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The Enterprising Railway

The Enterprising Railway: 

beyond the current crisis

 

New perspectives from The Rail Reform Group

 

 

 

 

 

Papers by

 

Dr Nicola Forsdike

John Kitchen

Chris Kimberley,

Prof. Paul Salveson

 

Foreword by Peter Wilkinson, Department for Transport

 

 

 

 

May 2020

 

 

 

 

RAIL REFORM GROUP

creating a railway for The Common Good

 

www.railreformgroup.org.uk

The Enterprising Railway: 

beyond the current crisis

 

New perspectives from The Rail Reform Group

 

Introduction

The Rail Reform Group is a small, informal group of rail professionals with a shared interest in developing new and innovative idea on how to develop our railways. We don’t have a ‘party line’; neither have we any party political axes to grind.

These papers are based on talks that were to be given at a seminar in Manchester on March 19th, organised by the Rail Reform Group. The theme was ‘the enterprising railway’ – aiming to look at ways of building a more dynamic, entrepreneurial and customer-led railway that could make a strong contribution to combating climate change.

The Manchester event was cancelled owing to the coronavirus situation. However, we agreed that it would be helpful to the debate about the future of Britain’s railways to publish a series of papers based on what would have been said on March 19th. At a time when ‘business as usual’ is suspended indefinitely and the railways are firmly under government control, now is the time to be looking to the longer term and not assume we will return to doing the same old things in the same old ways.

Comments are welcome on each or all of the papers. We hope to publish further contributions on this, and other subjects, over the next few months.

May 2020

 

Rail Reform Group

www.railreformgroup.org.uk

 

 

 

The Enterprising Railway: 

beyond the current crisis

 

The Papers:

 

  1. The Enterprising Railway: what would it do? Chris Kimberley
  2. The Enterprising Railway: beyond the current model. Dr Nicola Forsdike
  3. The Enterprising Railway: an opportunity for local enterprise. Prof. Paul Salveson
  4. Cumbrian Railways: opportunities and caveats. John Kitchen

 

Brief biographies

Chris Kimberley is a highly-respected senior rail industry professional with decades of experience in the industry. He has undertaken senior operational management, business planning and project lead roles, including the successful bids for the Northern Rail and Caledonian Sleeper franchises. Chris was most recently Director of Rail Operations at HS2 Ltd where he was accountable for the successful development of the initial customer-centric operational strategies for the UK’s new high speed railway. He has worked in Australia, India, the Philippines and North America and is now semi-retired.

Dr Nicola Forsdike has an extensive background in developing business and marketing plans for railways. In 2018 she completed a PhD in Management at the University of York exploring how rail industry managers know what they know and why new timetables fail in implementation. Alongside her continued research she teaches marketing, business planning and entrepreneurship at undergraduate and postgraduate level.

Prof. Paul Salveson initiated the ‘community rail’ concept in the 1990s and went on to lead the Association of Community Rail Partnerships. He held several senior positions in the railway industry, having started his operating career as a guard at Blackburn in 1975. He is author of Railpolitik: bringing railways back to the community (2012) and other works of local history. His most recent work is a novel, The Works, set in Horwich Loco Works (2020). He is co-ordinator of the Rail Reform Group

John Kitchen spent 30 years as professional information scientist in chemical and automotive industries. He is a railway preservationist, having owned, restored and run a standard gauge steam locomotive. He was the first Community Rail Officer for Mid Cheshire Community Rail Partnership 2003 – 2007, then Rail Officer Cumbria County Council 2007 – 2012. He established The Cumbrian Coast and Furness CRPs and was a board member of the Association of Community Rail Partnerships from 2005 to 2011.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Foreword by Peter Wilkinson

Managing Director, Passenger Services

Department for Transport

 

 

Over the past few weeks I and my colleagues across the Department for Transport have been impressed by how the rail industry, its’ fabulous supply chain and many of the Industry’s key stakeholders have come together to support the country’s efforts to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic.

 

In my mind this altruistic, can-do attitude highlights everything good within the rail industry. It’s the willingness of the industry to push itself to evolve, to ask itself the difficult questions which results in exceptional and innovative ways to support and care for its customers, staff and its communities that stands out for me.

 

As we look at how the Rail Industry has had to face up to the COVID-19 crisis, we must now capitalise on what we have achieved as we chart our course towards a societally more value-adding horizon. The railways have to evolve to meet the ever changing needs of its passengers whose expectations will almost certainly be different again after this current COVID-19 crisis.

 

These articles are important as they should prompt everyone across the industry to ask the hard questions of themselves and their organisations. Questions such as “Are our customers and our railway communities being cared for in the way we need them to?” and “How can we be better?”

 

To my mind, asking these questions every day will help create a truly enterprising and inspirational railway.

April 2020

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The Enterprising Railway – What Would it Do? 

Chris Kimberley

Context

The focus of this paper is to suggest an approach to defining what an ‘Enterprising Railway’ would do.  It does not seek to address delivery models as these are the subject of other papers, but rather will argue that too often popular commentary about the Railway focuses almost single-mindedly and obsessively on organisational form without first spending enough time and effort in gaining coherent and consistent direction as to what success will look and feel like.

This lack of “time and effort” is actually my short-hand for a contention that there is a skills and capability shortfall in some public sector client organisations in being able to properly define and ultimately manage the strategic outcomes that are required from “their” Railway, and similarly there is a lack of incentive on many of the Railway sector’s core operating companies to apply a professional service design approach to User Needs – motivation being driven increasingly by regulatory requirements and/or contractual obligations rather than future customer needs.

Its contents are the personal views of the author and, whilst drawn from his extensive experience of operations and business management within the railway sector, do not necessarily represent the views of any particular organisation.

In order to give some “real-world” context to the arguments I put forward (and in an attempt to convince the reader that I am not “cherry picking” un-representative examples, I will occasionally in this paper use my own local rail service – I live in Glossop, Derbyshire – to illustrate a point.  Again, this is not intended to point specifically to either Northern or Network Rail as a compliment or criticism but rather to illustrate the general point I am making.

Introduction

I have played a part in the railway sector in one role or another for over 45 years.  During that time and through all its ups and downs, and various restructurings two constants have remained:

The railway is a complex, interdependent system – not only in its delivery but also in its planning – and initiatives which seek to over-simplify the roles of individual components – such as infrastructure, train operations and retail sales – often fail to acknowledge that the interfaces between the components within the system require active management and if left inadequately addressed result in sub-optimal performance of the system as a whole.  I will return to the relevance of this point in the context of an Enterprising Railway later.

The railway sector as a whole has a large population of People within it and given that we have not yet (although the time may be fast approaching) embedded artificial intelligence into the decision making of what we want to achieve (as opposed to some delivery processes) it is People who bring enterprise to the table by deploying innovation and securing delivery of what they believe success should look like – be it at a society, organisational or individual level.

Motivation drives enterprise and we should be cognisant of the fact that without organisational clarity of purpose and motivation to achieve it human behaviour will substitute other assumed measures of success – either at the individual level or at some wider but unquantified societal level – and the resulting enterprise unsurprisingly is likely to become dysfunctional in achieving any coherent objectives.

People are key to enterprise

Building on the latter of these “two universal truths” my experience would suggest that to harness and motivate the collective effort of many people in a complex system requires a clear and consistently held definition of what success looks and feels like – both rationally and emotionally.  It is probably now an overworked analogy but the story I am always minded of in this context is that of US President J F Kennedy on a visit to the NASA space centre asking a cleaner what his job was, to which he replied “helping to put a man on the moon”.  For me this speaks to the simplicity of vision and leadership where there is clarity of end purpose, and also a sense of emotion in terms of what today we would no doubt call “staff engagement”.

There are plenty of examples from within the Railway’s history, including its relatively recent past, of where enterprise has been applied to deliver a compelling mission – although the missions themselves have often been about addressing some negative crisis or “burning platform” such as the aftermath of an operational incident or the financial targets set by Government to the British Railways Board in the 1980’s.  On the other hand the interpretation of what success for system performance was meant to be in the period following the separation of Infrastructure Management from Train Operations in the early years of privatisation led to tribal behaviours where the enterprising capability focused on increasingly innovative ways to evidence why it was the other party’s fault rather than focus on initiatives that would improve the top level outputs.  For me this is a classic example of an enterprising approach by very smart People which became dysfunctional through, for example delay attribution warfare.

I want to stress that this is not about “good people” and “bad people” (although I would argue  that the Railway as a whole is failing to be as entrepreneurial as it could be because despite all the talk we are a long way from embracing a truly diverse and inclusive approach to our thinking)  but rather that People respond to motivation and if motivation is driven by “delivering the contract” then we need to be sure that whatever the “contract” is we truly understand how its obligations contribute to the strategic goals (equivalent to putting a man on the moon) in a very systematic and quantified way.  This is particularly important given that the Railway is not directed as a system through a unified “command and control” organisation but rather is formed through a complex set of commercial relationships between separately owned and governed entities within both private and public sectors.

To be successful in the medium- and long-term success is not about “fixing problems” – vital as that is as a prerequisite but is having the clarity of purpose to be able to articulate what the mission is all about. Lots of people spend lots of time and money, often asking other people, who spend even more time and money, developing very clever Vision and Mission Statements of what they and their organisations are all about.   I am not arguing against the need to have a compelling Vision or of the significant potential benefits of achieving “buy in” from management teams and colleagues to initiatives aimed at positive change, but these cannot be a successful substitute for being crystal clear on the required outcomes (whether referred to as objectives, benefits or other measures) and how these “fit in” to the system as a whole.

So, what would an Enterprising Railway do?

My experience suggests that for a passenger railway there are only three key success factors that really matter – and they form a triangular dynamic which forces trade off’s to occur in order to create an optimised success statement (for the “techies” – a balanced scorecard):

  • Customer Utility and Experience
  • Sustainable Economic Growth
  • Value for Money and Affordability

I will briefly explain what I mean by each of these but the key point to keep in mind is that I am suggesting everything that others might put forward as specific success measures can be rolled up as contributing to one or more of these three points on the triangle.

This approach also presumes and assumes a legal and regulatory context which provides a number of pre-conditions or “boundaries” to the envelope of success, for example in relation to health and safety, environmental impact, accessibility, consumer protection, minimum employment requirements etc. – these are not success measures in the strategic sense but are critical hygiene factors which have to be met if the Railway is to maintain its “licence to operate”.

Customer Utility and Experience

We so often hear the mantra of “putting the customer at the heart of everything we do”.  But even when those saying that genuinely intend that to be the case the application of professional Service Design principles are often lacking, certainly in comparison to other consumer sectors that are exposed fully to the fast-changing User Needs that their customers have.   As with all good design this is not about designing things that cost more but designing things where the “acceptance criteria” of knowing whether it has done its job are clear, objective and agreed between those involved in developing the functional requirements for the system.

So, here is what in isolation might be considered an isolated trivial example, but I would suggest is a microcosm of a more widespread issue.  Broadbottom Station is one of my local stations.  It is a relatively simple station with just two platforms, one for trains heading in to Manchester and one for trains heading out to Glossop and Hadfield.  It has no station staff apart from a ticket clerk on weekday and Saturday mornings who spends his/her whole time behind the ticket office window selling tickets and giving out information when asked at the window.    Following relatively recent investment it now has a visual and audible real time train running information system and also a self-service ticket vending machine.

Now consider just one simple ‘User Need’ of customers of Broadbottom station that is particularly important to new or infrequent travellers:

“I want to be confident that I am waiting in the right place on the correct platform to board my train quickly and safely and find a comfortable place on the train.”

Note that the described User Need is not expressed in any “railway operational language” and is fundamentally about confidence in access to the service.

Now picture the setting.  At the main entrance to the station from the car park there is a functioning “standard” real time information display indicating next trains – which for most of the day simply alternate between the trains to Manchester and Hadfield.   The display indicates whether each individual train departs from Platform 1 or Platform 2 and whether it is running on time or, if not, its expected departure time.  I assume that as long as it is functioning as intended it meets the “contract”.   And I do not want to belittle the fact that this information is at least now provided.  However, let’s go back to the User Need and draw out a few observations:

Although the information display indicates whether trains go from Platform 1 or 2, the platforms themselves are not numbered!

From the main station entrance if I am catching a train to Manchester – the predominant destination – I am confronted with a footbridge with no ramps.   There is no information pushed to me on my App, or at the station entrance, to tell me what to do if I have difficulty using the steps – even though the platform I want to use has step free access from a separate road over-bridge.

Although all trains at Broadbottom Station are formed of 3-car trains of a fixed length the stopping area for the train is not specifically identified, and the opportunity therefore to assist easier boarding by marking the places to stand is missed.

My main point in using this trivial example is that I wonder how critically User Needs are appraised, developed into Operational Functional Requirements and linked back to celebrating the success of measuring resultant improvements in Customer Experience.  If success is motivated from delivering contractual compliance, then we should not be surprised that whilst Broadbottom probably passes the test it doesn’t deliver the best Customer Experience it could with the resources available to it.

Sustainable Economic Growth

By sustainable economic growth I mean medium- and long-term growth in economic prosperity, social inclusion and wellbeing, with lowest reasonable negative environmental impact.  Today this latter point is enhanced through the commitments made to achievement of carbon neutrality. These conditions are enabled through many factors ranging from education, skills development and training; attitudes and approach to diversity and inclusivity; access to markets and local and regional planning policies.  These concepts are generally well developed and understood at National and Sub-National Government levels and it is not the purpose of this Paper to debate them here.

Railways have the potential to deliver significant benefits that are not captured directly through customer utility and experience and these can be quantified and used in accordance with HM Treasury Guidance and other relevant planning appraisal frameworks.   These non-user benefits are often used to justify capital investments and operational expenditure to procure services made by the public sector where the user-benefits are not sufficient to cover the whole-life costs of the service in question.

One of the challenges, and potential opportunities, I would note in creating an environment for a successful Enterprising Railway is the current lack of linkage back to success measures for the Railway in delivering its contribution to these non-user benefits.

So again, thinking about the local line between Manchester and Glossop what are the specific non-user outcomes that the service is intended to contribute towards, and how could these be better articulated into a “scorecard” which the “Railway’s management” has clarity of ownership of?

This is not just about the current community engagement practices that have resulted in much improved station and service improvements – enterprising as they are in their own right.  Rather it is being clear what quantified outcomes are required in, for example

  • relieving road congestion on the A628/A57/M67 corridor; or
  • enabling access to education, skills development and employment for the communities of Gorton, Hyde or Hattersley; or
  • in achieving a lower carbon footprint for the total service including everything from source generation and transmission of the traction power supplies through to local sourcing of consumables and support services in order to reduce “road miles”

Again my point here is that although these are increasingly well understood issues that need to be addressed, the way to release the full enabling potential of an enterprising culture is to be clear on specifically what outcomes are required at a sufficiently granular level that they are capable of being understood and managed. Then ensuring that a benefits capture plan is developed, managed and reported against to give results which are governed with as much rigour as the direct user benefits and costs.

Value for Money and Affordability

These two concepts (which are neither novel not the same thing!) are vitally important to put the checks and balances on the two primary outcomes described in the preceding section.

For me Value for Money is simply about being sure that for every penny or pound of expenditure that either a customer or taxpayer is being asked for that the resulting benefits (both user and non-user) are achieved in the most effective and efficient way.  This is probably where this Paper will yield to others who will argue various perspectives on the strengths of different industry delivery models, but I contend that if success is clearly defined as achieving a particular outcome in the most effective and efficient way then there is plenty of enterprising resource which can be harnessed either competitively or collaboratively to deliver success.  But to harness this effectively also requires a willingness and confidence to “let go” of many legacy concepts in order to free up the enterprising mind and the associated innovation to come forward in a commercially sustainable way.

Again using the Glossop line as an example I am forced to wonder why for customer utility and experience, and for the non-user benefit contributions to the sustainable economic growth strategy (in this case of the Northern Powerhouse) the Railway could not be delivered as efficiently and effectively as, say, the Metrolink services operating to similar markets within the Manchester city region.  Whilst I can already hear the clamour of experts telling me all the reasons as to why a class 323 train from Glossop to Manchester needs two members of staff, and an on board toilet, and why the tram-train is not yet a proven concept beyond South Yorkshire (which as far as I know is actually also a part of the North!), and that the Infrastructure Manager (Network Rail) has national standards to assure, or why there will be a major confrontation with the Trades Unions if changes in working practices were to be contemplated (all of which I acknowledge as real issues) these seem to me to be examples of the very issues that an enterprising culture would be unleashed to address in order to ensure best value for money in achieving the benefits.

A word on affordability – it is worth reminding ourselves that it doesn’t matter how valuable something is if we cannot afford it, we cannot buy it.    So again, for both the customer utility & experience benefits that we are seeking to deliver, and for the wider on-user benefits we wish to capture, there needs to be realism in prioritising these to affordability even once value for money has been optimised.

There would have been little point in getting everyone excited about putting a man on the moon if there hadn’t been a commitment to pay for it!

Capability and capacity to enable an Enterprising Railway

This Paper does not seek to reprise the many issues that will have been considered by the recent Williams review of the organisation of Britain’s railways.  Whilst its findings have yet to be published and Government will have to determine the acceptability of its recommendations, I would contend that to achieve the Enterprising Railway that itself delivers the success which will ultimately be celebrated by both customers and taxpayers requires:

A step change in the capability and capacity of some public sector client organisations (and learning from best practice from organisations such as Transport for London who are arguably more advanced in this space) in defining the strategic outcomes (benefits) that are required of “their” Railways in ways that are clear, objective and capable of being cascaded down to manageable delivery units where responsibility and accountability for achievement is equally clear.  This will also require the building of confidence in relinquishing a desire in client organisations to specify the detail of how an outcome is to be achieved.

An environment within which Service Design principles become the norm for defining User Needs – especially in looking proactively to future needs – rather than being totally consumed in either fixing problems associated with customer satisfaction in the “here and now” or seeing anything beyond contractual compliance as being an unrewarded “nice to have”.   This also means the Railway really challenging itself to ensure that it negates as far as it can “unconscious bias” from the decades of conventional wisdom of the personas and needs of typical Railway Customers and Staff, and applies an open and welcoming mind in embracing the diversity of People and input that our society is capable of.

If these two enabling conditions are addressed, I have every confidence that there is no shortage of enterprise in the People who will make up the Railway in being able to address the opportunities, and challenges, through innovation and commitment to delivery.

Conclusion

Whilst The Railway is a complex, interdependent system it has the potential to deliver significant enterprise through its People provided there is at every level a set of clear, consistent strategic outcomes that represent what success will look and feel like both rationally and emotionally.

Although the breakdown of the top-level strategic outcomes into the supporting system hierarchies and organisational interfaces is a non-trivial task at the top-level success can and should be defined as simply as possible around

  • Intended Customer Utility and Experience
  • Contribution to wider Sustainable Economic Growth
  • Value for Money and Affordability

By establishing “Success Scorecards” at a sufficiently granular level of “the Railway” it becomes easier to communicate, and ultimately motivate, People to apply their enterprising skills to harness innovation and be committed to delivery – and build a virtuous circle where it is the resulting success which is celebrated and rewarded.

The capability to achieve both definition and delivery of these top-level strategic outcomes is not of itself dependent on the choice of delivery model but does require commitment to resourcing the transformational work required in both client and delivery organisations to achieve this.   It also critically requires proactive management of the key interfaces within the Railway as a system to ensure alignment of outputs through the myriad of contractual interfaces.

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The Enterprising Railway  –  beyond the current model

Dr Nicola Forsdike

Context

The railway is facing challenging times. The franchising model applied to passenger services was stretched to breaking point even before the current crisis situation arose. Yet the privatisation of these services was supposed to help the railway access exactly the kind of management capability and entrepreneurial flair that will be so badly needed to re-set the dial of our public transport in the future.

This paper considers how we might create an innovative railway that can meet the needs for the future and is neither simply a straight trajectory of the present (as it was understood until March 2020) nor a knee-jerk reaction to a crisis. I argue here that the future that can be built depends on the knowledge base of the people in the rail industry.  This view is informed by both my doctoral research and my experience of working in the industry before and after privatisation.

Introduction

During the 1990s a huge political experiment was carried out on Britain’s railways, fragmenting what had been a unified organisation into an industry of over one hundred separate firms. The political vision behind this was bold – an injection of private sector management, it was argued, would introduce a much-needed spirit of enterprise into Britain’s railways. This in turn would introduce innovation into the sector whilst radically improving efficiency. Exposing rail services to market forces and competition, it was argued, would give the rail sector more incentive to improve its service to customers and more freedom to respond to what customers wanted.

In practice, the years immediately following privatisation the industry were dogged by a series of failures and the privatised industry has singularly failed to be customer-led.  Over the last 20 years there has been a series of not only high- profile timetable failures but also franchise failures. As the recent hand backs of the East Coast and Northern franchises have illustrated, the franchising system and the stop-start pattern of improvements which this incentivises remains inherently flawed.  Privatisation has failed to deliver the benefits of lower costs and greater customer focus that were fundamental to the arguments promoting it.

The reasons for this are many.  First, contrary to popular belief Britain’s railway was both efficient and customer-led prior to privatisation. Far from being insulated from competition it strove to compete with air on long distance services and the private car on shorter ones. It had very strong financial reasons to respond to what customer wanted. For example, in the 1980s regional rail services in Britain were in desperate need of investment. In the words of the cliché, ‘do nothing’ was not an option and as any business manager knows, there are only two levers a business can pull – one is marked ‘revenue’ and one marked ‘cost’. Whilst closing down routes was initially seen by some as the ultimate way of achieving cost improvements, there was little political will to do that (as any of us who can remember the debate on the closure of the Settle-Carlisle line will remember). The only option the railway had left was to make its offer more attractive to potential users. Doing this on a shoestring budget required imagination, a deep understanding of the potential market and huge technical capability, particularly in understanding rail operations. From this came the development of successful networks and routes such as TransPennine Express which owe much to the groundwork laid during the years of British Rail (BR).

Second, the model of privatisation chosen imported new costs into the railway system. In fragmenting a unified whole into an industry of over 100 component firms, civil servants and their advisors at a stroke invented multiple interfaces. Running a train service requires an operator to have in place contracts with Network Rail, Rolling Stock companies as well as with myriad private sector suppliers of services such as on-board catering, station maintenance, management of call centres and so on. At the same time, it must manage its contract from the Department for Transport (DfT). Each interface builds in cost – for example, management support to manage those interfaces (support which might otherwise be focussed on making things better for passengers) and in particular to manage the details of the contract. Each party to an interface is likely to have different objectives; this in turn has an impact on other parts of their organisations, adding to the management time required to resolve issues.

Transaction costs explain why since their foundation railways the world over, public and private, have largely taken the form of an integrated structure, in which the management of railway operations, both track and train, are combined under a single entity. I suspect that within the current system of privatisation many transaction costs are ‘hidden’ and include the costs of three bid teams competing for a franchise, tying up scarce and expert resource for 3-6 months in developing 7- year business plans. These plans inevitably change when a franchise is won and the winning team (or more often a management team which has little or no involvement in developing the bid) is faced with reconciling a plan based on an imperfect understanding of the costs and operation of the business with reality. Not only are transaction costs baked into that system, but there is an additional opportunity cost – what would the impact be if the resources of all three bid teams had worked together within an integrated railway to design and deliver improvements?

Therefore, the dilemma this paper seeks to address is ‘how can Britain’s rail network reduce its operating costs whilst at the same time delivering customer improvements, with minimum disruption to the structure and organisation of the rail industry’? In doing so it acknowledges the lack of appetite amongst policy makers to re-unify the industry and so seeks other ways of reducing the transaction costs that inevitably arise from current industry arrangements. Of course, Covid-19 may prove a game-changer, opening up possibilities driven less by ideologies of privatisation and more by a need to revolutionise the cost base of providing essential rail services whilst being more accountable to the communities those serve.  This may be particularly important if ‘new’ patterns of working from home become much more the norm, allowing businesses to shed expensive city centre office accommodation, and changing the pattern of travel in and between our town and cities.

In what follows, then, I first consider key issues, summarised as the separation of the industry between an infrastructure and train operators, changes in the knowledge base of the industry, the ‘rules of the game’, managing to the contract and loss of challenge. I then offer an alternative view of the future together with steps that might take us there.

What are the difficulties?

Structure. The first and obvious difficulty is the structure of the industry. The railway operates as a system, and changing one element of that (for example, the track, the trains, signalling or even the skills of its people) impacts on the rest of it. In an organisationally fragmented industry, players are incentivised to improve their own individual position, rather than to focus on the system as a whole. Whilst in the short term they improve their own part of the system, in the longer term this approach leads to overall inefficiency in the overall system. From my work within the industry I know that this is a genuine issue, compounded by a structure where the costs and benefits of innovation do not always fall to the same party.

Over the last 10 years there have been many different attempts by the government to try to understand how the rail industry could perform better. In general, Government and industry reports have tended to focus on structural issues, without seriously addressing them, papering over the cracks in the structure via mechanisms such as the  Rail Delivery Group or attempts to align specific parts of Network Rail with Train Operators in “partnerships” in which the two parties attempt to reconcile their huge differences and sometimes conflicting objectives in order to deliver efficiencies, an enterprise that has so far proved beyond reach.

However, I do not believe that changing the structure will of itself solve the issue. I believe structure to be not the root cause of issues, but a symptom of other problems, the most serious of which is the failure to recognise the need for managers in the rail industry – whichever specialism they work within in – to have a deep rooted understanding of the railway as a system.

Knowing the railway as a system. From my research know that the loss of an integrated structure has exacerbated a fundamental and largely hidden problem.  Over the past decade various government-commissioned reports including those by Sir Roy McNulty published in 2011 and Nicola Shaw, published in 2016, have highlighted the issue of knowledge loss in the industry and in particular the lack of understanding of today’s railway as a system. The last generation of BR’s management trainees who underwent a thorough grounding in the operation of both track and train, as well as commercial and other training is approaching retirement age. This pool provides much of the expertise which keeps the industry innovating and improving (think Gibb Review, Brown Review, leading Network Rail, bid teams, advisors to the DfT). There are no replacement resources coming up behind them – in effect, we have a lost generation of managers who lack the system-wide training and thinking of individuals who have experienced an integrated railway.

My research suggests that whilst some of the knowledge can be learned through study and in a classroom, the vast majority of it comes through experience. Today’s managers develop only a partial system knowledge. This is compounded by increased specialisation within the industry. For example, not only is the training of Network Rail’s graduate trainees focussed on only half of the railway system, it is largely fragmented into specialisms such as project management, such as a safety, human resources, project management and network strategy, all functions that would once have been carried out in the past within a pre-privatisation BR by managers who had first been through a single integrated general railway management training scheme . Network Rail has tried to address this, for example, through placements with operators, but there is no industry-wide initiative to develop an integrated knowledge base – although it has a potential model in the Track and Train scheme which ran 2012-13.

Structural changes alone however do not explain the erosion of this knowledge base. An increasing specialisation of roles in pre-privatisation BR (for example, splitting the general management entry route into a number of specialisms such as operations and commercial) began this. I believe that the prioritisation of commercial knowledge from the 1980s onwards and a tendency to take the industry’s operating knowledge base for granted, led to its erosion, whilst in today’s industry, it is not operating knowledge but understanding the ‘rules of the game’ that deliver (short-term) commercial success.

The rules of the game.  A potential franchisee has to take risks in its financial assumptions in order to win, with rail franchise bidders winning or losing on the basis of their ability to put forward the ‘most robust’ financial case. This can lead to the taking of risks in relation to both new revenue that can be earned and levels of cost reduction that can be achieved.  To its credit, the DfT has proved adept at learning over the 20 or more years in which franchising has been in operation, trying to reduce the risk of over-bold bidding through careful analysis of bids. Yet it is in an invidious position. On the one hand, it has to procure franchises that please a myriad of stakeholders who often have conflicting visions as to what a rail franchise might look like but all of whom require some form of innovation (imagine the fate of a bidder who offered no improvements in rail services or efficiency!). On the other, it doesn’t have a crystal ball and can’t see for certain how either markets or rail capacity will evolve in the future. Like the operators who bid for franchises the DfT and its advisors have only imperfect knowledge of the true situation within the franchise and imperfect understandings, based on economic modelling rather than market-led scenario planning – of how future demand may evolve.

Crucially, the DfT may know what it expects to happen but it doesn’t know exactly how markets will evolve. In order to be able to compare bids fairly therefore it has little choice but to lay down rules to try to keep the competition as fair as possible and to make it as easy as possible to distinguish between the different bid offers. These rules include mandating the methodologies and even the models that bidders must use to predict demand. At a stroke, the business plan is handed over to the economists. Predicting the future on the basis of the past becomes the norm and much of the space in which business thinking can flourish is closed down. Winning is dependent on understanding the rules and on playing the game – not on entrepreneurial capability.

Similarly, my research into the initial failure of Virgin CrossCountry’s 2002 timetable suggests this had much to do with timetabling modelling done in the abstract, using computer modelling into which certain assumptions (for example, that certain trains could run over certain tracks at certain times) had been built. Much like Northern in 2018, when Virgin CrossCountry came to implement their timetable they found that the assumptions they had made did not reflect current reality. The result, in both cases, was a complete melt down of rail services leading to widespread disruption and very unhappy consumers. Yet it is difficult to see how this could be any different under the pattern of rail franchising practised until now.

Under the franchising model, bidders have to make assumptions as to when particular improvements to track or signalling that enable more services or faster services can be run. For example, where electrification schemes are being implemented by Network Rail, bidders work from a specified (and often erroneous) assumption that infrastructure will be available at a certain time. Whilst there is a mechanism for train operators to be compensated in these circumstances, implementing a change is a delicate interplay of ensuring track is available, new trains which can take advantage of new line speeds or overhead wires are ready to use,  and drivers who understand the characteristics of both the trains and the infrastructure are trained and ready to go. Delay in one element risks increasing the costs in the others, as resources cannot be fully used. At the same time, it ties up a lot of management time which could otherwise be used to work on other issues. Once a bid is won, understanding the minutiae of the franchise contract in relation to this and other issues becomes the difference between profit and loss.

Managing to the contract. In the early days of privatisation, both the infrastructure and train operating companies quickly realised that managing to the contract(s) and pleasing institutional stakeholders was the key to financial success, not satisfying and adapting to changing customer needs. This remains the situation today. In such a context, management skills focus on data and contract management. Investment in managerial experience and capability focuses around these, exacerbated by a franchise environment in which improvements are seen as contractual promises to be delivered through project management, not through an empathy with service users.

The DfT has done much to try to facilitate change, for example, through the introduction of a mechanism allowing bidders to be recompensed for the ‘residual value’ of investments made during the franchise that are not fully realised during the franchise period and to encourage bidders to spread investment over time. Nevertheless, it is not hard to understand why anyone working on a seven- year contract would wish to see the majority of major improvements – for example, new services, investment in new or refurbished rolling stock and so on – occur as close to start of the franchise as possible. This leads to a situation where the current franchise process leads to a lot of change happening at once, increasing the risk that things will go wrong. In contrast,  BR’s approach to innovation in rail passenger services in the years before privatisation was much more incremental than is the case now. In the case of TransPennine Express for example, service levels were built up over a number of years, a less risky approach, it turned out, than the ‘big bang’ experienced in 2018 when multiple services had to be cancelled.

The final issue, which links back to the loss of understanding the railway as a system, and the financial and other incentives for industry players to ‘play the game’ rather than to work together to improve the system for the long-term relates to what I term a ‘lack of challenge’.

Lack of challenge (eg to the cost base). To make this point it is perhaps helpful to go back in time. I acknowledge that I could be accused of hypocrisy here – on the one hand I have suggested that understanding markets based on what has happened in the past is a flawed approach, yet here I am suggesting we look to history to see whether we can do things better in the future. Bear with me – there is a difference. First, I have not sought to hardwire selected elements of history (elements selected because they were easy to measure) into a computer model and assumed that they will tell us what the future will be. Second, I’m very aware of the contextual nature of things – we cannot simply ‘cut and paste’ experience from one place to another and assume that things will work as we expect. With those caveats in mind, let’s look at how improvements were made in the days before privatisation.

From interviews I’ve done with former and current managers within the rail industry it is clear that those who’ve experienced both the pre and post privatisation railway found BR to be more enterprising, more innovative in its use of resource to deliver efficiencies in cost whilst delivering improvements for customers than today’s companies. Of course, BR, and the institutional arrangements (such as short-term government funding) was far from perfect and I’m not advocating a return to those days. However, it is clear to me that BR in the 1980s gave people the freedom to think and deliver change, a freedom that was eroded by privatisation where the focus was on contract delivery not continuous improvement. Alongside, the loss of a system-wide view of the costs of the railway that is a direct result of privatisation, lies a loss of challenge.  Let me expand on that last issue.

BR in the 1980s ran a sector management system. There were five business sectors – three focussed on different passenger markets such as Intercity or London commuter services, one on parcels and one on freight. Initially these effectively functioned as Product Managers – that is, they were the interface between the customer and the operations. Their job was to significantly improve revenue by making sure that the products delivered – train services – met customer needs, whilst ensuring what was spent on operations was appropriate for both current and future markets. In this version of the world, engineering costs were challenged – why renew the bridge to take heavy loco-hauled trains when we only run lightweight trains over it at present and for the foreseeable future? Why renew the junction that way when doing it this way will give us the capacity we will need in 5 years’ time? Why spend that much when we know the potential revenue is worth so much less – is there another way of doing things? That is not to say that today’s industry lacks challenge – Network Rail’s process for project approvals is deliberately designed to force managers to think such issues through.  However, under review processes, an operator with no accountability for the delivery of the infrastructure may object to a potential cost saving on the grounds that a particular feature may be needed in the future. Under the BR system such objections could be over-ridden by the lead manager(s) on the principle of ‘the user pays’ -that is, if another part of the railway wanted an upgrade then it was up to them to fund it, ensuring cost and revenue were aligned. Moreover, in BR the challenge came from managers responsible for the bottom line – the profit and loss, the customer ridership and the costs. Their careers depended on the approach they took to managing the railway as a whole, not the delivery of an engineering scheme.

Many of these managers were graduates of BR’s general management training scheme, and had been trained as managers of an integrated rail system. Crucially they had gained their knowledge through direct experience of working on it day to day. They understood at a real level the relationship between track, signals, trains and driver skills. Knowledge of marketing, managing stakeholders and commercial management was then in many cases grafted onto that base load of knowledge.

How can we tackle these difficulties to build a different future?

Build the knowledge base. The first step is building a knowledge base amongst managers in today’s rail industry that helps them to understand better the industry in the round. This could be done by developing integrated cross-industry training at recruitment, middle manger and senior manager levels. The industry could and should be incentivised to train rail industry managers not Network Rail ones or TOC ones.  Crucially, this needs to be not (or not just) classroom- based training but through a planned rotation of placements that allow managers to get a wide range of experience. Middle management level training could take the form of working with others to develop a project – for example, a new station layout or the development of a new market. Experience would thus be gained of working on a small, multi-functional project team comprising operations, commercial, finance, engineering and other experts working across the boundaries of their different technical specialisms and drawn from Network Rail, TOC and client-side organisations such as Transport for the North. This could be training projects or working on real live cases. Yes, funding would have to be found for this, but making a business case could be justified on the basis of efficiencies found and costs saved as a result of better decision making.

Change the rules of the game. The operation of rail services could be public or private sector. For example, rail operators might bid for franchises on ‘as is’ basis – with franchising separated from service improvements. In this scenario, operators would be judged on the strength of the Directors they propose to put in place, track record, (particularly in areas such as open book accounting and customer focus), strengths of their management processes and the management expertise they would bring to improve the franchise.

Closer working, based on open book accounting would reduce the inefficiencies from transaction costs, potentially saving money and increasing the chances that improvements will be introduced successfully. Changing franchising award criteria would reduce the risk of bidders over-bidding in order to give themselves any chance of winning the bid. Moving the focus of service development away from bid teams to managers involved in day to day operation has the potential to reduce the risk of using abstract computer models to model revenue, resources and timetables by allowing the space for real world knowledge of customers, changes in the market, people and what is possible (for example the time taken to travel between two points on a railway network) to be factored into that and further reduce risk. Building a world where improvements are continuous and gradual, rather than big, one-off initiatives will reduce the risk of trying to do new things. All this is possible whilst retaining private sector involvement and competition not only for operating franchises but also for development funding.

 

 

 

 

 

Move the focus away from managing to the contract.  Once the knowledge base is in place a new system can be developed for developing and funding service and other improvements. This begins with the alignment of stakeholders, train and infrastructure operators. Although not easy, it could be delivered as a public/private sector partnership, particularly if open-booking accounting is adopted and the evidence from this taken into account when allocating central government funds to each partner.  There would need to be trust, long-term relationships, mutual understanding and shared objectives. These comes from allowing teams of people to work with each other over time, not from today’s short- term project-led approach to managing change, and from a clear and shared vision of what success looks like. Together this multi-player team would be responsible for developing and delivering both short and long-term business plans to operate and develop rail services in their area (in an ideal world this would encompass all transport modes but let’s not be too ambitious at once). These would be integrated into a single industry-wide plan, suggesting some form of oversight body is needed to reconcile the plans. This should be light touch and should support, not dictate.

Alongside this a central fund could be established to support the development of innovation in the railway. This would differ from existing technologically focussed innovation initiatives, being focussed on improvements for passengers at all stages of their journey. It should be managed at arms’ length from central government and used to fund the business plans of the stakeholder partnerships. Funds could be set aside and a competition(s) established to bid for funds for the development and implementation of new timetables and infrastructure, encouraging incremental and continuous change, and system-wide thinking. Bids for funding would need to be collaborative between the train operator, infrastructure operator and local/regional transport authority (as already happens with bids for the New Stations Fund). Where routes have CRPs, then I see no reason why these too couldn’t have input. Clear bidding criteria would need to be established at government or (better) by the arms’ length body responsible for co-ordinating plans and allocating funding. These criteria should include being clear on how success will be measured.

NOTE: funding would need to move away from patterns whereby money continuously goes to already ‘successful’ areas because economic models suggest that is where it would get most return. Instead, there needs to be – to borrow a business term – a balanced portfolio scenario, where funding is also directed at routes/services that have the potential to do more than they are currently doing (including contributing more to the success of their local economies – however that success is defined).

Build in challenge. An integrated knowledge base has the potential to begin to address issues of efficiency. This is because improved knowledge reduces transaction costs. For example, a TOC may rely on costings from Network Rail to increase station capacity. But the solutions a train operator comes to versus that developed by an infrastructure operator may be very different – including in cost terms.  An understanding of each other’s position begins to help reduce these costs and to lead to a better solution.  However, whilst organisations continue to work to different objectives, achieving solutions optimal for both parties continues to be difficult. Changing the rules of the game as suggested above and moving towards a more open-book form of relationships would build in the space for challenging costs.

Summary.  Figure one below illustrates how by making the adjustments above, it is possible to envisage a future in which change is continuous, market-led and relatively low-risk compared with current franchising arrangements. I don’t pretend to have the last answer on how to do this – ultimately someone or somebody will have to be accountable for delivery. But any new delivery model will need to take account of the issues highlighted above it is to deliver outcomes that are significantly different from those delivered by today’s industry.

 

 

 

 

Figure one: contrasting the present and the future

 

Conclusion

What this paper has aimed to do is illustrate the art of the possible, even without major structural change. The suggestions above aren’t meant to be the ultimate word, but are designed to open up thinking.  Even without some of the more radical changes suggested above, a system-wide knowledge base could be built for relatively little cost whilst a move to open book accounting might begin to erode some of the transaction costs that are currently built into the industry. Of course, the ideal would be to move to some form of vertically integrated structure, whilst the current crisis might mean a nationalised, vertically-integrated railway system becomes a more attractive proposition than in the past. Either way, however, unless conscious steps are taken to build an appropriate knowledge base quickly which sees the railway as an integrated whole, changes to structure alone will not of itself necessarily deliver hoped for improvements.

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 The Locally Enterprising Railway and the current crisis: an opportunity

Prof. Paul Salveson

Context

The emerging coronavirus crisis poses some very big challenges for the transport sector as a whole and the more peripheral parts of the network in particular. The ‘community rail sector’ is now a mature movement. It has been going for over 25 years and we’ve some very impressive achievements to our credit. Some of its perspectives are likely to be of particular relevance in making sure that local rail survives the current crisis, and is perhaps put on a stronger footing by having done so. Now’s the time for radical thinking.

The Threat

Writing in late-March, we are starting to see how the pandemic will affect the UK as a whole and the rail sector specifically. There has been a major reduction in travel demand; only key workers are being carried. The railways have in effect been nationalised, with franchises being run as management contracts on behalf of Government.  If the pandemic worsens further and more and more people are infected, fewer trains will be able to operate because there won’t the train crews to operate them or the staff to maintain the trains. From an infrastructure perspective, track maintenance gangs will be depleted, together with more specialist teams. In that situation, it is inevitable that train companies and Network Rail will be pushed more to concentrate on their ‘premier’ routes and possibly reduce or even suspend services on more marginal routes, leaving already struggling communities isolated.

An opportunity

Could the coronavirus be an opportunity to actually implement some of the ideas that we’ve talked about since the early 1990s, for locally-managed railways, at least as far as the peripheral network is concerned? A starting point could be the Cumbrian Coast Line from Carlisle to Barrow and Lancaster, which is relatively lightly-used but of strategic importance, not least because of Sellafield. The line can’t be allowed to cease operating, because of the nuclear traffic and the need to get employees to and from work. Of course the line has other roles as well, but at a time of national crisis (whatever one’s views on nuclear power in the long term) the need to keep power stations operating are of crucial importance.

Should Northern Trains, Network Rail, Government and Community Rail Cumbrian grasp the opportunity to create a locally-managed Cumbrian Railways that could take over the route, including train operations and infrastructure, under the (broad) umbrella of Northern Trains but evolving from being a semi-autonomous operation with its own dedicated staff and rolling stock into something more arms-length and truly locally owned and controlled?

West Cumbria could be a testbed for developing new ideas which combine employee and user involvement with local and regional authorities, with ways of bringing in external investment. The ‘Fair Shares’ business model being developed at Sheffield University offers a possible model that could ensure active participation of key stakeholders. See http://fsi.coop/wp-content/uploads/2017/11/fairshares-institute-brochure.pdf

Some practicalities

Having dedicated rolling stock and staff will help ensure high standards of hygiene and cleanliness, avoiding – or at least minimising – passenger and staff fears about infection.  In the short/medium term, it would be easier to test people using the trains for the virus avoiding the ‘network effect’ of spreading the virus across the railway network through several changes of train. The Cumbrian Coast Line could – if the crisis starts to affect petrol supplies – become the main form of transport in West Cumbria and its continued operation would become, quite literally, a lifeline for local communities.

And once again, a crisis situation could act as the midwife of other long-desired changes, i.e. real integration between train and bus, with stations along the line functioning as railheads for connecting bus, minibus and taxi services. The possibility of a serious growth in cycling to and from stations is also a real possibility (I’ve suddenly become a convert to electric bikes – their potential is vast, but so too is the humble ordinary push bike). Once the crisis has receded, Cumbria could re-invent itself as a sustainable tourism exemplar, with bike hire at stations and a network of walking and cycling routes radiating from them. The station itself becomes a tourism hub with shops, cafes and other facilities.

Making a start

There’s a real risk that the nation gets into a mindset that everything is going to shut down, for possibly months, and there’s nothing we can do. But – necessity is the mother of invention. I’m not minimising the seriousness of the crisis for one moment, but there will be some things that we will need to continue doing, which includes running essential services but also making sure there is food in the shops. We could do them differently, and better. Again, rail could have a role to play in more geographical remote areas such as West Cumbria, taking on new commercial activities which we’d all assumed it had surrendered decades ago and would never come back. Can food and other goods be brought in by rail to local distribution centres for onward local shipment to shops and village communities, using bike-carts as well as motorised vehicles?

Creating an enterprising environment

Creating a locally-managed railway would free up opportunities for some radical new departures in how our railways are run.  It needs having the right people on board, who are motivated by a combination of service and entrepreneurship, with a motivated and determined team working with them. Developing new leisure opportunities may well be the last thing that’s on anyone’s minds at the moment, but we need to lay the ground for a resurgence in the tourist economy once the current threat has receded. Cumbrian Railways could be at the heart of that, functioning as a sub-regional regeneration agency, working with local tourism providers and facilitating sustainable transport links across Cumbria and the Lakes.

Developing stations as community enterprise centres could form part of the medium to long term strategy. Local businesses, which will have been hard hit by the crisis, could be offered incentives to set up businesses at and around stations. This could be running a station cafe, providing bike hire at a station, a pop-up stall, or operating an on-train service. We have hardly begun to tap into the potential.

Buildings and land

The argument for bringing redundant railway buildings back into community use has been won but we still struggle with actual projects. Having an integrated local management structure could help facilitate use of empty buildings but also encourage new build where appropriate. At the same time, there is huge scope for imaginative development of redundant railway land for social housing, with a community land trust acting as developer, a local authority or even the railway itself.

Smaller plots offer huge potential for growing vegetables and fruit. The ‘incredible edible’ movement which has swept the country started off on Todmorden station. Locally produced food will become of critical importance in the coming months and there are lots of opportunities to grow, and sell, food at stations. Stations could provide space for raised beds to grow vegetables and herbs, which may become in increasingly short supply.

Conclusion

The current crisis should not be an excuse to hunker down and do nothing, hoping it will wash over us after a few months. There is every possibility it will last for longer than we think, and it will change how we live forever. That could be a real opportunity for local rail. At the same time, the fear of infection could force people to stop using trains and buses and getting them back won’t be easy. It doesn’t have to be so. We should use the current situation as an opportunity to bring short-term support to embattled communities but create the possibility of running our local railways in a much more imaginative and innovative way, placing them at the heart of their communities – economically, socially and environmentally. This is integrated sustainable transport taken to its logical and necessary conclusion.

Now’s the time to take some risks before we get overwhelmed. Northern Trains (Operator of Last Resort) should not be an ‘Operator of Doing Nothing New’. It should seize this opportunity and make a truly positive contribution to local resilience, whilst laying the basis for strong resurgence in due course as the pandemic dies down. However, to take forward such a radical departure needs strong Government support and the backing of Cumbria County Council, Transport for the North and the unions.

March 17th, revised April 2nd  2020

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Cumbria Railways? Further Thoughts and Caveats

John Kitchen

Railways in West Cumbria: a caveat

The basic problem with all the railways in West Cumbria is the potential failure of sea defences or one of the multitudinous bridges – this sort of cost is well beyond the means of anyone but a major national agency to repair. This means that a full local take over is probably not practical as things stand – unless Cumbrian GDP and economic activity rises substantially. However, after the Workington floods major road bridges were rebuilt with government funding to re-establish the network. This model could be adopted to insure the railways against unforeseen capital expenditure together with remaining inside the larger “railway family”.

The Opportunity

If more control were passed to a local management team with rail and infrastructure brought into a single team progress could be made. A locally based management would provide a strong focus on serving the local community and economy. Strong relationships already facilitated by the work of Community Rail Cumbria could be developed with local industry and employers as well as the transport authorities. Links are already well established with the County Council, LEP, Sellafield, DRS, local communities, etc. The new coal mine at Whitehaven is being used as an opportunity to lever in some much needed infrastructure improvements to the St Bees – Carlisle end of the route. Stimulation of demand is key to maintaining the incremental improvement of these routes. A virtuous circle can be created by improved infrastructure supporting increased economic activity. There is a strong history of the Partnerships achieving capital improvements with shelters / Harrington Humps / CIS schemes / station development at Millom, Maryport and Workington amounting to a seven figure sum over the past 10 years. Demonstrably beneficial inputs have secured improved outputs and services with a Sunday service throughout the line being achieved in 2018 for the first time in 50 years.

The paucity of public transport in Cumbria means the railway forms the principal transport spine, epitomised by the railway being the only public transport offered south of Whitehaven and north of Barrow on a Sunday. Local bus services have largely collapsed with the loss of subsidised services since 2011 leaving a residual rump of commercial services. Even rail replacement services when required rely on local bus preservation groups. All of these characteristics make west Cumbria a uniquely challenging environment in which to operate a public transport service particularly when allied to substantial post industrial and rural deprivation.

The present rail management arrangements for the route are skeletal and have been for 40 years of managed decline. Improvements are required along the route – examples being;

  • 2 platform station allied to track rationalisation at Maryport. Why? Present single platform requires four point ends not required if plain line station. It also is a capacity constraint on the passenger timetable.
  • Speed enhancements particularly Parton – Harrington , Maryport – Carlisle Why? Associated with Maryport station speed enhancements would permit sub 55 minute Whitehaven – Carlisle timing which would save one train and one crew on the section whilst producing a clock face timetable. It would provide connections into the West Coast standard hour at Carlisle.
  • More capacity throughout Why? Flexibility / resilience
  • Elimination of manual level crossings Why? Cost savings
  • Signalling improvements Why? Cost savings plus increased operational flexibility.
  • Station enhancements Why? Many stations constrain business by not offering sufficient parking in particular and lack facilities appropriate to weather in West Cumbria
  • Car parking – Eg. park and ride at Wigton Car parking at most stations is poor, Wigton in particular could serve as a hub for a large area of North Cumbria enabling car free access to Carlisle
  • Freight development – Iggesund / Innovia / Barrow / Workington Docks /Ghyll Scaur quarry etc.
  • Development of differentiated tourist offer. Jacobite role in the Highlands linked to West Coast at Carnforth.
  • Development of a route plan for both Carnforth – Barrow and Barrow – Carlisle. Exploration of new traffic opportunities.
    Promotion of tourism outside the central Lake District – off line activity akin to work of Settle and Carlisle.
  • Continuation and development of the Community strategy embedding the railway in its communities and promoting a direct sense of local ownership to local people.
  • An engagement strategy providing exchange of views with local stakeholders particularly focussing on local area plans for employment and residential areas.
  • Greater degree of managerial autonomy with allocated budget for local projects and capability to develop and action local schemes.
  • Enhanced local maintenance facilities providing jobs in the local community and more independence from remote depots – both track and train and stations.
  • Integration of the railway within the local transport plan.
  • Development of a recovery plan from the corona virus disruption to maximise rail participation in regeneration.
  • Integration into green access strategies for Western Lake District.
  • Increased support for green commuting to Sellafield.

One of the major failings of the present railway is that it does not actively make it easy to grow business with multiple agencies being involved in progressing an idea through to delivery of a solution. For many years two major businesses in West Cumbria have wished to try to use rail for major logistic flows. Even though the rail freight companies are more entrepreneurial than hitherto they can only be as flexible as infrastructure constraints allow them to be with private siding agreements forming a prohibitive barrier. The client would like the railway to offer the same seamless logistics service that competitor road hauliers can offer – this is very hard to achieve on the present railway system. Network changes have to be planned years in advance and NR indemnified against all costs.

Any future rail devolution must bring representation from the business and economic communities into the railway ambit. In a modest way this has been achieved in Cumbria by Sellafield Ltd and DRS representation on the board of Community Rail Cumbria associated with financial contributions. The involvement of Community Rail Cumbria in the development of LEP capital plans also points the way to how the railway should better align with local priorities. The new coal mine at Whitehaven is also involved and is also mindful of the Partnership and the reputational gain from minimising environmental impact of their operation.

I would like to see an overall strategy for any railway line starting from a SWOT analysis. During my time in the industry there was a total lack of robust information about costs making any business case extremely hard to develop into a simple cost benefit or return on investment calculation. Even when NR accepts that something should be examined the client has to raise the finance to cover NR’s GRIP costs before anything can be done – even for quite modest capital spends. Processes are also glacially slow with improvement works bedevilled by issues such as station leases and capacity to develop schemes at both TOCs and NR. To achieve improved process times the ability to make decisions nearer to the community served a solution is required to get away from the Kremlin mentality.

Staffing Issues

The present union arrangements are long established and certainly the railway staff in West Cumbria benefit from high salaries and relative job security in a local context. The operation of Cumbria Rail would need their cooperation to stand a chance of approaching German or Dutch local railway operation standards. To this end there would need to be absolute assurances that national standards would be maintained with respect to T&Cs and operational standards.

Local Government

Cumbria County Council is the transport authority with a tiny part of Lancashire involved at the southern end. Both local authorities are strapped for financial resources and are unlikely to support anything that carries even a modicum of financial commitment. This situation was recognised some years ago by Community Rail Cumbria and the Partnerships have received little or no support from the County Council ever since.

How to do it

The basic structures already exist within Community Rail Cumbria exist to form a local Board for a semi independent body – well established connections with local stakeholders from all aspects of the community. The first objective of this organisation would be to develop a modus operandi for a local business unit starting work by identification of what stakeholders require of their railway with regards to the business / social / economic agenda, particularly in the context of the current emergency and looking to the recovery phase.

The lines would benefit from local operational management with a manager for each line. The railway operators would have a role with respect to corporate functions but would delegate to the Business Unit where possible. This approach could be flexible in the light of experience.

An example could be dedicated captive stock diagrams with local maintenance would provide an opportunity for Cumbria to gain jobs and adapt equipment to align more closely with local needs. For example, the Settle and Carlisle Railway Development Co. has operated refreshment trollies for many years in addition to providing hosting.

Local development of station infrastructure would also facilitate improvement. Most importantly, there would be the opportunity to work with other operators (particularly DRS) to achieve a Cumbrian esprit de corps.

Conclusion

Cumbria forms an ideal testbed for a more local railway approach, given an area that has a strong local identity and a strong track record in delivering improvements on the system. The Workington Floods was a perfect illustration of how things can be achieved. The Cumbrian Coast Business Unit would seek to build on and take further this track record of innovative development.

 

 

 

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Northern Weekly Salvo 278

The Northern Weekly Salvo

Incorporating  Slaithwaite Review of Books, Weekly Notices, Sectional Appendices, Tunnel Gazers’ Gazette and Northern Umbrella. Descendant of Teddy Ashton’s Northern Weekly and Th’Bowtun Loominary.

Published at 109 Harpers Lane Bolton BL1 6HU email: paul.salveson@myphone.coop

Publications website: www.lancashireloominary.co.uk

No. 278 March 19th  2020

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railwayness, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North. Sometimes weekly, usually not; but definitely Northern. Read by the highest (and lowest) officers of state, Whitmanites, weirdos, misfits, steam punks, yes women, no men, gay Swedenborgians, cat-spotters, discerning sybarites, bi-guys, non-aligned social democrats,  pie-eaters, tripe dressers, nail artists, self-managing VIMTO drinkers, truculent Northerners, grumpy Norwegians, absurd Marxists, members of the clergy and the toiling masses. All views expressed are my own and usually nobody else’s. Official journal of the Station Cat Improvement Network, Pacer Dining Club and Station Buffet Society, and the Campaign for a North with a capital ‘N’.

“We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” – Jo Cox, maiden speech in House of Commons, June 3rd 2015

General gossips

A week is a long time in a pandemic, as well as in politics. Since the last Salvo we’ve now got a Keynesian government trying (reasonably well to be fair) to respond to a rapidly deteriorating situation. Everything that was happening now isn’t, to summarise forthcoming events. This includes Thursday’s ‘Enterprising Railway’ evening conference in Manchester organised by The Rail Reform Group and my book launch in Horwich on Friday.

Sue outsider her Horwich book shop, The Wright Reads

Necessity is the mother of invention and we are putting together some papers that would have been delivered at the Manchester event. There will be a link from The Salvo and they’ll be published on Linked In. Part of me feels slightly relieved at not having seven or eight meetings a week to go to, with time to get stuck in to the various writing projects that I’ve got on the go. And nobody is going to stop me going out on the electric bike, with which I’m increasingly besotted. It’s an ill wind, indeed…

Politics, debate, controversy

The coronavirus pandemic has closed down wider political debate and there has been a welcome shift towards cross-party collaboration, which is no bad thing. There’s a remarkable degree of unity across the UK, with the nations and regions taking a broadly united stance. We really don’t know where all this is going to lead but you get a sense that there will be some very big changes in our way of life once it’s all over, whenever that might be. So far, the crisis has brought out the best, and some of the worst, in us. The scenes of panic buying were quite pathetic, arguably provoked by sections of the media. At the same time, there are lots of people getting together via social media to promote ‘mutual aid’ in helping people in their communities to get access to food and medicine. Kropotkin would have been delighted (and vindicated) by this demonstration of local solidarity. Be good to see panic-buying copies of his Mutual Aid. It’s interesting to see the local corner shops round here with well-stocked shelves doing a reasonable trade. Support them!

Local railways and The Corona Virus: an opportunity?

The corona virus crisis poses some very big challenges for the transport industry as a whole – and the more peripheral parts of the network in particular. The ‘community rail sector’ is now a mature movement. It has been going for over 25 years and we’ve some very impressive achievements to our credit. Some of its perspectives are of particular relevance in making sure that local rail survives the current crisis, and is perhaps put on a stronger footing. Now’s the time for radical thinking, rather than sitting back and just managing a worsening crisis.

The Threat

Writing in mid-March, we don’t know how the pandemic will affect the UK as a whole, let alone our part of it, in rail. But it’s fairly clear that there will be (in fact already is) a major reduction in travel demand. If the pandemic worsens and more and more people are infected, fewer trains will be able to operate because there won’t be the train crews to operate them nor the staff to maintain the trains. From an infrastructure perspective, track maintenance gangs will be depleted, together with more specialist teams. In that situation, it is inevitable that train companies and Network Rail will be pushed to concentrate on their ‘premier’ routes and possibly reduce or even suspend services on more marginal routes, leaving already struggling communities isolated. It’s the wrong thing to do. A further issue for railways is their normal strength – of forming a network with inter-connecting services – can become a problem if passengers with infections spread the disease across the network.

An opportunity

Could the coronavirus be an opportunity to implement some of the ideas that we’ve talked about since the early 1990s, for locally-managed railways, at least as far as the peripheral network is concerned? A starting point could be some relatively self-contained routes around the UK which have a sufficient density of population and number of services. I don’t want to start any hares running by identifying particular routes or networks but most people with acknowledge of the railway network would know where I mean. Many are in the North of England, coming under the recently-created ‘Northern Trains’ run by Government-owned Operator of Last Resort (OLR).

Northern Trains, Network Rail, Government and the Community Rail sector should grasp the opportunity to create locally-managed business units that are relatively autonomous bodies responsible for train operations and infrastructure, under the umbrella of Northern Trains but with their own dedicated staff and rolling stock. They should be completely responsible for all services which start and end within their defined area, to minimise the spread of infection, i.e. no through running. This implies testing of intending passengers before getting on the train, something that is unprecedented in railway history as far as I’m aware. Having dedicated rolling stock and staff will help ensure high standards of hygiene and cleanliness, avoiding – or at least minimising – passenger and staff fears about infection.  Ensuring the health of all staff, including customer-facing employees – will help keep the trains running when in some more densely-populated area train companies might struggle.

A crisis situation could act as the midwife of other long-desired changes, i.e. real integration between train and bus, with stations functioning as railheads for connecting bus, minibus and taxi services. The possibility of a serious growth in cycling to and from stations is also a real possibility (I’ve suddenly become a convert to electric bikes – their potential is vast, but so too is the humble ordinary push bike). Once the crisis has receded, the area covered could re-invent itself as a sustainable tourism exemplar, with bike hire at stations and a network of walking and cycling routes radiating from them. The station itself becomes a tourism hub with shops, cafes and other facilities.

Making a start

There’s a real risk that the nation gets into a mindset that everything is going to shut down, for possibly months, and there’s nothing we can do. But to do nothing would be irresponsible – and we can do something. I’m not minimising the seriousness of the crisis for one moment, but there will be some things that we will need to continue doing, which includes running essential services but also making sure there is food in the shops. We could do them differently, and better. Again, rail could have a role to play in more geographically remote areas, taking on new commercial activities which we’d all assumed it had surrendered decades ago and would never come back. Can food and other goods be brought in by rail to local distribution centres for onward local shipment to shops and village communities, using bike-carts as well as motorised vehicles?

Creating an enterprising environment

Creating a locally-managed railway would free up opportunities for some radical new departures in how railways are run.  It needs having the right people on board, who are motivated by a combination of service and entrepreneurship, with a motivated and determined team working with them. Developing new leisure opportunities may well be the last thing that’s on anyone’s minds at the moment, but we need to lay the ground for a resurgence in the tourist economy once the current threat has receded. A locally managed railway could be at the heart of that, functioning as a sub-regional regeneration agency, working with local tourism providers and facilitating sustainable transport links across its area.

Developing stations as community enterprise centres could form part of the medium to long term strategy. Local businesses, which will have been hard hit by the crisis, could be offered incentives to set up businesses at and around stations. This could be running a station cafe, providing bike hire at a station, a pop-up stall, or operating an on-train service. We have hardly begun to tap into the potential.

Buildings and land

The argument for bringing redundant railway buildings back into community use has been won but we still struggle with actual projects. Having an integrated local management structure could help facilitate use of empty buildings but also encourage new build where appropriate. At the same time, there is huge scope for imaginative development of redundant railway land for social housing, with a community land trust acting as developer, a local authority or even the railway itself.

Smaller plots offer huge potential for growing vegetables and fruit. The ‘incredible edible’ movement which has swept the country started off on Todmorden station. Locally produced food will become of critical importance in the coming months and there are lots of opportunities to grow, and sell, food at stations. Stations could provide space for raised beds to grow vegetables and herbs, which may become increasingly scarce.

Conclusion

The current crisis should not be an excuse to hunker down and do nothing, hoping it will wash over us after a few months. There is every possibility it will last for longer than we think, and it will change how we live forever. That could be a real opportunity for local rail. At the same time, the fear of infection could force people to stop using trains and buses and getting them back won’t be easy. It doesn’t have to be so. We should use the current situation as an opportunity to bring short-term support to embattled communities but create the possibility of running our local railways in a much more imaginative and innovative way, placing them at the heart of their communities – economically, socially and environmentally. This is integrated sustainable transport taken to its logical and necessary conclusion.

Now’s the time to take some risks before we get overwhelmed. Northern Trains (Operator of Last Resort) should not be an ‘Operator of Doing Nothing New’. It should seize this opportunity and make a truly positive contribution to local resilience, whilst laying the basis for strong resurgence in due course as the pandemic dies down. However, to take forward such a radical departure needs strong Government support and the backing of local authorities, the business community and the unions.

Comments welcome!

Community Rail Development Officer Post – £26,317 p.a. (full time 2 year contract, 35 hrs per week)

The Bolton and South Lancashire CRP is one of the newest community rail partnerships (CRPs) in the UK, formed in 2019. We are looking for a Community Rail Development Officer to take forward our ambitious plans to link local communities with the local railway network through creative projects that promote sustainable transport.

We are developing strong links with socially excluded communities within our area (stretching from Bolton to Manchester and Salford, Wigan and Preston) with positive relationships with local authorities and the rail industry.

We are looking for someone with a range of skills and experience who can work flexibly, with a mix of volunteers and professional colleagues. We welcome applicants with backgrounds in arts, community development, regeneration and related fields. We welcome job shares, and applications from all sections of the community.

For an application pack email Paul Salveson, chair of the community rail partnership: paul.salveson@myphone.coop. Deadline for applications is April 3rd 2020 with interviews on April 22nd. See also: https://www.boltoncommunityrail.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Bolton-and-SL-CRP-Job-Pack-07032020.docx

Lancashire Authors Association: Library set to move

The annual general meeting of the Lancashire Author’s Association (LAA) took place in Chorley last Saturday, under the entertaining presidency of Sid Calderbank complemented by the business-like chairing of Judith Addison. I guess it’s the last meeting I’ll be attending for some time; and it was an historic occasion. The LAA has been around since 1909, having been formed by a group of scribes, mostly dialect writers, at a gathering in Rochdale in April 1909. Allen Clarke, probably pre-eminent amongst Lancashire writers at the time, suggested the formation of an association to meet occasionally, which would be open to both ‘writers and lovers’ of Lancashire literature. It was formally established that year on November 27th, at a further meeting in Rochdale (Woodhall’s Resturant). It grew in membership and developed a tradition of meeting in different Lancashire towns, three times a year. In 1921 a decision was made to set up a library, that could accommodate members’ work and also the ‘classic texts’ of Lancashire literature. The first librarian was R H Isherwood of Clayton Bridge. His house was large enough to accommodate the growing collection. In the early notices he encourages intending visitors to give him two days’ notice and he would make sure he was at home. Members were advised to take a train from Platform 9 at Victoria station to Clayton Bridge, from where it was a short walk. They’d probably have had the added bonus of ‘Radial Tank’ haulage on a Stalybridge local.

The library developed and at some stage outgrew Mr Isherwood’s living room – I’m still researching when that was. In more recent years it was accommodated in Accrington Library, courtesy of Lancashire County Council. Usage declined, though it remained as an important source, particularly for research in Lancashire dialect but also other books related to the county. It has some rare documents including the unique Red Rose Circulating Library, which was posted between LAA members who commented on their fellow members’ work. How much easier that would have been today! Brian Foster did a sterling job as LAA Librarian until ill health forced him to stand down from the committee at the last AGM. I was honoured to be elected to the post. At the same time, members voted to donate the library to the University of Bolton who will house it within their library as a distinct collection, open to LAA members, staff, students and other researchers.

The move opens up other possibilities to use the collection as part of a wider project to promote Lancashire Dialect Studies and develop projects that are community-based. The move will take some time to complete (not helped by wider problems with the coronavirus) but hopefully the facility will be up and running in time for the library’s centenary year, 2021. It should be stressed that the library will aim to expand, with donations from members and friends, as it has always benefited from. More details as the project develops. Membership of the LAA is open to all ‘writers and lovers of Lancashire literature’ – for details see http://www.lancashireauthorsassociation.co.uk/

LAA in Chorley

The first time the LAA met in Chorley was their March 25th 1916 gathering, at the height of the First World War. It was held in a very special place – ‘The Workers’ College’ – the Edward McKnight Institute, belonging to the Workers Educational Association, which opened in 1909. McKnight was a well-loved librarian in Chorley. It was the first building in the country to be owned by the WEA and reflected the strength of the association, and workers’ education, in Chorley. The LAA were welcomed to the college by its president, Sir Frederick Hibbert MP, who was also chairman of Lancashire County Council’s Education Committee. The college closed in 1927. I’m hoping to do a bit more digging about its history. The first reference I came across was in Allen Clarke’s Moorlands and Memories, where he describes a ramble of the Bolton Labour Church from Darwen to Chorley, over Great Moor, finishing up at the college for supper. I bet they were ready for it when they got there! The 2020 meeting was held in the St Mary’s Parish Centre, and very comfortable it was too.

Letter Page

A bit light this week but this one from Andrew Rosthorn is particularly interesting:

“Dear Paul, Thanks for one of the very best Salvos for a long time. Kept me hooked, especially from Salford to Colne. My great grandfather John ‘The Bobby’ Taylor, often drove the morning train from Colne taking men on ‘Change. If he made up lost time he would often be slipped a half sovereign by first class passengers who might have known he was a working class Tory from Accrington.”

‘The Works’ is ready     (in case you hadn’t noticed)

Regular readers are probably sick of reading about The Works – my first novel, set around the Lancashire town of Horwich, in the former railway engineering factory where I worked for a short time in the mid-70s. Much of the action takes place in the 1970s and 80s but the story is taken through to 2025, with China looming large in the UK economy. It’s about life in a factory facing up to closure – the tensions and fears of being made redundant, as well as everyday life in a working class community.

The narrator is a trade union activist – with a secret. It’s partly a love story about his relationship with an office worker, Midge, who becomes involved in local politics and nearly gets elected as a Labour MP. In ‘real life’ the Works closed in 1983 and is now being demolished. In the novel, the factory is saved by a workers’ occupation and buy-out, with some dramatic scenes where riot police try to break the occupation. The novel links the fictitious outcome at Horwich with the actual occupation and buy-out at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, Glasgow. The novel is illustrated with photographs of the Works in the early 1980s which I took as part of a commission from Lancashire Association of Trades Councils, during the campaign to save the Works.

The story has a lot to say about local life and politics in the 1970s and 80s and Midge’s role as a community activist and councillor. Part of the story is about Horwich starting to build steam locomotives once again – for the heritage railway market – as well as making modern rolling stock. Lovers of L&Y ‘Highflyers’ please note.

There’s lots of surprises so I won’t spoil it for you. It contains strong language – and some Lancashire dialect. The planned book launches around Horwich and Bolton have all been cancelled but it’s available in (so far) three local outlets:

  • Wrights Reads, Winter Hey Lane Horwich
  • The Village Tea Rooms, Rivington
  • Justicia Fair Trade Shop, Knowsley Street, Bolton

You can of course order it by post, signed by the author (if you want). For Salvo readers, the price is  £10 plus post and packing (£2.50). Please fill in the form below.

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THE WORKS       SPECIAL SALVO READER OFFER :
ORDER FORM

Name……………………………………………………………

Address………………………………………………………………………………………

Post code……………………………………………Phone…………………………………………….

Email………………………………………………….(for notice of book signings and updates)

Please send….copy/ies of The Works to the above address. At the special price of £10 plus £2.50 post and packing. The novel will be available from March 26th in shops price £12.99. If you live within 5 miles of Horwich I can deliver without the extra £2.50 charge.

I enclose a cheque for £…….. made to ‘Paul Salveson’. Please add £2.50 for postage (regardless of number of copies ordered) unless you’re local! Would you like it signing/dedicating? If to someone else, give details:

Post to: Paul Salveson, 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU or email this form to paul.salveson@myphone.coop and use bank transfer to A/C of Paul Salveson, National Westminster Bank  Code 53-61-07 account 23448954 with your surname for reference

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Special Traffic Notices: Coming Events

ALL CAPED

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The Salvo Publications List  – see www.lancashireloominary.co.uk

The Settle-Carlisle Railway (2019) published by Crowood and available in reputable, and possibly some disreputable, bookshops price £24. It’s a general history of the railway, bringing it up to date. It includes a chapter on the author’s time as a goods guard on the line, when he was based at Blackburn in the 1970s. The book includes a guide to the line, from Leeds to Carlisle. Some previously-unused sources helped to give the book a stronger ‘social’ dimension, including the columns of the LMS staff magazine in the 1920s. ISBN 978-1-78500-637-1

The following are all available from The Salvo Publishing HQ, here at 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU. Cheques should be made out to ‘Paul Salveson’ though you can send cash if you like but don’t expect any change. Bottles of whisky, old bound volumes of Railway Magazine, number-plates etc. by negotiation.

‘Lancashire’s Romantic Radical – the life and writings of Allen Clarke/Teddy Ashton‘ (2009). The story of Lancashire’s errant genius – cyclist, philosopher, unsuccessful politician, amazingly popular dialect writer. Normal Price £15  – can now offer it for £10 with free postage. There are a few hardback versions left – Normal price £25  – now at £15 with free postage. This book outlines the life and writings of one of Lancashire’s most prolific – and interesting – writers. Allen Clarke (1863-1935) was the son of mill workers and began work in the mill himself at the age of 11. He became a much-loved writer and an early pioneer of the socialist movement. He wrote in Lancashire dialect as ‘Teddy Ashton;’ and his sketches sold by the thousand. He was a keen cyclist and rambler; his books on the Lancashire countryside – ‘Windmill Land’ and ‘Moorlands and Memories’ are wonderful mixtures of history, landscape and philosophy.

‘With Walt Whitman in Bolton – Lancashire’s Links to Walt Whitman‘. This charts the remarkable story of Bolton’s long-lasting links to America’s great poet. Price £10.00 including post and packing. New bi-centennial edition published in May 2019. Bolton’s links with the great American poet Walt Whitman make up one of the most fascinating footnotes in literary history. From the 1880s a small group of Boltonians began a correspondence with Whitman and two (John Johnston and J W Wallace) visited the poet in America. Each year on Whitman’s birthday (May 31) the Bolton group threw a party to celebrate his memory, with poems, lectures and passing round a loving cup of spiced claret. Each wore a sprig of lilac in Whitman’s memory. The group were close to the founders of the ILP – Keir Hardie, Bruce and Katharine Bruce Glasier and Robert Blatchford. The links with Whitman lovers in the USA continue to this day.

‘Northern Rail Heritage’. A short introduction to the social history of the North’s railways. Price £6.00. The North ushered in the railway age  with the Stockton and Darlington in 1825 followed by the Liverpool and Manchester in 1830. But too often the story of the people who worked on the railways has been ignored. This booklet outlines the social history of railways in the North. It includes the growth of railways in the 19th century, railways in the two world wars, the general strike and the impact of Beeching.

Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Mornin? The Winter Hill Mass Trespass of 1896′. The story of Lancashire’s Winter Hill Trespass of 1896. 10,000 people marched over Winter Hill to reclaim a right of way. Price: £5.00 (not many left). The Kinder Scout Mass Trespass of 1932 was by no means the first attempt by working class people to reclaim the countryside. Probably the biggest-ever rights of way struggle took place on the moors above Bolton in 1896, with three successive weekends of huge demonstrations to reclaim a blocked path. Over 12,000 took part in the biggest march. The demonstrations were led by a coalition of socialists and radical liberals and Allen Clarke (see above!) wrote a great song about the events – ‘Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Mornin’?’ Only a couple left.

You can probably get a better idea from going to my website: http://www.paulsalveson.org.uk/little-northern-books-2/

Categories
Current News

Northern Weekly Salvo 277

The Northern Weekly Salvo

Incorporating  Slaithwaite Review of Books, Weekly Notices, Sectional Appendices, Tunnel Gazers’ Gazette and Northern Umbrella. Descendant of Teddy Ashton’s Northern Weekly and Th’Bowtun Loominary.

Published at 109 Harpers Lane Bolton BL1 6HU email: paul.salveson@myphone.coop

Publications website: www.lancashireloominary.co.uk

No. 277 March 11th  2020

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railwayness, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North. Sometimes weekly, usually not; but definitely Northern. Read by the highest (and lowest) officers of state, Whitmanites, weirdos, misfits, steam punks, yes women, no men, gay Swedenborgians, cat-spotters, discerning sybarites, bi-guys, non-aligned social democrats,  pie-eaters, tripe dressers, nail artists, self-managing VIMTO drinkers, truculent Northerners, grumpy Norwegians, absurd Marxists, members of the clergy and the toiling masses. All views expressed are my own and usually nobody else’s. Official journal of the Station Cat Improvement Network, Pacer Dining Club and Station Buffet Society, and the Campaign for a North with a capital ‘N’.

“We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” – Jo Cox, maiden speech in House of Commons, June 3rd 2015

General gossips

What a strange situation we’re in. In the last Salvo I suggested that the spread of the corona virus could result in the destruction of world capitalism – and it certainly seems to be heading that way. Not sure it’s anything to celebrate though, in the absence of anything better. As far as transport goes the virus may be more likely to stop people using buses and trains, preferring the safer, sanitised environment of a car. Good job I got that electric bike, which I’m making much use of in between downpours.

One of the photos from ‘The Works’ taken at Horwich in 1983 before the factory closed

It’s an excellent way of delivering orders for my novel ‘The Works’ – the market is quite local, largely, and a ride to Horwich is entirely do-able with the eee-bygum-bike. Tackling the climb up Chorley Old Road would have been too much without powered assistance, rear-end or otherwise.

The corona virus is likely to play havoc with any public events in the next month or two, maybe even longer. Hopefully the Rail Reform Group gathering in Manchester on the 19th and my book launch in the Wayoh Brewery on 20th (see below) might just be within the bounds of acceptable common sense before the shutters come down on public events.

Meanwhile, the Association of Community Rail Partnerships has announced a change of name – from April, it will become ‘The Community Rail Network’.

Farewell Arriva Rail North! A Northern Blackpool – York service with a new class 195 descends Copy Bit on the last day that Arriva held the franchise. An assessment? As Chou-en-lai said of the French Revolution, it’s too early to make a judgement.

Good move! It’s a long time since we came up with the original name and the world has moved on. It was always a bit of a mouthful to be honest. The organisation is more than just ‘community rail partnerships’ and includes hundreds of local groups such as station friends and partnerships. In time, I hope other community groups will join as well without necessarily being 100% focused on rail.

Politics, debate, controversy

The Labour leadership election grinds inexorably on, is it just me who wishes the whole thing could just be over and done with? I’m increasingly exasperated by the lack of real politics in all of it. The best statement I’ve seen in the whole campaign was that from Clive Lewis which appears in the current issue of Chartist. What a pity he isn’t in the final shortlist. I really wish Lisa Nandy would repeat, at high volume, a lot of the things she was saying in the book she co-edited with Caroline Lucas on The Alternative. All three contenders seem desperate to avoid saying anything that might upset one or other of the factions or tendencies that make up the Labour Party. Here’s an excerpt from what Clive Lewis said: “Our route back to government begins with a recognition that the core question we face today is that of democracy. We must answer the demand for greater power and control in people’s lives not only by providing the material means by which people can live better – from higher pay to public services that work – but by transforming the institutions under which we all live, from Parliament to local authorities to how our businesses are run. And by working with others today, we can show how in government we can meet the demands of our people for a fundamental change in how our country is run and how their lives are governed.” He argues for proportional representation, lowering of the voting age to 16, regional government and greater power and resources for local government. Labour in Wales and Scotland should be fully independent. Crucially, he wants to see a move away from Labour’s tribalism and a much more collaborative style of politics. Let’s hope that those ideas aren’t lost and that each of the remaining contestants pick up on his ideas.

Celebrating International Women’s Day with Hannah

It was great to see so many railway companies celebrating International Women’s Day last Sunday. LNER re-branded a train as ‘The Flying Scotswoman’ and Arriva Rail London, Network Rail, South Eastern and many others did their own thing to promote and support women n rail.

Eileen Murphy reads her play about Hannah Mitchell at Bolton Socialist Club on March 8th

In Bolton, were treated to a great one-woman play on Hannah Mitchell, the socialist, feminist and local politician whose autobiography The Hard Way Up remains a classic. The play was written and performed by Eileen Murphy who kept the audience absolutely enthralled. Hannah had a hard and difficult life, particularly as a girl growing up on a farm on the hills above Glossop in the 1880s. She moved to ‘down town’ Glossop, then to Bolton where she became involved in the fledgling Independent Labour Party, where she met her future husband. She was active in the women’s suffrage movement. In her later years in Manchester she became a councillor – I think for the Independent Labour Party, rather than Labour itself. She had just two weeks of formal schooling but became a talented writer. Her dialect sketches for Labour’s Northern Voice, published during the 1920s, probably did more to persuade people to become socialists than any more pompous speeches. Incidentally, the Hannah Mitchell Foundation is reviving, after a few years of quiet reflection. An open meeting will be held once the current corona cris is resolved.

Don’t miss out on The New Issue 2!

The second edition of The New Issue – from the people who bring you Big Issue North – is now winging itself to existing subscribers – and new readers can buy it from our online shop. The New Issue contains real stories – beautifully told. It offers stunning photography combined with quality writing, covering everything from changing landscapes and social issues to lifestyle and fiction.

The 80-page magazine, printed on high quality stock, is a publication for good, dedicating all its profits to creating opportunities for people who have the least. All profits from The New Issue go to supporting vendors of Big Issue North, helping them overcome barriers to employment and find secure accommodation.

The new edition contains reportage and brilliant photography from Lebanon, where discontent with the economy has spilled out on to the streets but where moments of humanity are brighter than ever. It features the exuberant competitors of the British relay fell running championships, and the young grime artists of Blackpool (also featured on page 12) moving on from dissing each other to mutual support.

With the new government still only in its infancy, the magazine goes back to Workington, whose men, if not perhaps its women, took on huge significance in the general election. There’s a rare glimpse inside the vehicles of a New Age Travellers camp and confirmation, through a group of refugees, that one of humankind’s many common denominators is the love of eating things in some sort of pastry filling. Full details here: https://www.bigissuenorth.com/our-work/our-news/2020/02/a-publication-for-good/

The Train’s Long Gone: in the tracks of Driver Shorrock

After our afternoon of culture and politics we just had time to have a mooch round the remarkably visible remains of Ringley Road station, on the former Clifton Junction to Bury line, which closed in 1970. It opened in 1846 as the southern tip of the East Lancashire Railway. The line connected the North-East Lancashire ‘cotton towns’ of Accrington and Haslingden with Manchester, joining the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway at Clifton Junction.

45699 ‘Galatea’ masquerading as 45562 ‘Alberta’ last week, storming the 1 in 65 climb from Hall Royd to Copy Pit – almost as gruelling as Baxenden, and still in operation. ‘Galatea’ made a superb job of the climb, with a load of 10 coaches on ‘The Cotton Mill Express’

Shortly after opening, it was the scene of an epic ‘battle’ over running rights between the two companies, which involved the line being blockaded by rival companies’ trains. Peace was fairly quickly restored and the line was absorbed by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway in 1859. It was an important route from Manchester to the thriving industrial centres of Accrington, Burnley, Nelson and Colne. On of the most famous trains to grace the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway was the iconic 4.25 pm Salford to Colne, one of the early L&Y ‘commuter’ trains, consisting of 10 coaches, mostly occupied by first class season ticket holders whose business would have been on the Manchester Cotton Exchange, which was easily walkable from Salford station.

It was first stop Burnley Barracks, but ‘slipped’ a coach whilst sneaking round the tight curve at Accrington.

Two typical passengers for the 4.25 Salford – Colne – outside Th’Change. Photo from Ron Freethy ‘The Story of Lancashire Cotton’ Countryside Books 2011

What a job for the guard that must have been! The running time from Salford to Burnley was 49 minutes, which I suspect you would struggle to do that by any form of transport today.  The train was entrusted to nothing bigger than one of Aspinall’s sturdy 2-4-2 ‘Radial Tanks’ built at Horwich from the 1880s. It was Agecroft shed’s no. 1 ‘job’ and was entrusted to the care of the redoubtable Driver Shorrock and three colleagues who knew how to extract every ounce of power out of their engine up the steep gradients from Clifton Junction and then north of Bury. The job was the preserve of a small fleet of three ‘Radial Tanks’ which were kept in top condition for this job. No. 1532 seems to have been the favourite. Eric Mason, shedmaster at Agecroft for many years and author of The Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway in the 20th Century, described Shorrock as “one of the most skilful exponents of engine management of his day”. He also called the route of the 4.25 as “one of the most difficult lengths of railway in the country,” climbing to a height of 771 ft. At Baxenden and then dropping at a 1 in 44 gradient to Accrington, where drivers had to negotiate the 5 mph slack round the curve onto the ‘main line’ to Rose Grove. The 4.25 featured in the columns of The Railway Magazine during 1922, with the eminent author and train-timer Cecil J. Allen waxing lyrical at Shorrock’s exploits.

A Footplate Ride on the 4.25

C.J. Allen edited a regular column on ‘Locomotive Practice and Performance’ in The Railway Magazine during the inter-war years. The December 1922 edition (a copy of which happens to be in my possession, as he might have said) was devoted largely to train running on the ex-Lancashire Yorkshire section of what had recently become the ‘B’ Division (huh) of the London and North Western Railway.

L&YR Radial Tank no. 1533 (sister of 1532). From ‘Railway Magazine’ Dec. 1922

Allen is unstinting in his praise of the work of the four Agecroft top-link drivers whom he timed on the 4.25 – Shorrock, Blakemore, Turner and Clough. He was permitted a footplate pass on a run driven by Shorrock, with the standard 10 coaches totalling over 250 tons. A huge load for such a diminutive loco. For those readers of The Salvo familiar with the workings of a steam locomotive, his description of the Radial Tank’s performance is quite htrilling – and astonishing. Allen makes it very clear that this was locomotive working of the highest order that copuld be exprienced anywhere on the British railway network. Let him speak for himself.

Gradient profile of the route of the 4.25 Salford – Colne drawn by C.J. Allen

He was an experienced observer of footplate working but described the run as “one of the most fascinating experiences of its kind within my recollection. Any observer who is privileged to occupy the footplate of an express engine when it is being worked under onerous conditions is bound to realise the exact science that lies behind driving and firing; but in a case like this, where a small-boilered engine is being pushed practically to the limit of her capacity for producing steam, and the slightest error of judgement on the part of the fireman in ‘placing’ his fuel, or of the driver in his method of utlising steam produced, may result in lack of steam at the critical moment, and in loss of time, or even ‘stalling’ of the engine over grades such as these – locomotive management becomes a job for thorough experts only.”

Allen was asked to sit in the fireman’s seat as the train prepared to depart.

 

C.J. Allen’s logs of the five runs on the 4.25 Colne, including one using an LNWR 4-6-0 ‘Prince’ which wasn’t really up to it…

Fireman Gough wouldn’t have any time to sit down until the train had breasted Baxenden Summit, twenty miles north. Shorrock had a poor road out of Salford, with adverse signals at Windsor Bridge (now ‘Salford Crescent’). Then, after leaving the Bolton line at Clifton Junction “Shorrcok threw his regulator right over, and at something between 40 and 45% cut-of we ascended the 1 in 96 to Ringley Road in fine style, the last three-quarters of a mile being run steadily at 32.7 mph. Steam pressure at the summit was 165 lbs per sq.inch.” The line dips slightly from here towards Bury, after which climbing began in earnest at Summerseat where “Shorrock advanced his cut-off to 50% and again threw the regulator wide, in preparation for the final climb. The effect of this was to advance our speed from 34 mph to 37 at Stubbins Junction, where cut-off was further and finally advanced to 55%.” The sound of the ‘Radial Tank’ hitting the climb at such a speed on so advanced a valve gear setting must have been volcanic. Speed was maintained up the gruelling 1 in 78 climb, “the effect of Shorrock’s conservation of energy was immediately seen in the magnificent ascent we made of the 1 in 78, mile after mile of which was mounted steadily at 29.4 mph…..a simply extraordinary achievement.” As astonishing as Shorrock’s achievement was that of his fireman, who was shovelling coal into the firebox at the rate of 50 lbs each mile, with a total effort of about 15 cwt. mostly shovelled between Salford and Baxenden.

An ignominious end

When the ‘4.25’ ceased running I don’t know; probably in the 30s. The route from Clifton Junction to Bury closed on December 5th 1966, to be followed later by the section north of Bury from Stubbins to Accrington and the branch to Rawtenstall and Bacup (with a residual service to Rawtenstall lingering into the early 70s). A disgrace bordering on the criminal that Bacup lost its trains. I travelled on one of the last trains on the weekend that Clifton Jc – Bury closed. The line was little-used by then and our diesel train (the first of the day) slipped and slid up the gradient from Clifton to Ringley Road and Radcliffe, at a much slower speed than ‘1532’ achieved at the hands of Shorrock.

For many years the former trackbed was impassable and water-logged, and part was cut by the M62 motorway.

What’s happened to that bloody train? Late again. Waiting patiently at Ringley Road

Going back a few days ago I was pleasantly surprised to see that much of it had been brought back into use as a footpath and cycle trail. Ringley Road station itself, at least the ‘down’ platform, has been restored with a couple of benches (not original!). Perhaps Driver Shorrock would have been pleased. What he would have made of the ‘sculpture trail’ that the line forms part of, who can say.

Community Rail and Sustainability

The annual community rail conference organised by the Department for Transport with ACoRP was in Bristol this year. The central theme was around ‘sustainability’ and we had time to kick around the implications of this key issue for ‘community rail’. It’s something that ACoRP’s chief executive, Jools Townsend, feels passionate about and recognising the full implications of what ‘sustainability’ means remains a key issue and challenge. I was invited to give a paper on ‘community rail and sustainability’ and the gist of it is what follows below:

It’s easy to forget how far we’ve come since those early days of ‘community rail’ back in the mid-90s. Remember when:

  • Car was still king with no pretenders to the throne
  • There were on-going worries over the future of rail network
  • ‘Community Rail’ was seen by some as a crank thing
  • Diesel traction was supreme in most of UK
  • ‘The Environment’ was a fringe issue
  • ‘Sustainability’ meant ‘financial viability’
  • Climate Change was unheard of (to most of us)

A lot has changed. It’s no longer a fringe issue to challenge the supremacy of the car.

Cars and towns don’t mix too well

Young people in particular are looking for alternatives. ‘Modal shift’ is seen as a desirable objective and this goes beyond party political lines. And when did we last see a passenger rail closure? The rail network is safe, and expanding! The big problem is lack of capacity and the need to expand.

‘Community Rail’ as a concept is embedded in rail industry and government thinking. There’s recognition that linking rail with community-based strategies for regeneration and social inclusion makes commercial, social and environmental sense. ‘Sustainability’ is now centre stage, in its broadest sense. And there’s a recognition, maybe belatedly, that ‘Climate Change’ is here, to most of us.

For community rail, there are some big implications of this shift. The days when we had to play it safe and avoid pressing for investment in case it scared off the powers-that-be are gone. We need to make the case for more capacity, whether it’s more trains, extra capacity on existing routes and new stations, or new railways. But we shouldn’t neglect the day job. Encouraging use of trains and buses, and reducing car dependency, is our fundamental purpose.

For community rail groups, everything you do is important, but maybe some of it is particularly vital. In particular:

  • Changing mindsets – making rail attractive
  • Getting them young: learn from the great work being done with schools amongst several CRPs across the country – a plug here for Community Rail Lancashire!
  • Developing practical integrated links: bus, bike, walk

There’s much more to do in terms of station development. It’s god that ‘station travel plans’ are being revived but we should avoid the box-ticking exercise which characterised some of the STPs last time round. The publication of ACoRP’s report is vey timely. Personally, I’d rather see them described as ’station development plans’ where the whole function of the station – and its surrounding hinterland – forms part of the plan. So West Midlands’ Trains ideas for ‘stations as places’ are very welcome. We need to ask:

  • What is the function of the modern station (large, medium, small)?
  • What goes on around it?
  • Where do people live and work?
  • How do they get to/from the station?
  • What should go on at and around the station that helps create an attractive, vibrant hub for communities?

We must come up with some visionary ideas, working with communities, local authorities, developers and businesses.  We must get away from the basic, functional idea of ‘the station’ and look at ways of making them amazing places. Yes, a lot of this is beyond what a CRP can do, but the reality – at present – is that most of what we do is about influencing, changing people’s ways of thinking. We can effect change, through consensus building, but we need to have the skills to do that. We need to develop high-level skills in effecting sustainable development. It means identifying the key decision-makers and building alliances. We need to win over the doubters, and marginalise those whom we’ll never persuade. You’ll find friends in unexpected places, whilst some whom you might hope would be on your side will have other priorities. Being clear on what you’re trying to achieve is key. Be ambitious but not utopian.  Decide what you are trying to achieve… but be responsive to others’ agendas. Look at the way in which ‘loneliness’ has shot up the Government agenda. Look at how the issue of medium and large towns has become central to Government thinking. We can help with the solutions. Get in there.

Harping on about narrowly-focused railway issues won’t be of interest. Throw out the Ian Allan ABC (or modern-day equivalents). Learn new ‘languages’ in regeneration, sustainability, cohesion. Develop a strategy for change and learn the ‘soft’ skills of effective campaigning. Avoid appearing too earnest and confrontational – but have an agenda and know what you want. Don’t play the ‘political’ game – be relentlessly non-partisan. And to repeat, be aware, and respond to, others’ agendas. Intelligent use of the media is so important, both print and social media.

But you need a physical presence as well. Prioritise events that offer opportunities for networking and influencing. Be seen around…become part of the furniture. People will see you as ‘folk who know what they’re talking about’.

It’s also about doing what you’re good at – and enjoy. Attract positive, creative people, avoid negativity and those who go round in a perpetual state of gloom and despondency. They won’t achieve anything, other than making others depressed as well. When recruiting new people, be willing to bend to their interests and passions. Don’t be slaves to ‘The Plan’!

We should spend more time celebrating success – but be frank and honest about learning from failures. Community rail has huge growth potential. When we formed ACoRP in the late 1990s we didn’t think we’d be so successful, with some 70 CRPs now in existence and hundreds of station groups. That resource can be used to change how our communities work, for the better. To paraphrase Dr Marx, the point isn’t just to gaze at the world, but to change it. But to succeed we need to get out there and engage.

  • Network
  • Network
  • Network

Thank you.

The Rail Reform Group and the Enterprising Railway

If you’re interested in exploring how a modern, entrepreneurial railway for the North might work, come along to the Rail Reform Group’s first open meeting, on Thursday March 19th. It’s at the Waldorf pub near Piccadilly station starting at 18.00h. Admission is free, just turn up.

Speakers will include Chris Kimberley, Nicola Forsdyke and Laurence Hilland. Each will explore different aspects of how railways can become more entrepreneurial and customer-focused. Admission is free and doors open at 18.00. The Rail Reform Group is a small network of rail professionals. We are non-party political and not linked to any corporate group. We’ve come together to develop ideas that we think are deliverable, offer good value for money and lay the foundations for a growing railway that meets the needs of both passengers and employees. We have submitted detailed suggestions to the Rail Review chaired by Keith Williams and the short article below represents a summary of ‘work in progress’: comments welcome.

Bolton Community Update: dizzy with success? (cf J. Stalin)

We are doing pretty well. After winning accreditation for the community rail partnership and getting funding from Northern, a very welcome cheque from CrossCountry came through the door. So basically, we’re all geared up to start the recruitment process for a full-time worker to support Bolton and South Lancs Community Rail Partnership.

A last look round the upstairs rooms before major renovation works commence to transform the space into a community hub

The advert is below. Why not have a try? On the down side, the corona virus situation has forced us to limit activities for the duration. We’ll do as much as we can by email. Hopefully work will continue on the upstairs renovation, with a completion date of May 18th. Once finished we’ll throw a party to celebrate. We’re also looking to do what we think is the first ‘Community Rail Mela’ – an Asian-inspired community festival at the station and interchange. Hopefully sometime in June. Watch this space.

Community Rail Development Officer Post – £26,317 p.a. (full time 2 year contract, 35 hrs per week)

The Bolton and South Lancashire CRP is one of the newest community rail partnerships (CRPs) in the UK, formed in 2019. We are looking for a Community Rail Development Officer to take forward our ambitious plans to link local communities with the local railway network through creative projects that promote sustainable transport.

We are developing strong links with socially excluded communities within our area (stretching from Bolton to Manchester and Salford, Wigan and Preston) with positive relationships with local authorities and the rail industry.

We are looking for someone with a range of skills and experience who can work flexibly, with a mix of volunteers and professional colleagues. We welcome applicants with backgrounds in arts, community development, regeneration and related fields. We welcome job shares, and applications from all sections of the community.

For an application pack email Paul Salveson, chair of the community rail partnership: paul.salveson@myphone.coop. Deadline for applications is April 3rd 2020 with interviews on April 22nd. See also: https://www.boltoncommunityrail.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Bolton-and-SL-CRP-Job-Pack-07032020.docx

‘The Works’ is agate     

My first (hopefully not the last) novel is set around the Lancashire town of Horwich, in the former railway engineering factory where I worked for a short time in the mid-70s. Much of the action takes place in the 1970s and 80s but the story is taken through to 2025, with China looming large in the UK economy. It’s about life in a factory facing up to closure – the tensions and fears of being made redundant, as well as everyday life in a working class community.

The narrator is a trade union activist – with a secret. It’s partly a love story about his relationship with an office worker, Midge, who becomes involved in local politics and nearly gets elected as a Labour MP. In ‘real life’ the Works closed in 1983 and is now being demolished. In the novel, the factory is saved by a workers’ occupation and buy-out, with some dramatic scenes where riot police try to break the occupation. The novel links the fictitious outcome at Horwich with the actual occupation and buy-out at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, Glasgow. The novel is illustrated with photographs of the Works in the early 1980s which I took as part of a commission from Lancashire Association of Trades Councils, during the campaign to save the Works.

The story has a lot to say about local life and politics in the 1970s and 80s and Midge’s role as a community activist and councillor. Part of the story is about Horwich starting to build steam locomotives once again – for the heritage railway market – as well as making modern rolling stock. Lovers of L&Y ‘Highflyers’ please note.

There’s lots of surprises so I won’t spoil it for you. It contains strong language – and some Lancashire dialect. There will be a number of book launches around Horwich and Bolton in late March and April. If you want to secure an advance, signed, copy at the special price of £10, fill in the form below. If your community group would like a talk on the novel please contact me at the address below or email paul.salveson@myphone.coop. All orders must be paid in advance and received before March 21st.

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THE WORKS       SPECIAL PRE-PUBLICATION OFFER : ORDER FORM

Name…………………………………………………………….

Address……………………………………………………………………………..Post code……………………………………………Phone……………………………

Email…………………………………………….(for notice of book signings and updates)

Please send….copy/ies of The Works to the above address. At the special price of £10 plus £2.50 post and packing. The novel will be available from March 26th in bookshops and other outlets price £12.99. If you live within 5 miles of Horwich I can deliver without the extra £2.50 charge.

I enclose a cheque for £…….. made to ‘Paul Salveson’. Please add £2.50 for postage (regardless of number of copies ordered) unless you’re local! The book will be posted to you before March 26th. Would you like it signing/dedicating? If to someone else, give details:

Post to: Paul Salveson, 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU or email this form to paul.salveson@myphone.coop and use bank transfer to A/C of Paul Salveson, National Westminster Bank  Code 53-61-07 account 23448954 with your surname for reference

 

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Special Traffic Notices: Coming Events

Saturday March 14th:                      Lancashire Authors Association AGM, St Mary’s Church, Chorley

Thursday March 19th                      Rail Reform Group ‘The Enterprising Railway’ 18.00 The Waldorf, Manchester (free event, collection)

Friday March 20th                             Launch of The Works Wayoh Brewery,  nr. Blackrod Station 18.00

Saturday March 21st:                       Cumbrian Railways Assocation, Penrith.

Friday March 27th                             Talk on Horwich Works and the novel, Bolton Socialist Club, 16 Wood Street, Bolton 20.00

Tuesday April 14th                                           Horwich Heritage: Talk on ‘Railways and Literature in Lancashire’

Saturday April 18th                           Horwich Library, 13.00: ‘Horwich Loco Works’ in Art, Literature and History

………………………………………………………………………………..

The Salvo Publications List  – see www.lancashireloominary.co.uk

The Settle-Carlisle Railway (2019) published by Crowood and available in reputable, and possibly some disreputable, bookshops price £24. It’s a general history of the railway, bringing it up to date. It includes a chapter on the author’s time as a goods guard on the line, when he was based at Blackburn in the 1970s. The book includes a guide to the line, from Leeds to Carlisle. Some previously-unused sources helped to give the book a stronger ‘social’ dimension, including the columns of the LMS staff magazine in the 1920s. ISBN 978-1-78500-637-1

The following are all available from The Salvo Publishing HQ, here at 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU. Cheques should be made out to ‘Paul Salveson’ though you can send cash if you like but don’t expect any change. Bottles of whisky, old bound volumes of Railway Magazine, number-plates etc. by negotiation.

‘Lancashire’s Romantic Radical – the life and writings of Allen Clarke/Teddy Ashton‘ (2009). The story of Lancashire’s errant genius – cyclist, philosopher, unsuccessful politician, amazingly popular dialect writer. Normal Price £15  – can now offer it for £10 with free postage. There are a few hardback versions left – Normal price £25  – now at £15 with free postage. This book outlines the life and writings of one of Lancashire’s most prolific – and interesting – writers. Allen Clarke (1863-1935) was the son of mill workers and began work in the mill himself at the age of 11. He became a much-loved writer and an early pioneer of the socialist movement. He wrote in Lancashire dialect as ‘Teddy Ashton;’ and his sketches sold by the thousand. He was a keen cyclist and rambler; his books on the Lancashire countryside – ‘Windmill Land’ and ‘Moorlands and Memories’ are wonderful mixtures of history, landscape and philosophy.

‘With Walt Whitman in Bolton – Lancashire’s Links to Walt Whitman‘. This charts the remarkable story of Bolton’s long-lasting links to America’s great poet. Price £10.00 including post and packing. New bi-centennial edition published in May 2019. Bolton’s links with the great American poet Walt Whitman make up one of the most fascinating footnotes in literary history. From the 1880s a small group of Boltonians began a correspondence with Whitman and two (John Johnston and J W Wallace) visited the poet in America. Each year on Whitman’s birthday (May 31) the Bolton group threw a party to celebrate his memory, with poems, lectures and passing round a loving cup of spiced claret. Each wore a sprig of lilac in Whitman’s memory. The group were close to the founders of the ILP – Keir Hardie, Bruce and Katharine Bruce Glasier and Robert Blatchford. The links with Whitman lovers in the USA continue to this day.

‘Northern Rail Heritage’. A short introduction to the social history of the North’s railways. Price £6.00. The North ushered in the railway age  with the Stockton and Darlington in 1825 followed by the Liverpool and Manchester in 1830. But too often the story of the people who worked on the railways has been ignored. This booklet outlines the social history of railways in the North. It includes the growth of railways in the 19th century, railways in the two world wars, the general strike and the impact of Beeching.

Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Mornin? The Winter Hill Mass Trespass of 1896′. The story of Lancashire’s Winter Hill Trespass of 1896. 10,000 people marched over Winter Hill to reclaim a right of way. Price: £5.00 (not many left). The Kinder Scout Mass Trespass of 1932 was by no means the first attempt by working class people to reclaim the countryside. Probably the biggest-ever rights of way struggle took place on the moors above Bolton in 1896, with three successive weekends of huge demonstrations to reclaim a blocked path. Over 12,000 took part in the biggest march. The demonstrations were led by a coalition of socialists and radical liberals and Allen Clarke (see above!) wrote a great song about the events – ‘Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Mornin’?’ Only a couple left.

You can probably get a better idea from going to my website: http://www.lancashireloominary.co.uk

 

Categories
Current News

The Enterprising Railway

The Rail Reform Group and the Enterprising Railway

If you’re interested in exploring how a modern, entrepreneurial railway for the North might work, come along to the Rail Reform Group’s first open meeting, on Thursday March 19th. It’s at the Waldorf pub near Piccadilly station starting at 18.00h. Admission is free, just turn up.

Speakers will include Chris Kimberley, Nicola Forsdyke and Laurence Hilland. Each will explore different aspects of how railways can become more entrepreneurial and customer-focused. Admission is free and doors open at 18.00. The Rail Reform Group is a small network of rail professionals. We are non-party political and not linked to any corporate group. We’ve come together to develop ideas that we think are deliverable, offer good value for money and lay the foundations for a growing railway that meets the needs of both passengers and employees. We have submitted detailed suggestions to the Rail Review chaired by Keith Williams and the short article below represents a summary of ‘work in progress’: comments welcome.

A Railway for the Common Good

Britain’s railways are going through a tumultuous period, with fundamental questions being asked about the way they are owned and managed. Any change of direction must build on some of the positive achievements of the last 25 years. We reject the binary simplicities of public good/private bad (or vice-versa). But we must move on from a structure that is no longer fit for purpose. A new approach should be based on greater integration of railway operations and infrastructure, long-term stability and a wider social purpose than purely shareholder profit.

We use the example of the North of England, particularly the ‘metropolitan belt’ from the Mersey to the Humber – as a prototype for a ‘railway for the common good’ which is part of the economic and social fabric of the North; big enough to achieve economies of scale but focussed on key regional markets which have suffered historic neglect but are experiencing (in part) regeneration.

A fresh approach should combine a strong degree of commercial freedom and initiative whilst maintaining public sector support and accountability. We need to rebuild traditional railway skills, complemented by new ones.

Our key argument is for a regional railway company – Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways – constituted as a mutual business, in which most of the profits generated would be re-invested into the railway. A closer relationship between operations and infrastructure, combined with long-term stability, would provide the vital basis to develop a modern railway which the North sorely needs.

The reality is that modern-day railway technology has moved, in practice, back towards much stronger integration between train operations and infrastructure, yet this is not yet reflected in how the railways are run. At the same time, the need for long-term stability and growth to meet the potential of significant modal shift (to help meet a range of pressures, not least Climate Change), has become greater.

We consider it essential that Network Rail’s regional structure should be aligned with that of the suggested new railway company, covering the North of England as a whole. The current structure of  east and west regions, based on the East and West Coast Main Lines, is London-centric and deeply unhelpful to the North of England, with split responsibilities and lack of focus on the needs of the North as a whole. We advocate a Network Rail (North) that would takes on most functions currently provided across the North by Network Rail’s two regions (LNE and LNW), whilst retaining a smaller ‘system operator’ for critical oversight of the network as a whole.

As a mutual business, Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways would be accountable to its Board of Trustees who would be independently selected on the basis of wide-ranging expertise and knowledge of the region and its needs, some by key stakeholders such as TfN, TfGM and similar bodies. Beneath the board, an executive with high-level rail expertise, would run the day-to-day operation. We have used the example of Welsh Water/Glas Cymru as a business which delivers vital services to the public with a mutual structure.

It should have a contract to operate for a long-term period (e.g. 30-50 years) with periodic reviews which are aligned with current rail industry Control Periods. It would be very closely aligned (but legally separate) from a re-structured and devolved Network Rail (North). Its geographical spread should be smaller than the current Northern franchise, with a separate business covering the North-East and Cumbria, which would also come under Network Rail (North).

We propose a hierarchy of services, with high quality inter-regional trains serving key locations (based on a merger of existing TPE and ‘Northern Connect’ services), integrated with local and regional services and rural routes. There is potential to do much more with the ‘community rail’ concept, with partnerships serving urban as well as more rural networks, with a clear focus on social and economic regeneration. We should not take the current network as static, but develop a long-term plan for new routes and stations.

An organic process of gradual integration between infrastructure and operations would start by Network Rail (North) and Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways working together at board level, with a long-term business plan aligned by control periods and the train company’s periodic reviews. A joint culture and ethos would be established, over time, at all levels of the railway to achieve ever-closer integration in the practicalities of running a dynamic and responsive railway.

Any railway manager will tell you that there’s considerable scope to look at a range of pragmatic solutions which bring track and train closer together. The industry must work together collaboratively and creatively, with a clear understanding of responsibilities and a reduction of unhelpful interfaces, which are expensive, inefficient and cause delays in decision making.

Our focus has been on the North of England, but a similar approach could work in other parts of the UK. Our approach avoids the short-termism of the current system but doesn’t risk a return to the dead-hand of the Treasury which BR experienced in the 1970s and 1980s.

Categories
Current News

The Myth of the Great Red Wall

The Myth of the Great Red Wall

Paul Salveson

It’s ‘The Great Red Wall’ that never was. The idea that huge swathes of the North of England have been rock solid Labour since the world began is a nonsense. It’s true that some constituencies in the North of England, south Wales and the central belt of Scotland had – fleetingly it now seems – once had very large Labour majorities, but it was patchy. Some Lancashire seats had long traditions of working class Toryism, whilst parts of the West Riding of Yorkshire were Liberal. Labour’s so-called ‘red wall’ was at best a temporary ‘1945’ structure, happening amidst a wave of post-war exuberance and hope.  Yes, Ken Loach’s film 1945 was a great piece of political nostalgia but the idea we can recapture that particular kind of politics is a bit like saying we should revive the Chartist movement of the late 1830s and 1840s (come to think of it…).

1945 and all that

Labour’s success under Attlee was down to very specific circumstances which no longer exist. For a start, wars can stimulate rapid change, for better or worse. Labour’s success in 1945 was down to a mobilised working class, determined – after fighting a war against fascism – not to go back to the 30s.

That working class was organised in strong trades unions and bolstered by the co-operative movement and a plethora of institutions which no longer exist, at least in the form that they once did. As the traditional industries (mining, steel, textiles) died, so too did the unions based within them. But it was more than that, the communal culture of many working class communities (which had its bad as well as good points) died with it.

So some parts of the North, Scotland and Wales erected a kind of red wall but it was built on shaky foundations. These began to erode in the 1970s and Thatcher hastened (but didn’t begin) the process. Many Northern local authorities have fluctuated between Labour and Tory (sometimes Liberal) control over the last few decades; so too parliamentary constituencies. These have included places like Liverpool, Sheffield, Bolton, Kirklees and many others. Labour’s support base has never been as impregnable as some people, looking back with red-tinted glasses, often think.

Wilsonian social democracy

But let’s drill down a bit further and ask a few questions about the traditional ‘Labourism’ which did have a base, however exaggerated its hold may have been, in Northern working class communities. It wasn’t the sort of red-blooded socialism which was found in west Fife or the Welsh valleys. It was comfortable in a sort of Wilsonian social democracy which included the NHS, free education, council housing and cheap public transport. I don’t think it was ever fully sold on state ownership. To an extent, it was distrustful of ‘the state’ and continued to treat the nationalised industries not as ‘ours’ but ‘theirs’. It was more comfortable with institutions like the Co-op, but never extended the co-operative vision to social ownership. Trades unions were something you had to join; few members were actively engaged.

Perhaps this is a view of my own territory – the former cotton towns of Lancashire. Yes, there was a vibrant socialist culture, stretching back to the late 18890s and expressed through the Independent Labour Party and, to a degree, the Social Democratic Federation. But it was only attractive to a minority of working class people. The relationship with Labour, once it had established itself as a major political force, tended to be instrumental – or ‘transactional’. “We’ll vote for you, if you give us council houses, cheap buses, schools and social care.”

Labour runs out of steam: what now?

By the 1980s Labour councils were less and less able to deliver. Thatcher went on to strip them of more powers, whilst at the same time decimating the industrial working class as it had emerged over the preceding century. Yet Labour clung on to the idea – at both national and local level – that “we can do it for you” when it was becoming increasingly obvious they couldn’t (whatever ‘it’ happened to be).

So where does that leave Labour now? What would make it attractive to working class voters in the misleading-named ‘red wall’ towns? It’s a very hard question. The Tories, so far, are doing a good job in stealing some of Labour’s clothes by saying they will invest in the North, though they have over-estimated the popularity of HS2.

I don’t think trying to cloak ourselves in the union jack and declare for some pseudo-progressive ‘patriotism’ will get us far. At the same time, we should rid ourselves of some misplaced ideas about ‘the white working class.’ It’s much more diverse than a lot of commentators suggest. It contains multitudes, with a wide range of attitudes and opinions. One thing that does unite a lot of people is a belief in ‘democracy’ which is where Labour fell down over calls for a ‘second referendum’. It was seen as going against ‘the people’s will’, right or wrong. As someone who voted remain and reluctantly favoured a second referendum, I have to admit they were right.

It’s interesting that the really great working class movements of British history – the huge reform protests that culminated in Peterloo and the Chartist movement of the 1830s/40s, were democratic movements. Similarly, the women’s suffrage movement of the early 20th century, which had strong working class women’s support, was about democracy and empowerment. Surely we should learn a lesson from this.

Capture the democratic imagination

To be positive, Labour could do a lot to capture the ‘democratic imagination’, which is really a cross-class thing. Electoral reform, votes for 16-18s and stronger local and regional democracy would help – and be in keeping with socialist values. Labour still has a strong pull on issues like the NHS and protecting the elderly. But I don’t believe Labour’s ‘transformational’ policies on nationalisation cut much ice; people are not sold on the virtues of a ‘command economy’. Yet with a bit of perseverance, Labour’s co-operative heritage could be re-discovered. Promoting an economic message of ‘responsible capitalism’ coupled with social ownership could find a positive response.

Whoever inherits the leadership of the Labour Party will have a huge task, perhaps the greatest challenge facing a party leader since 1931 – and it was only a war that got us out of that mess (perhaps climate change coupled with pandemics will achieve the same?). A safe pair of hands won’t be enough.

(From Northern Weekly Salvo February 27th 2020 and Chartist March 2020)

Categories
Current News

Northern Weekly Salvo 276

The Northern Weekly Salvo

Incorporating  Slaithwaite Review of Books, Weekly Notices, Sectional Appendices, Tunnel Gazers’ Gazette and Northern Umbrella. Descendant of Teddy Ashton’s Northern Weekly and Th’Bowtun Loominary.

Published at 109 Harpers Lane Bolton BL1 6HU email: paul.salveson@myphone.coop

Publications website: www.lancashireloominary.co.uk

No. 276 February 27th 2020

From the snowy wastes of Halliwell and the sunlit uplands of Smithills Special Jubilee edition

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railwayness, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North. Sometimes weekly, usually not; but definitely Northern. Read by the highest (and lowest) officers of state, Whitmanites, weirdos, misfits, steam punks, yes women, no men, gay Swedenborgians, cat-spotters, discerning sybarites, bi-guys, non-aligned social democrats,  pie-eaters, tripe dressers, nail artists, self-managing VIMTO drinkers, truculent Northerners, grumpy Norwegians, absurd Marxists, members of the clergy and the toiling masses. All views expressed are my own and usually nobody else’s. Official journal of the Station Cat Improvement Network, Pacer Dining Club and Station Buffet Society, and the Campaign for a North with a capital ‘N’.

“We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” – Jo Cox, maiden speech in House of Commons, June 3rd 2015

General gossips

We are certainly living in interesting times. HS2 has got the OK, at least as far as Birmingham, and the good people of Ashington and Fleetwood can look forward (maybe) to getting their trains back. Meanwhile, the spread of the coronavirus threatens to do what any good transport policy should aim at, drastically limiting travel. It could become one of the supreme ironies of the 21st century that the colossus that is China manages to bring down world capitalism (with itself) whilst cleaning up the atmosphere. I’m stocking up on Tunnocks and Wagon Wheels just in case.

If you get my tweets and facebook postings you may have noticed that my novel – The Works – is back from the printers, and looks very good. Whether it reads well I’ll leave to readers to decide. So far the responses have been pretty positive, bar one. Designer Rob did a great job and the printers delivered in express time. The launch is on March 20th in Horwich (see below) followed by several other events. There’s a pre-publication offer of £10 (plus p and p) if you order before March 21st. http://lancashireloominary.co.uk/index.html/order-form

Politics, debate, controversy

The Labour leadership campaign rumbles on. I’ve been following some of the televised debates and really, all three have done a good enough job, avoiding childish sniping at each other and making valiant attempts to unify the membership. The problem with any leadership election is that the person who may be irresistible to the membership may not carry much weight with the general public. No names, obviously. I will cast my vote for Nandy but I’d be comfortable enough with Starmer and a bit twitchy if RLB gets it. Victory in the next general election will be a huge challenge for whoever gets the job.

But what of Johnson and the Government he leads? Revenge of the Cummings, or the ‘night of the long spoons’, with Sajid Javid bounced into resigning was certainly a surprise to commentators who expected only a modest re-shuffle. If it means freeing-up investment for the North, great; the Treasury has been a big part of the problem in restricting projects which don’t meet their narrow criteria. I don’t really get the ‘checks and balances’ argument, as far as The Treasury goes. It has long had too much power; any ‘checks and balances’ should come from the backbenches and an intelligent opposition. Meanwhile, politics in Eire and Ulster continue to be extremely interesting. It would be a courageous person who would forecast how all that will pan out, but the prospect of a united Ireland is certainly much nearer than at any time since Partition.

Friday night in Blackburn

It was our second trip this year to King George’s Hall, Blackburn. The first excursion was for the BBC Philharmonic, in January. Very good it was too. On the night, we picked up a leaflet advertising Aida, being performed by the Russian State Opera, on February 21st. It was a glorious performance, in front of a rather small, but very appreciative, audience. The concert hall is (I think) owned by Blackburn with Darwen Council and I can imagine the debates in council cabinet about the cost of keeping it going. Yet it really is the jewel in Blackburn’s crown, even if it needs a bit of polish. The bar area is atrocious, devoid of anywhere to sit and long queues for a drink. We adjourned next door to the recently-opened Indian (East is East) and were able to sit down with a pleasant and not over-priced glass of wine. Russian State Opera is doing a UK tour between now and the Autumn, including several venues which are well off the usual concert trail. They include Darlington, Crewe, Swindon and Wolverhampton. Some readers may spot a theme emerging, though sadly Horwich isn’t on the list. I’m sure they could have squeezed into the RMI Club. I’m hoping to get to Blyth in October for my birthday treat, to see Sleeping Beauty and Nutcracker. With any luck Mr Johnson will have trains running up the Ashington, Blyth and Tyne by then. https://www.ents24.com/uk/tour-dates/russian-state-ballet-and-opera-house

From Bolton to Bethesda

Back in the early 1980s I researched the story of Bolton solidarity with the Penrhyn Lock-Out (1900-3), probably Britain’s biggest and most protracted industrial dispute.  The story was published in Bolton People’s History, amongst some other interesting pieces of local history. Probably the most notable part of the very moving tale was the involvement of children, in both Bolton and Bethesda. Allen Clarke, through his paper Teddy Ashton’s Northern Weekly, mobilised children’s support for their brothers and sisters in Wales through collections and concerts.

Slipper Works, Waterfoot (courtesy Whitaker Museum, Rawtenstall)

A correspondence developed between the communities, with letters published in Northern Weekly. The young readers were drawn from an area about 20 miles radius of Bolton, stretching as far as the Colne Valley and Rossendale. Many of the boys and girls were already working as half-timers in mills and factories, including Susie Lord, age 13, who worked in Whitewell Slipper Works, in Rossendale. She was one of the most enthusiastic of Clarke’s young collectors and wrote to the paper saying how much had been contributed in different parts of the factory. Clarke organised cycle trips to Bethesda where Lancashire families were put up by the Bethesda quarrymen’s families, on a ‘full board’ basis, helping the locked-out workers with some income. Choirs from Bethesda came to Bolton, giving concerts at Barrowbridge and Bolton Town Hall. I’m working on a new edition of the article which I’m hoping to publish (through Lancashire Loominary) as a bi-lingual production. It should be out for May 2nd when there’s a May Day Festival in Harlech, which seems a good place to launch it. Maybe an event in Barrowbridge too, where 10,000 took part in the ‘Teddy Ashton Picnic’ in May 1901 to raise money for Bethesda.

This ‘Red Wall’ Stuff

It’s ‘The Great Red Wall’ that never was. The idea that huge swathes of the North of England have been rock solid Labour since the world began is a nonsense. It’s true that some constituencies in the North of England, south Wales and the central belt of Scotland had – fleetingly it now seems – once had very large Labour majorities, but it was patchy. Some Lancashire seats had long traditions of working class Toryism, whilst parts of the West Riding of Yorkshire were Liberal. Labour’s so-called ‘red wall’ was at best a temporary ‘1945’ structure, happening amidst a wave of fearless post-war exuberance and hope.  Yes, Ken Loach’s film was a great piece of political nostalgia but the idea we can recapture that particular kind of politics is a bit like saying we should revive the Chartist movement of the late 1830s and 1840s (come to think of it…).

Labour’s success under Attlee was down to very specific circumstances which no longer exist. For a start, wars can stimulate rapid change, for better or worse. Labour’s success in 1945 was down to a mobilised working class, determined – after fighting a war against fascism – not to go back to the 30s.

Mill workers, seldom revolutionary though dauntless Labour supporters – usually

That working class was organised in strong trades unions and bolstered by the co-operative movement and a plethora of institutions which no longer exist, at least in the form that they once did. As the traditional industries (mining, steel, textiles) died, so too did the unions based within them. But it was more than that, the communal culture of many working class communities (which had its bad as well as good points) died with it.

So some parts of the North, Scotland and Wales erected a kind of red wall but it was built on shaky foundations. These began to erode in the 1970s and Thatcher hastened (but didn’t begin) the process. Many Northern local authorities have fluctuated between Labour and Tory (sometimes Liberal) control over the last few decades; so too parliamentary constituencies. These have included places like Liverpool, Sheffield, Bolton, Kirklees and many others. Labour’s support base has never been as impregnable as some people, looking back with red-tinted glasses, often think.

But let’s drill down a bit further and ask a few questions about the traditional ‘Labourism’ which did have a base, however exaggerated its hold may have been, in Northern working class communities. It wasn’t the sort of red-blooded socialism which was found in west Fife or the Welsh valleys. It was comfortable in a sort of Wilsonian social democracy which included the NHS, free education, council housing and cheap public transport. I don’t think it was ever fully sold on state ownership. To an extent, it was distrustful of ‘the state’ and continued to treat the nationalised industries not as ‘ours’ but ‘theirs’. It was more comfortable with institutions like the Co-op, but never extended the co-operative vision to social ownership. Trades unions were something you had to join; few members were actively engaged.

Perhaps this is a view of my own territory – the former cotton towns of Lancashire. Yes, there was a vibrant socialist culture, stretching back to the late 18890s and expressed through the Independent Labour Party and, to a degree, the Social Democratic Federation. But it was only attractive to a minority of working class people. The relationship with Labour, once it had established itself as a major political force, tended to be instrumental – or ‘transactional’. “We’ll vote for you, if you give us council houses, cheap buses, schools and social care.”

By the 1980s Labour councils were less and less able to deliver. Thatcher went on to strip them of more powers, whilst at the same time decimating the industrial working class as it had emerged over the preceding century. Yet Labour clung on to the idea – at both national and local level – that “we can do it for you” when it was becoming increasingly obvious they couldn’t (whatever ‘it’ happened to be).

So where does that leave Labour now? What would make it attractive to working class voters in the misleading-named ‘red wall’ towns? It’s a very hard question. The Tories, so far, are doing a good job in stealing some of Labour’s clothes by saying they will invest in the North, though they have over-estimated the popularity of HS2.

I don’t think trying to cloak ourselves in the union jack and declare for some pseudo-progressive ‘patriotism’ will get us far. At the same time, we should rid ourselves of some misplaced ideas about ‘the white working class.’ It’s much more diverse than a lot of commentators suggest. It contains multitudes, with a wide range of attitudes and opinions. One thing that does unite a lot of people is a belief in ‘democracy’ which is where Labour fell down over calls for a ‘second referendum’. It was seen as going against ‘the people’s will’, right or wrong. As someone who voted remain and reluctantly favoured a second referendum, I have to admit they were right.

To be positive, Labour could do a lot to capture the ‘democratic imagination’, which is really a cross-class thing. Electoral reform, votes for 16-18s and stronger local and regional democracy would help – and be in keeping with socialist values. Labour still has a strong pull on issues like the NHS and protecting the elderly. But I don’t believe Labour’s ‘transformational’ policies on nationalisation cut much ice; people are not sold on the virtues of a ‘command economy’. Yet with a bit of perseverance, Labour’s co-operative heritage could be re-discovered. Promoting an economic message of ‘responsible capitalism’ coupled with social ownership could find a positive response.

Whoever inherits the leadership of the Labour Party will have an implacable task, the greatest challenge facing a party leader since 1931 – and it was only a war that got us out of that mess (perhaps climate change coupled with pandemics will achieve the same?). A safe pair of hands won’t be enough.

(by permission of Chartist magazine, appearing in the March issue)

The Rail Reform Group and the Enterprising Railway

If you’re interested in exploring how a modern, entrepreneurial railway for the North might work, come along to the Rail Reform Group’s first open meeting, on Thursday March 19th. It’s at the Waldorf pub, 12 Gore Street,  near Piccadilly station starting at 18.00h. Admission is free, just turn up. There will be a collection to help cover costs.

Speakers will include Chris Kimberley, Nicola Forsdyke and Laurence Hilland. Each will explore different aspects of how railways can become more entrepreneurial and customer-focused. Admission is free and doors open at 18.00. The Rail Reform Group is a small network of rail professionals. We are non-party political and not linked to any corporate group. We’ve come together to develop ideas that we think are deliverable, offer good value for money and lay the foundations for a growing railway that meets the needs of both passengers and employees. We have submitted detailed suggestions to the Rail Review chaired by Keith Williams and the short article below represents a summary of ‘work in progress’: comments welcome.

A Railway for the Common Good

Britain’s railways are going through a tumultuous period, with fundamental questions being asked about the way they are owned and managed. Any change of direction must build on some of the positive achievements of the last 25 years.

What would Stephenson have done?

We reject the binary simplicities of public good/private bad (or vice-versa). But we must move on from a structure that is no longer fit for purpose. A new approach should be based on greater integration of railway operations and infrastructure, long-term stability and a wider social purpose than purely shareholder profit.

We use the example of the North of England, particularly the ‘metropolitan belt’ from the Mersey to the Humber – as a prototype for a ‘railway for the common good’ which is part of the economic and social fabric of the North; big enough to achieve economies of scale but focussed on key regional markets which have suffered historic neglect but are experiencing (in part) regeneration.

A fresh approach should combine a strong degree of commercial freedom and initiative whilst maintaining public sector support and accountability. We need to rebuild traditional railway skills, complemented by new ones.

Our key argument is for a regional railway company – Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways – constituted as a mutual business, in which most of the profits generated would be re-invested into the railway. A closer relationship between operations and infrastructure, combined with long-term stability, would provide the vital basis to develop a modern railway which the North sorely needs.

The reality is that modern-day railway technology has moved, in practice, back towards much stronger integration between train operations and infrastructure, yet this is not yet reflected in how the railways are run. At the same time, the need for long-term stability and growth to meet the potential of significant modal shift (to help meet a range of pressures, not least Climate Change), has become greater.

We consider it essential that Network Rail’s regional structure should be aligned with that of the suggested new railway company, covering the North of England as a whole.

We need to move towards more sustainable traction

The current structure of  east and west regions, based on the East and West Coast Main Lines, is London-centric and deeply unhelpful to the North of England, with split responsibilities and lack of focus on the needs of the North as a whole. We advocate a Network Rail (North) that would takes on most functions currently provided across the North by Network Rail’s two regions (LNE and LNW), whilst retaining a smaller ‘system operator’ for critical oversight of the network as a whole.

As a mutual business, Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways would be accountable to its Board of Trustees who would be independently selected on the basis of wide-ranging expertise and knowledge of the region and its needs, some by key stakeholders such as TfN, TfGM and similar bodies. Beneath the board, an executive with high-level rail expertise, would run the day-to-day operation. We have used the example of Welsh Water/Glas Cymru as a business which delivers vital services to the public with a mutual structure.

It should have a contract to operate for a long-term period (e.g. 30-50 years) with periodic reviews which are aligned with current rail industry Control Periods. It would be very closely aligned (but legally separate) from a re-structured and devolved Network Rail (North). Its geographical spread should be smaller than the current Northern franchise, with a separate business covering the North-East and Cumbria, which would also come under Network Rail (North).

We propose a hierarchy of services, with high quality inter-regional trains serving key locations (based on a merger of existing TPE and ‘Northern Connect’ services), integrated with local and regional services and rural routes.

Railways should support community life

There is potential to do much more with the ‘community rail’ concept, with partnerships serving urban as well as more rural networks, with a clear focus on social and economic regeneration. We should not take the current network as static, but develop a long-term plan for new routes and stations.

An organic process of gradual integration between infrastructure and operations would start by Network Rail (North) and Lancashire and Yorkshire Railways working together at board level, with a long-term business plan aligned by control periods and the train company’s periodic reviews. A joint culture and ethos would be established, over time, at all levels of the railway to achieve ever-closer integration in the practicalities of running a dynamic and responsive railway.

Any railway manager will tell you that there’s considerable scope to look at a range of pragmatic solutions which bring track and train closer together. The industry must work together collaboratively and creatively, with a clear understanding of responsibilities and a reduction of unhelpful interfaces, which are expensive, inefficient and cause delays in decision making.

Our focus has been on the North of England, but a similar approach could work in other parts of the UK. Our approach avoids the short-termism of the current system but doesn’t risk a return to the dead-hand of the Treasury which BR experienced in the 1970s and 1980s.

(The Rail Reform Group will shortly be launching its website www.railreformgroup.org – further details in next Salvo).

Bolton Community Update

After a few setbacks last month (leaking ceilings!) things have improved. On February 26th we heard that the bid for ‘Access for All’ funding to DfT had been successful. This will fund installation of a lift to the

A final look round the upstrairs rooms with contractors TMT and Northern colleagues before renovation starts in earnest

community spaces upstairs on Platforms 4/5 which will be leased to the university. The AFA money has been matched by £20,000 from the Station Partnership, which had been contributed by Arriva Trains UK. This enables the lift to be installed as part of the current renovation works, which are due for completion on May 18th.

The Community Rail Partnership (Bolton and South Lancs) will be advertising the full-time job on or just after March 1st using our new website www.communityrailbolton.org.uk. The website will be up and running very soon but expressions of interest can be emailed to boltonstncdp@gmail.com or via Salvo. Funding for the two-year post comes from Northern, Bolton at Home, Avanti West Coast and CrossCountry. TransPennine Express has also been a very generous funder for the Gallery and Community Room.

Negotiations between the University of Bolton, Northern and Network Rail for a tripartite lease on the ‘community’ space is moving ahead positively and work on the roof is steaming ahead. We are hoping for a positive result on our application for a lift to make the upstairs area fully accessible. During March the Community Room will host some of the ‘Worktown 2020’, events organised by the University Arts Faculty.

 ‘The Works’ is ready    

My first (hopefully not the last) novel is set around the Lancashire town of Horwich, in the former railway engineering factory where I worked for a short time in the mid-70s. Much of the action takes place in the 1970s and 80s but the story is taken through to 2025, with China looming large in the UK economy. It’s about life in a factory facing up to closure – the tensions and fears of being made redundant, as well as everyday life in a working class community.

The narrator is a trade union activist – with a secret. It’s partly a love story about his relationship with an office worker, Midge, who becomes involved in local politics and nearly becomes an MP. In ‘real life’ the Works closed in 1983 and is now being demolished. In the novel, the factory is saved by a workers’ occupation and buy-out, with some dramatic scenes where riot police try to break the occupation. The novel links the fictitious outcome at Horwich with the actual occupation and buy-out at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, Glasgow. The novel is illustrated with photographs of the Works in the early 1980s which I took as part of a commission from Lancashire Association of Trades Councils, during the campaign to save the Works.

The story has a lot to say about local life and politics in the 1970s and 80s and Midge’s role as a community activist and councillor. Part of the story is about Horwich starting to build steam locomotives once again – for the heritage railway market – as well as making modern rolling stock. Lovers of L&Y ‘Highflyers’ please note.

There’s lots of surprises so I won’t spoil it for you. It contains strong language – and some Lancashire dialect. There will be a number of book launches around Horwich and Bolton in late March and April. If you want to secure an advance, signed, copy at the special price of £10, fill in the form below. If your community group would like a talk on the novel please contact me at the address below or email paul.salveson@myphone.coop. All orders must be paid in advance and received before March 21st.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

THE WORKS       SPECIAL PRE-PUBLICATION OFFER : ORDER FORM

Name……………………………………………………………………………………..

Address…………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

Post code……………………………………………Phone………………………………………………………….

Email………………………………………………….(for notice of book signings and updates)

Please send….copy/ies of The Works to the above address. At the special price of £10 plus £2.50 post and packing. The novel will be available from March 26th in bookshops and other outlets price £12.99. If you live within 5 miles of Horwich I can deliver without the extra £2.50 charge.

I enclose a cheque for £…….. made to ‘Paul Salveson’. Please add £2.50 for postage (regardless of number of copies ordered) unless you’re local! The book will be posted to you before March 26th. Would you like it signing/dedicating? If to someone else, give details:

Post to: Paul Salveson, 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU or email this form to paul.salveson@myphone.coop and use bank transfer to A/C of Paul Salveson, National Westminster Bank  Code 53-61-07 account 23448954 with your surname for reference

(Cultural) Crank Quiz: Which railway engineering works had their own musical societies/orchestras? Please name them…….

 

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Special Traffic Notices: Coming Events

Saturday March 14th:                      Lancashire Authors Association AGM, St Mary’s Church, Chorley

Friday March 20th from                 Launch of The Works Wayoh Brewery,  nr. Blackrod Station 18.00

Saturday March 21st:                       Cumbrian Railways Assocation, Penrith.

Friday March 27th                             Talk on Horwich Works and the novel, Bolton Socialist Club, 16 Wood Street, Bolton 20.00

Tuesday April 14th                                           Horwich Heritage: Talk on ‘Railways and Literature in Lancashire’

Saturday April 18th                           Horwich Library, 13.00: ‘Horwich Loco Works’ in Art, Literature and History

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The Salvo Publications List  – see www.lancashireloominary.co.uk

The Settle-Carlisle Railway (2019) published by Crowood and available in reputable, and possibly some disreputable, bookshops price £24. It’s a general history of the railway, bringing it up to date. It includes a chapter on the author’s time as a goods guard on the line, when he was based at Blackburn in the 1970s. The book includes a guide to the line, from Leeds to Carlisle. Some previously-unused sources helped to give the book a stronger ‘social’ dimension, including the columns of the LMS staff magazine in the 1920s. ISBN 978-1-78500-637-1

The following are all available from The Salvo Publishing HQ, here at 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU. Cheques should be made out to ‘Paul Salveson’ though you can send cash if you like but don’t expect any change. Bottles of whisky, old bound volumes of Railway Magazine, number-plates etc. by negotiation.

‘Lancashire’s Romantic Radical – the life and writings of Allen Clarke/Teddy Ashton‘ (2009). The story of Lancashire’s errant genius – cyclist, philosopher, unsuccessful politician, amazingly popular dialect writer. Normal Price £15  – can now offer it for £10 with free postage. There are a few hardback versions left – Normal price £25  – now at £15 with free postage. This book outlines the life and writings of one of Lancashire’s most prolific – and interesting – writers. Allen Clarke (1863-1935) was the son of mill workers and began work in the mill himself at the age of 11. He became a much-loved writer and an early pioneer of the socialist movement. He wrote in Lancashire dialect as ‘Teddy Ashton;’ and his sketches sold by the thousand. He was a keen cyclist and rambler; his books on the Lancashire countryside – ‘Windmill Land’ and ‘Moorlands and Memories’ are wonderful mixtures of history, landscape and philosophy.

‘With Walt Whitman in Bolton – Lancashire’s Links to Walt Whitman‘. This charts the remarkable story of Bolton’s long-lasting links to America’s great poet. Price £10.00 including post and packing. New bi-centennial edition published in May 2019. Bolton’s links with the great American poet Walt Whitman make up one of the most fascinating footnotes in literary history. From the 1880s a small group of Boltonians began a correspondence with Whitman and two (John Johnston and J W Wallace) visited the poet in America. Each year on Whitman’s birthday (May 31) the Bolton group threw a party to celebrate his memory, with poems, lectures and passing round a loving cup of spiced claret. Each wore a sprig of lilac in Whitman’s memory. The group were close to the founders of the ILP – Keir Hardie, Bruce and Katharine Bruce Glasier and Robert Blatchford. The links with Whitman lovers in the USA continue to this day.

‘Northern Rail Heritage’. A short introduction to the social history of the North’s railways. Price £6.00. The North ushered in the railway age  with the Stockton and Darlington in 1825 followed by the Liverpool and Manchester in 1830. But too often the story of the people who worked on the railways has been ignored. This booklet outlines the social history of railways in the North. It includes the growth of railways in the 19th century, railways in the two world wars, the general strike and the impact of Beeching.

Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Mornin? The Winter Hill Mass Trespass of 1896′. The story of Lancashire’s Winter Hill Trespass of 1896. 10,000 people marched over Winter Hill to reclaim a right of way. Price: £5.00 (not many left). The Kinder Scout Mass Trespass of 1932 was by no means the first attempt by working class people to reclaim the countryside. Probably the biggest-ever rights of way struggle took place on the moors above Bolton in 1896, with three successive weekends of huge demonstrations to reclaim a blocked path. Over 12,000 took part in the biggest march. The demonstrations were led by a coalition of socialists and radical liberals and Allen Clarke (see above!) wrote a great song about the events – ‘Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Mornin’?’ Only a couple left.

You can probably get a better idea from going to my website: http://www.lancashireloominary.co.uk

Categories
Current News

Northern Weekly Salvo 275

The Northern Weekly Salvo

Incorporating  Slaithwaite Review of Books, Weekly Notices, Sectional Appendices, Tunnel Gazers’ Gazette and Northern Umbrella. Descendant of Teddy Ashton’s Northern Weekly and Th’Bowtun Loominary.

Published from 109 Harpers Lane Bolton BL1 6HU email: paul.salveson@myphone.coop

For more information about the books mentioned please visit http://lancashireloominary.co.uk/

No. 275 February 9th 2020

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railwayness, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North. Sometimes weekly, usually not; but definitely Northern. Read by the highest (and lowest) officers of state, Whitmanites, weirdos, misfits, steam punks, yes women, no men, gay Swedenborgians, cat-spotters, discerning sybarites, bi-guys, non-aligned social democrats,  pie-eaters, tripe dressers, nail artists, self-managing VIMTO drinkers, truculent Northerners, grumpy Norwegians, absurd Marxists, members of the clergy and the toiling masses. All views expressed are my own and usually nobody else’s. Official journal of the Station Cat Improvement Network, Pacer Dining Club and Station Buffet Society and The Campaign for a North with a capital ‘N’.

“We are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” – Jo Cox, maiden speech in House of Commons, June 3rd 2015

General gossips

So that’s it then, we’re out. Europe that is. Let’s try and be positive, at least we know where we are now, with all the potential for irony and sarcasm that phase implies. But actually, I mean it. The most harmful thing of the last three and more years has been uncertainty and lack of stability. Nobody really knows what the impact of Brexit is going to be. My head says that, economically, it will be very damaging – particularly for Leave-voting areas of the North of England. I remember back in 2016, before the Referendum, Larry Elliott (I think) in The Guardian said much the same and concluded, with some degree of wisdom, that the effect of leaving will probably not be quite as bad as we think. As a committed European, I hope he’s right and that we maintain, and develop, a plethora of informal and formal relationships with ‘civic’ Europe. It’s an old railway adage, honed to perfection in the last 30 years or so, of ‘making the best out of a bad job’. Readers will disagree as to whether Brexit is a ‘bad job’ or a great opportunity. What matters now is that the racists and xenophobes amongst Leavers are marginalised and that the Britain that develops in the next few years – and particularly England – doesn’t wallow in self-pity and negativity, nor does it cling to any hope (in the next few years) that we’ll be back ‘in’.

My main focus these last few weeks has been on finishing my novel ‘The Works’ and getting it designed (thanks Rob) and sent off to the printers. It should be back in the next couple of weeks and there will be signings and a launch in March (see below). There’s a pre-publication offer of £10 (plus p and p) if you order before March 21st. I’m developing a new website for publications, still under development but a bit to see at: www.lancashireloominary.co.uk. The next job will be a celebration of Allen Clarke’s classic, Moorlands and Memories published a century ago.

Politics, debate, controversy

The Labour leadership has been slightly eclipsed by Brexit. The previous Salvo, which one reader said amounted to a ‘full throated endorsement of Lisa Nandy’, stirred up a bit of controversy, not least over her apparent lack of awareness of ‘green’ issues and her comments on Catalonia, during her interview with Andrew Neil. As someone who hasn’t got a vote in the contest, and can look at the claims of Starmer, Nandy and Long-Bailey with at least some degree of objectivity, I would still endorse Lisa Nandy. Some aspects of her environmental policy may need refinement, but whose wouldn’t? As for Catalonia, I watched the interview on TV and she didn’t support the brutal suppression of the Catalan nationalists; it was about challenging them politically, through the Socialist Party. That said, she doesn’t (like most English Labourites) grasp the difference between the civic nationalism of the Catalans, Scots, Welsh and Irish with the ugly right-wing nationalism that has grown here in England as well as Germany and the USA. Spot the difference? There’s a huge difference between the nationalism of small, formerly subjugated nations like Scotland, Ireland, Wales and Catalonia with that of the ‘subjugating’ imperial states including England, Germany and the USA. So one of the few things I was happy with in the election was the SNP’s successes, much of it at Labour’s expense. Whoever becomes the next leader of the Labour needs to understand what is happening in Scotland and Wales, as well as the English regions. Starmer’s talk of an ‘English Parliament’ is the last thing that the North of England needs, but who is championing the cause of democratic devolution for the Northern regions? Nobody has yet to put their heads above this particular parapet. Nandy is best placed to champion the interests of the North but perhaps seems shy of appearing ‘The Northern Tribune’ lest she loses support in other parts of Britain.

Reversing Beeching

There has been much sceptical comment about Grant Shapps’ announcement of a £500m pot to ‘put Beeching in Reverse’ (a phrase first coined by yours truly in a  report for the former Countryside Agency many years ago). Being always relentlessly positive, let me say that it’s a start. It won’t buy any new railway but it will be a big help in getting moe detailed studies done which, like it or not, are an essential part of the process. Good luck to Ashington, Blyth and Tyne and Fleetwood. But let’s hope that it helps the case for Skipton – Colne, Burscough Curves, Clitheroe – Hellifield and others.

Saturday night in Ashton-Under-Lyne

The trip started off badly, with our intended direct train to Ashton (which we planned to pick up at Westhoughton) being cancelled. So a drive into Bolton and no less than three trains to arrive in Ashton in just under an hour from Bolton, all of 17 miles or so.

But hey ho, after we’d escaped from what must be the dreariest station in the North-West (it desperately needs a ‘friends’ group), we set forth onto the streets of Ashton-under-Lyne. I was delighted to bump into Hannah Mitchell, on a poster board describing her as a ‘socialist and suffragette’ in words that seemed eerily familiar. Possibly from the Hannah Mitchell Foundation website, which I’d written, but I’m not complaining.

Two ardent feminists in Ashton

Nice to see this outstanding figure recognised and celebrated in what was her home town for several years (she also spent some time in Bolton where she became a socialist and suffragette).

The main purpose of our excursion was to hear Sentimentalists perform in the wonderful Station Hotel on Warrington Street. The ‘station’ was Ashton Park Parade, long gone. The pub is coal-fired with some excellent black and white photos of BR steam. The selection is a bit random but very good all the same. Sentimentalists were excellent as always, a much under-rated band from over the hills in Todmorden. Readers will be pleased to know that our return train journey was faultless.

Socialist aesthetics in a brewer’s mansion: The Arts & Crafts of Politics

I suspect that wealthy Manchester brewer Sir Edward Holt may be turning in his vat at the thought of what’s going on in his magnificent turn-of-the-century arts and crafts mansion at Blackwell, overlooking Lake Windermere. This exhibition traces an evolving line of political thought through the writings, designs and illustrations of key Arts and Crafts luminaries including John Ruskin, William Morris and Walter Crane. The Arts & Crafts of Politics explores the role of socialist politics in the Arts and Crafts movement in the late-nineteenth century. There are works on loan from The Whitworth, William Morris Gallery, The Ruskin and People’s History Museum, along with three new commissions by artists Sam Pickett, Julia Parks and Samra Mayanja, created in collaboration with communities across Cumbria. Also on display is CLIMArt: The Art of the Student Climate Strike containing work created by young people in Cumbrian schools.

For William Morris, socialism was not a mere distraction from his main business of the design and production of decorative art and craft: it was at the very heart of all his activities.  In the case of Ruskin, it was the force of his political, economic and cultural writings – particularly the second volume of his celebrated The Stones of Venice (1853) – that had such a powerful influence on William Morris. Morris’ ‘conversion’ to socialism took place in the early 1880s. He became involved with the Socialist League and the Democratic Federation but his influence stretched beyond them and inspired the early Independent Labour Party.  Many of Morris’ pamphlets, along with other socialist organisations’ publications, were illustrated by Walter Crane whose later career was dedicated to the promotion of socialist ideals through his brilliant designs. The exhibition runs until April 24th. We can also recommend the fruit scones in the cafe.

HS2: Announcement imminent; misplaced goodies for Bradford?

There has been much speculation and debate about the Government’s announcement on HS2. Dubious ‘leaks’ have suggested that Johnson will announce the scheme going ahead in its entirety. I’m not so sure. Today’s report in The Observer suggests that London – Birmingham will get the green, but a decision on the extensions to Leeds and Manchester will be deferred for further analysis. Good. If the analysis is worth its salt it won’t go ahead, with investment put in the conventional network. It should also be an opportunity to rethink ‘Northern Powerhouse Rail’. As things stand it’s little more than a line on a map, though much of the line will be underground so that the poor people of Bradford will get a high speed rail service. It’s absolutely crazy to contemplate an engineering project that would be on a par with the Channel Tunnel, when there’s an obvious alternative via Woodhead that would serve both Leeds (swinging northwards at Dunford Bridge) and Sheffield and the east Midlands. Bradford has not been well-served by rail but the sensible solution would be ‘Bradford CrossRail’ which would link the two historic but separate networks at Forster Square and Interchange, obviating the need for reversals, particularly at Interchange, which eat up capacity as well as time. So Calder Valley trains from Manchester via Halifax would run through Bradford, out to Shipley and into Leeds. Some Leeds – Skipton and Morecambe services could run via New Pudsey, Bradford, Shipley and on to Skipton.

The Northern franchise

There was a sense of inevitability about Grant Shapps announcement that the Northern franchise will be terminated and the Government’s ‘Operator Last resort’ (OLR) will take over, from March 1st. Much has been said about the rights and wrongs of what Northern could or should have done to resolve the huge problems that the business has faced. There’s little doubt that many of the problems were down to external causes, not least the acute delays to major infrastructure projects, as well as being saddled with proposals for driver-controlled operation of many of its services, which made a clash with RMT inevitable.

Despite the franchise changes, projects are going ahead: the new waiting room at Platforms 4/5 Bolton are a big improvement. Just needs some nice pcitures!

It would need time and the great benefits of hindsight to come to a rounded view of the whole story. For now, enough to know that ‘Northern Trains Ltd’ will take over on March 1st and OLR is tasked with producing a 100-day plan to address some of the issues. High on the list will be resolving some of the operational problems on the Castlefield Corridor. Basically, fewer trains.  What Northern needs isn’t more trains, but lengthening of existing services, with associated platform lengthening where necessary. It is assumed by the media and political commentators that ‘Northern Trains’ will stay in the public sector indefinitely. This is unlikely to be the case, but the big question is ‘what happens next?’ The Williams Review is key to this and we are likely to see a White Paper issued shortly. Hopefully it will offer an opportunity to look at more creative options, including mutual and co-operative models. Some re-modelling of the franchise map is also necessary. So an interesting few weeks ahead.

The Enterprising Railway

If you’re interested in exploring how a modern, entrepreneurial railway for the North might work, come along to the Rail Reform Group’s first open meeting, on Thursday March 19th. It’s at the Waldorf pub near Piccadilly station. Speakers will include Chris Kimberley, Nicola Forsdyke and Laurence Hilland. Each will explore different aspects of how railways can become more entrepreneurial and customer-focused. Admission is free and doors open at 18.00.

My new pet

I’ve always been a committed cyclist, at least until recently. Those hills! So I’ve got out of the habit. The obvious solution was ‘get an electric bike’. After months of shilly-shallying I have, and I’m very pleased with it. It’s a Raleigh ‘Motus Tour’ purchased from The Green Machine in Horwich, so impeccable credentials. The shop even displays a picture of an L&Y Radial Tank. Having already ‘test ridden’ the bike I was ready for the 4 mile ride, up and over Chorley Old Road, back to home depot. I wasn’t disappointed and ‘Motus’ waltzed up the climb with minimum effort. Watch this space for further reports. Can’t wait to attack the climb up Smithills Dean Road, which normally instilled fear in my heart.

Bolton Community Update

The AGM of Bolton Station Community Partnership took place last week, with nearly 30 people attending. The guest speaker was Darren Knight, chief executive of Bolton Community and Voluntary Services (BCVS), speaking on ‘The State of Bolton’s Voluntary and Community Sector’. BCVS supports the work of around 1600 community organisations across the borough, doing vital work with their local communities. An amazing 113,500 hours of voluntary work takes place in Bolton each week. Julie Levy was re-elected as chair of the station partnership.

Julie at the first day of the exhibition

She said it had been a ‘phenomenal year’ with a range of successful events at the station, growing use of the Community Room on Platform 5, and on-going work to bring the upstairs space on platforms 4 and 5 back into use as a community arts and heritage hub. “The Platform Gallery opened in July and we’ve already had several exhibitions, including the unique exhibition of ‘Railway Workers’ Art’ which we hope to repeat,” she said. “The Food and Drink Fringe Festival in August was another Bolton ‘first’,” Julie added. Funding for the gallery has come from Northern, TransPennine Express, Transport for Greater Manchester and Network Rail. The programme of guided walks with Bolton City of Sanctuary has continued with more easy walks planned in 2020. In addition, the community rail partnership for Bolton and South Lancashire – of which the station group is a founding member – has plans for a series of trails radiating out from Bolton station linking with local stations to Wigan, Preston, Manchester and Blackburn.

Earlier the same day, Bolton and South Lancs CRP met, with plenty to discuss. Funding for the CRP’s paid officer is now all in place, with commitments from Northern, CrossCountry, Avanti West Coast and Bolton at Home. We will be advertising the full-time job on or just after March 1sty using our new website www.communityrailbolton.org.uk. The website will be up and running very soon but expressions of interest can be emailed to boltonstncdp@gmail.com. TransPennine Express has also been a very generous funder for the Gallery and Community Room.

Negotiations between the University of Bolton, Northern and Network Rail for a tripartite lease on the ‘community’ space is moving ahead positively and work on the roof is steaming ahead. We are hoping for a positive result on our application for a lift to make the upstairs area fully accessible. During May the Community Room will host some of the ‘Worktown 2020’, events organised by the University Arts Faculty.

Walking around Chequerbent

The former mining area stretching south from the A6 at Chequerbent is rich in history, including one of the most tragic episodes in British coalmining. On December 20th 1910 the Pretoria Pit blew up, taking the lives of 344 men and boys. The disaster is commemorated at the site of the explosion as well as a large memorial in Westhoughton church yard.

The A6 at Chequerbent, showing where the original Bolton and Leigh Railway crossed the road. The level crossing house is on the left (with more recent extension) and some later LNWR workers’ houses nearer the camera

The area is also of great railway interest. The very early Bolton and Leigh Railway (1828) climbed out of the south Lancashire plain from Atherton to Chequerbent on a ferocious gradient, made worse by mining subsidence. In part, the line climbed at 1 in 18. The gradients were eased slightly by construction of a new line that avoided crossing the A6 on the level (the crossing cottage is still there) and instead burrowing underneath the road with a new station at Chequerbent. Much of the route is walkable, though extremely muddy. Parts of the route have been ‘landscaped’ by removal of the old slag heaps which offered a good vantage point for photographers in steam days. It’s possible to do a circuit, heading down to a point north of the present Hag Fold station on the Atherton Line, but turning left along the track of an old colliery line that served Pretoria. Another left turn takes you back up to Chequerbent through very pleasant countryside which formed part of the Hulton Estate. Hulton was, of course, the magistrate who gave orders for the murderous attack on a peaceful demonstration in Manchester’s St Peter’s Fields on August 16th 1819. The area is still mired in controversy over proposals to create a golf course, hotel and other ‘leisure facilities’ in the extensive grounds.

What I’m reading

A big ‘thank you’ to the Swiss Railway Society for sending a copy of their new publication by Brian Stone. ‘The Birsigthalbahn’ is more than a conventional history and operational review of a small Swiss rural railway. It charts the history from its unlikely start as a hybrid tramway/railway serving a quiet rural area southwest of Basel to its modern incarnation as a part of the essential transport network that serves Switzerland’s second city. It’s more than a simple review of the line – it is also a social history of the area the line served, and the way the railway transformed it into its modern form as an integral part of the Greater Basel area. A good read and a welcome change from the usual genre of ‘Branch Line Book’. Price £10 from SRA: https://swissrailsoc.org.uk/product/the-birsigthalbahn/

Alex Niven’s New Model Island is a fascinating little book on England and potential for ‘regionalism’ . Sub-titled ‘how to build a radical culture beyond the idea of England’ is published by Repeater and costs £9.99. It’s a fascinating mix of autobiography and political analysis and almost risks missing the point slightly. It’s an enjoyable read and (I would say this) best read alongside Socialism with a Northern Accent, which needs updating. His article in New Statesman (February 7th) is a good summary of his core argument, though his suggestion of a ‘campaign for regional government’ has to come from the regions themselves.

My friend and travelling companion Martin Bairstow is the author of a new book on railways around Lancaster. Midland Railway Outpost: Lancaster – Morecambe – Heysham is published by Willowherb and costs £21.95. It focuses on the fascinating network of railways which fed the railway port of Heysham (now served by a near-residual daily Northern service from Leeds). The Midland was nothing if not entrepreneurial (see above). The built and developed the port and, from 1908 ran an electric suburban service between Heysham, Morecambe and Lancaster. At first sight it looks more of a ‘picture book’ but this is deceptive, there’s plenty of informative text written in Mr Bairstow’s inimitable Yorkshire style.

I’m continuing to dip into John Nelson’s readable and thought-provoking Losing Track: an insider’s story of Britain’s Railway Transformation from British Rail to the Present Day. It’s part memoir and part analysis/comment of what has happened on Britain’s railways since privatisation. Whatever the future holds for our railways, the input of John Nelson will be essential.

As Ireland goes to the polls, Diarmaid Ferriter’s The Border: The Legacy of a Century of Anglo-Irish Politics is essential reading. Although votes are still being counted and aggregated, it’s cl;ear that there has been a major shift in public opinion in the Republic, perhaps matching more subtle ‘under the wire’ changes in the North. Let’s see. I’ve always hoped I’d see a re-united Ireland before I pop my clogs. Who knows? Published by Profile Books, £8.99

Finally, and most unusually for this emphatically non-sporty publication, can I recommend Bolton Deane and Derby Cricket Club’s 50th anniversary ‘celebratory book’. It is sponsored by the University of Bolton and caries copious advertisements from local shops in the Deane and Derby area. This sporting history is a fascinating aspect of the Asian communities of Bolton. Copies are available at the Community Room, Bolton Station, alongside Bolton Asian Migration volume 2. Well done Ibrahim and friends for this fascinating publication.

‘The Works’ goes to press         

My first (hopefully not the last) novel is set around the Lancashire town of Horwich, in the former railway engineering factory where I worked for a short time. Much of the action takes place in the 1970s and 80s but the story is taken through to 2025. It’s about life in a factory facing up to closure – the tensions and fears of being made redundant, as well as everyday life in a working class community.

The narrator is a trade union activist – with a secret. It’s partly a love story about his relationship with an office worker, Midge, who becomes involved in local politics and nearly becomes an MP. In ‘real life’ the Works closed in 1983 and is now being demolished. In the novel, the factory is saved by a workers’ occupation and buy-out, with some dramatic scenes where riot police try to break the occupation. The novel links the fictitious outcome at Horwich with the actual occupation and buy-out at Upper Clyde Shipbuilders, Glasgow. The novel is illustrated with photographs of the Works in the early 1980s which I took as part of a commission from Lancashire Association of Trades Councils, during the campaign to save the Works.

The story has a lot to say about local life and politics in the 1970s and 80s and Midge’s role as a community activist and councillor. Part of the story is about Horwich starting to build steam locomotives once again – for the heritage railway market – as well as making modern rolling stock. Lovers of L&Y ‘Highflyers’ please note.

There’s lots of surprises so I won’t spoil it for you. It contains strong language – and some Lancashire dialect! There will be a number of book launches around Horwich and Bolton in late March. If you want to secure an advance, signed, copy at the special price of £10, fill in the form below. If your community group would like a talk on the novel please contact me at the address below or email paul.salveson@myphone.coop. All orders must be paid in advance and received before March 21st.

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THE WORKS       SPECIAL PRE-PUBLICATION OFFER : ORDER FORM

Name……………………………………………………………………………………..

Address…………………………………………………………………………………………………

Post code……………………………………………Phone……………………………………………….

Email………………………………………………….(for notice of book signings and updates)

Please send….copy/ies of The Works to the above address. At the special price of £10 plus £2.50 post and packing. The novel will be available from March 26th in bookshops and other outlets price £12.99. If you live within 5 miles of Horwich I can deliver without the extra £2.50 charge.

I enclose a cheque for £…….. made to ‘Paul Salveson’. Please add £2.50 for postage (regardless of number of copies ordered) unless you’re local! The book will be posted to you before March 26th. Would you like it signing/dedicating? If to someone else, give details:

Post to: Paul Salveson, 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU or email this form to paul.salveson@myphone.coop and use bank transfer to A/C of Paul Salveson, National Westminster Bank  Code 53-61-07 account 23448954 with your surname for reference

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Crank Quiz: Horwich Loco Works

Last month’s quiz featured the preserved ‘Taff Vale’ tank loco, on the Worth Valley Railway. Quite a few readers offered the correct answer, alluding to the ‘Taff Vale Judgement’ of 1901 which threatened the right to strike by asserting that employers could sue unions for losses incurred by strike action. The judgement was eventually overturned in Parliament, but hastened the formation of the modern Labour Party, with trade union backing. This time, given lots of interest in Horwich Loco Works, the crank quiz is a) name all the distinguished railway engineers and managers who passed through the factory and b) list all of the named locomotives that operated on Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway metals which were built at Horwich.

it’s a picture quiz, and very topical. Thanks to Paul Abell for suggesting it. What has this locomotive got to do with the history of the Labour Party?

 

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Special Traffic Notices: Coming Events

Saturday March 14th: Lancashire Authors Association AGM, St Mary’s Church, Chorley

Friday March 20th from 18.00: Launch of The Works Wayoh Brewery,  nr. Blackrod Station

Saturday March 21st:  Cumbrian Railways Assocation, Penrith.

Friday March 27th  Talk on Horwich Works and the novel, Bolton Socialist Club, 16 Wood Street, Bolton 20.00

Tuesday April 14th  Horwich Heritage: Talk on ‘Railways and Literature in Lancashire’

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The Salvo Publications List

The Settle-Carlisle Railway (2019) published by Crowood and available in reputable, and possibly some disreputable, bookshops price £24. It’s a general history of the railway, bringing it up to date. It includes a chapter on the author’s time as a goods guard on the line, when he was based at Blackburn in the 1970s. The book includes a guide to the line, from Leeds to Carlisle. Some previously-unused sources helped to give the book a stronger ‘social’ dimension, including the columns of the LMS staff magazine in the 1920s. ISBN 978-1-78500-637-1

The following are all available from The Salvo Publishing HQ, here at 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU. Cheques should be made out to ‘Paul Salveson’ though you can send cash if you like but don’t expect any change. Bottles of whisky, old bound volumes of Railway Magazine, number-plates etc. by negotiation.

‘Lancashire’s Romantic Radical – the life and writings of Allen Clarke/Teddy Ashton‘ (2009). The story of Lancashire’s errant genius – cyclist, philosopher, unsuccessful politician, amazingly popular dialect writer. Normal Price £15  – can now offer it for £10 with free postage. There are a few hardback versions left – Normal price £25  – now at £15 with free postage. This book outlines the life and writings of one of Lancashire’s most prolific – and interesting – writers. Allen Clarke (1863-1935) was the son of mill workers and began work in the mill himself at the age of 11. He became a much-loved writer and an early pioneer of the socialist movement. He wrote in Lancashire dialect as ‘Teddy Ashton;’ and his sketches sold by the thousand. He was a keen cyclist and rambler; his books on the Lancashire countryside – ‘Windmill Land’ and ‘Moorlands and Memories’ are wonderful mixtures of history, landscape and philosophy.

‘With Walt Whitman in Bolton – Lancashire’s Links to Walt Whitman‘. This charts the remarkable story of Bolton’s long-lasting links to America’s great poet. Price £10.00 including post and packing. New bi-centennial edition published in May 2019. Bolton’s links with the great American poet Walt Whitman make up one of the most fascinating footnotes in literary history. From the 1880s a small group of Boltonians began a correspondence with Whitman and two (John Johnston and J W Wallace) visited the poet in America. Each year on Whitman’s birthday (May 31) the Bolton group threw a party to celebrate his memory, with poems, lectures and passing round a loving cup of spiced claret. Each wore a sprig of lilac in Whitman’s memory. The group were close to the founders of the ILP – Keir Hardie, Bruce and Katharine Bruce Glasier and Robert Blatchford. The links with Whitman lovers in the USA continue to this day.

‘Northern Rail Heritage’. A short introduction to the social history of the North’s railways. Price £6.00. The North ushered in the railway age  with the Stockton and Darlington in 1825 followed by the Liverpool and Manchester in 1830. But too often the story of the people who worked on the railways has been ignored. This booklet outlines the social history of railways in the North. It includes the growth of railways in the 19th century, railways in the two world wars, the general strike and the impact of Beeching.

Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Mornin? The Winter Hill Mass Trespass of 1896′. The story of Lancashire’s Winter Hill Trespass of 1896. 10,000 people marched over Winter Hill to reclaim a right of way. Price: £5.00 (not many left). The Kinder Scout Mass Trespass of 1932 was by no means the first attempt by working class people to reclaim the countryside. Probably the biggest-ever rights of way struggle took place on the moors above Bolton in 1896, with three successive weekends of huge demonstrations to reclaim a blocked path. Over 12,000 took part in the biggest march. The demonstrations were led by a coalition of socialists and radical liberals and Allen Clarke (see above!) wrote a great song about the events – ‘Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Mornin’?’ Only a couple left.

 

 

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Northern Weekly Salvo 274

The Northern Weekly Salvo

Incorporating  Slaithwaite Review of Books, Weekly Notices, Sectional Appendices, Tunnel Gazers’ Gazette and Northern Umbrella. Descendant of Teddy Ashton’s Northern Weekly and Th’Bowtun Loominary.

Published from 109 Harpers Lane Bolton BL1 6HU email: paul.salveson@myphone.coop

No. 274 January 15th 2020 dawn of a new decade special

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railwayness, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North. Sometimes weekly, usually not; but definitely Northern. Read by the highest (and lowest) officers of state, Whitmanites, weirdos, misfits, steam punks, yes women, no men, gay Swedenborgians, cat-spotters, discerning sybarites, bi-guys, non-aligned social democrats,  pie-eaters, tripe dressers, nail artists, self-managing VIMTO drinkers, truculent Northerners, grumpy Norwegians, absurd Marxists, members of the clergy and the toiling masses. All views expressed are my own and usually nobody else’s. Official journal of the Station Cat Improvement Network, Pacer Dining Club and Station Buffet Society. Full of creative ambiguity, possibly. Promoting moderate rebellion and sedition, within reason.

“we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” – Jo Cox, maiden speech in House of Commons, June 3rd 2015

General gossips

Where it did it go, eh? Y’know, Christmas and New Year. Very much back to business as usual now, but the editorial team hope you had an enjoyable and restful Christmas and New Year. Maybe it’s just my age and my social circle, but whenever I ask people if they had a good Christmas, they always, without exception, say “Oh yes, very nice. Quiet.”

City of Sanctuary walk sets off from Entwistle on December 28th

No wild parties, orgies, bank robberies or street riots then. But there are things ahead to excite interest, not least what’s happening in the Labour Party, the railway industry, and on a personal level my new publishing venture, Lancashire Loominary. I just wish it would get a bit colder and dryer. A bit of snow wouldn’t go amiss. Open to invitations for wild parties, etc. if it isn’t too noisy, somewhere comfy to sit and finishes by 10.30.

Politics, debate, controversy. Remember Abe Lincoln’s words

We enter the new decade with the Labour Party in the throes of a leadership battle. Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey, Jess Phillips, Lisa Nandy and Emily Thornberry have made it to the shortlist. Five women and one man. So Keir gets the job then? Perhaps that’s being cynical. I can understand the attraction of Starmer, but it is a very conservative sort of attraction. Speaks well, dresses impeccably, an articulate speaker. Not right wing but not too left either. And he doesn’t fail to remind us of his working class roots. You’d even think mum and dad called him ‘Keir’ (after Keir Hardie) with a view to him standing for the Labour leadership when he grew up. So, speaking as a former party member (several times) I have to say I’ve nothing against Starmer at all. He’s the safe option and may help Labour to regain lost ground. Emphasis on ‘maybe’.

He is a classic social democrat of the late 20th century mould. Much to be said for that. But remember the words of Abraham Lincoln, “The dogmas of the quiet past, are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country. The guardians of the quiet past are inadequate for the stormy future.” Powerful words, and Starmer comes over too much as a guardian of the quiet past.

Who could rise to the occasion? Rebecca Long-Bailey comes over as weak and rudderless other than being the ‘continuity Corbynite’ candidate. Her pitch for ‘progressive patriotism’ sounds like something one of her advisors has come up with. As Oscar Wilde said, it’s the last resort of scoundrels, progressive or otherwise. Jess Phillips? She has never said much so far, other than telling us what a wonderful person she is. Wednesday’s article in The Guardian suggests she is starting to think out of the box a bit. Emily Thornberry, another upper middle class Londoner fond of stressing her poverty-stricken roots, is unconvincing. Actually, I really liked what Clive Lewis was saying (extending democracy, inclusivity, fresh thinking) but he’s out of the race. Pity.

That leaves Lisa Nandy. She shares many of Clive Lewis’s ideas on democracy and even though she can’t claim to have been born in a hole in the ground, she has a common touch. She should have, representing Wigan. Back in 2016 she co-edited a very interesting collection of essays called The Alternative: towards a new progressive politics, with Caroline Lucas and Chris Bowers of the Lib Dems. There’s lots of really good stuff in the book(published by Biteback Publishing, £12.99) and unless he’s changed her mind a lot, what she and her fellow writers say, gives me a lot of confidence, even enthusiasm. Nandy is an ‘ideas’ person and has shown she can put what she says about reviving ‘left behind towns’ into practice. Her ‘Centre for Towns’ initiative – a think-tank for the sort of communities she represents – is all about practical solutions. There are some worries. She seems lukewarm on voting reform. She should capitalise on the groundswell within Labour for a package of ‘democratic’ measures which would transform the UK. PR is at the heart of it, but so too is democratic devolution in England, federalism, and reducing the voting age to 16. For all that, if I had a vote, I’d support Lisa without any shadow of a doubt. Should I rejoin?

Wet Sunday afternoon in Warrington

What do you do on a cold Sunday afternoon when it’s pissing it down? Go to Warrington, obviously! Inspired by a fascinating piece in Big Issue North about the paintings of Eric Tucker, we boldly set forth down St Helens Road to find Warrington Art Gallery and Museum. We bravely fought our way through queues of Sunday afternoon shoppers getting into soul-less retail parks, close to where Warrington Dallam loco shed (8B) once stood. We found the art gallery and were not disappointed. Eric Tucker has been lazily described as ‘the unknown Lowry’. Personally, I’d say he was better. He was botn in Warrington in 1932 and died in 2018. His paintings depict the life of working class people in his home town. It’s easy to say ‘ordinary working class people’, possibly the most annoying phrase used by lefty politicians. These people are not ‘ordinary’. They are special, and Tucker’s work really brings that out. And he was no ordinary bloke, either. He hung around Manchester’s illicit drinking dens and was a regular at the bookies. He was better known as a boxer in his youth, but did all sorts of jobs as a labourer and lorry driver’s mate. After he died, his family discovered over 400 paintings and thousands of drawings. A good selection are on display at the exhibition ‘Eric Tucker: The Unseen Artist’. Go and see it, you won’t be disappointed. It runs until February 23rd.

The immortal Tom Burke

In the same neck of the words, another great, extra-ordinary working class figure who had a chequered life, was Tom Burke – ‘The Lancashire Caruso’. Coming back through leigh we passed ‘The Thomas Burke’ Wetherspoon’s. We should have called in, ‘Spoons often do a good job in celebrating local talent; I also like their steak pudding, chips and mushy peas. So a trip is in the offing. What reminded me of Tom Burke was the very sad death of Guy Harkin, former Bolton councillor, Thornleigh boy  a couple of years before me) and of impeccable Lancashire Irish working class background. Like Tom. For many years Guy was vice-chair of Greater Manchester Passenger Transport Authority, supporting Joe Clarke as chair. Joe was of the same ilk, from an earlier generation. Like Tom Burke he’d worked as a miner in the pits around Atherton. I have fond memories of getting drunk in the Catholic Club on Derby Street, with Joe and Guy, waiting for the arrival of ‘Mr X’. Now ‘the famous Mr X’ was Joseph Locke, the great Irish tenor, who did a runner after the tax people realised he owed them rather a lot of money. He never showed up, neither to the tax men nor the throng in the Catholic Club. By 3 a.m. who cared. We made our own entertainment with a fine selection of Irish ballads. There’s a great film about him called ‘Hear My Song’. Joseph Locke had a very similar repertoire to Tom Burke. Whether they ever met, I don’t know. But for a while Tom was one of the most celebrated tenors in the world. He performed alongside Nellie Melba, with whom he had a fraught relationship. The great Enrico Caruso admired his singing and told him “One day you shall wear my mantle.”

He was a passionate Lancastrian and developed ambitious plans for a Lancashire opera company. It wasn’t to be.  His fall from fame was as rapid as his ascendance and he ended up singing around pubs in Leigh and Atherton for a few bob. There is a CD of him singing some of his most moving songs – Tom Burke: Centennial Edition (Pavilion Records ). My favourites are the Irish ballads, Killarney, Kathleen Mavourneen and The Minstrel Boy. But his songs from Rigoletto, Tosca and Turandot are beautiful too. I will report back on my visit to ‘The Thomas Burke’ in the next issue. If you want to know more of his life, I can recommend John Vose’s biography  The Lancashire Caruso – the Life of Tom Burke(1982).

Hannah Mitchell Foundation: the old band re-forms

Say what you like about the Hannah Mitchell Foundation, we always meet in good pubs. The HMF is the North’s very own think-tank dedicated to promoting elected regional government, named after socialist and suffragist, Hannah Mitchell. After last gathering in the Sowerby Bridge Station Refreshment Rooms, this time it was the turn of The Grove, in Leeds.  It was the first steering group meeting we’ve had for a while, but was well attended with a lively discussion. The main point of agreement was that not only should we continue in existence, but up our game a lot. We’re holding a conference (and AGM) on Saturday March 28th in Huddersfield (Brian Jackson Centre, handy for the station) and looking to revive the website. We discussed a possible name change, which will be debated at the AGM. More details soon.

Last days of The Erecting Shop

About 200 people gathered in the former Works’ Offices for a final farewell to what remains of Horwich Loco Works. Donning hard hats and hi-vis vests we were shown round the former Erecting Shop, which is due for demolition over the next few weeks. A ‘heritage core’ of the Works will remain.

Last days of the Erecting Shop before demolition starts

We didn’t get as far as the old Spring Smithy, the scene of my first job. Just as well, the thought of it still brings me out in a cold sweat. But some great people worked there and it was all part of my railway apprenticeship (which continues). I’ve a feature appearing in Steam World soon about my time at Horwich, with background on the history of the Works. It also features in my forthcoming novel The Works (see below).

Afoot across the Moorlands

January is a good time to get out onto th’moors. Shake away the cobwebs and all that. I’ve done three good walks since Christmas, mostly around Belmont and Holcombe. All were great, going well off the beaten track and discovering industrial remains and ruined farmhouses. The most interesting, and also the most challenging, was from Belmont via Lower Pasture Farm to Moorside and Owlshaw Clough. The OS map shows ‘track of former tramway’ which was bound to be a great attraction. The tramway went up to some mine workings which must have ceased operation well before the First World War.

Along Moorbottom Road

The shafts are clearly visible, and fenced off. This area is far removed from the neatly manicured areas around Rivington. It’s rough going, with some paths marked as public footpaths impossible to trace. Some parts of the route we took were completely water-logged and we had to turn back. But worth it all in the end. An easier route goes through Roddlesworth Woods past the remains of Hollinshead Hall, though it’s a nuisance having to do part of the walk along what is now quite a busy road. Another fine walk is from Holcome Village up Moorbottom Road, beneath Holcombe Hill. You can loop back through Reddisher Woods, which are lovely. From the old road you get fine views across South Lancashire, to Manchester, Rochdale and Oldham.

Cultural matters; curry

Lovely to see the Portico Library getting such prominent coverage in last week’s Observer. The work of several Northern writers were featured in the magazine – what they all had in common was being shortlisted for the Portico Prize (‘The North’s Booker’). Winners will announced at the awards evening in Manchester on January 23rd. Membership of the subscription library was one of my best investments of 2019. Must remember to pay up for 2020 when I’m in next week. Non-members are welcome and are able to take advantage of the lunches available from the kitchen. Entrance to the library is at the junction of Mosley Street and Charlotte Street.

We had a rare outing to Blackburn on Thursday to hear the BBC Philarmonic Orchestra perform a great programme of Dvorak, Tchaikovsky and Humperdinck. The King George’s Hall is a wonderful venue and was well filled. The Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto was phenomenal, with some really impassioned playing by Aleksey Semenenko, conducted by Holly Mathieson. The Dvořak 8th Symphony was also well done though it’s not my top Dvořak favourite – I like his smaller pieces best. But I’m not complaining, honest. And he was of course an avoid steam enthusiast, a propos of nothing at all. Our next trip to Blackburn will be to see Aida on February 21st, one of my all-time Verdi favourites. It’s being performed by the Russian State Opera. Another bonus of going to Blackburn is the option of calling in at Anaz in Darwen on the way home. One of Lancashire’s best Indians I’d say with very friendly and welcoming staff.

Along The Cut to The Bank of England

Canal walks are easy and often full of interest. This one was no exception. We started from Droylsden, visiting the Fairfield Moravian Settlement, a fascinating place, very much unchanged for decades (which was the last time I visited). The Moravians also have a settlement in Pudsey but this seemed slightly larger. The Moravians sound a bit like the Quakers and Unitarians – not frightened of ‘business’ but having ethics and a sense of social responsibility. From there you can get on the Ashton Canal and head down into Manchester, via Clayton. It’s a classic post-industrial landscape, not without interest but hardly ‘pretty’. The Strawberry Duck pub looked worth a call but fading light prevented us on this occasion. As you get towards Ancoats you begin to see signs of regeneration – mills coming back to life as apartments and workspace. We came off close to the old ‘Bank of England’ pub, currently derelict and up for sale. It used to be a rough old boozer but you can imagine it rising from the ashes as an up-market hipster bar. And why not. From there we were able to hop on a tram and get back to Droylsden in comfort and speed.

Bolton nudges forward: we’re hiring

Phil has been busy panting the floor of the Platform Gallery in readiness for Spring exhibitions. Later in the year we’re hoping to repeat the popular ‘Railway Workers’ Art’ show. Our work with City of Sanctuary is moving forward after a very enjoyable walk round Entwistle Reservoir over the Christmas holidays, which attracted about 20 people including a couple of young Nigerian lads who’d never been on a train. We’re looking at ways of getting children involved, through a ‘Train Kids’ Club’, with appropriate supervision. Negotiations between the University of Bolton, Northern and Network Rail for a tripartite lease on the ‘community’ space seem to be moving ahead positively and work on the roof is steaming ahead. During May the Community Room will host some of the ‘Worktown 2020’, events organised by the University Arts Faculty.

Funding for the CRP’s paid officer is now all in place, with commitments from Northern, CrossCountry, Avanti West Coast and Bolton at Home. We will be advertising the full-time job shortly using our new website www.communityrailbolton.org.uk. The website will be up and running very soon but expressions of interest can be emailed to boltonstncdp@gmail.com. TransPennine Express has also been a very generous funder for the Gallery and Community Room.

All change for Northern? and insults fly over HS2

At the time of writing there’s much uncertainty about the future for Northern. The Secretary of State, Grant Shapps, has made announcements about announcements but it still isn’t clear what will happen. A difficult time for staff at all levels who’ve had to grapple with problems many of which were not of their making. Let’s see. What Northern needs is stability and long termism, which must involved continued investment – not least in infrastructure. The Deansgate Corridor is the key to sorting out reliability issues and there is no cheap solution. Ask any time-served rail professional and the answer is always the same: it has to be four-tracked from Deansgate to Piccadilly. We still don’t know what the Government has decided about HS2, which I regard as an un-needed vanity which will do the North few favours. Trans-Pennine electrification and gauge clearance, capacity improvements and more trains are what the North needs. That’s pretty much what Lord Tony Berkeley says in his ‘Dissenting Report’ on HS2. Good for him. Richard Leese’s snide comments about a ’peer who spends his time travelling from London to Cornwall’ are typical of the nastiness and ignorance of too many Labour politicians who claim to speak ‘for the North’. Richard, you were elected to represent your ward in Manchester, you don’t ‘represent’ anything more. And you don’t know much about railways (which Berkeley does).

New trains abound

It’s great fun travelling around the North-West at the moment, you can’t move for new trains. Northern’s diesel class 195s and electric 331s are common sights around the network and both are comfortable and speedy.

What we used to have..a Birmingham RC&W sets arrives in Bolton

I remain critical about the poor window visibility, something that train designers seem to care nothing about. Note: passengers do.  TransPennine’s various flashy new trains are even better and I particularly like the Hitachi 802s, which look stunning and are a very good ride. The push-me-pull-you Nova 3s with class 68 diesel traction are fun too. I have to reluctantly admit getting a real kick from hearing one of those on full power accelerating up Platting Bank out of Victoria.

What I’m reading

I’ve got several things on the go. John Nelson’s Losing Track (an insider’s story of Britain’s Railway Transformation from British Rail to the Present Day) makes for fascinating reading, both as autobiography and perhaps even more as a high-ranking insider’s story of the transition from state ownership to privatisation. It’s published by New Generation. Irish politics has a tendency to come back to haunt us. Although it’s very good news that the Stormont Parliament is coming back to life, the thorny question of ‘the Border’ won’t go away. Diarmaid Ferriter’s The Border is a very good history of how the Irish border came to be created – or imposed – and the different interests at work in either maintaining or removing it. Published by Profile Books. English regionalism is an issue on which few books have been written (a plug here for Socialism with a Northern Accent..) so Alex Niven’s New Model Island is a welcome addition. A very quirky book, and no harm in that. He argues for ‘egalitarian regionalism’ within England, in response to the near-certain breaking-away of Scotland and the creation of a united Ireland. Published by Repeater Books.Just through the letterbox this morning is Peter Macfadyen’s Flatpack Democracy 2.0 – power tools for reclaiming local politics. It goes very well with New Model Island and The Border, in an odd sort of way. It’s about looking for different solutions to politics in the UK. I’d advise all of the contenders for the Labour leadership to study it carefully,i s this is the way local politics is slowly, but inexorably. Moving – whether you’re in Farnworth, Horwich or Frome. It’s published by Eco-logic Books.

Publications here and in the offing: Back to ‘The Works’

I’ve alluded to my forthcoming novel in previous issues. The ‘squalid tale’ as one reader called it, is about life in Horwich Loco Works, the campaign to save it, and what might have happened if the workers had won. It was originally going to be called ‘The Works’ but I changed it to ‘Song for Horwich’. I’ve now changed it back to ‘The Works’. That’s the nice thing about publishing yourself, you can do what you want and don’t have to convince anyone else. The ‘Song for Horwich’ was the title of a poem written (I think) by one of the works employees to support the campaign against closure. It’s show below. If anyone knows who wrote it, I’d love to hear from them. The book will be published in February price £12.99 (Salvo readers will however get a discount). The new imprint will be called ‘Lancashire Loominary’, as previously warned and will have its own website www.lancashireloominary.co.uk. ‘The Lankishire Loominary un’ Tum Fowt Telegraph’ was published by J T Staton in the 1850s and 60s and it seemed a good idea to resurrect the clever title, if not the eccentric spelling of Lancashire.

My new book on the Settle-Carlisle line was published last Autumn (see below in ‘Salvo Publications List’).  It’s published by Wiltshire-based Crowood and is now available, price £24.

My extended essay – with the rather cumbersome title of ‘Walt Whitman and the Religion of Socialism in the North of England, 1885-1914’ – is complete. It will be part of a collection of Walt Whitman-related essays being edited by Kim Edwards-Keates at the University of Bolton. Hopefully it will be out sometime in 2020, to be published by Manchester University Press.

Crank Quiz:

This time it’s a picture quiz, and very topical. Thanks to Paul Abell for suggesting it. What has this locomotive got to do with the history of the Labour Party?

 

Salvo 273: The Annual Christmas Shed Code Quiz: it’s BACK (and gone again)

Many, many years ago in a far-away land east of the Pennines, an obscure revolutionary sect called TR&IN was in the habit of organising a ‘Christmas Party’ which was attended by down and outs, weirdos and misfits. One of its more outrageous activities was ‘the shed code quiz’. Not by any popular demand, nor even unpopular demand, The Salvo brings you an up-dated, non-compliant (with anything) SHED CODE QUIZ 2019.

To qualify for entry, participants are forbidden from consulting Ian Allan ABCs, Locomotive Shed Directories, or ‘WikiShedCodia’. No cheating! Our spies are everywhere….Oh, go on then (1960/1 edition).  The Questions….and the Answers!

  1. Which shed or sheds was ‘Two Sheds Jackson’ shed foreman of? Retford GC and GN 36E
  2. Which shed had the largest number of sub-sheds? Stratford 30A
  3. Which sub-shed of which main depot was flat? Pelton Level 52H
  4. Which shed was good if you had a headache? Newport (Pill) 86B
  5. Which sub-shed of which depot was well-defended? Moat Lane Junction 89A
  6. Which shed was especially environment-friendly? Lancaster Green Ayre 24J
  7. Which sub-shed was the end of the line? Southampton Terminus 71A
  8. Which shed was a good place to pop into for a pint? Bricklayer’s Arms 73B
  9. Which shed was noted for its flora and fauna? Bath Green Park 82F
  10. Which shed was always at its peak? Middleton Top 17C
  11. Which sub-shed of which depot was popular with ornithologists? Leighton Buzzard 1E
  12. Which shed should be adopted by The Woodland Trust? Sutton Oak 8G
  13. Which sub-shed did railwaymen go to for their holidays? Cromer Beach 32A
  14. Which sub-shed was the setting for ‘While Shepherd’s Watched Their Flocks by Night’? Sheep Pasture 17C
  15. What sub-shed was above 24D? Upper Bank 87D
  16. Which sheds mainly celebrate the marriage of two Northern gardeners? Rose Grove 24B and Hull Botanic Gardens 50C
  17. Which shed was noted for its river? Heaton Mersey9F
  18. Which river separated two sheds and how were they connected? North and South Blyth (River Blyth) chain ferry 52F
  19. Which shed was a good place for a quick nap? Kipps 65E
  20. To which shed did you have to show exaggerated respect? Devon’s Road (Bow) 1D

Well done Geoff Kerr of Littleborough. There are possible variants, have to admit!

Special Traffic Notices

  • Until February 23rd ‘Edward Tucker – The Unseen Artist’  Warrington Art Gallery
  • January 28th: Cheshire Best-Kept Station Awards, Hartford
  • February 3rd Bolton Station Community Development partnership AGM. 18.00 Community Room Platform 5
  • February 6th: Meeting of Irish Railway Record Society in Manchester, with Dick Fearn
  • March 19th: ‘The Enterprising Railway’ – open meeting of Rail Reform Group, 18.00 The Waldorf, Manchester (to be confirmed)
  • Saturday March 28th: Will The North Rise Again? Hannah Mitchell Foundation AGM and Conference, Huddersfield

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The Salvo Publications List

The Settle-Carlisle Railway (2019) published by Crowood and available in reputable, and possibly some disreputable, bookshops price £24. It’s a general history of the railway, bringing it up to date. It includes a chapter on the author’s time as a goods guard on the line, when he was based at Blackburn in the 1970s. The book includes a guide to the line, from Leeds to Carlisle. Some previously-unused sources helped to give the book a stronger ‘social’ dimension, including the columns of the LMS staff magazine in the 1920s. ISBN 978-1-78500-637-1

The following are all available from The Salvo Publishing HQ, here at 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU. Cheques should be made out to ‘Paul Salveson’ though you can send cash if you like but don’t expect any change. Bottles of whisky, old bound volumes of Railway Magazine, number-plates etc. by negotiation.

‘Lancashire’s Romantic Radical – the life and writings of Allen Clarke/Teddy Ashton‘ (2009). The story of Lancashire’s errant genius – cyclist, philosopher, unsuccessful politician, amazingly popular dialect writer. Normal Price £15  – can now offer it for £10 with free postage. There are a few hardback versions left – Normal price £25  – now at £15 with free postage. This book outlines the life and writings of one of Lancashire’s most prolific – and interesting – writers. Allen Clarke (1863-1935) was the son of mill workers and began work in the mill himself at the age of 11. He became a much-loved writer and an early pioneer of the socialist movement. He wrote in Lancashire dialect as ‘Teddy Ashton;’ and his sketches sold by the thousand. He was a keen cyclist and rambler; his books on the Lancashire countryside – ‘Windmill Land’ and ‘Moorlands and Memories’ are wonderful mixtures of history, landscape and philosophy.

‘With Walt Whitman in Bolton – Lancashire’s Links to Walt Whitman‘. This charts the remarkable story of Bolton’s long-lasting links to America’s great poet. Price £10.00 including post and packing. New bi-centennial edition published in May 2019. Bolton’s links with the great American poet Walt Whitman make up one of the most fascinating footnotes in literary history. From the 1880s a small group of Boltonians began a correspondence with Whitman and two (John Johnston and J W Wallace) visited the poet in America. Each year on Whitman’s birthday (May 31) the Bolton group threw a party to celebrate his memory, with poems, lectures and passing round a loving cup of spiced claret. Each wore a sprig of lilac in Whitman’s memory. The group were close to the founders of the ILP – Keir Hardie, Bruce and Katharine Bruce Glasier and Robert Blatchford. The links with Whitman lovers in the USA continue to this day.

‘Northern Rail Heritage’. A short introduction to the social history of the North’s railways. Price £6.00. The North ushered in the railway age  with the Stockton and Darlington in 1825 followed by the Liverpool and Manchester in 1830. But too often the story of the people who worked on the railways has been ignored. This booklet outlines the social history of railways in the North. It includes the growth of railways in the 19th century, railways in the two world wars, the general strike and the impact of Beeching.

Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Mornin? The Winter Hill Mass Trespass of 1896′. The story of Lancashire’s Winter Hill Trespass of 1896. 10,000 people marched over Winter Hill to reclaim a right of way. Price: £5.00 (not many left). The Kinder Scout Mass Trespass of 1932 was by no means the first attempt by working class people to reclaim the countryside. Probably the biggest-ever rights of way struggle took place on the moors above Bolton in 1896, with three successive weekends of huge demonstrations to reclaim a blocked path. Over 12,000 took part in the biggest march. The demonstrations were led by a coalition of socialists and radical liberals and Allen Clarke (see above!) wrote a great song about the events – ‘Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Mornin’?’ Only a couple left.

You can probably get a better idea from going to my website: http://www.paulsalveson.org.uk/little-northern-books-2/

 

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Northern Weekly Salvo 273

The Northern Weekly Salvo

Incorporating  Slaithwaite Review of Books, Weekly Notices, Sectional Appendices, Tunnel Gazers’ Gazette and Northern Umbrella. Descendant of Teddy Ashton’s Northern Weekly and Th’Bowtun Loominary.

Published from 109 Harpers Lane Bolton BL1 6HU email: paul.salveson@myphone.coop

No. 273 December 21st  2019 Election  Christmas Special

Salveson’s half-nakedly political digest of railwayness, tripe and secessionist nonsense from Up North. Sometimes weekly, usually not; but definitely Northern. Read by the highest (and lowest) officers of state, Whitmanites, steam punks, yes women, no men, gay Swedenborgians, cat-spotters, discerning sybarites, bi-guys, non-aligned social democrats,  pie-eaters, tripe dressers, nail artists, self-managing VIMTO drinkers, truculent Northerners, grumpy Norwegians, absurd Marxists, members of the clergy and the toiling masses. All views expressed are my own and usually nobody else’s. Official journal of the Station Cat Improvement Network, Pacer Dining Club and Station Buffet Society. Full of creative ambiguity, possibly. Promoting moderate rebellion and sedition, within reason.

“we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us.” – Jo Cox, maiden speech in House of Commons, June 3rd 2015

General gossips

I did threaten to issue a shortened pre-Christmas Salvo, and I’ve decided to carry out the threat. Here it is, a mixed bag as usual with election comment and a few thoughts on ‘where next?’ for politics. Thanks to Simon’s efforts, may website is now ‘clean’ and free of nasties. You may find that some anti-virus programmes still tell you it’s dodgy, but it isn’t, and WordPress (mein host) seem OK with it. The previous Salvo (272) is also available on the website now, if you missed it. And yes, Christmas will soon be upon us! It has been good catching up with mates over the last couple of weeks and I’m looking forward to seeing at least some of the grandchildren (Stockport branch) and having a relaxing time wandering around post-industrial landscapes. There’s the City of Sanctuary/Bolton Station walk round Entwistle coming up on the 28th and maybe a trip on the East Lancs Railway. Have a wonderful Christmas and 2020.

Christmas Greetings from Bolton Shed (9K). Nice photo by Vern Sidlow used for station partnership/CRP card

That election : Grim Up North? (based on ‘Points and Crossings’ piece in forthcoming Chartist magazine www.chartist.org.uk)

For us lefties, there’s very little festive cheer in the outcome of the General Election. Labour did particularly badly in the North of England, and there was little evidence of the ‘progressive’ vote switching to the Greens, Lib Dems or civic regionalists like the Yorkshire Party. As someone who isn’t a member of the Labour Party (although I voted for them, despite wanting to support the Greens), there’s a need for a hard and perhaps uncomfortable assessment of the election.

The results can be put down to a number of factors, Brexit being almost certainly the most significant, closely followed by Corbyn’s unpopularity. The unedifying spectacle of leave-supporting Northern constituencies who have traditionally voted Labour showing marked swings to the Tories, is too obvious to ignore. Hindsight is a wonderful thing but if Labour had negotiated for better terms based on May’s deal we wouldn’t be where we are now. Yes, I was a reluctant supporter of a second referendum but sometimes you just have to recognise you were wrong. It was a mistake not to accept the original result (and yes, even if it was to some degree based on lies and misinformation).

Back to last week – in some places, it could be argued that the other progressive parties helped the Tories win. In my neighbouring constituency, Bolton North-East, the Tory had a majority of 337 votes. The Greens picked up a miserly 689 and the Lib Dems 1,847; almost certainly costing the highly respected former shop steward, David Crausby, his seat. The Brexit Party, whose sole existence was about undermining Labour, gained 1,880.

Should the Greens have stood down (as they did in neighbouring marginal Bolton West, in 2017)? They’re a legitimate political party with radical and imaginative policies. Labour has done them no favours and stood a candidate against Caroline Lucas in Brighton. The party has been averse to any semblance of pacts or alliances and it could be argued that they got what they deserved. But, to paraphrase Neil Kinnock when he said ‘Scargill and Thatcher deserved each other, but the country didn’t deserve either’ – the rest of us don’t  deserve to be saddled with an arrogant Tory Government that can now act with impunity for at least five years, and maybe longer. The very clear message in England , specifically, is that Labour remains the dominant force in progressive politics and that’s not likely to change very fast. But we need a different sort of Labour Party from what it has become if it is going to recover lost ground.

Labour will soon be in the throes of a leadership campaign which will sap energies but is obviously necessary. Politicians like Alan Johnson, many defeated MPs and indeed Tony Blair, are already calling for a return to ‘the centre ground’ to win back the Labour heartlands, or rebuild the so-called ‘red wall’ which has crumbled in the North of England.

I don’t think that’s the answer. Labour needs to be radical but much more inclusive and collaborative. Working with other progressive forces isn’t just about tactical advantage, it’s showing that you’re a grown-up political force that shies away from tribalism and sectarianism. Yet both characteristics have plagued Labour these last few years. I’m sick to death of hearing people talk about such-and-such being ‘a true Socialist’ whilst someone else isn’t, as though Socialism is some sort of theological belief and the slightest deviation from the canon risks consigning you to the burning fires of hell.

Alongside a cultural shift within Labour, the party needs to embrace voting reform. The tide has shifted away from traditional binary politics yet the voting system continues to prop up the crumbling edifice. Compare the European elections with the General Election, you’ll get a much more accurate view of people’s political aspirations. The Greens won seats in the North-West and Yorkshire and Humber – a pity they are not going to have much chance to use those positions. It’s reasonable to assume that a proportional voting system would result in a strong Green presence in Parliament. Small civic regionalists such as the Yorkshire Party might be able to make more headway. It could also mean that fringe right-wing parties win some seats – an argument often used by Labour to oppose PR. But that’s democracy. You don’t oppose the far right by excluding them from the political process.

Many on the pro-Corbyn left will argue that some of Labour’s policies were popular, e.g. rail nationalisation. Yet how radical were Labour’s proposals? Despite rhetoric about ‘new forms of ownership’ what seemed to be on the cards was a very traditional post-1945 model of state ownership. Corbyn’s populist call for a third off rail fares would have caused chaos on a rail system struggling with already-overcrowded trains. It isn’t that wanting fare reductions is wrong – but it needed thinking through in terms of more trains, staff and extra infrastructure. All of which would take years, not a few weeks.

Labour’s manifesto was silent on many areas of ‘democratic’ policy. Nothing on PR, nothing about bringing the voting age down and an absence of anything concerning regional devolution, such as making city-region mayors more accountable. Labour under Corbyn seems to accept that the current British political system is the best of all possible worlds. Many would disagree.

Back in 2012 I argued in Socialism with a Northern Accent that Labour needs to address issues around English regional identity and build a politics which is inclusive and radical. We don’t seem to be any nearer that, with some on the left still pursuing the case for an ‘English parliament’ that would further marginalise the North. Why not have devolution within Labour and build a semi-autonomous Northern Labour? Scotland and Wales have their own devolved party structures, it would make sense for the North as well (taking in Yorkshire, the North-East and North-West).

The coming year it would be good to see a flowering of radical ideas which the Left can mould into a progressive politics that chimes with the times. It means accepting Brexit and trying to make the best of what may well be a bad job. But let’s look for opportunities, not obstacles. It also means being much more collaborative, working constructively with a range of progressive forces including the burgeoning number of non-party movements, often at a very local level.

Salvo forecast

The Salvo forecast in issue 272 was broadly correct, apart from the Tories winning 🙂 I did suggest that we were in for a Tory win, though not on the scale that actually happened.  My comment on the Liberal Democratswas that ‘they’ve run a lacklustre campaign dragged down by their daft idea to revoke Article 50 in the rather unlikely event of them forming a government. That will haunt them in these last few days, despite the generally sound stuff they say in their manifesto.  So they’ll do less well than they might have done.’  Which was accurate. I added ‘So, maybe a narrow win for Johnson, perhaps without an overall majority – and it’s unlikely to imagine the DUP rushing in to prop him up. I can’t see the Brexit Party gaining any seats, their historic role has been to push the Tories to the right and help Johnson win. Watch them fade away, no loss to anyone.’ So less near the mark, but hey ho. People who are paid to forecast these things didn’t do any better. I did expect to see the SNP do well, which is what happened. Sturgeon shone during the election campaign and maybe it got a few people south of the border changing their jaundiced views about Scottish nationalism, mainly influenced by a hostile London media. The Scottish result, for me, was the only good news in the election. OK, getting Caroline Lucas re-elected and seeing the DUP’s vote slip, also deserved getting the Maltesers out.

OK, so what now?

Sometimes you just need time to think – and discuss. I’m looking forward to the meeting of the Hannah Mitchell Foundation, early in the New Year, when different views will be aired about the future of radical politics in the North. The Labour leadership campaign will bring out, hopefully, some fresh ideas and not divide into a Corbynite/Blairite dichotomy, which would be profoundly unhelpful. I’m not of the view that any positive change is on the back-burner for the next five years. There are always opportunities that can be grasped. There will be a lot of new Conservative MPs who might welcome some fresh thinking about how to address challenges in the North. At the same time, there will be an obvious need to challenge Johnson on a whole range of issues.

On rail, the Williams Review will published soon; let’s see what it has to say though I suspect it won’t be anything like as a radical in its conclusions as we’d be originally been led to believe. A single ‘guiding mind’ for the railways will be a good thing, as long as it doesn’t become a ‘controlling’ mind. As for ‘management contracts’ they can mean different things. Taking any semblance of commercial freedom away from train companies doesn’t sound like a particularly good idea. I wouldn’t want to work for any business that is told what to do, down to the tiniest detail, leaving no space for a bit of entrepreneurial flair.

Bolton Goings-On

The Station Christmas Market went well, despite a chilly day. After standing around for a couple of hours many of our stallholders were getting distinctly chilled. But it was a lovely event, organised by Bolton Station Community Development Partnership.

Julie and Vern with our newly-acquited blackboard (originally from Bolton Trinity St.)

A total of 18 community groups and businesses set out their stalls on Bolton Station’s Platform 4, offering a warm seasonal welcome to visitors arriving in the town. They included social enterprise Justicia, Maisha African crafts, Live from Worktown, the Woodland Trust, Bolton Rail Users’ Group, local publishers Preeta Press, Halliwell Local History Society, Bolton City of Sanctuary, local artists and craft workers and the Salvation Army. Food was provided by Pretzel and Spelt offering delicious pretzels and stollen cake (not, as the press release said, ‘stolen’), with Indian food by Mistry’s Bakery.

Members of Bolton Model Railway Club had created a special Christmas-themed layout which delighted both adults and children.  “It was a delightful event, with lots of interest from the public and great to see the different stallholders chatting to each other and networking,” said Julie Levy, chair of the station partnership.

The Justicia stall

Some special visitors included three elves who arrived – by train of course – from Manchester. They entertained passengers with elf-like activities and gave out toffees to fascinated children. The Christmas Market was supported by Northern, Diamond Buses, Transport for Greater Manchester and Network Rail.

The main activity over Christmas is the joint walk with Bolton City of Sanctuary, on Saturday December 28th. We’ll be getting the 11.01 train from Bolton to Entwistle for a relaxed walk round the reservoir, followed by lunch in the Strawbury Duck. Salvo readers are welcome to come along but if you want lunch we’ve got a full house (though the pub would probably accommodate a few more if you book directly with them).

We’re almost there with funding for a full-time Development Officer to support the work of Bolton and South Lancashire Community Rail Partnership. We’re hoping to advertise the job early in the New Year. If you’re interested, or know someone who is, please let Julie Levy or myself know by emailing boltonstncdp@gmail.com

Publications here and in the offing

I’ve alluded to my forthcoming novel in previous issues. The ‘squalid tale’ as one reader called it, is about life in Horwich Loco Works, the campaign to save it, and what might have happened if the workers had won. It was originally going to be called ‘The Works’ but I’ve changed it to ‘Song for Horwich’. This was the title of a poem written (I think) by one of the works employees to support the campaign against closure. It’s show below. If anyone knows who wrote it, I’d love to hear from them. The book will be published in February price £13.99 (Salvo readers will however get a discount). The new imprint will be called ‘Lancashire Loominary’, as previously warned and will have its own website www.lancashireloominary.co.uk. ‘The Lankishire Loominary un’ Tum Fowt Telegraph’ was published by J T Staton in the 1850s and 60s and it seemed a good idea to resurrect the clever title, if not the eccentric spelling of Lancashire.

My new book on the Settle-Carlisle line has just been published (see below in ‘Salvo Publications List’).  It’s published by Wiltshire-based Crowood and is now available, price £24.

I’m also working on an extended essay with the rather cumbersome title of ‘Walt Whitman and the Religion of Socialism in the North of England, 1885-1914’. It will be part of a collection of Walt Whitman-related essays being edited by Kim Edwards-Keats at the University of Bolton. Hopefully it will be out sometime in 2020, to be published by Manchester University Press.

Who Signed the Book?

The last couple of Christmases I’ve reproduced my short story ‘Who Signed The Book?’  (first published in ASLEF’s Locomotive Journal in 1985). It’s based on my time spent as a signalman at Astley Bridge Junction. For anyone who hasn’t read it before, or wishes to re-acquaint themselves with it, go to: http://www.paulsalveson.org.uk/2019/12/21/who-signed-the-book-a-christmas-railway-ghost-story/

Christmas Crank Quiz:

Readers were invited to suggest names of railway installations, locomotives etc. with a Christmas theme. Some excellent and truly crankish contributions, but once again ‘Christmas Tree Sidings’ on the Settle-Carlisle Line (near Baron Wood Tunnels) was left out. They are long gone but I remember several Blackburn drivers referring to them.

John Kitchen struggled a bit:  The new railway in Barbados is the St Nicholas Abbey Railway. All in all my lateral thinking is definitely letting me down  –  Greek mythology / Empires / military derived  /racehorse names seem to have dominated the naming policies of the main line railways except for the Southern who used Arthurian legends / public schools / west country locations. That leaves the GWR who did have Saints but neglected Nicholas. Other than that they seem to have been obsessed with piles of stones. Ok they did have some military stuff and the odd monarch and celestial references, but the Christmas Class regrettably never emerged. I wouldn’t be surprised if Virgin named something seasonal but I am not an expert on modern namings. Heaven forefend that something as frivolous as Christmas would be celebrated by the 19th century railway. So after all this all I can add is the Pines Express – all the best.

A rare intervention from the Sage of Crosland Moor: Christmas railway associations seem scarce – perhaps I’m not trying hard enough.  70026 features in the biblical tale and I suppose it’s not hard to imagine three ‘Kings’ in the yard at Old Oak Common.  And there must have been a Sheep Pasture involved, albeit not specifically referenced.  Otherwise, how about Hollybush, on the Dalmellington branch?

Martin Higginson has a Saintly contribution: Christmas railway nomenclature poses quite a problem. My first hope was dashed: No BR/ER LNER B1 called Reindeer, as I had though there was, but just 61040 Roedeer – not good enough. So to stations:  Noel Park & Wood Green, on one of London’s few closed branches lines (Seven Sisters – Palace Gates) seems the only one, but according to the trusty Handbook of Stations there were Nowell’s Colliery and Siding in Warwickshire. Then, at last, the Great Western obliged: Saint Class 4-6-0 2926 Saint Nicholas

A truly crankish contribution from Stuart Parkes: I am invited to 61600 for Christmas lunch with the former 46201, along with 46202, 60508/61996. The menu consists of 60022 with vegetables from 1029, washed down with flagons of cider from 1017. 1011 will provide the cheese course and the dessert will be made from 60526. After the meal we shall watch recordings of games between  61662 and 61664. Best wishes from 30794 aka Stuart Parkes

The Annual Christmas Shed Code Quiz: Yes, it’s BACK

Many, many years ago in a far-away land east of the Pennines, an obscure revolutionary sect called TR&IN was in the habit of organising a ‘Christmas Party’ which was attended by down and outs, anarchists, train-spotters and general ne’er do-wells. One of its more outrageous activities was ‘the shed code quiz’. Not by any popular demand, nor even unpopular demand, The Salvo brings you an up-dated, non-compliant (with anything) SHED CODE QUIZ 2019.

To qualify for entry, participants are forbidden from consulting Ian Allan ABCs, Locomotive Shed Directories, or ‘WikiShedCodia’. No cheating! Our spies are everywhere….Oh, go on then (1960/1 edition). Maybe one year I’ll make it into a crossword, but for now….just have a go.

The Questions….please give the correct shed code/s and if relevant name of shed

  1. Which shed or sheds was ‘Two Sheds Jackson’ shed foreman of?……..
  2. Which shed had the largest number of sub-sheds? Name them………..
  3. Which sub-shed of which main depot was flat?………….
  4. Which shed was good if you had a headache?………………………
  5. Which sub-shed of which depot was well-defended?……………………………
  6. Which shed was especially environment-friendly?……………………………….
  7. Which sub-shed was the end of the line?…………………………………………….
  8. Which shed was a good place to pop into for a pint?…………………………….
  9. Which shed was noted for its flora and fauna?……………………………………..
  10. Which shed was always at its peak?…………………………………………………….
  11. Which sub-shed of which depot was popular with ornithologists?…………..
  12. Which shed should be adopted by The Woodland Trust?……………………….
  13. Which sub-shed did railwaymen go to for their holidays?………………………
  14. Which sub-shed was the setting for ‘While Shepherd’s Watched Their Flocks by Night’?…..
  15. What sub-shed was above 24D?………….
  16. Which sheds mainly celebrate the marriage of two Northern gardening couples?……………
  17. Which shed was noted for its river?……………………………………
  18. Which river separated two sheds and how were they connected?…………….
  19. Which shed was a good place for a quick nap?……………………..
  20. To which shed did you have to show exaggerated respect?………………..

Good luck! You can send your entries to The Salvo for adjudication by our panel of experts. You can also share it, confer on it, or just rip it up and throw it away.

Special Traffic Notices

  • December 28th: City of Sanctuary Walk; 11.00 train from Bolton to Entwistle. The walk is about 2 miles.
  • January 28th: Cheshire Best-Kept Station Awards, Hartford
  • February 3rd Bolton Station Community Development partnership AGM. 18.00 Community Room Platform 5
  • February 6th: Meeting of Irish Railway Record Society in Manchester, with Dick Fearn
  • March 19th: ‘The Enterprising Railway’ – open meeting of Rail Reform Group, 18.00 The Waldorf, Manchester (to be confirmed)

……………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

The Salvo Publications List

The Settle-Carlisle Railway (2019) published by Crowood and available in reputable, and possibly some disreputable, bookshops price £24. It’s a general history of the railway, bringing it up to date. It includes a chapter on the author’s time as a goods guard on the line, when he was based at Blackburn in the 1970s. The book includes a guide to the line, from Leeds to Carlisle. Some previously-unused sources helped to give the book a stronger ‘social’ dimension, including the columns of the LMS staff magazine in the 1920s. ISBN 978-1-78500-637-1

The following are all available from The Salvo Publishing HQ, here at 109 Harpers Lane, Bolton BL1 6HU. Cheques should be made out to ‘Paul Salveson’ though you can send cash if you like but don’t expect any change. Bottles of whisky, old bound volumes of Railway Magazine, number-plates etc. by negotiation.

‘Lancashire’s Romantic Radical – the life and writings of Allen Clarke/Teddy Ashton‘ (2009). The story of Lancashire’s errant genius – cyclist, philosopher, unsuccessful politician, amazingly popular dialect writer. Normal Price £15  – can now offer it for £10 with free postage. There are a few hardback versions left – Normal price £25  – now at £15 with free postage. This book outlines the life and writings of one of Lancashire’s most prolific – and interesting – writers. Allen Clarke (1863-1935) was the son of mill workers and began work in the mill himself at the age of 11. He became a much-loved writer and an early pioneer of the socialist movement. He wrote in Lancashire dialect as ‘Teddy Ashton;’ and his sketches sold by the thousand. He was a keen cyclist and rambler; his books on the Lancashire countryside – ‘Windmill Land’ and ‘Moorlands and Memories’ are wonderful mixtures of history, landscape and philosophy.

‘With Walt Whitman in Bolton – Lancashire’s Links to Walt Whitman‘. This charts the remarkable story of Bolton’s long-lasting links to America’s great poet. Price £10.00 including post and packing. New bi-centennial edition published in May 2019. Bolton’s links with the great American poet Walt Whitman make up one of the most fascinating footnotes in literary history. From the 1880s a small group of Boltonians began a correspondence with Whitman and two (John Johnston and J W Wallace) visited the poet in America. Each year on Whitman’s birthday (May 31) the Bolton group threw a party to celebrate his memory, with poems, lectures and passing round a loving cup of spiced claret. Each wore a sprig of lilac in Whitman’s memory. The group were close to the founders of the ILP – Keir Hardie, Bruce and Katharine Bruce Glasier and Robert Blatchford. The links with Whitman lovers in the USA continue to this day.

‘Northern Rail Heritage’. A short introduction to the social history of the North’s railways. Price £6.00. The North ushered in the railway age  with the Stockton and Darlington in 1825 followed by the Liverpool and Manchester in 1830. But too often the story of the people who worked on the railways has been ignored. This booklet outlines the social history of railways in the North. It includes the growth of railways in the 19th century, railways in the two world wars, the general strike and the impact of Beeching.

Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Mornin? The Winter Hill Mass Trespass of 1896′. The story of Lancashire’s Winter Hill Trespass of 1896. 10,000 people marched over Winter Hill to reclaim a right of way. Price: £5.00 (not many left). The Kinder Scout Mass Trespass of 1932 was by no means the first attempt by working class people to reclaim the countryside. Probably the biggest-ever rights of way struggle took place on the moors above Bolton in 1896, with three successive weekends of huge demonstrations to reclaim a blocked path. Over 12,000 took part in the biggest march. The demonstrations were led by a coalition of socialists and radical liberals and Allen Clarke (see above!) wrote a great song about the events – ‘Will Yo’ Come O’ Sunday Mornin’?’ Only a couple left.

You can probably get a better idea from going to my website: http://www.paulsalveson.org.uk/little-northern-books-2/

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Who Signed The Book? A Christmas Railway Ghost Story

Who Signed The Book?

A Christmas railway ghost story

Paul Salveson

This was originally published in ASLEF’s Locomotive Journal in December 1985. This is a slightly updated version. Two years of my railway career were at Astley Bridge Junction signalbox, in the 1970s.

I’ve spent the last 40 years as union branch secretary getting other people out of trouble. I’ve done more disciplinaries than you’ll have had hot dinners, and I have had some strange ones. But you want to know the strangest?  I’ll tell you. It happened over 30 years ago and there’s enough water flown under the bridge for me to talk about it. I’m long since retired so there’s not much anyone can do to me now.

I must have represented hundreds of my members at what they used to call ‘Form 1 hearings’. But this one found me in the hot seat. What led me to getting charged happened in 1983. Up to now the only people who knew anything about it are myself and Jack Bracewell, former Area Manager and he’s been retired even longer than me. He lives out Blackpool way. I promised I’d keep my mouth shut about the affair until Jack had finished and was getting his company pension. As a good union man, I’ve kept my word.

It was Christmas Eve 1983. I was working nights at Astley Bridge Junction; a small cabin just north of Bolton on the steeply-graded line to Blackburn. It’s long gone of course – it shut when the branch to Halliwell Goods closed in the late 80s. It was the draughtiest box I’ve ever worked, stuck on top of Tonge Viaduct with only the birds and the circuit telephone to keep you company, apart from the occasional platelayer’s visit, usually Derek begging a brew of tea.

We’d had plenty of rows about it on the LDC – the old ‘Local Departmental Committee’ where we battled things out with management – usually good naturedly. Astley Bridge  was one of the ancient Lancashire and Yorkshire (L&Y) boxes with facilities which could best be called ‘primitive’. Heating was by an old stove that Stephenson probably invented, gas lighting and an outside toilet that froze every winter. And then that bloody draft that blew up from below, through the lever frame. Management kept telling us it was ‘in the programme’ for modernisation, but nothing happened.

It had its compensations. You could look across Bolton and see the dozens of mill chimneys, mostly still working then, while turning north the moors stretched out before you. And it was cosy when you got the fire going, and no-one could say you were killed for work, with just a couple of trains each hour and the occasional goods on and off the branch. Years ago it had been on a through route to Scotland. Lancashire and Yorkshire expresses joined up with The Midland at Hellifield. Well before my time. Or so I thought.

At the time, we were working short-handed. My mate Joe Hepburn had retired three months previous and management were dragging their feet about filling the vacancy. So we were on regular twelve hours, George Ashcroft and myself. Good for the money, but not for your social life; nor, as I began to think, for your sanity.

Have you ever been to a Form 1 hearing? It’s probably different nowadays but back then it probably hadn’t changed since Victorian times. You sat there like a naughty schoolboy, usually accompanied by your union spokesman. If it was serious, the Area Manager would take the case and he’d read out the charge: “You are charged with the under-mentioned irregularity….etc.” A clerk would be sat in the background, taking notes of the ordeal and loving every minute of it, most times.

A good union man will use every argument in the book – and out of it – to get the poor bugger on the charge as good a deal as possible. I had a better success rate than many full-time union officers. I had just one rule: I never told a lie to get a member off the hook. If you pull that one, it might work the first time, but the boss would make it bloody hard for you the next. And that next time you might have had a genuine case.

So can you imagine how I felt, with 30 years’ service, including 20 as branch secretary, when I got that Form 1 addressed to me. But I’d been expecting it. And I thought I’d be the up the road.

The hearing was on a Friday morning in January 1984 at 09.00, in the Area Manager’s Office on Bolton station. Jack Bracewell, the AM, was an old hand whom I knew him from his days on the footplate. He was one of that dying breed of railway manager who’d started off at the bottom – as an engine cleaner at Plodder Lane shed – and worked his way up the ladder.

Ironically, I’d got him off the hook, years ago, by which time he’d got booked as a driver at Bolton. He was driving a loose-coupled coal train from Rose Grove to Salford Docks and I happened to be on duty at Astley Bridge Junction at the time, on relief. I got the’ train on line’ bell from Bromley Cross box but I had an engine off the branch waiting at my starter to go back to the shed, so I couldn’t give the coal train a road. He’d have to wait at my home signal, just up from the end of the viaduct.

I heard a long piercing wheel then a series of short ‘crows’ – the steam whistle code for a runaway. I saw the train coming down the bank, with one of the old ‘Austerity’ locos, passing the home signal at danger. She was away, no doubt about it. Not going that fast but fast enough to give that light engine a nasty surprise if she caught up with it. Just as the loco passed the box I got ‘line clear’ from Bolton West and I quickly offered the light engine. It was accepted and I was able to clear my starter to get the light engine out of the way. The coal train shuddered to a halt just a few wagon lengths beyond my box.

The driver – Jack Bracewell – was quickly out of his cab and up the cabin steps. “Sorry mate – there was no holding her. Overloaded to start off with – we nearly stuck in Sough Tunnel – and that old wreck’s brake wouldn’t stop a push bike, ne’er mind 40 o’coal. Anyroad, put it in t’book and I’ll answer for passing that home board”.

Now some signalmen I knew would book a driver for not having his hair combed right, but I wasn’t going to get anyone into trouble if I could help it – even if he was an ASLEF man and I was NUR! “Didn’t you see?” I asked, “I pulled off for you to drop down to my starter just as you approached. Forget it.” We exchanged looks and Jack turned to leave. “Thanks mate – if you’re ever stuck, I’ll return the favour.”

I looked out of the cabin window and saw him climb back into the cab of his grimy ‘Austerity’, wheezing steam from everywhere but now looking calm and innocent after her wild descent from Walton’s Siding. I soon got ‘train out of section’ bell from Bolton West for the light engine and was able to pull off for Jack’s train. The wagons shuddered and screeched and he was back on his way to Salford Docks. The guard in the brake van looked a bit ashen-faced after his experience but I got a friendly and slightly relieved-looking wave from him.

That must have been….. what? 1959? Jack had come a long way since then, getting into management somewhere down south then promoted to Area Manager back in Bolton. Poacher turned gamekeeper we used to say. And the battles we had on the LDC! But at least you knew where you were with him. He was a railwayman and knew his job, and everyone else’s. That’s more than you can say for most of today’s management whizz-kids.

That day of the hearing I broke one of my golden rules. Never go into a disciplinary hearing without union representation. We’d fought hard for that right and many genuine cases were lost because someone thought they didn’t need any help. With me, it was more embarrassment than anything. I thought of asking Benny Jones the full-time officer, or some of my old mates on the NEC. But no, none of them would believe my story and I’d look a bloody fool. I went through that door on my tod, feeling very alone: one of the worst moments of my life.

Jack was at his desk, with the young woman clerk, Joyce Williams, sat at his side, pen in hand. She was one of the better ones, and I think she had a TSSA card.

“Good morning Mr Hartshorn. Please sit down.” Jack was looking more bloody nervous than me. And Christ! I was a nervous wreck. He read the charge: ”You are charged with the under-mentioned irregularity. That on Wednesday December 24th 1983 you made incorrect entries in The Train Register Book, contrary to Signalmen’s Instructions and Rule Book Section such-and-such….What have you got to say in your defence?”

I looked across at Mr Jack Bracewell, Area Manager, London Midland Region. He’d put on weight since leaving the footplate; his face was a bright red and his hair receding. Maybe down to the hard time I’d given him at LDC meetings.

But today the advantage was firmly his – though you wouldn’t have thought so by the look of him. Beads of sweat rolled down his forehead, he shuffled uncomfortably in his chair. “Joyce” he blurted out…”turn that bloody heating down before we all roast.” The clerk jumped up and obeyed the command. The ball was now in my court.

“Before I give you my explanation Mr Bracewell I just want to remind you that I’ve always been straight when I’ve been representing my members in front of you. And I’m going to be straight with you now – however unbelievable it all might sound.”

“Of course…of course, get on with it.”

“Right. I relieved my mate at 6.00pm, as you know we were on 12 hours. I was sober, you can ask George to verify that if you want. We chatted for a few minutes about what we were doing over the holiday and then George signed off. “Could be a bad ‘un” I remember him saying about the weather; the snow had already started though lucky for him he didn’t live that far away. We wished each other ‘all the best’ and off he went down the cabin steps.

He’d left a good fire; the pot-bellied stove was glowing red. I settled myself down in the easy chair, with a quiet night’s work ahead of me. I saw the last ‘passenger’ through at 21.30h. It’s in the book. The only other scheduled train that night was the empty stock for Newton Heath at about 03.00. After it had gone I had permission to close the cabin early and not re-open until the following Monday, when I was early turn at 06.00.

I made a brew and settled down with my book – a thriller, funnily enough. To be honest I probably dozed off, at least for a few minutes. I was jolted out of my snooze by a ‘call attention’ bell from Bolton West.  I wondered what on earth it could be. I looked at the clock and it showed 23.35. I gave the ‘1’ signal back to Bolton West and they offered me a ‘4’ – the bell code for an express passenger train, as you know, sir. The first thing that came into my mind was that the wires were down on the main line and Control was diverting some trains for Scotland via the Settle-Carlisle Line. It happens quite often, though it was very odd that I hadn’t got a circuit to tell me. Perhaps I’d been in more of a sleep than I thought and had missed the wire. I sent the signal on to Bromley Cross, got ‘line clear’ and pulled off – home board, starter and distant. Five minutes later I received a ‘2’ – train on line from Bolton West. I expected to hear the roar of a diesel engine, but instead I heard the steady, slow puff of a steam locomotive, obviously labouring on the gradient out of Bolton.

All I could think was that it must have been some sort of special working back to the museum at Carnforth, routed by Hellifield. It was a strange time to run it, but what was I to know?  It was snowing very heavily by now, the wind blowing the flakes against the cabin windows so you could hardly see out. The tracks were completely covered.

The headlamps of the engine came into view; she’d slowed down even more and was barely moving though sparks were coming out of the chimney like a firework display.

“Aye the fireman would have the dart in to get the fire going,” said Jack reverting to his old footplate patter, quickly adding “but well, that’s if there was an engine…obviously. Delete that comment, Joyce.”

When the engine was almost level with the cabin the steam was shut off and the train came to a stand. I managed to open the cabin door, pushing the snow back, to get a better view.

Through the blizzard I could see that it wasn’t one of the usual preserved locos you sometimes get – she looked older, but well kept. The paintwork looked jet black and across the tender I could make out the words ‘Lancashire & Yorkshire’.

She looked like one of those ‘Lanky’ Atlantics that some of the older signalmen used to talk about, when I was a train booker in my teens. ‘Highflyers’ they called them, with high-pitched long boilers. Very fast engines. But i couldn’t recall any being saved from the scrapheap.

The coaches looked vintage too, though i couldn’t see much of them through the snow. It was blowing like an arctic gale, and curious though I was, I had to shut the door.

A moment later I heard footsteps coming up to the cabin. There was a rap on the door window. I took off the snack and opened the door to what looked like an oldish man – a gnarled face with a drooping moustache and eyes like red-hot coals. His hands were pitted and scarred. This didn’t look like some middle-class train enthusiast who did the occasional firing turn for the fun of it.

He walked in, shaking the snow off and carefully wiping his boots on the mat. “Short o’steam mate – they’re givin’ us rubbish t’burn wi’t’colliers on strike.”

By now I could get a proper look at him. He was dressed in old fashioned railway overalls which I’d only seen in history books. He had a very dignified appearance, reminding me of some of the old Methodist preachers I knew as a kid.

It was news to me that the miners were on strike, but that didn’t click at first. It took me a few seconds before I could say anything – though I offered him a brew and asked him to sign the Train Register Book, according to rule.

A few moments later more footsteps told me that his mate – the driver – was coming up for a warm as well. He looked about the same age as his fireman, slightly smaller with a long greying beard speckled with snowflakes and coal dust. He had similar overalls to his mate but wore a shirt and tie, with a shiny watch chain disappearing into his waistcoat pocket. He wore the L&Y insignia on his lapel. I remember thinking that if these two lads were steam buffs, they were certainly sticklers for historical accuracy.

The driver said, to no-one in particular, “There’ll be hell to play o’er this. Runnin’ short o’ steam on this job, we’st booath be on th’carpet o’Monday. It’s noan mi mates fault though – it’s that bad coyl they’re givin’ us. Tha cornt wark this sort o’job, wi’ nine bogies an just an hour to geet fro’ Bowton to Hellifield, wi nowt but th’best coyl. Th’bosses durnt give a bugger though – they just put th’blame on th’men.”

I didn’t know what to think. Was I caught up in an elaborate practical joke? Or was I in a time warp? I reminded myself that I hadn’t been drinking. Maybe I was still asleep and this was a very vivid dream. Yes – that was it. I’d soon wake up and get ‘call attention’ for the Newton Heath empties.

But it continued. The fireman went over to the stove to warn his pock-marked hands. “Th’company thinks as it con do what it wants wi’ us. It allus has done. But it’s geet a shock comin’. There’s talk o’one big union for all railwaymen after last year’s strike. Federation ‘ud be a good start. They’ve kept us divided for too long, grade agen grade, men agen men.”

The fireman halted for a while, feeling the heat return to his hands, and then continued “Aw’ve waited for th’day when we’d beat the company for a long time. Aw’ve suffered through bein’ a union man and socialist, like mony another. Moved fro’ shed t’ shed. Tret like dirt. Neaw there’s a change comin’.

The driver explained that his mate had been victimised following his part in the Wakefield strike…I’d never heard of it, even though I’d been a union man myself for 20-odd years. I had read about something kicking off around Wakefield in the union history, but that was way, way back. The bearded driver continued the story, explaining that the strike was broken by the company using fitters to drive the engines, with passenger guards providing the route knowledge. “Usual tale – divide an’ rule!” he added. The leaders were either sacked or transferred and told they’d be married to a shovel for the rest of their working lives.

His fireman finally ended up at Newton Heath shed, after several moves to holes like Bacup, Lees and Colne Lanky. He was still a fireman after 40 years service with no prospect of getting booked as a driver.

But hang on, was I playing a bit part in some union-sponsored costume drama? I could just remember reading about a big strike in 1911, before the NUR was formed. Were these blokes having me on?

“Aye,” said the driver. “There’ll be changes soon, reet enough. Anyroad, Aw’ll goo an’ oil reawnd. Valves are starting to pop so looks like we’ve got steam! Good night mate, and all the best.”

The fireman stayed a few moments longer and stood gazing round the cabin. “All reet these modern cabins, eh? Tha’s a bloody sight better off nor us locomen. Look what we’ve to put up wi’!” pointing outside to the snow-swept cab of his engine. “Still,” he continued, we know the long heawrs you lads have forced on you – sixteen hour days wi’ no overtime pay.” I thought of some of my mates, for whom the idea of working sixteen hours would be heaven – providing they got time and a half.

“Well brother. Aw’ll geet back – she’s blowin’ off neaw. She’ll get us up th’bank to Walton’s. Sooner we’re at Hellifield and relieved bi Midland men, the better. Hellifield lodging house allus does a gradely breakfast. Good neet and thanks for th’brew. Aw con tell a comrade when aw meet one.”

I watched him climb back onto the footplate and start shovelling more coal into the firebox. His mate stood by the long regulator handle, lit up by the glare from the fire. A shrill high-pitched whistle pierced the blizzard and the train began to move, with a powerful exhaust cutting through the snow storm.

I turned to my desk and looked at the Train Register Book. I noticed the fireman’s entry: “Detained within protection of signals. Rule 55.” The signature looked like ‘J.Weatherby’. If they were ghosts, they could sign their name!

I looked out of the cabin window and could just see the tail lamp in the distance. Suddenly it was gone, consumed by the blizzard. I gave a ‘2’ – train entering section – to Bromley Cross and sent the 2-1, train out of section, back to Bolton West. The entries are in the book and they were accurate to the minute. Both were recorded at 23.55.

The phone rang. It was Ernie Woodruff at Bolton West. “What’s that 2-1 tha just sent? Hasta gone daft?”

We nearly had a row. I told him he’d sent me a ‘4’ and the train had been detained at the box. I didn’t tell him what sort of train it was. Ernie denied sending the signal and said there’d been nothing on the block since the last passenger at 21.30. Anyway I thought, the proof would be when the train reaches Bromley Cross. That would show who’s daft, so I thought.

It never reached Bromley Cross. Ten minutes later, the signalman – Jack Seddon – rang to ask where this ‘4’ was. There was no sign of it on his track circuit. I told him he’d been having trouble and had maybe stuck again. It’s not unknown, even in the modern age, on that steeply-graded stretch of line.

We let another ten minutes pass and then decided something was up. As luck would have it, the Newton Heath empties were running early and were approaching Bromley Cross from Blackburn. Jack ‘put back’ his signals and cautioned the driver of the diesel train to inspect the line ahead. The train arrived at my box and the driver came into the box. He reported not having seen anything.

The driver – it was Jim Woods, an ex-Bolton man I’d know for years – asked how I was. I knew what was going through his mind. I’d had a few Christmas Eve drinks too many before signing on. I said I was OK but I was anything but. At 01.00, as you’ll see in the book, I rang Control and asked for relief. I was no longer sure of my own sanity, and that’s the truth of it. I felt faint and disoriented. Jim made me a strong cup of tea and stayed with me until the block inspector, John Brooks, arrived to relieve me and close the box.

“You’ve heard the lot – make of it what you like Mr Bracewell.”

Jack sat back in his chair – so far he nearly overbalanced. It was a few seconds before he spoke…it seemed like a very long time.

“Joyce, love, go and make us a cup of tea will you. And one for Mr Hartshorn.”

The clerk got up and left the room, leaving us alone. “Right John. This is off the record, just thee an’ me. You’d had a few, right? It was Christmas. Just tell me the truth. I owe you a favour, we’ll get round this somehow. Listen, if anybody else had told me that load of bollocks I’d have had ‘em cleaning out the carriage shed shit house before they could say boo to a bleedin’ goose. Now come on.”

“I’m sorry Jack, I don’t expect you, nor anyone else, to believe it. I wouldn’t myself if someone else I’d been representing had told me all that.

Bracewell was quite for several minutes. This was the man I knew. Working out a plan, weighing up the options.

“Look, he said at last. “I’ll tell you what. You’d been under strain with all those 12 hour shifts. You’d had a lot of union work on too. Maybe you’d had a few pints before coming on duty and you fell asleep. You’re brain wandered.”

“Sure Jack. But how can anyone explain the entry in the Train Register Book?”

“Easy.  We’ll just say you’d been dreaming and….err….” he dried up.

“Who was it that signed the book Jack? That’s not my signature. It looks like ‘J. Weatherby’. Who was this character that signed the book?”

“Who signed the book….who….” he mumbled and went quiet.

He came up with another ‘solution’. “I know. There’s a platelayer called ‘Weatherall’ isn’t there?”

“Aye, I responded. Dave Johnny Weatherall. He was on snow duty at Bolton East that night as it happens but didn’t came anywhere near Astley Bridge.”

“Never mind that. We can say he came up to check the points and made a balls-up of the entry in to the Train Register Book.”

“Listen Jack. I’m not getting anyone else into bother over this. It’s my problem, no-one else’s.”

“Look you awkward bugger. I owe you a good turn. And I’m going to do you one if I have to get paid up for doing it. Nothing ‘ll happen to Weatherall, I’ll see to that. Trust me.”

I did. I went along with his tale. I got off with a reprimand; I was lucky. Extremely lucky. If it had been that young Assistant AM – fresh out of college – taking the case it might have been dismissal. But it didn’t solve the problem for me. What had happened that night? Had I temporarily gone mad? I could never really trust myself handling traffic again until I was sure, one way or the other.

I took a few days leave that were due to me and then resumed at Astley Bridge Junction. I was on days – we were back to 8 hour shifts. On the first day a group of workmen arrived.

“You’re in luck mate!” the foreman beamed. “You’re getting them mod-cons you’ve been after all these years”. The gang set to work taking out the old fittings, removing the old stove and putting in a gas heater, new toilet, modern block equipment and even new lino for the floor.

It wasn’t until the following day they started work on the last job, stripping out the old linoleum floor covering, that had been polished zealously by generations of signalmen. It was a messy and disruptive job getting it out.

I was trying to complete a member’s  accident claim for head office when one of the lads piped up: “Hey, look at these old newspapers stuffed under the lino. Bet they’re worth a bob or two!”

I went over and picked one of them up. The paper was perished and discoloured. But I could read it well enough. It was the front page of The Bolton Evening News for December 26th, 1912.

“TERRIBLE CHRISTMAS EVE TRAGEDY –  EXPRESS  CRASHES OVER VIADUCT IN BLIZZARD. MANY KILLED”

I read on. The train was a Scotch extra for the Christmas holidays, routed via Settle. The viaduct had collapsed at about midnight and the train careered into the river below. There was a list of casualties who had been identified so far. The catalogue of men, women and several children made tragic reading.

At the end of the list was “Mr James Weatherby, the fireman of the locomotive”.