Every fortnight in the pages of Rail magazine there are articles about the reopening of various lines and stations foolishly closed by the Evil Doctor. In some cases new chords are proposed to make vital connections for through passenger and freight routes.
This is all well and good. For many years the passenger and block freight trains have been on the increase, and passenger numbers constantly rise, but what has been noticeable since I have been subscribing to Rail (about three years) is that the proposals keep going round and round - talk, talk, talk and very little gets done. If the Victorians had been so slow we would still be waiting for the Liverpool and Manchester Railway to open.
I admit that we have had successes. Crossrail is one shining example and so is the recently opened Borders Line, but if we could have a bit of movement on the rest of network it would be a good thing. Let's face it, we can move when someone can really line their pockets. Just think how quickly the rail network was decimated in the Beeching era, and just think how quickly the motorways got built.
As I am now getting on a bit I would like to see some urgency in the resurrection of our railways or I will be in my box before anything much gets done.
I have noticed that the 'nimby' contingent make the going difficult. If a new or reinstated railway is proposed within a few miles of their home then they whinge and moan about 'noise' and 'the unsightliness of the railway' and the 'dramatic fall in the value' of their property. Maybe they expect to get a cash windfall by way of compensation.
Yet I have a main line within 30 yards of my house and the noise does not bother me. I do not even notice the passage of trains but it is very nice to know they are there for when I want catch one of them.
One of the biggest changes on the railways since the Beeching era has been the disappearance of small goods and even wagonload freight. This has gone virtually unnoticed by the public at large and even many railway enthusiasts. Road haulage is more efficient. --- But is it?
Say I want to send a consignment of cigarettes from my factory in Bristol to my customer McAdams Tobacconists in Kidderminster. In the old days I'd ring up the railway and they would send round a little lorry to pick up my consignment, taking it to the local goods yard. It would then make its way by rail to a goods yard local to my customer, be loaded on a little lorry and delivered to McAdams' door. ( I did an article in 'Taking a Look Back' some while ago about Zonal Distribution on the G.W.R showing how efficiently it worked - and all before a computer made things simple!)
Nowadays I would have to ring up a road haulier who would send round a little lorry to pick up my consignment, taking it to the local distribution centre. It would then make its way by road on a big lorry to a distribution centre in my customer's area and be loaded on a little lorry and delivered to McAdams' door. Where is the greater efficiency in that? Sadly the old railway goods yards have been redeveloped so there can be no going back.
Possible New Projects
I have heard some encouraging news about the King and Castle bar here at Kidderminster. I am told that a new carpet is to be fitted as well as a new set of curtains and a replacement bar counter. At first I was horrified that the original counter was to be replaced because I well remember it being brought up from Worcester Foregate Street Station where it had been deemed surplus to requirements when the refreshment room on platform 1 was closed. After all, it was of Great Western heritage. However - time, acidic drinks and modern cleaning chemicals have apparently eaten into the surface, irreparably damaging it and it will be replaced, I am assured, by an exact replica.
The King and Castle suffers from the lack of suitable signage so we have proposed that a suitable period-style pub sign be mounted flat on the wall so that people going up and down Comberton Hill, or to and from the main line station are more likely to be aware of its existence. The present vee board sign proclaims 'The King and Castle' which is a little vague - is it a pub or something else? Worse is the sign on the concourse which states 'Licensed Refreshment Room' which gives the impression of some kind of restaurant where you may get a glass of wine with your meal.
Common business sense says that the signage needs to be more clear and we, with the help of others, (we are trying to persuade them) hope to put up something more appropriate.
And on the subject of persuading others, there have been discussions about the possible replacement of the 'tent' behind the Uffculme building on the bay platform. The tent is used for painting large objects such as platform benches by the Wednesday Gang and requires new canvas every two or three years. Also, rain runs in under the sides and blows in at the ends. It is an ugly inappropriate and largely useless structure which would be better off gone. But what to replace it with? One suggestion was to lengthen the Uffculme Building but there is only 5ft more space. Another was to build a permanent building in place of the tent but space would only allow a 25ft x 10ft building - the same size as the Uffculme which is 'too small'.
So I suggested a new building based on a real G.W.R prototype and erected in the compound perhaps by the Bus Garage. I have found a superb building to copy. It is the shed formerly at Martock and it was 30ft x 15ft. It was constructed from corrugated iron with a curved roof and has two windows on each side with a big sliding door in the middle of one side. That ought to do the job!
I offered to do the necessary drawings and put together some budget prices. What I did NOT do is offer 'The Friends' labour or finance to put it up. For those who want it a little self-help is required.
It would be a nice project and most beneficial to the station maintenance team and I really hope it will get off the ground.
For some reason we seem to be forever restoring barrows. A well-wisher (I do not know who) kindly donated two large sack trucks painted bright yellow. They are not of railway origin but are clearly very old so Bob Leonard repaired the best one and painted it in GPO red to his usual high standard. It looked superb, but something was missing. He asked me to letter it out in GPO style which I happily did, and now it is another eye-catching item on the station. It is sufficiently light to get some regular use, too.
A little four wheeled trolley had been languishing in our storage shed for several years. It originated from Swindon Works and was in good order except for a missing handle which Bob Brown turned up on his woodworking lathe and fitted. It had wobbly cast iron wheels with very worn holes for the axles. The two worst wheels were replaced with better ones from 'stock' and Charlie and I painted the trolley. It appears to date from 1908, judging by a date stamped on the axle.
Charlie suggested that we make a stand to mount on the trolley and fit a display board for use with the donations box in place of our rather too large board on an easel. So we utilised a spare replica poster board, painted in our standard poster board colour scheme except that the background colour is black and a panel at the top is lettered out. Charlie made a stand and we fitted the poster board to it and once complete with 'Friends' information sheets it was placed on the station concourse replacing our old board. The old board was bright yellow and to be truthful was rather nasty looking, but eye catching. It will be interesting to see if our new display board and box still attract the same amount of donations now that it is far less 'in your face'.
The sign for the King and Castle bar on the concourse is a vee board proclaiming 'Licensed Refreshment Room' As I have said, this gives the impression of a restaurant with a license which it is not, so we are going to change the wording to 'The King and Castle'. Needless to say the correct cast letters are in short supply so I have made patterns for the missing letters and Dave Redfern is going to get them cast in iron for us.
At the same time he is going to produce a number of castings 'Litter', for which we have also produced the pattern, to go on the new up-market litter bins produced by Syd Andrews. The cheap wire litter bins they replace didn't need a sign. All the nasty rubbish was on view.
The Great Western may well have had litter bins on its stations, but I have been unable to find a photo showing one, so the design of the bin was developed by Syd, and the cast plates are a figment of my imagination but will hopefully look 'right'. So far Syd has made seven bins and to date they have proven to be seagull-proof! For a full complement we need eleven.
As a result of the increasing number of jobs involving woodwork which members of 'The Friends' have been tackling, we have decided to equip the lean-to section of the Storage Shed with a small woodworking shop. To this end we have modified a big rusty tin bench to a narrower woodworking bench with a ¾" thick ply top. We have splashed out and bought a good quality woodworking vice and fitted it to the bench and added a tool storage shelf underneath. This will allow us to deal with large items such as barrows, wooden benches, poster boards and the like without having to go outside to use our old welding bench for a flat surface. Unlike a metalworking vice, the woodworking vice is mounted below the surface of the bench and as such does not become an obstacle to large components resting on the bench top. Apart from a bit of welding, Bob has been the driving force on this project and seems to be looking forward to getting his teeth into a few woodworking projects in our new shop. We have already obtained a woodworking chop saw and a band saw, both kindly donated by Steve. (Many thanks.)
Our electricity supply is due for modification in order to provide a spur to the Stonemason's Shed positioned opposite, and I am hoping that a 13 Amp socket (or two) might appear in the woodworking shop as part of the scheme!