Transport has so many enthusiasts

The National Tramway Museum in Derbyshire.  Left to right a Glasgow Standard car, a Blackpool Balloon, London Number One (nicknamed Bluebird because the seats were covered with blue upholstery), and an Amsterdam tram.
The National Tramway Museum in Derbyshire. Left to right a Glasgow Standard car, a Blackpool Balloon, London Number One (nicknamed Bluebird because the seats were covered with blue upholstery), and an Amsterdam tram.
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Transport attracts a great deal of enthusiasm.

Eighty years ago a Southern Railway clerk named Ian Allan persuaded the management to allow him to publish a series of little booklets listing all the company’s locomotives.

And for decades after that individuals and small groups of boys and young men (and the occasional elder sister or girlfriend) could be found on railway stations and footbridges ‘spotting’ the trains.

Interest in other forms of transport, particularly buses and trams, quickly followed, and spread to all forms of transport.

It was not confined to ticking off numbers in a book, but became very ‘hands on’.

The first preserved railway taken over, restored and run by enthusiasts was in Wales in 1951. This inspired the film The Titfield Thunderbolt, which in turn inspired other ventures of the same sort.

Early in July a group of (mostly) railwaymen visited North Northumberland and the Scottish Borders, riding in a preserved bus of the type in which the ringleader travelled to and from college in Galashiels 35 years ago.

An interest in historic transport forms is often thought to be odd, yet a similar interest in stamps, or architecture, or historic theatres is perfectly respectable.

A man in Cheshire has a film theatre in his back garden. The auditorium consists of only two short rows of seats, but the projection room is fully equipped with old projectors and sound apparatus, and he has hundreds of canisters of historic films. His day job is running trams.

On the live railway now, there are probably no employees who remember steam days.

The restored Flying Scotsman and the recently built Tornado attract a great deal of attention on their high-speed main-line runs. Most heritage lines are restricted to 25mph.

It is only 41 years since the last branch line — Haltwhistle to Alston — was closed as a result of the ‘Beeching Axe’, and the campaigns to re-open lines and stations all over the country began even while the axe was still swinging.

A station in Leicestershire was re-opened in 1972.

While more and more people want to travel by train, many passengers are put off by the cost and discomfort of doing so.

Advance tickets may be cheaper, but the restrictions give rise to difficulties, especially when passengers have not understood the rules about using them.

As far as comfort is concerned, this is often a matter of having the knowledge of when to travel to avoid the crowded times.

The number of bus users continues to decline, reducing again last year by 1.7 per cent.

The vehicles themselves have improved enormously in the last few years, but potential passengers are often put off by the lack of information, as mentioned previously in this column.

A helpful correspondent in Northumberland reminded the writer about Traveline, which may be helpful for some bus users.

Better even than information in some cases would be an improved timetable, which is so regular that the only things one needs to know are the frequency and the times of first and last buses.

Unfortunately, this ideal is thought to be too expensive for some providers, and timetables usually go hay-wire at school times. The difficulty is compounded when school times vary on Fridays.

The Government has recommended do-it-yourself bus services, where local people, often taxi operators, provide local bus services, but these have not exactly proliferated.

John Wylde is the author of Integrated Transport — a Will-o’-the-wisp?’ This book is priced at £14.95, post paid and signed by the author. Also Experiments in Public Transport Operation, at £11.95. Order through the website www.john-wylde.co.uk