This year much attention will naturally be focused on the 50th anniversary of the end of British Rail standard gauge steam haulage in August 1968.
I remember the time well – looking forward to a caravan holiday at Salcombe’s South Sands, buying my first single records – from memory it was MacArthur Park by Richard Harris, and although he is long gone, I recently had the pleasure of meeting backing singer Ginger Blake – and preparing to start grammar school. But after August 11 all talk of trains went out of the window, as the next generations of schoolboys were instead becoming inspired by the Apollo trips around and to the moon.
There was an underlying feeling “well that’s that then,” as the nation’s trainspotters, by necessity, consigned their ABC spotters’ guides to the bottom drawer. However, there were those who went on to pastures new, and those who found themselves driven to ensure that steam would never die.
And look at the forever-expanding encyclopaedia of their achievements over the past half century – around 120 heritage lines and venues set up to become a major plan of local tourist economies, a fabulous National Railway Museum now planning the next major stage of its development, steam locomotives big and small built from scratch, with one having run last year at 101mph…
The (temporary) end of steam in 1968 is not the only 50th anniversary to remember this year.
On June 29, 1968, the Keighley & Worth Valley Railway opened to passengers, after blazing a trail for others to follow, not least of all the way in which it cut through red tape to buy the branch from British Rail. The line very soon became famous for two productions of Edith A Nesbit’s classic novel The Railway Children, the first on black-and-white BBC TV in 1968 and the second on the big screen courtesy of EMI.
Just at the 1953 Ealing comedy The Titfield Thunderbolt inspired the public imagination after the dawn of volunteer-led railway preservation, the impact of The Railway Children movie proved cataclysmic, and even today, visitors are drawn to the Worth Valley to see the locations for themselves. The impact of that
film and the KWVR on the future of the heritage sector is immeasurable.
As highlighted in our News section, this fabulous railway is appealing for extra cash to restore one of the two locomotives that hauled its first public train in 1968. Loose change time everyone please!
There was to be another first in the Worth Valley later that year, when Midland 4F 0-6-0 No. 43924 became the first of 213 locomotives from Barry scrapyard to be bought for preservation, and was taken to Haworth. Since then, we have seen countless miracles performed with the restoration of rusting Barry hulks, with several of them having run on the main line, and each of them contributing to making Britain’s railway heritage sector the finest in the world.
For youngsters of all ages, the new Channel 4 series The Biggest Little Railway in the World, in which teams of enthusiasts built a 71-mile O gauge railway through Scotland’s Great Glen, brought back happy memories of those pre-modernisation days in which there were very few schoolboys who were not rail enthusiasts. Thanks to those who did not give up hope in 1968 – the next generations who may be turned on to steam by inspirational programmes like this have a heritage sector bursting with promise and opportunity in which to immerse themselves.
Robin Jones, editorEnjoy more Heritage Railway reading in the four-weekly magazine. Click here to subscribe.