The recent revitalisation of our railways is very welcome, albeit a little unexpected. Leaving aside the day-to-day fiasco’s of delayed trains, overcrowding, expensive tickets, as well as the usual day-day exasperations. Or the HS2 debacle of an entire new planned (sic) route that will take thirty years to build, on the promise to save a half hours journey time (presumably sometime within that time period) and obliterate entire green belts in the process. Beyond all that – there are encouraging signs that the railways are no longer the forgotten and under-valued public transport it seems to have been regarded in the past decades.
For a start there are revitalised lines. After a short campaign of some 41 years, a restored train service between Swanage and Wareham is to happen by 2015. This is a picturesque line in the tourist county of Dorset with Enid Blyton type views of the dramatic Corfe Castle. Should be a great tourist attraction as well as practical rail route. While up in Whitby the Coastal Communities Fund is investing in the North Yorkshire Moors Railway which will fund a new platform at Whitby for this heritage railway. Along with other renovation work this will hopefully boost the tourist economy. Rumours that the Dracula line is to be dug up are untrue say local reporter Bram Stoker. OK I made that last bit up!.
More seriously, many of our great train stations are being restored. There is the newly rebuilt St Pancras station in London. A great restoration of this grand gothic style building. Nearby King’s Cross station is also been revitalised. What used to be a dirty scruffy looking area has been re-modelled to represent our traditional railway architecture in an impressive contemporary setting. The Grade 1 listed building, designed by Cubitt in 1852, has been restored in partnership with English Heritage, retaining and displaying many of the original features. With a stunning new concourse, the largest single-span structure in Europe, along with its glass mezzanine walkway already built, the final phase is due soon with the removal of the tatty old green signage and the installation of the new public square, bringing a European feel to the place.
The new London Blackfriars station, to be built on the Victorian bridge of 1886, is set to be a landmark, being the first station to span the river Thames. An innovative roof, made up of over 4K solar photovoltaic (PV) panels will provide over 50% of the stations energy needs, and will reduce CO2 emissions. There will also be a rain harvesting systems and sun pipes for natural lighting. While in Birmingham New Street there will be a whole new larger concourse, as well as a giant atrium, allowing natural light throughout the station and to all 12 refurbished platforms, which should be completed by 2015.
Further afield the Grand Central terminal in New York has just celebrated one hundred years, the brainchild of William Wilgus who is reputed to have said “It was the most daring idea that ever occurred to me”. And it is not just trains and buildings. Recently thousands of people applied for the 18 jobs as train drivers on the new Borders to Edinburgh rail route. Scotrail says that they are dealing with the sheer volume of applications, representing that 125 people applied for each post. It seems affection for our railways is endemic and at last our national institution is being looked after.