I like to visit heritage railways. They are places where volunteers and customers can enjoy a nostalgic day out. They are like collective hallucinations. Everyone knows railway stations were noisy and smelly and dirty. At a heritage railway we can pretend they weren’t. Instead we can eat ice creams and watch engines haul carriages.
Steam engines are very impressive. They smell and they are noisy. They give off lots of heat. When you stand next to one it sometimes feels like they are alive. They’re not. They’re feats of human ingenuity. They changed the world.
It is amazing how much work volunteers put in running heritage railways. People can achieve great things when they are passionate about them.
I also like looking at model railways. It is amazing how much detail people can achieve and how much effort goes into them. My favourite model railways include accurate models of stations and goods yards which no longer exist. Accurate models that run to timetables or represent real places are impressive.
Making a good model railway requires carpentry skills, an understanding of electronics, and a steady hand. These are not skills I am blessed with. Maybe that is why I find them so fascinating. There is also something appealing about small things which look like big things. They help you to get a different perspective.
Maybe I don’t actually care about trains or railway companies. They are just a lens to look at the past through.
Railway history is social history.
It’s amazing what people’s lives used to be like and how things were transported around the country before we had lorries and the M1.