Here we are again, back on the slow trains of a vastly changed rail system in a once great Britain, now, from this author's own descriptions a more sad and sleazy world with only a remnant of the whole cloth that enthusiastic volunteers maintain with any human and humane train services, with the rest given away to "Privatization". At least Michael Williams miraculously still finds trains that travel through beauty and human-sized landscapes although he rather strains our joint-journeying with him by the inclusion of the London Light Docklands Railway with their computerized driverless trains, similar to those soulless trundles we endure in our airports.
There are still `heritage' railways left in the UK, nicely described here, among those operated by road-haulage barons, Deutsch-Bahn and Virgin with their "lindo" trains that leando over so far the passengers get sicko - and if the food offered in their "shops" (no restaurant or buffet car service anymore) are anything like their airline food, no wonder!
Despite dedicated and enthusiastic research and a commitment to support the efforts of the community and railway conservationists and a need, that we readers can share, to find worth and value in public transport, Williams' writing becomes plaintiff and beseeching, betraying the blowsy state of this once great network. After thoroughly enjoying his work (his second in a series we can only hope he continues) it is one of his own selected quotations from another author, Paul Theroux, that the truth of the `special pleading' most rings true:-
"There is an English dream of a warm summer evening on a branch line train. Just that sentence can make an English person over 40 fall silent with the memory of what has become a golden fantasy of an idealized England."
How true and how sad.
Michael Williams has spent the past year travelling along the fascinating rail byways of Britain for this new collection of journeys. Here is the 'train to the end of the world' running for more than four splendid hours through lake, loch and moorland from Inverness to Wick, the most northerly town in Britain. He discovers a perfect country branch line in London's commuterland, and travels on one of the slowest services in the land along the shores of the lovely Dovey estuary to the far west of Wales. He takes the stopping train across the Pennines on a line with so few services that its glorious scenery is a secret known only to the regulars. Here, too, is the Bittern Line in Norfolk and the Tarka Line in North Devon as well as the little branch line to the fishing port of Looe in Cornwall, rescued from closure in the 1960s and now celebrating its 150th anniversary taking families on holiday to the seaside. From the most luxurious and historic - aboard the Orient Express - to the most futuristic - on the driverless trains of London's Docklands Light Railway - here is a unique travel companion celebrating the treasures of our railway heritage from one of Britain's most knowledgeable railway writers.