59CambridgetoLondon personal TWard Oc18

At our meeting in October Terry Ward outlined how changes and improvements to the rail network have had an impact not only on the infrastructure but also on the relationship between the railway and the local community. To illustrate his argument he took us on a trip on the West Anglia main line between Cambridge and Liverpool Street showing slides of the various stations and installations along the route.

The most obvious changes took place in Dr. Beeching’s time when a significant number of branch lines were closed with the permanent way being taken up and many of the associated buildings being demolished. This not only affected the goods and passenger facilities which were available to the public but also jobs which had been undertaken by local people. Some buildings did survive and were found alternative uses but many fine examples of Victorian architecture were lost. At the present time a considerable amount of work is being undertaken to modernise and streamline much of the post-Beeching network. Most of the sidings and goods sheds which were a feature of almost all stations have been removed to be replaced by car parks for commuters. Level crossings are being removed and replaced by footbridges with the loss of the crossing keeper’s job and cottage. Improvement in signalling and communications mean that a single signalling centre can control the movement of trains over much greater distances requiring fewer signalmen with the traditional signalbox becoming redundant. The advent of multiple diesel and electric units has led to the construction of a relatively few large repair and maintenance centres replacing smaller local engine and carriage repair facilities. By and large most of the original station platforms and associated buildings have been retained, albeit with some improvements. However when stations have been rebuilt it has often been done using rather brutal concrete designs.

Maintenance of the track is now carried out by mobile gangs using very sophisticated machines rather than by local gangs using manual methods. In many ways railways have become like motorways providing fast and efficient means of travel but with little contact with the various communities they pass through. As Terry pointed out there has always been the danger that in any modernisation scheme much of our rich architectural heritage could be lost, but there is also a danger that with less direct involvement from local communities we could somehow lose our sense of ownership of the railway.