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This Day: March 4

March 4, 2010

On this day, in 1972, the last train ran between Penrith to Keswick in the UK.

I’ve always been quite sad about the closing of railways. My father grew up in a small country station in Australia, where my grandfather was stationmaster. After he died, my family moved back to the town. Soon afterwards the station buildings were sold off. The station itself was moved to the local speedway and painted bright pink.

Railways are etched into people memories, because as children they meant escape from the regular routine. Most of the regional passenger lines in Australia are gone, but I still hear older relatives talk about the sleeper trains and railway food.

In England, the closures were more extensive, especially in the 60s due to the Beeching Axe, the name given to Richard Beeching’s plan to overcome the Government’s loss of income from the railways. During these years comic duo Flanders and Swann reacted to the cuts with the very uncomic song Slow Train, which laments the loss of stations and the way of the train traveller.

Throughout the song, Flanders lists stations to be gone forever, though history will record a few of these stations were to win reprieves. But ultimately most of the stations were lost, leaving just their tantalising names. With names like Mow Cop and Scholar Green, and Trouble House Halt, the song relays the wonder the UK railways has for the outsider, a sense of history, a sense of place.

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