A design icon back on our rails

There’s been rejoicing this week as trains left the main line station at Oxenholme bound for end of the branch line Windermere.

It’s not just that we have trains again after the Northern Rail fiasco left us without any service at all for several weeks.

It’s because we’ve seen the return of a design icon, a 40 year old diesel engine which links us to the glorious days of rail travel.

Our heritage train leaving Windermere: photo by Dayve Ward

Our heritage train leaving Windermere: photo by Dayve Ward

West Coast Railways, which specialises in steam-hauled charter excursions, stepped in to restore services after Northern, the regular passenger operator, replaced services with buses.

Passengers are now travelling free on the 10-mile route from Oxenholme to Windermere six times a day. The Department for Transport is reported to be meeting the £5,500 daily running costs.

The engines have no nameplates. One is a Class 37, dating from the 1960s, the other is a Class 57 (re-engineered in early-2000s from a 1960s-built loco). They are, ironically, only slightly older than many of the 1980s Pacers which normally operate on the line. But they look like “proper” trains, ones that reminds us of the romance and glamour of the days when the railways projected the mystique and allure of train travel in ways that weren’t simply about speed.

The Flying Scotsman, the Silver Jubilee, the Coronation Scot and the Cheltenham Flyer: in their heyday these classic British expresses were not only the fastest trains of their kind in the world, but a synonym for character and luxury, too.

Many of the things that made rail travel pleasurable have disappeared. Certainly  in Britain we seem to have lost the knack, deployed by the old railway companies, of harnessing the innate love of trains that seems to run through our DNA. Gone are railway stations built like cathedrals rather than concrete boxes, haute cuisine in the dining car, cosy compartments, seats that line up with the windows, cheerful porters on platforms.

By contrast think of modern railway stations designed elsewhere by Santiago Calatrava which epitomise style and artistry in architecture.

Calatrava train station

Calatrava train station

So a huge thank you to West Coast Railways , the independent heritage train operating company which usually specialises in operating charter trains along some of the UKs most famous and scenic routes and to many beautiful destinations.

It’s not quite the Flying Scotsman or the Orient Express, or the Night Mail of Auden’s poem, or our favourite fantasy railway, the Hogwarts Express, but it’s brought a reminder that design needs to play a part in the most functional areas of our daily lives.

And here’s the timetable:

train timetable

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