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BR remembered... 70 years on

Railway writer and former editor of Steam World magazine Barry McLoughlin celebrates the 70th anniversary of the formation of British Railways

Britain's railway network used to be a vast adventure playground for my group of friends during our teenage trainspotting expeditions.

in the Sixties we scaled signals and bridges, climbed into goods and wagons. put coins on the tracks... it was daft and dangerous but we were young and had to find something to do during lulls between trains.

Such activities would, rightly, attract the attention of the British Transport Police today, but somehow this seemed a more innocent era- the era of British Railways.

Although it lasted less than 50 years from its foundation on January 1, 1948, BR will have been a formative fixture in the lives of many Choice readers.

The butt of jokes about everything from its infamously curly sandwiches to late-running trains, BR nevertheless kept the railway on an even keel at ta time when it was in decline as a result of social, demographic and economic forces- most importantly, the massive expansion of road travel.

It's easy to become misty-eyed about BR: it wasn't all gleaming green engines, spotless 'blood and custard' (red and cream) carriages and smiling porters. Like any massive organisation, it could be bureaucratic, inflexible and sometimes uncaring, and many of its engines were scruffy, smelly and unreliable.

Yet it inspired a camaraderie among both its workforce and users... and- albeit very remotely- it belonged to all of us. You didn't for instance, have to worry whether your ticket only allowed you to travel on a certain operator's trains.

British Railways was a flawed but fully integrated national network, unlike today's fragmented regiment of competing companies.

And despite rail being seen in the Sixties and Seventies as outmoded and evocative of the Victorian era, BR pioneered some important developments in railway technology, branding, marketing and organisation.

As with the NHS- founded in the same year- it was a substantial achievement after six years of total war.

To continue reading the full article on the Steam World Magazine website, click here

 

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