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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 10, Issue 10 (January 1, 1936)

Some Side Lines on other Railways

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Some Side Lines on other Railways

When our Colonial visitors come to England, they most often travel by Main-Line Expresses. A journey in the “Flying Scotsman” from London to Edinburgh, or in the “Cheltenham Flyer,” when the speed frequently touches 80 miles per hour, must be an experiece full of interest to any railwayman; but I am sure the New Zealand railwayman visiting England would be very interested to travel on some of the little side lines in this country, where the whole routine is very different from that of the large expresses, with their wonderful dining-cars and their 100 per cent. efficiency.

I recently spent a holiday in a little village in the heart of the Dorsetshire hills. One day I was cycling, when the weather broke. The rain started to come down in no uncertain manner and I sought the nearest railway station (a place not often difficult to locate in this country of railways) and soon came to a small station, where life seemed quiet and peaceful enough. The man in the booking-office was sitting on a stool drinking tea and yarning to the staff, which consisted of the stationmaster and one porter. Forgetting to mention where I wanted to go, I asked at what time the next train was due to leave. “Well, it all depends on which direction you wish to take,” replied the clerk. This was a great joke and everybody laughed; so I told them the story of the drunken man who, arriving at a railway station, asked for a ticket; and when the booking-clerk inquired, “To which station?” said, “Well, what stations have you got?” More laughter! I was instantly accepted into the friendly circle and asked if I would like to join in a cup of tea. To refuse would have been impossible, so I took the cup of tea, which tasted as sweet as molasses. Personally I loathe sugar in my tea, but rather than hurt their feelings, I drank it with apparent relish; though I quite firmly declined a second cup.

“There is a train due to your village in half an hour,” said the booking-clerk; but in the meantime the Southern Express is due in ten minutes time.” So we went on chatting until the great train loomed in sight.

Is it to be wondered at that trains have such a fascination for children? They fascinate adults, also. How in the world is such a tremendous sense of power conveyed, as by a train travelling at high speed? There is always a feeling, too, of wonderment as to how the wheels manage to stay on the rails and how that huge weight can be made to negotiate the intricate network of lines that are found at various junctions. Of the fact that we place our lives in the capable hands of the signalman, we never think; and how few of us give a thought even to the skill and care of the driver and his mate—of their wonderful accuracy in maintaining, day after day and year after year, distances run to scheduled time. We takè almost for granted, especially in the British Isles, the civility of the men who handle our luggage, and handle it so efficiently. It is only when one goes to Continental countries that these things are brought home to one. When a train stops at a station in France or Belgium, you suddenly find yourself confronted by a porter who throws you aside, grabs your bags, and rushes madly out of the carriage, hoping to dispose of you in the shortest possible time and be back in time for another customer. You charge wildly after him, but he notices you not, his objective is the nearest taxi, into which he throws your belongings.

In England it is all so different—the porter asks you politely if you have any luggage—do you want a taxi? —and tells you where he will meet you when outside the barrier, and you let him go, feeling that you are in perfectly safe hands.

On the little side lines, of course, one gains a much better idea of the people of the country, than one could possibly get by travelling in the luxurious expresses. When the country train stops at each little flag station, or as we call it “halt,” the waiting passengers are hailed by those already in the train; many of them know each other, and there is at once friendly conversation. One hears remarks about the price of milk, sheep, cattle: how badly the country needs rain; and that Farmer Fudge has bought a motor-car for #20; secondhand, but it looked new.

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“How few of us give a thought to the skill and care of the driver and his mate.”

“How few of us give a thought to the skill and care of the driver and his mate.”

Frequently the guard of the train will lend a helping hand to some woman laden with shopping parcels; or, as he did once in my case, hold up the train a minute or two for a belated passenger. He will carry on conversations with the porters and stationmasters at the little stations along the line; it is all pleasant and leisurely, and one is struck by the human touches one finds on the country railways, which are not possible in the same way on the main lines, though the wonderful politeness that one encounters on all lines, large and small, is a great feature of railways in the British Isles.

Probably one of the most amusing train journeys it is possible to take, can be made in the county of Donegal, in Ireland.

The total length of the railway is 60 miles, and its trains average about 12 miles per hour. It is an extremely narrow gauge, and when put down, was known as one of the Balfour lines, as it was laid during the days of the Balfour Administration.

Many stories are told about this line; one, supposed to be authentic, is as follows: —

The train reached a little village station, when the engine refused to go any further. One of the stranded passengers asked the staff, consisting of one man who combined the duties of clerk, stationmaster and porter, “Is there a hotel in this place?” “Yes sorr,” he replied, “there are two.” “Which one would you advise me to stop at?” asked the tourist. “It doesn't matter,” replied the man, “whichever one ye choose, ye'll be wishing you was at the other one.”

I once had rather an amusing experience on a railway journey I made in Tunis. It was a mixed train—decidedly mixed—comprising two tiny first-class carriages, and some third class, holding about fifty or sixty Arabs. The rest of the train seemed a mile long, and was made up of trucks containing mostly camels, horses, cattle, sheep and goats. When it moved it averaged about fifteen miles an hour and its arrival at every station seemed the event of the day. Hundreds of Arabs in their picturesque costumes came to meet it. The guard informed me that if I wanted dinner, he would telephone to a station up the line, where, he remarked we were due to arrive between 1 and 2 o'clock.

When we reached the spot, a town populated by 40 Europeans and some 500 Arabs, the stationmaster's wife, with the usual capability of the French housewife, had a perfectly marvellous six course meal awaiting us. I got my hostess to send out a bottle of red wine to the engine driver and his mate, and another to the guard, who were most profuse in their thanks.

The train was scheduled to stop for 25 minutes; and when I remarked to the guard that this did not give us long for our meal, he laughed loudly and snapped his fingers, saying, “25 minutes? you can have an hour and 25 minutes if you like.” I could not help asking, “But what about your time-table?” “Oh,” came the reply, “that does not matter at all. There are often camels on the line.” And as a matter of fact this happens to be quite true, because the camels will frequently actually sit on the line, and it takes the combined efforts of the driver with a whip, the fireman with a shovel, and the guard's language to shift them.

But the wonder is, not that a train averages only from twelve to fifteen miles an hour, but that, as a triumph of man's engineering, there is a train to be found at all, across such country.

Without it, the people would be almost completely isolated—they could do nothing, and go nowhere.

In conclusion, may I say, that I have travelled thousands of miles on the New Zealand and Home railways, and as just one member of the great mass of the public, I would like to return thanks in this “New Zealand Railways Magazine,” to the railway men of those countries for their unfailing tact, good humour, politeness, and above all for their efficiency which make train travelling to-day the safest mode of transport in the world.

If we do not express our thanks, perhaps as often as we should, it is not because we are ungrateful, but because we have come to regard these things as part of the Railway Service.

“There are often camels on the line.”

“There are often camels on the line.”

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