Posts filed under “Railways”

Rail Alphabet survivors at March station

Rail Alphabet is beautiful. It was everywhere on the railway network for decades; for people over a certain age, it is a typeface that says "railway" almost as surely as a double-arrow symbol does, and as surely as "Transport" says "road". It was so ubiquitous that one could associate that typeface with railways even if you do not know it is a distinct, single-purpose typeface - a fact I only learned in recent years thanks to Nick Job's beautiful digitisation of the British Rail Corporate Identity Manual.

Post-privatisation, much Rail Alphabet signage was replaced, usually with weaker typefaces chosen for coherence with a train operator's brand. Rail Alphabet lives on, though precariously, at lesser-loved stations. Those remnants that have survived privatisation might be doubly endangered in the upcoming Great British Railways rebranding.

March - once a major junction, and still has something of the feel of one despite route cuts from the 60s onwards - is one of those lesser-loved stations. It was on my mind that March is undergoing refurbishment, and that it might not keep any of its Rail Alphabet for very long. So, I paid a visit to the station on Thursday to see how much Rail Alphabet was left. As expected, the in-progress refurbishment has replaced or removed much of it, but there were still some lovely survivors on my visit.

Let's start with Rail Alphabet's distinctive "2", on Platform 2. Rail Alphabet is more likely to survive on platform number signs than it is anywhere else, because who would think they could improve on the clarity and function of this?

Here's a "Waiting room" sign, which indicates a waiting room, next to a non-BR "Customer Services" sign that does not indicate a place for customers to get service:

Compare this with the reference plank from Job's digitisation of the Manual. It looks as though it may have had a pictogram on it at one point which has been painted over since, or perhaps it should have had a pictogram on it and never did.

Over at the footbridge on Platform 2, there is a "Way out" sign with one of those beautiful pictograms. This sign was likely truthful when it was installed. Over the years, this has become misleading, and rather charmingly so; the nearest way out is about 15 feet to the left of this sign, along a footpath that crosses the former trackbed for the disused platforms.

On the footbridge, is more Rail Alphabet. The gate guards the section of the footbridge that leads to the disused platforms. As I did not open it, I was unable to comply with its polite request to close it.

There is another "Way out" sign on Platform 1. It scores one point over Platform 2's sign for veracity, but loses that point due to lack of chunky directional arrow.

Outside the station was much less exciting. Most of the British Rail era signage has disappeared in its current refurbishment, but the station sign at the level crossing nearby is still fully British Rail and still entirely glorious.

And finally, apropos of nothing other than that I really like them (the best reason possible), here's a Greater Anglia class 755 unit I saw while killing time at March.

Psst: I've uploaded all the photos above, and others from my visit, to the Wikimedia Commons, where they are available in full resolution and under a liberal license. See the station's category, which has photos by many people other than me, and in particular the signage subcategory, which does not.

Visiting some remnants of the Lynn & Wisbech railway at Magdalen, part 2

Previously, I had visited the remnants of bridge MMR/2333 in Magdalen to document them, as their demolition seemed to be imminent. On my day off today, I revisited them.

They are gone. It's good to document these things while you can.

The other bridge abutment mentioned in that post has gained some railings. Perhaps the intent was to make a nice viewing platform. Or perhaps they were put in place by one of those government departments whose purpose is to prevent people falling off things. It is still a lovely place to observe the Ouse.

About 300 metres to the East of where we started as the crow flies (and about a mile and a half as the person walks) is my favourite bridge.

I have been here more times than I could reasonably count. Every time I revisit it, I still love admiring all of its little details. Such as the remnants of track ballast:

Or, at the eastern end of the bridge, the small patch where this has been eroded and has exposed some brickwork:

Or the expansion gaps like this one and the countless hot rivets:

And the railings on the bridge (the silver square fencing is a latter addition, which is again probably the work of some government department that dislikes things falling off other things):

And, at the foot of an embankment nearby, what seem to be original railway fence posts:

This never gets old!

I am unsure about the history of this bridge. Its deck seems quite Victorian in style. Yet, the Great Ouse Relief Channel it spans was only completed in 1964. I speculate, but do not at all know (and would like to know), that the deck may have been transplanted from some other railway that was closed. This bridge only had a very few years in railway service before the line to Wisbech was closed.

Just a few yards to the East of this bridge, is what I call the Secret Bridge. I disknow that it is actually much of a secret, and it certainly is not now. But, the much larger bridge is well-photographed and this much smaller one, which is well-hidden by undergrowth and has a span a little wider than a modern car, is not.

That's not a great angle. but while the other end of this little bridge is accessible by foot, it's difficult to get a good photograph in full sunlight, while the sun is shining into your camera:


And that, on a warm and sunny April day, was a nice walk. I was pleased I had the foresight in the past to photograph something that is now gone, and I am always pleased to visit my favourite bridge.

Strange things happen when you put your stuff on Wikimedia Commons

You just saw a photograph of a freight train. It is not very interesting to almost anyone. But maybe a story about it would be!

A few years ago I was at Downham Market station. I don't recall why I was there. It might have been because I was broke at the time and had nothing better to do; most likely I had enough money to pay for a train ticket and doing nothing in particular in Downham was more fun than doing nothing in particular where I was. And I had an Olympus Trip 35 film camera loaded with Ilford XP2 black-and-white film in a pocket. A freight train passed through the station. I thought it was interesting and the light felt nice, and so I took a bad photo of a freight train heading through Downham Market, and later uploaded it to a site called the Wikimedia Commons.

I suspect the kind of person who reads my blog would be the kind of person to know what the Wikimedia Commons is, but I shall explain for those in the cheap seats: it is a website wherein anyone can upload their own stuff on the condition that it can be used by anyone, for absolutely any purpose, with or without modification. This means that your stuff gets used in really fun and unexpected ways. I know photos of mine that are not this freight train have showed up in books from serious academic publishers, scientific papers, and PowerPoint presentations.

The fact that photos of mine were used in PowerPoint presentations might make me worry whether my putting photos out there for anyone to use might have a net-negative impact on the world. But because of the "everyone can use this without needing to ask first" nature of the Commons, and bloggers needing photos they can use for decoration, various blogging services have invented ways for authors to find photos from the Commons to use in their posts. Which means my photos have been used in about a trillion blog posts! And probably a trillion more blog posts which I will never see.

Back to that photo of a freight train. This was one of hundreds I chucked onto the Commons over the years. I thought someone else might find it interesting, some time in the future. Or it could just sit there and do nothing but take up 1.81 megabytes of disk space! Which it did, for years. Then, someone wrote a short murder-mystery set at Downham Market station.

An Australian author called Liam Saville thought that photo was the right photo as the intro pic for his work. You must go and read the story. I loved it, and as a local I appreciate that he did a bunch of very small details very correctly. All of that while hanging upside-down! (This is how Australia works. I don't know how they do it.)

But (Arlo Guthrie voice) that's not what I came to talk about today. Some time later, I had cause to visit Downham Market again, and in particular, to use the bogs at Downham Market station. And while I was in there, I noticed the walls being covered in giant prints of various trains, and in particular noticed that one of the cubicles was covered in a black-and-white photo of a Class 66 locomotive passing through Downham Market...

...and it took me more than a moment to realise I was looking at my own photo covering an entire wall of a bog at the same station I photographed it 10 years before. I think that takes the "unexpected use of my photos" crown.

There's not a moral to the story here, because life is messy and stories with a moral are rarely true stories. Instead, I'll just say that free culture is beautiful, both for the people who choose to contribute their work and for all the people that use it. The folks doing a makeover of a station found the right picture to use to cover an entire wall of a bog. An Australian author found the right picture for his short story for free, without needing to ask me first.

In a different world, wherein I was protective about whatever privileges copyright law gives me, this would have been a boring snapshot of a train that nobody would have seen, rather than a boring photo of a train that probably thousands have, which now has has its own life outside of my control. And that, makes me happy. :)

Visiting some remnants of the Lynn & Wisbech railway at Magdalen

Word came my way (via notable railway explorer Paul Whitewick) that The Highways Agency's Historical Railway Estate were looking to demolish a bunch of former railway structures. One of those structures is very close to me - close enough to make a rather nice early morning walk. So, not very long ago, I wandered down to visit a pair of bridge abutments in Wiggenhall St. Mary Magdalen that are at risk of demolition in the very near future, to photograph them for posterity (all these pictures have a long-term home on Wikimedia Commons, in full resolution).

HRE calls these two bridge abutments MMR/2333.[1] These used to carry trains from Watlington (previously Magdalen Road), where a branch line left the current Fen Line, to Wisbech. This line closed in 1968. As with many such closures, this one strikes me as rather short-sighted; while many of the smaller stations on the line certainly seemed pointless, one wonders how much less busy the A47 would be if one could hop on a train from King's Lynn to Wisbech today.

This is one of the abutments, which despite the overgrowth on the top looks to be in reasonable condition.

The one on the east side, less so. I could see why HRE would consider it an liability, and an unnecessary one.

As bonuses, because there were no photos of it on the Commons, there are the remnants of another bridge only a short while to the East of this structure:

This abutment was for a bridge that carried the above-mentioned Wisbech branch over the River Great Ouse. It is unclear when the bridge deck was removed. Just to the East of this structure is a glorious bridge, fully intact, but I didn't photograph it this time around.

There is a campaign group with a Twitter that is aiming to save some of these at-risk structures, especially the ones that have some hope of being repurposed for some alternative use (which MMR/2333 almost certainly does not).

Also, while on my way to MMR/2333, was something even I didn't know about after however many years I've been here: the remains of a spigot mortar emplacement!

Spigot mortars, in particular the Blacker Bombard, were fairly crude weapons to be used by the Home Guard in the event of a German invasion during World War II. I do not know where this one was originally sited; its current location would have been on a railway embankment that was levelled at some point after closure.

1 - "MMR" stands for "March to Magdalen Road", the latter being the name of Watlington station until 1989.