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The New Zealand Railways Magazine, Volume 13, Issue 8 (November 1, 1938)

Our London Letter — Twenty Years Ago

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Our London Letter
Twenty Years Ago.

Mobile Light Railway “Somewhere in France,” Armistice Day, 1918.

Armistice day comes round again, reviving a host of memories of those hectic years 1914–1918. Where were you when the glad news flashed across the world on 11th November, 1918? Twenty years ago, along with a little band of “soldier-railwaymen” engaged on transport work near Lille, in Northern France, the writer celebrated the signing of the Armistice in a little wooden shack which did duty for a mess. A couple of yards from the mess door lay the light railway that snaked its way through the shell-torn poppy-fields lying between Merville and Lille, over which we had been busily engaged for weeks past rushing up men and supplies to keep pace with the enemy retreat. Recently revisiting the scene of his wartime exploits, your correspondent sought to trace the tracks of many of these light railways with which he was connected, between Arras and the Belgium frontier near Ypres. Actually, almost all these one-time vital strategic lines have disappeared. In one or two instances short stretches of British military light railway still serve the area to-day, but of our camps, traffic controls, and the like, scarcely a trace remains. We were privileged to serve on both standard-gauge and light railways in France and Belgium, with the Railway Troops of the Royal Engineers, and later on the Transportation Staff of the Rhine Army in Germany. Our outstanding memory, as Armistice Day comes round, will always be of the heroism and supreme devotion to duty of those gallant soldier-railwaymen who kept traffic moving under the most trying conditions over the flimsy lines immediately behind the fighting-front. Always cheerful, always anxious to put their last ounce of energy into whatever task they might be allotted, it was indeed a privilege to command a body of such men. In the “Railway Gazette” special War Transportation Issue, published nineteen years ago, we were enabled to put on record the fine work performed by light railways on the Western Front. To-day, we can but re-echo the closing words of that review: “Casualties were inevitable, but the memory of those very gallant railwaymen who paid the supreme sacrifice will ever be with us.”

Recent Railway Returns.

At this season of the year freight traffic on the Home railways is approaching its peak. Unfortunately, business at the moment is by no means good, for while six months ago receipts were rising by leaps and bounds, recent returns tell of a decided slump in business. For the first half of the year Home railway traffic receipts were some £2,000,000 less than the corresponding period of 1937, and interim dividends have been severely cut. Increased wages costs and expenditure on materials, are two items the railways are up against, while there has also been a general falling-off in trade thoughout the country. It may be, of course, the present setback will prove only of a temporary nature. In any event, the general feeling is that the
Monsal Dale Viaduct, Derby-Manchester Main Line, L. M. & S. Railway.

Monsal Dale Viaduct, Derby-Manchester Main Line, L. M. & S. Railway.

railways have emerged successfully from hard times before, and there is every reason to believe they will do so again.

Southern Railway Electrification.

Among new works recently brought into use by the group lines an outstanding enterprise is the electrification by the Southern Railway of an additional 75 route miles of line, equivalent to 165 track-miles, connecting London with the south-coast towns of Littlehampton, Bognor, Chichester and Havant. This brings the total electrified route mileage of the Southern up to 615, equivalent to 1,568 track-miles. Rolling-stock provided for the new electric services comprises 68 two-coach motor units, 26 four-coach express units, and 13 four-coach express buffet coach units. These buffet cars are of unique design. Each car includes a kitchen, a bar, and a saloon fitted with four tables specially curved to seat four persons in revolving chairs. The front edge of the bar counter also consists of a series of curves, with a high revolving stool in each curve, while the partition dividing the bar from the saloon is also artistically curved.

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Picturesque Berne, where are situated the headquarters of the Swiss Federal Railways.

Picturesque Berne, where are situated the headquarters of the Swiss Federal Railways.

The Famous “Flying Scotsman.”

Of decidedly more conventional design, but presenting an equally fine example of the railway coach-builder's art, is the new stock introduced by the L. & N.E. Company in its “Flying Scotsman” service. Two complete new trains have been turned out of the Doncaster Works, each weighing 503 tons, and giving accommodation for 60 first and 258 third-class passengers. The cars are built of teak, and are of the corridor pattern, with the exception of the buffet lounge and first and third-class restaurants. This buffet lounge provides another indication of the preference of the modern traveller for light refreshments rather than a three or four course meal, and of the recognition by the railways of this changing taste. The “Flying Scotsman” is probably the most famous train in the world, and one of the oldest established. Buffet car service on the “Flying Scotsman” means buffet car service on named trains everywhere, so great is the influence of this “daddy” among long-distance expresses throughout the whole world of railways.

A New Main-Line.

Here at Home, we are so well served by railways that new main-line construction is a rarity. One new stretch of line, however, has recently been opened by the Southern Company, linking up residential territory lying between Motspur Park and Tolworth, to the south of the metropolis. This new line, electrified throughout, is of particular interest, because of the many modern ideas embodied in its construction. Eight bridges, for example, carrying the railway over highways, have been built of steel girders completely encased in concrete, this largely with the idea of avoiding the cost of periodical painting. Station architecture is on modern lines. The stations are of ferroconcrete construction, and each has an extensive forecourt and liberal parking accommodation for cars. Very striking are the platform roofs at two of the stations—Malden Manor and Tolworth. The roofs are of novel design in reinforced concrete, giving an unobstructed platform free of columns, an having also the same advantages as the bridges previously referred to of involving no cost in periodical painting.

New Buffet Car interior (showing the bar), Southern Railway, England.

New Buffet Car interior (showing the bar), Southern Railway, England.

How the Railways Assist the Farmer.

In the past few years railways all over the world have interested themselves more than ever in the provision of better and more varied services for the farmer, who is to-day decidedly “rail-conscious.” Here in Britain, extended services and facilities have, in effect, brought the railways to the farmhouse door. In particular, a great boon has been the extension of the railway country lorry service, now operating from 2,750 railheads, and giving farmers twenty miles or so from the railway a direct link with the big centres. Specially-fitted motor lorries, employed for the regular cartage of milk, is another development; while hay ladders and similar appliances are now included in the equipment of the railhead cartage depots. Special motor lorries and railway trucks are provided for the movement of cattle. In a single year, the Home railways convey 2 ¾ million cattle and calves, 1 ½ million pigs, and 6 ¼ million sheep and lambs. Low-loading rail and road vehicles are a feature, and the feeding and watering of animals in transit is carefully watched. For a few pence, farmers may insure their livestock against transit risks. Complete farm removals are undertaken by the score. This service not only provides for the actual transport of furniture, stock and equipment, but also includes the loading and unloading of the animals and implements, the packing and unpacking of furniture, and—by arrangement—the laying of floor coverings, the hanging of pictures and other incidental services. In addition to this, a one-third reduction in railway fares is granted to every member of the household to their new destination.