I’d been watching a transport documentary (on one of my pet hobby horses of rail privatisation) which had been uploaded to YouTube, when one of the “recommended” videos caught my eye.
It was a British TV documentary from 1991, following the colourful characters who worked on the London-Leeds train service at the time. I’d lived in Leeds for a spell around that time, and so some of the faces in the programme were familiar to me, as I’d encountered them as I’d used the trains in the area.
It was gutsy for the time (long before the boom of reality tv) that the BR publicity people let the TV crew have such direct and unfettered access to front line staff, who were allowed to freely express themselves to the cameras, especially as producers were fortunate during the period they were filming to catch British Rail suffering one of it’s most embarrassing moments – the “Wrong Kind of Snow“, which crippled many services for over a week.
They got to experience delays, breakdowns, and the sight of a driver climbing into a plastic bag to protect his lower body from draughts and leaks as the planned state-of-the-art loco was replaced with an older engine from the 1960s!
Toward the end (at 47 minutes), a time-served Conductor glumly predicted that 20 years from now, we’d be sat here wishing that we’d invested heavily in improved railway infrastructure.
(I’ve embedded the programme in full, or you can use the link above just to see the “prophesy” – haven’t got a clue why the embedded video won’t start at the 47 minute mark. Answers on a postcard…)
21 years on, as we battle to keep our railway infrastructure up to date and able to cope, it’s pretty damned obvious he was right that we should have spent the money back then, rather than delaying and delaying.
So many of the railwaymen in that programme were older and approaching retirement. I know that Trains Inspector Peter Kirton only passed away last year, for instance – he was an interesting bloke and published a few books during his retirement about his railway experiences.
I wonder how many of these characters are still with us, and might say “Told you so…”?