Tag Archives: BBC Four

BBC 4 – Bombay Railway – Part 2

It’s been a while since this excellent programme was broadcast on BBC4 TV, but I promised to post my comments here, and I am (eventually) a hog of my word.

In my comments about Part 1, back at the end of October, I indicated that there was an undercurrent running through that programme of tragedy and sadness. Part 2 was a much more joyous programme focusing on the lives of several people who were intricately linked to the railway. This was also a theme of the first programme, but this second one seemed to take a far more positive view.

Indeed, the title of the second programme was “Dreams”. I was particularly engaged by the story of Mumtaz Kaz, who was not only India’s first female train driver, but during the filming of the programme was landed with the responsibility of arranging her brother’s marriage. Of course, she succeeded and everything went off smoothly despite her having to continue to work in such a demanding full-time job throughout the whole of the run-up to the wedding.

I was also struck by the paternalism of the Indian Railways in providing housing fir its workers and was reminded very much of the Great Western Railway’s workers’ housing in Swindon.

The second part of the programme lifted the gloom that the first part had instilled and left me feeling much more positive about the achievements of the Bombay Railway and some of the people intricately linked to it.

Ride Safe


Railway Walks – The Gateway To The Highlands

The final programme in Julia Bradbury’s Railway Walks series saw a return to Scotland for her longest walk yet. 23 miles between the town of Callendar and the shore of Loch Tay took in some stunning scenery, yet seemed to have very little to say about the railway.


Indeed, the route of the railway had been fairly thoroughly obliterated since closure with at least one missing bridge and no trace of the old station buildings. At Callendar, the station site is now a car park and at the other end of her walk, Julia Bradbury gesticulated towards the site of the old station and a pier, now vanished.


Perhaps it was that I have absolutely no connection with this part of the world, or that the former railway was far less important in this programme, but despite the well-established formula of interviews with local people, including a local historian, an access officer and the chief of the McNab clan, the programme left me wanting to know more.


I was intrigued by hints at the area’s turbulent and violent past, but still know almost nothing about it. I want to know more about Rob Roy, a character mentioned several times during the programme and I would have loved to see some archive film of the railway in operation as well as a few grainy photographs of disappeared stations.


There is no doubt that this would have been a stunning railway journey and the remaining viaduct remains as a marvel of Victorian engineering and the area provides a great, if long walk along a loch or two. However, the enforced deviations from the original route of the line made this less of a railway walk and more of a walk through this part of Scotland.


Despite my feeling of the programme not giving quite as much as I had come to expect from the rest of the series, I hope that BBC4 and the programme makers have another series on the way because there are still thousands of route miles more of closed railway lines just waiting for the tread of Julia Bradbury’s boots.


Ride Safe

Railway Walks – Harbouring History

At the start of the latest in BBC Four’s excellent series of Railway Walks, I thought that presenter Julia Bradbury was taking us to another area that I know, although not as well as  some of the earlier walks in the series.  When the programme opened in Weymouth, I thought we were in for a walk along the route of the harbour line that used to run down from Weymouth station to the former station at the ferry terminal for the Channel Islands.  I once travelled in a train on this line on my way to my one and only visit to Jersey and that must be more than thirty years ago. I also have pictures of the line in both steam and diesel days and I remember walking along it some months after the last train had run when it would certainly have still been possible to use it.  As this programme turned out to be a completely different route, I wonder whether that harbour line is still there.

So, despite my initial expectations, the spectacular aerial shots at the start of the programme took us away from Weymouth station and away from the harbour line along an embankment between housing estates and out of the town towards Chesil Beach and onto the Island of Portland.

The route was a little different to the others in this series which have had a definite rural flavour. there was a distinctly suburban feel to the first part of the walk, which included a descent to a busy road at one point where a bridge had been taken out.  However, the town soon fell behind and as Julia’s series of interviews with local historians unfolded, so did a story that changed my perception of what I had considered to be a sleepy tourist area.

The former station platforms are still there with green Southern Region totems in evidence, although a picture of a steam train headed by a very Western pannier tank shown later in the programme suggests that this line’s chequered history continued into British Railways’ days.

Portland Harbour has a long heritage as a naval port with huge importance during the preparations for D-Day. It is also the last resting place of HMS Hood, which was sunk across one of the harbour entrances to protect ships inside the harbour from another local invention, the torpedo. The site of the former torpedo factory is now a housing estate, but the foundation stone of the factory itself is preserved on a roundabout.

There is still quite a lot of evidence of the military past of the area with plenty of gun emplacements and a Victorian citadel that is now a prison. Much of the former Navy base is now luxury flats and the former railway is now on private property and unavailable to Julia for her walk.

However, the former railway that Julia Bradbury was walking was originally built to remove the area’s best known export, Portland Stone. This limestone has been used for a huge number of buildings from St Paul’s cathedral, whose stone was chosen by Christopher Wren himself during a visit to the island, to the Houses of Parliament. Here in Nottingham, the university buildings that were endowed by Jesse Boot of Boots the Chemists fame are built of this same stone. It must have arrived in Nottingham on the railway and started its journey along the same route that this programme followed.

With the “main line” in private ownership, it was fortunate, then, that the island is riddled with old tramways that were used to carry the stone from the quarries high on the hills that the programme makers were able to use to bypass this area. Julia seemed to relish some of the steep climbs up tramway inclines that would have been worked by gravity when they were still operating. I could almost imagine the loaded wagons coming down the steep hill with wire rope and chain pulling the empties back to the top for another load of stone.

I had no idea that Chesil Beach, that classic example beloved of geography teachers everywhere had ever had a railway along part of its length, but the aerial pictures clearly showed its route.  Although this line was described as yet another victim of the Beeching axe, later in the commentary, it was said that the line had closed much earlier in the 1960s than those lines closed in 1968 as a result of the good doctor’s rationalisation plan.

The walk ended at Portland’s only beach, a pebbled cove. This completed a walk that started in the modern tourist town of Weymouth, passed through a century or more of military and industrial history and ended with images of tourists on Portland the 1920s with the quarrying going on a few hundred yards away. The final shots were of Julia Bradbury on the deserted beach.

Ride Safe

BBC 4 – Bombay Railway

The wonderfully railway-friendly TV Channel, BBC 4, brought us part 1 of this documentary about the incredible suburban railway system serving the Indain city that is known nowadays as Mumbai, but used to be called Bombay.

This railway network moves many millions of commuters every day in a feat that at least rivals and probably exceeds that of any other railway serving any major city of the world.  Mumbai is truly a city that never sleeps and the railway is pretty well a 24 hour operation, with well over a thousand trains each day. It grew from the British Raj, but in some respects seems to have kept up or even overtaken our own railway network with what seemed to be 100% coverage of electrification and some very modern control technology keeping the highly intensive service flowing.

However, the safety record of the railway, with an average of 10 deaths a day is appalling. The reason for this dreadful record became clear during the programme with people crossing the tracks in front of trains and using the permanent way as a walking route and even living within inches of the running lines in the shanty towns that have grown up around the metropolis.

The complete lack of doors on the carriages, the people jumping on and off moving trains and the super density crush loading that is accepted in peak hours must also be factors that contribute to the dire safety record.

Although the programme tackled this issue head on, a TV programme can never change the culture of a society. The programme makers featured a number of people who worked on or were inextricably linked to the railway. The General Manager of one of the lines was included, bbut a more interesting railwayman was the driver with 30 years experience who talked about the reality of working in these conditions. I found his matter of fact description of stopping the train, his guard and himself moving a body off the track and continuing to the next station to report the incident to be harrowing.

It was also very interesting to see and hear from the young child making a kind of living on the edge of the law working on a station as a shoeshine boy. It was also interesting to hear of a former shoeshine boy who has become an entrepreneur with fingers in all the business interests on the railway station, but who is also involved as a volunteer ambulance driver, often transporting the people killed or injured.

Perhaps the most moving story was that of a young woman hawker who travelled on the railway’s “Ladies Only” trains selling Saris and other clothing to the passengers. This is completely illegal, but when she was arrested by the railway police, she paid the fine and went straight back to her only work. At the end of the programme, however, she went with her family to visit the flat that her sales had enabled her to buy.

The young shoeshine boy also left the station that had been his home as well as his workplace and was seen at a centre for runaway children starting to learn the skills that will give him a better chance of improving his life than he would have found on the railway station.

Although British viewers could recognise the railway which was the central character of this documentary, the living and working conditions, the culture, the society and the attitudes that were revealed by the programme were a world away from our own urban railway networks. I am looking forward to seeing the second part of this revealing look at something that is simultaneously so familiar and so alien.

Ride Safe

Railway Walks – The Whisky Train

This BBC 4 TV series gets better and better. In the fourth of Julia Bradbury’s walks along disused railway tracks, she visits another area that I have yet to experience for myself, the fabulous countryside of the Scotland’s Spey Valley.

The programme saw Julia travelling along the route of the former Speyside Railway through the heart of Whisky country and through some amazing countryside along the River Spey. From the opening shots of Salmon and Trout fishermen wading in the river, to the spectacular aerial views of the route, the whole programme made me want to jump on my motorbike and ride for the twelve or so hours that it would take to get to this northerly outpost of the railway network. Unfortunately, I am not impetuous or spontaneous enough to abandon all my responsibilities in the real world and head off on such an unplanned adventure.

My knwledge of this area was perhaps a little more complete than of the area covered by the previous programme in Cornwall, but I was blown away with the scenery of the area and the amazing state of preservation of much of the route. Although some of the river bridges appea to have gone, the stations appeared to be in a good state and the trackbed was clear and made for easy walking.

Further on from the section of line that Julia walked in the programme is the preserved Strathspey Railway running between Aviemore through Boat of Garten to Broomhill. It is a real shame that Julia did not visit that railway as she did in the first programme of the series when she visited Peak Rail’s preserved station at Darley Dale.

I enjoyed seeing how little environmental impact the vast, globalised Whisky industry has on the Spey valley and the people that Julia spoke to along the way, as in the previous programmes, brought the history to life.

Once again, this was a line closed in 1968 follwing the Beeching rationalistion of the network and, predictably enough, there was a former station master prepared to go on the telly to regret the passing of the line and to say that there was enough freight traffic to have kept it open. I can well believe that the enormous scale of whisky production that was evident throughout the programme could have provided work for this route, although whether that traffic would still be available today is a moot point.

The old stationmaster on the programme, like many former railwaymen had a momento of the closure and produced a totem from his old station, Ballindalloch.

Rather like Julia’s Snowdonia walk, this route went through a lot of places with unpronounceable names. However, with the Internet to the rescue, there is a map showing the former Speyside line here, with all the stations named.

With just two more Railway Walks to come, I am going to miss this series, but I am hopeful, with several thousand more miles of former railways left to explore, there is lots of scope for a second series.

Ride Safe

Railway Walks – Cornwall – The Birth Of Steam

In the third programme in this consistently good series on BBC 4, Julia Bradbury headed to Cornwall to explore a another disused railway route. However, unlike the first two programmes, the closure of the pioneering tramways around Redruth owes nothing to the good Doctor Beeching because they closed a century before his notorious report.

The two tramways that formed the route from the North Cornwall coast to the English Channel taken by Julia in this programme were originally built for the products of the mining industry. I found it fascinating to be reminded how the rural, tourist idyll that is 21st Century Cornwall was, in living memory, a scarred industrial landscape dominated by mining and chemical works.

Part of the route travelled during this programme was across a lunar-looking landscape that had been poisoned by arsenic that had been a valuable product from the mining industry. Throughout the journey, Julia seemed to constantly be close to derelict winding houses with evocative names, many including the name “Wheal”.

I have to confess that, unlike the areas featured in the first two programmes of Railway Walks, I had never heard of the route in this programme and Cornwall is not an area that I know well. Therefore I was rather shocked when I compared the regeneration that has taken place in the former coal mining areas that I know from the Midlands, where I live, with the images of industrial dereliction portrayed on this programme. Even with the reclamation of so much former Cornish mining landscape by nature, there has obviously been far more money spent on regenerating former colliery sites than has been spent on this former tin mining area.

As for the former tramways, it is great to see that lines that fell into disuse 140 years ago have found a new lease of life as cycle and walking routes.

A trip to Cornwall must be added to my ever increasing list of “must do” activities.