phil, shared my passion, which was very much encouraged by our parents, particularly Mother, who used the knit woollen pullovers with steam engines emblazoned on the front!
We were fortunate to live on the edge of a town buzzing with a wide variety of interesting transport, everywhere we went there was so much interest.
We went to sleep each night to the sounds of shunting taking place at Whitburn Colliery , the terminus of our local light railway, the South Shields, Marsden and Whitburn Colliery Railway which ran close to the North Sea cliff-tops, several hundred yards from our house, and at school playtime we watched the frequent procession of loaded and empty coal trains passing in sight of the schoolyard.
We travelled to school on an electric trolleybus (fast, quiet and eco-friendly!), trips on the trolley bus into town gave us tantalising glimpses of the Harton Electric Railway, a very busy colliery to staith system using turn of the century electric locos.
A trip to Newcastle on the train (refurbished NER electric stock, and later Eastleigh units) gave us a view of the many docks on the river bank, all of them with their own railway system with a small industrial tank loco, and sometimes a steam rail-crane would be the motive power. Once at Newcastle, the magnificent Central Station would have such a fantastic atmosphere, particularly on dark winter evenings with the smoke, steam and smell of many locomotives filling the air as trains started away, or waiting locos safety valves lifted…
A trip across the River Tyne would be in a 1920’s steam ferry, where the passengers were allowed to stand on the grating above the engine room and watch the marine compound engines working away, controlled by a man in an old armchair who operated the levers from his seat in response to the signals from the boat’s telegraph.
A Saturday shopping expedition with parents to South Shields Market would see Phil and I soaking in the atmosphere of South Shields station, the electric units, the parcels trains (sometimes hauled by a MPV, but often hauled by a Gresley V3 or V2), and occasionally a through train to London, which I remember late one night arriving behind a post-war Pacific (not sure what variety of A1/A2) , such an atmospheric picture in the gas-lit gloom, and the mellow compartment lights illuminating the rake of Gresley panelled coaches with a soft glow.
It was natural with all this going on the Phil and I wished to know more about the trains we were looking at, so pocket money was saved up for the joint purchase firstly of ‘Eastern Region Locomotives’ and then the famous Ian Allan Combined Volume for all regions. Having seen all that could be seen from a branch terminus, and the age of 12,(Phil 8), we had our first trip by ourselves by electric train to Newcastle, purchasing platform tickets we joined the army of ‘spotters’ on old island platform 9 and 10.
Here we spent many successive Saturdays, as the glories of East Coast steam processed by.
Saving up for ‘Holiday Runabout’ tickets we spent a week each year for several years in the early 60’s travelling over to Carlisle, to Berwick and Edinburgh, getting to know the LNER engines intimately, particularly the army of Pacifics of classes A1,A2,A3 and A4. We thought they would be there for many years, but we quickly realised with a great sense of unease, that they were disappearing rapidly to the scrap yard.
At the same time as they were disappearing, the heritage movement was starting to re-open branch lines and run them with locomotives, some of them built before the First World War, and many of them before World War II. It was about this time in my mid-teens that I would propound to Phil what seemed to me to be blindingly obvious – that there would become a time when it was necessary to build new standard gauge steam engines for heritage railway and mainline charter use.
And over the years I kept on expecting someone else to do it until one day in 1990 a letter appeared in Steam Railway News proposing the construction of a new A1. This struck an immediate chord, and I phoned Phil and said words to the effect of ‘this is where we get in’. No one else had managed to do it, but I had an inkling of how it could be done……..
Cue a bottle of wine one summer evening in 1990 and an idea about breaking the huge task down to manageable pieces like eating an elephant (‘the way to eat an elephant is a little bit each day’), and the idea of linking the fundraising to the price of a pint of beer a week. From that moment on I knew that an A1 would steam again in our lifetimes.
The A1 Steam Locomotive Trust – a registered charity – has built a completely new ‘A1’ to the original design and with the help of the latest technology. The loco is, of course, Tornado 60163.