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Railwatch 071 - April 1997

Every train tells a story

Each part of a journey I took from Lowestoft to Bedford recently reflected the achievements of rail campaigners.

I set off over the East Suffolk line which would have closed in the 1960s unless local users had fought to save it.

My first train was a Sprinter which I had officially named Gerard Fiennes in October 1994.

The late Mr Fiennes pioneered ideas for the modern low-cost rural railway.

In the early 1980s, RDS campaigned successfully for new technology and new diesel multiple units on lines such as the East Suffolk.

From Ipswich to London Liverpool Street I travelled in an electric InterCity train.

Fifteen years ago, we were campaigning hard for elecrification from Colchester to Ipswich, Harwich and Norwich.

Electrification was finally completed in 1987 - after we organised a petition.

A few minutes after reaching London, I was on a Thameslink train from Farringdon to Bedford. I remembered the time when the Jeremiahs told us this link would never reopen as it would require dual voltage trains.

Now dual-voltage Thameslink trains happily and profitably provide an excellent service.

The creation of this north-south service across London is a testimony to both political will and public enterprise.

In Bedford - to celebrate 150 years of the Bedford-Bletchley line - I found a gleaming black BR standard steam loco 80079 being prepared. The station was teeming with rail enthusiasts and I hope they found time to read the notice-boards maintained in the entrance hall by the Bedford Commuters' Association and the Bedford - Bletchley Rail Users' Association.

The BCA displayed a copy of its letter urging the county council to support a study into an additional platform at Bedford for an enhanced Midland Main Line service.

The Bedford-Bletchley Rail Users' Association was formed on the initiative of RDS in 1980.

One of its early objectives was the diversion of the Bletchley service via a freight-only spur into Bedford's main station. Rail managers were dubious, to say the least. Four years later, it happened.

Joining the 11.40 local train for Bletchley was like entering a time warp, for it was a first-generation diesel unit with 1950s technology.

On this unmodernised branch, men still operate mechanical signals and crossing gates yet no one was seen checking tickets on the train. The Station Hotel at Woburn Sands, with its own collection of railwayana, was doing brisk business from the many sightseers and enthusiasts. We need to encourage businesses at or near stations.

I caught the five-carriage steam train back to Bedford and there was standing-room only.

It's a pity a dispute between the inspector appointed for the day and the locomotive owners led to last-minute hitches in the programme.

However, it was heartening to watch the steam train leaving Bedford again full of many family groups with young children.

For some it could well have been their first trip by train. One of the challenges facing RDS and its many affiliated rail users' associations is to encourage them to wake up to the major advantages of travelling regularly by rail.

Public awareness of the railway was certainly heightened by this 150th birthday party organised by BBRUA.

Many railways were planned or built in the 1840s and 1850s so we shall have opportunities to copy BBRUA in other parts of the country over the next few years.

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