Technology, Trains And Trainspotting
Train enthusiasts and the web. A perfect fit?
Article/photos © urban75 editor, 12th october 2007
Although many will try to deny it (while over-eagerly craning a neck at a passing steam-hauled special), an awful lot of British blokes do have something of an obsession with railways.
Although few still find much excitement in the extreme 'spottery found at the end of station platforms, sufficient numbers have taken to publishing their own railway-related research to create a useful insight into Britain's social history and industrial past.
Enthusiast sites peppered with local information, photographs and anecdotes are providing a valuable archive into Britain's past, although, it has to be said, there's some right nutters out there too.
For those dedicated diesel diehards who feel most at home at the end of platform 2, life has become significantly more technologically advanced in the digital age.
Gone is the trusty notebook to be replaced by a panoply of electronics, with end-of-platform lurkers often to be seen clutching digital cameras, camcorders, voice recorders and even the occasional GPS unit.
And when they get home, this information can end up in databases and spreadsheets or shared on the web. Trainspotting truly has gone digital.
Some of the railway related sites now form a valuable local and national resource while others, it has to be said, can be just a teensy weensy bit, well, odd.
Definitely in the former category is the superb resource of Britain's railway architectural heritage at submit.org.uk.
A long favourite of the urban75 duffel-coat wearing crew, the site contains a vast and fascinating wealth of 'then and now' photos of abandoned railway stations around the UK, accompanied by a detailed description of each station's history.
Many of the photos were taken by Nick Catford who must have spent the greater part of the Sixties hot-footing it to recently closed branch lines rather than swinging with the Beautiful People.
His photos capture a host of melancholic scenes of desolation and abandonment, and you don't have to be a railway buff to feel angry at the official vandalism that took place in the sixties.
Throughout the site, you can see architecturally striking buildings left to criminally rot away, and beautiful structures full of local pride needlessly pulled down, while many communities are still ruing the day Mr Beeching came to call.
Catford certainly had a rich choice of scenes to photograph, with the rail cuts slashing Britain's 20,000 miles of track and 6,000 stations in 1955 to just 12,000 miles of track and 2,000 stations twenty years later.
Happily, the photographer is still active and regularly adding new and archive photos to the site - which is affiliated to the excellent Subterranea Britannica - and there's now in excess of 1,500 old stations listed. It's well worth a look.
I remember Adlestrop
Another fantastic resource is the New Adlestrop Railway Atlas, which offers a clear and crisp historical atlas of Britain's railways, mapping passenger lines, stations and freight routes, both extant and abandoned.
Produced as a one meg PDF download, the map currently covers Wales, the Midlands, East Anglia, Yorkshire and the South and provides a comprehensive and detailed listing of railway lines loved, lost and forgotten.
It's already a superb piece of work, and the author intends to add a searchable index to stations, with enlargements of the London and Birmingham areas.
Oh, and why 'Adlestrop'? See below for the answer!
Other railway sites
With railways being a near-religious calling to some folks, there's no shortage of quirky/interesting/weirdly obsessive sites out there, and here's a few of our favourites:
Described as "basically a collection of pictures and maps and diagrams and sketches, and other odd things that have been discussed from time to time in the Usenet newsgroup, uk.railway," Joyce's World of
Transport Eclectica includes an interesting collection of scanned documents.
One map shows the full extent of Beeching's proposed cuts of 1961 which makes for scary reading. If he'd had his way, there wouldn't have been any trains at all in Scotland north of Inverness!
Dedicated to old transport films, the British Transport Films archive provides a short history, film stills and a comprehensive listing of the output of this curious unit (although, sadly, no actual films).
However, a small selection of archive transport films can be seen or downloaded at the British Film Institute web site.
We rather enjoyed the 'Panorama of Ealing from a Moving Tram', dating from 1901.
For the signal box aficionado (and there must be a few of you out there), there's little to rival the appropriately named Signal Box website, which documents hundreds of examples of the fast-disappearing trackside fixture.
Such is the attraction of railways, even our own "drugs and anarchy" website gets in on the act, with an abandoned railways section containing a feature on the utterly bonkers Brighton Sea Railway.
Technology meets trainspotting
Perhaps the true spirit of the dedicated trainspotter lives on in YouTube, where technology and obsession meet head on to provide near-unlimited footage of trains shuffling in and out of stations, rumbling along tracks or just standing still in a siding somewhere.
Here the train nut can let their love of railways run rampant, uploading endless videos of worryingly obscure train-related footage, with one of the most bizarre being a wobbly recording of a train announcement from a Holyhead-bound train, which looks like it was secretly recorded by the train toilets.
Others may also get more from the 20 second Trainspotting Seagull at Cardiff Central clip than we did.
Thanks to modern software, train buffs never need leave the comfort of their
bedroom front room any more, thanks to advanced train sim software that authentically replicates journeys on screen in vivid detail.
And who could possibly fail to be moved by this animation of an Arriva train powering through Wales while the Blue Oyster Cult's, 'Don't Fear The Reaper' blasts out in the background? (*entire office puts both hands down)
Adlestrop: the answer
Oh, and in answer to our question, the website was named after a poem by Edward Thomas, describing a deserted station he passed by in 1914.
Yes. I remember Adlestrop -
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop - only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
Adlestrop station closed in 1966.
The old station sign and a platform bench now serves in a bus stop in the village.