When trains had names

YOU know that feeling when you wake suddenly and know that you have had a dream but cannot quite grasp what you were dreaming of and the harder you try to recall the more elusive it becomes until you are left with just a vague sense of something?

That was me this morning. I know (or think I know) that I was on a train. It may have been heading for Cornwall; or maybe not.

What I do know is that this train had a name. I don’t mean the engine pulling the carriages; I mean the actual train.

When I gave up trying to remember what the name was, I started pondering on how in the days of my childhood and youth there seemed to be many of these named trains, and wondering where they had all gone.

The early morning express from South Wales to London Paddington was called The Red Dragon. Two other daily named trains between London and Wales were the Cambrian Coast Express (to Aberystwyth) and the Pembroke Coast Express (to Pembroke Dock.)

I still recall, from the days when I was a member of that strange breed of human known as a train-spotter, such romantically-monikered timetable entries as the Atlantic Coast Express, the Bournemouth and the Brighton Belles, the Cathedrals Express, the Cornishman, the Coronation Scot, the Master Cutler, the Golden Arrow, the Royal Scot, the Cornish Riviera Express, the Caledonian, the Elizabethan, the Ocean Liner Express, and the Midlander.

Ok, maybe the last of these did not exactly reek of romance, but I am sure there was many a proud son or daughter of Birmingham who felt a surge of secret delight as he or she climbed aboard their ‘own’ train.

I mentioned all of this to The Current Mrs Feeney. Possibly there was a nostalgic catch in my voice as I gave her a personal tour of The Lost Trains of Britain.

I saw the flicker of alarm in her eyes. I knew what she was thinking: “Dear God, he’s going to buy himself a little notebook and spend his days standing at the end of windy station platforms, writing down the numbers of Diesel Multiple Units.” Or something similar.

I reassured her that this was not going to happen. It’s not as if I am one of those men who looks back or talks about the past, am I? She gave me one of those looks. You know those looks.

According to an article in the Daily Telegraph last May, there was once more than 130 of these named trains running daily on Britain’s railways.

So, what has happened to the Red Dragon or the Master Cutler of my youth? I believed they began to disappear when steam engines began to be withdrawn from service, and replaced with efficient but characterless diesel locomotives.

To my surprise, a little research revealed that some of them are (allegedly) still out there, carrying passengers between the UK’s capital and provincial cities across the land.

Perhaps so, but I do not remember seeing the Cathedrals Express or Bournemouth Belle on any station departure display for many years; nor do I recall any station public address system informing passengers that the train now arriving at Platform Four is the Bristolian, the Pines Express, or the Waverley.

And I am sure that none of them carry the resplendent brass headboards that adorned the front of the steam engines that pulled them in their heyday.

Is it too much to ask that the named train be restored to its rightful place? Surely it would bring a little romance back to the prosaic business of modern rail travel?

 

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3 thoughts on “When trains had names

  1. Oh, Dear Lord, I do know of those looks. Emasculating, they are. But bear up, my new-found friend. You have to stand your ground (which in my home state of Florida has a *totally* different meaning than you might think — a post, perhaps, for a different time). You must seek your joy in every way you can. It could be worse, you should tell the Current Mrs. You could be a birder with those pocket notebooks. I think that would be far worse. Trains are great. Peter Gabriel wrote some of his best songs from riding on trains in Surrey.

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  2. My named trains.

    I started my railroad career working trains that had names. This was back in 1976 in the wilds of northern British Columbia. The names were nicknames and were general descriptions of what they did. So as a young spare board brakeman I worked the Logger, the Speed, the Kitimat and the Smithers Wayfreight. Canadian National Railroad the company I worked for had more technical sounding names such as 546 , 720 , 356 which were simply the time-table designations which were usually used by those trains. We much preferred the names for when one was called for the Logger you would know that you would be wrangling 50 decrepit log flats and 30 booming wood chip cars. The Speed was a quick evening trip from Prince Rupert to Terrace with a chance of catching the local cabaret, The Red Door, still open for sport. The Kitimat was a switcher which ran from Terrace to Kitimat to service the aluminum and pulp wood mills; 38 miles, 38 bridges.
    Of course people ran those trains, Jack Paul had the Logger, Mike Schwab the Speed and Jim Coelho the Kitimat. Characters all.

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