Life on the Line

Liverpool, Lime Street Railway Station, then

Life on the Line

 by Bill Hartley

Railways are back in the news with the HS2 project under fresh scrutiny, due to the cost estimate having risen to an eye watering level. The latest figure is about three times what Britain spends annually on defence. But Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham is warning of dire political consequences should the project be curtailed at Birmingham.

Whilst moving from north to south in Britain isn’t too bad, the real area of neglect lies east to west. On a journey along the Trans Pennine route, say from Leeds to Liverpool, crumbling Victoriana carry state of the art rolling stock. How the two have merged and survived is remarkable. How much longer it can continue without substantial investment is questionable.

The line is used in some unusual ways. Outside peak periods a new kind of traveller took to the tracks. The story began many years ago at Stalybridge in Greater Manchester. The station has an independently run buffet bar free from the corporate awfulness of the standard railway franchise and they sell proper beer. Word got round and students crossing the Pennines began to stop off for a ‘quick drink’.

It’s easy to imagine where this led and discovering that the last train had gone, the bar seems to have had no option than to let drinkers bed down for the night. This was extended to occasions when travellers were trapped by a Pennine snow storm which can cause an already creaking network to grind to a halt.

Stalybridge started the trend and now, at stations all the way from York to Liverpool, it is possible to stop off for some decent beer. Some of the earliest and keenest patrons weren’t just casual drinkers. The pioneers, so to speak, were described by an acquaintance of mine as ‘Beer Spotters’. They can be found huddled together in railway bars along the line with their tablets and lap tops, recording impressions of some obscure beer. For a type of male of a certain age it seems to be the dream combination: beer and railways. As is so often the case when alcohol is involved, what started off as a harmless activity for a minority soon moved to a different level. A recent television programme featured what has now become known as the ‘Ale Trail’. If what the programme showed us was a good example, then maintaining punctuality of train services may become a problem. One driver interviewed whilst sitting in his cab, mentioned the need not to set off until he was sure no drunks had fallen onto the tracks.

Leeds Station is described as the busiest transport hub in the North of England. There used to be two stations in the city. However, they thought that one was enough and despite yet another upgrade in 2002 it still isn’t. Sitting on a train waiting for a platform to become available is a regular feature here. The other station was closed in the sixties and the city has been at a disadvantage ever since. As they head west, travellers can still see a forlorn and abandoned viaduct leading nowhere. It has been crumbling for decades whilst the city decides what to do with it. The latest idea is an elevated footpath, which might be a reliable way of getting into the city, though perhaps putting down some track would be better. The viaduct is an early harbinger of increasing decline as the line continues to the old mill town of Morley. Here, the station is described by one guide as ‘a grim station hidden in a ditch’. Some deep cuttings had to be hewn through the gritstone in these parts and are a lasting monument to the energy of the Victorian navvy. These days though they are a fly tipper’s paradise, with household detritus strewn down the steep sides; a profoundly depressing symbol of decay which doesn’t seem to interest Railtrack.

Yet the traveller can speed past these eyesores aboard the latest ‘Nova’ trains. These are fast, quiet and comfortable, running smoothly along a route laid down in the 1840s. It is remarkable how the railway industry has found ways to engineer 21st century performance out of 19th century infrastructure. Railtrack says it is awaiting the go ahead from the Department of Transport for a £3 billion upgrade of the route, though this equals only £23,000 per mile, which seems hardly enough to end years of decay and under investment.

As the line climbs up the Colne Valley out of Huddersfield it brings a sense of what things used to be like. To get beneath the Pennines, railway and canal come together before entering their separate tunnels. In fact there are three railway tunnels at Standedge two of which are abandoned, empty symbols of the additional capacity which lies dormant. Although supposedly sealed off the tunnels have proved irresistible to adventurous visitors. There is a video on YouTube featuring these unofficial explorers wandering through the darkness six hundred feet underground. The tunnels are interconnected making it easier to dodge the trains as they pass through the working tunnel. On the moors, streams were diverted to maintain ventilation in the tunnels, via a spray of water used to circulate the air. Despite having had no maintenance for decades the water channels continue to operate.

Beyond Stalybridge and its famous buffet bar the line approaches Manchester. Again there are more signs of abandonment and decay. Tracts of dense birch woodland have grown up amongst rusting marshalling yards. The humble birch tree is a great coloniser of brownfield sites and they can be found occupying spaces between railway sleepers. Peering through the trees as the train passes a whole dormant infrastructure can be glimpsed, gradually being reclaimed by nature. Inevitably, the fly tipper takes advantage of this no-man’s land between the local authority and Railtrack. This is in contrast to Manchester’s Victoria Station. Following an upgrade the station now brings together the railway and the cities’ Metrolink trams, showing how the line can be turned to new uses.

Outside the city the route follows the line of the Liverpool to Manchester railway. ‘The Great Railway Experiment’ as The Times called it still functions and is only a decade away from the 200th anniversary of its opening. Or at least it did up to a day in 2017 when a wall collapsed at Edge Hill on the outskirts of Liverpool, depositing about 200 tons of rubble on the track. There was a picture in the Liverpool Echo showing engineers inspecting the damage. Next to them was a collection of fly tipped washing machines. The deep cuttings which take the line into the city are another symbol of neglect, with vegetation growing precariously out of the walls. It is quite a contrast to emerge from a dark cutting into Lime Street Station, the world’s oldest railway terminus. A brilliant job has been done upgrading the station but essentially this is the story of the line: good in places with awful bits in between.

Liverpool, Lime Street Railway Station, now

William Hartley is a former Deputy Governor in HM Prison Service                                                                     

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13 Responses to Life on the Line

  1. Stuart Millson says:

    Running across Romney Marsh in Kent is a tentacle of the old Southern Railway: a single track line from Appledore to Dungeness (or nearly to Dungeness). This track is now used only by trains trundling backwards and forwards to the nuclear power station, although once the railway extended all the way to the old Dungeness lighthouse and (BR) station – carrying people, rather than concrete containers.

    Although Dungeness station has long since been demolished, there is still a (disused) station at Lydd. Instead of wasting time on massively expensive vanity projects, such as HS2, we need to revive lost branchlines and reconnect villages and towns – bringing life again to so many rural places.

  2. David Ashton says:

    How right you are, cis-gendered man of what-was Kent!
    Most of our major train operators are run by foreign governments, two of them Communist China [along with nuclear and internet developments]; “no other major Western country has allowed so many of its strategic assets and pre-eminent companies to fall into foreign ownership [and] loss of control.” -Jason Crowley, New Statesman, 14 February 2020.
    “The mainstream public are treated with contempt, their rights ignored. In their own land, the English are being turned into second-class citizens.” – Leo McKinstry, Daily Express, 9 August 2007.
    Par for the course?

  3. David Ashton says:

    Guess what?
    “The UK is considering giving China’s state-owned railway builder a role in constructing the HS2” (CITYA.M. 15 February) – five years earlier & a lot cheaper.
    “Make a noise in the East & strike in the West” – Sun Tzu/Mao Zedong.
    UK the new HK.

  4. Frank Dolby says:

    I am sure that the majority of the English who still live in parts of the country that still vaguely resemble pre-multicultural England – pre the 1970s – are furious about the go-ahead being given for the building of HS2. Rumour hath it that, despite Brexit, this is an overhang of the EU’s policy of building high speed railways to every corner of the Reich, matched by giving all trunk roads E numbers. We don’t really care about London and its hinterland, in fact most of us who can remember our erstwhile capital in the 1960s now hate this foreign enclave, a happy hunting ground for the property developers who have made it more like Hong Kong than any other ancient European city. Many whom I talk to agree with me that London is no longer the capital city of England, in fact there is no longer anything English about it at all. HS2 is all about London. It would seem that those who control our destiny want us all to commute to that city even from hundreds of miles away.

    Stuart Millson refers to the re-opening of branch lines; there was a line from Kirkby Stephen here in Cumbria, or Westmorland as many still prefer it, via Appleby ( in-Westmorland) to Penrith, the nearest big town. That line was axed by Beeching, or Ernest Marples if you prefer it. The West Coast Main line still runs via Penrith but the Settle to Carlisle line, on which Appleby and Kirkby Stephen are situated runs to the east of Penrith. It has been suggested taking a branch or spur line from the Settle to Carlisle line south of Penrith to the West Coast Main line so that Penrith would still be accessible from Appleby-in-Westmorland and Kirkby Stephen by rail. It would not take much and would not cost much. But those in the increasingly seceded so-called golden circle around London really couldn’t care less. But if we are talking about the golden circle then how about rebuilding the line from Witney to Oxford so that a journey of 14 miles does not take 90 minutes to complete on the A40? As I have said, during my 68 years, the country has been run by the stupid and the greedy or both.

  5. David Ashton says:

    I cannot see that ANYTHING was to be said for the HS2 or is to be said for its painful “revival”. Far better ideas were available for railways, roads, canals and flood-protection, especially for “the North”.
    As for Londonistan – just watch British films as recent as the late fifties – heart-breaking! Square and seedy it may have been in places (old Marples, incidentally, apparently a private pioneer in the weirdo-sex now publicly promoted), but it could have been improved, with an ounce of integrity, competence and patriotism. A decade earlier in my boyhood there were ideas for monorails which were in small scale compatible with Englishness just as their counterparts in Japan are compatible with the native scenery. The huge Nazi motorways, incidentally, were designed to fit the scenery so far as possible, but the English traditionally do things in bits (though not cracks, like those that hit the first M1 – launched, I believe, by Supermac whose closure of our rocket weaponry prevented us from going into space with Australian co-operation). Since then our historic decline from the greatest empire in human history to an overcrowded polyethnic crime-ridden rubbish-dump in the North Sea has been methodically “managed” to take our people from zenith to zero. Why?

  6. Frank Dolby says:


    Nearly 40 years ago I asked the same question, Why? This led me into a host of conspiracy theories and I never ever take anything I am told by the British MSM as gospel nowadays. I firmly believe the alternative explanation regarding the attacks on the World Trade Centre, the ‘planes were holograms and it was brought down by controlled explosions to knock out seven mostly Middle Eastern countries to benefit the so-called elites. Read Christopher Bollyn’s book, he who had to flee the United States. But I am digressing, I have a very logical mind and mass immigration in the early 1980s did not make any sense to me. Sadly, neither did it to my fellow Oxford graduate, Enoch Powell, which left him in a state of frustrated bewilderment. Unfortunately, in my case it has triggered a profound depression only relieved by going back in time to the pre-1970s, mostly thanks to Talking Pictures TV and avoiding any programme that is not diversity free, which is becoming more and more difficult. As for the reason for all this illogicality, the best explanation I have found is that the 0.05% of the world’s population who rule us and possess half the world’s wealth wanted us reduced to rootless consumerist individuals who would be happy to work for a pittance to keep the wolf from the door. We are easier to control as long as we do not group together, ditch God and worship the same golden calf that they do. This move from collectivism to individualism is brought out in Jeremy Black’s book on the history of Britain 1951 to 2010 which I am currently reading. Cultural Marxism was their weapon of choice as was, possibly, communism before it. In fact, I have heard that Marx was possibly a Satanist as they certainly are and I have a theory that Marx was working for them, not against them. Discuss?!

    Frank Dolby

  7. David Ashton says:

    You have brought up (and bought into) a subject of such complexity, especially with subsidiary issues, that I do not have the time, and TQR has not the space or possibly much enthusiasm, for thorough discussion.
    A few remarks, however:
    1. The trajectory of “woke totalitarianism” which started mainly with Herbert Marcuse in the US runs to e.g. the Equality Act in the UK. The process was described as “agenda-networking” by its “anti-racist education” adherents in Britain (personal observation). One good summary is Michael William, “The Genesis of Political Correctness” (2016). Among ephemera, Rod Liddle in “The Spectator”, 22 February.
    2. The 9/11 atrocity was a conspiracy, whoever was responsible. Holograms, I doubt. Try Brandon Martinez instead. Also, Scholars for 9/11 Truth & Justice.
    3. I have notes for an deeply researched essay on Marx & religion which may be written up at some point. Regarding Satanism, see e.g. Murray Rothbard, “Marx’s path to communism,” Mises Institute, online.
    4. Jews – more likely attracted to communist conspiracy esp. v Tsarism & then Nazism, than Communism as a Jewish conspiracy per se. See e.g. Andre Gerrits, Anthony Sutton, Cesare De Michelis, Jonathan Frankel & Dan Diner, Jerry Muller, &c. There has been a shift in post-war opinion from the New Jerusalem in eastern Europe to he Old Jerusalem in the Middle East. Today they are divided over multicultural mass-immigration, e.g. the pro-Israel Gatestone Institute, Melanie Phillips, &c strongly opposed.

  8. Frank Dolby says:


    I deliberately avoid any reference to Zionism which you may be making in your allusion to Old Jerusalem. I believe the elites to be Jew and Gentile. People have told me that the Rothschilds are at the apex but I do not know. There is a theory that the Second World War was fought for the creation of the State of Israel and that Jews were sacrificed to that end. I am a Methodist who has interesting chats with the Jehovah’s Witnesses. One of their number told me that in the Bible there was a prediction that the time would come when there would be a profusion of knowledge but people would be unable to tell what was the truth and what was not. This is the stage that we are now at. I prefer to speak of globalism for the benefit of the few as opposed to anti-globalism to preserve European Civilisation. In the early 1980s, I met Lady Jane Birdwood, hated by Searchlight and of the homeward bound scheme for voluntary immigrant repatriation. She spoke a lot of the Jews but I do not believe that it was all Jews and if some of Zionist persuasion then almost impossible to prove that either so I steer clear. I do feel that Trump is in debt to New York Jewry and this is influencing his somewhat incomprehensible policy with regard to the Israel-Palestine question. I have in my church, Christian Zionists, like Mike Pompeo but have yet to find where in the New Testament Christ referred to the return of the Jews to Zion. He did speak about the destruction of the Temple. The Jehovah’s Witnesses tell me that they believe that the Jews have sold their pass by rejecting the Messiah. I find that a little worrying, a bit like the attitude of the Pope during the War. Here, we are about to have a visit from Helen Shapiro, a Jew for Jesus, which is an interesting development.

    What I do have an open mind about is the existence of the use of false flag attacks, like September 11th. As regards holograms, if you watch the clip of the ‘plane hitting one of the twin towers then you will see that it melts into the building rather than crumpling or disintegrating on impact and falling to the ground. I have been wondering what has happened to Brendon Tarrant, the Australian charged with the Christchurch mosque shootings. I see that his trial is not to take place until May of this year. He seems to have travelled to some very strange countries before he acted, countries, like North Korea I believe, which might suggest that he was an agent for the West. This has led me to wonder if he might not be all he seemed i.e. was he employed by the globalists to carry out his act. There is a lot of internet chatter about this. I have heard that Jo Cox’s killer was groomed by the CIA as well as a British gent who attempted to assassinate Trump around the same time. The murder of Jo Cox was meant to dissuade us, the Northern basket of deplorables from voting for Brexit. And they even brought over that nice Mr Obama, the author of multiple wars, to tell us that the hip thing to do was to vote Remain. But only the Russians meddle in Western elections and referenda of course. By grooming, I mean latching on to potential “far right terrorists” who are mentally unstable, becoming their online friends and encouraging them to act. I am waiting to see if Russia Today has further information on the Hanau shooting in Germany. The consequence seems to have been to vilify the Alternative fuer Deutschland party just after it allied with the CDU in Thuringia. But was the paranoid schizophrenic, as the AFD have called him, who carried out the shooting, encouraged by friends he met online, some of whom were, we hear, based in the United States. We now hear that the Gulf of Tonkin was a false flag as well as USS Liberty. This is why I never believe what I am told by the Western MSM but always try to get at the truth. The establishment are now desperate to silence the so-called “far right”, although I prefer the terms nationalists or anti-globalists, Indeed, I am beginning to wonder whether Hitler was groomed or steered by certain interests to discredit European ethnocentric nationalism and prepare the ground for the Marxist multicultural one world hell.

  9. David Ashton says:

    I too enjoy frequent discussions with local JWs & gave their Kingdom Hall the large collection of JW books I had made with a now abandoned view of writing a book on them, Mormons and other cults. The Methodists seem to have swallowed a lot of woke ideology and weakened their stance on drink, drugs & hook-ups; I doubt if they are much help in resisting a “multicultural one world hell”, but then neither are Archbishop Weedy and Nincompope Francis.
    A rare anti-Zionist “fundamentalist” is Steven Sizer, who was badly treated by the “C” of “E” at the instructions of Jewish lobbyists.
    I also knew Jane Birdwood, a valiant anti-communist in the Foreign Affairs Circle and then an anti-immigration activist with her “Choice” paper, but the anti-Jewish bee in her bonnet buzzed louder and louder until the bonnet went bang.
    Personally I accept the existence of a Jewish National State and the need to protect its population against attack, but there are also reasonable criticisms to be made of some foreign and domestic policies of Israel; and these are all too frequently vilified as “antisemitism”; cf. the Corbyn fiasco. The easily demonstrated existence of influential Zionist pressure-groups in the UK, as in the US, cannot be dismissed as a “conspiracy trope” re the “Protocols of Zion”.
    Yes, some of the “far right murderers” from David Copeland to Tobias Rathjen, whether lone nutters or manipulated psychopaths, do seem to have cropped up at convenient moments, in place and time, for the enemies of western ethnic nationalism, and have done nothing whatever but harm, especially given the predictable media response and government legislation. Note however the greater number of Islamist atrocities (see e.g. “New Statesman”, 21 February 2020, p.35).
    You may care to ask Ms Shapiro what she thinks of Chief Rabbi Mirvis’s opinion that Christian antisemitism today includes attempting to convert Jews – “quarry” was his choice of words.

  10. Frank Dolby says:

    David, the Methodist Church is being torn asunder at the moment over the question of whether to let gay couples marry in chapel. Yes, the Methodists these days are always ahead of the curve. Locally, this has been quite distressing as two couples of whose many sons, two are gay have come up against those who believe that such relationships are sinful. This has led to one couple leaving the Church. Sadly, I will be away when Helen Shapiro comes as we are going on a battlefield tour to Dunkirk as my father was there with the RNVR 80 years ago. I watched the final hour of the 1958 film with John Mills on tv yesterday – my wife and I watched the recent inaccurate remake in the cinema and wished we hadn’t. I was left wondering what all those brave men died for just to hand the country over to all-comers. I do not believe that I am alone in feeling thus. I watched Tommy Robinson having a real ding-dong with Oxana Boyko on Russia Today last night about Muslim grooming gangs here. I think she is an atheist married to a Muslim who argued that Christians were or had been no better. One fact that did come out is that at the Munich Security Council there was a discussion to the effect that the rise of nationalism and populism is down to a mishandling of the selling of mass immigration to the natives. Wrong, it is down to human nature and human beings being ethnocentric and choosing to live with their own tribe on their own territory rendered secure against outside incursions. I believe it was Dr Frank Ellis who said that multiculturalism will fail because it is against human nature. It seems that those at the security conference are aiming to redouble their efforts which makes me wonder again about the Hanau shooter and the attack on the AFD.

  11. David Ashton says:

    Frank, good wishes for your Dunkirk visit.
    My father came from a naval family in Devon and saw “under age” land-service in WW1. His brother Arthur, a maths genius, was shot at Ypres. My cousin Arthur was killed in WW2. Two European wars in a century – with what outcome for us all?

  12. Frank Dolby says:

    David, I was sent a clip entitled, “It’s all a rich man’s trick” about both World Wars. I have alluded to the reason the clip gave for WW2. The same is probably true for most wars since. Every Sunday we pray in chapel for peace; but with so many of the rich and powerful determined that peace will not break out, it seems futile. But we must still hope and pray and never give up fighting against them.

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