Windsor and Maidenhead

Meeting Reports

Monday 27th November 2017
Chris Austin

For our November meeting we welcomed Chris Austin, who addressed yet another healthy attendance on “Disconnected: Broken Links in Britain’s Rail Policy”. Chris is a former railwayman with a distinguished record of service, having been with BR for 30 years, before spending over a decade with ATOC. He retired in 2009 as their Head of Public Affairs.

What is more, as chairman of the West Somerset Steam Railway Trust and the Avocet Line Railway Forum, Chris is ideally placed to speak on the evolving role of railways down the years, and into the future. This ability is, fortunately, being made use of in parliament, for Chris also acts as secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Railways, among other responsibilities.

It came as surprise to many to hear that the first railway closure, in Selsey, took pace 1827! Moving to the 20th century, plenty of lines lost services during the financial stringency of the 1920s and 30s, to say nothing of the occasional expedient closure of passenger lines to support the war effort.

By the time we get to Beeching and his “axe” so beloved of the media, the scenario has a far more political edge. In many respects, the good doctor’s work was absolutely necessary, eliminating poor use of stock, duplicate routes and so on. Yet the destructive approach, encouraged by biased politicians like Ernest Marples, has often served only to exacerbate 21st century road problems. There are now plenty of examples where poor decisions have been rectified, for example Marylebone and Birmingham Snow Hill.

An intriguing talk, expertly presented and illustrated, giving much to think about, as reflected in a wide-ranging Q and A session at the end.

Monday 23rd October 2017
Mail Rail
Chris Taft

It was “house full” in October, with Cox Green Community Centre having a near-record attendance to hear Chris Taft talk about Mail Rail. Chris is Head of Collections for the Postal Museum in Clerkenwell, central London, and told the background and history of the major new attraction which opened in July this year.

The Post Office Underground Railway, to give its official title, opened in 1927. A commission to look into such a scheme was set up in 1909, and reported two years later. An act empowering its construction was passed in 1913, but matters were inevitably delayed by the First World War. From 1917, part-constructed stations were used to store paintings and other artefacts from London’s museums.

The line opened throughout in 1927 with a gauge of 2 feet, running from near Liverpool Street station in the east, to Paddington in the west, and most important of several intermediate stations was Mount Pleasant. The trains were unmanned, operated from a series of remote control points. The initial rolling stock was updated in 1930, and replaced at various times, the last being Hunslet-built vehicles in 1980.

Use of the railway had already begun to decline, and the opening of the Railnet hubs, such as Willesden in 1995, sounded its death knell The line closed throughout in 2003. The Postal Museum has re-opened a one kilometre section at the museum, using part of the Mount Pleasant stop, which is proving extremely popular with the public. If you want to book a seat, you will be waiting well into next year!

Monday 25th September 2017
Crossrail Progress - The Elizabeth Line
Patrick Griffin

The first meeting of our 2017-18 indoor programme drew a large attendance for the visit of Patrick Griffin, Insurance and Information Manager of Crossrail, to update us on the Elizabeth Line, as the route is to be known. A civil engineer by profession, Patrick’s job will come to an end in 2018, when Crossrail’s task, completion of the route, has finished, with operations being taken over by Transport for London.

Crossrail is not a high speed line, of course, but an urban metro, one which will see a 10% increase in passenger capacity in central London. The company was founded in 1989, but early attempts to get things moving failed for lack of financing. The East-West study of 1997 foresaw the scheme we see today, and led to construction beginning in earnest.

There are three distinct sections; existing surface rail east and west of the capital, and the underground section linking the two. It is passengers travelling to Tottenham Court Road or Liverpool Street from, for example, Maidenhead, who will benefit from the biggest reduction in journey time.

The tunnelling is now complete, incorporating the pre-existing Connaught Tunnel in Docklands, and what remains is a plethora of relatively minor contracts; fitting out of stations and signalling, for example. The first of the Bombardier “Aventra” class 345 units have entered service into Liverpool Street, and will be seen east of Paddington in 2018. This informative and well-illustrated talk left members looking forward to the day when they can ride right through to deepest Essex without a change of train.

Thursday 15th June 2017
55 Years of Railway Photography - Part 1
Dr. Les Nixon

Our June joint meeting at Bourne End with the Marlow and District Railway Society gave us the opportunity a true legend of railway photography, and secretary of the Society’s photographic portfolios, Les Nixon. The subject, “50 Years of Railway Photography”. It is hard to think what else we might have needed for a brilliant evening.

The superb quality of Les’s pictures is timeless, and will need no introduction for most readers. What is remarkable, at the tender age of 81, is his continuing enthusiasm for the subject, matched only by his hugely entertaining and amusing commentary. One cannot fail to be impressed, additionally, by his modesty, scarcely touching on the enormous efforts to which he has obviously gone in getting his shot just right.

During the evening Les showed us, in a delightfully random order, trains all around the world; in the Lebanon, for example – how many enthusiasts can claim to have been round Beirut shed? – and in Pakistan, with amazing 2-10-2Ts, just two of the 55 countries whose railways have come under his expert eye.

But we always came back to the UK, and in particular Les’s native and beloved West Yorkshire. Unforgettable images of steam railways in and around long-lost coalfields never fail to conjur up memories of a way of life that has gone for ever. This was a wonderful evening, and one which set us all thinking. To quote Les, “What you take today is tomorrow’s history.”

Monday 22nd May 2017
Windsor & Maidenhead on Tour - The First 10 Years

Our meeting in May marked the tenth anniversary of our branch, an achievement we marked with a cake, and a presentation which was a bit different. Over those 10 years we have made no fewer than 20 outside visits, and committee members took it in turn to speak about them. Needless to say, this gave us the opportunity to look at a great many illustrations of our journeys together.

David Goddard kicked us off with some early outings, and came back later to talk about memorable visits to the new Reading depot, and Slough Panel Box just before its closure. Steve Ollive was up next, covering our first lengthy journey, down to the splendid Isle of Wight Steam Railway, then his now legendary organisation of three “sightseeing tours” of London.

Alan Cooke’s was an eclectic mix, including the Jubilee Line Extension before the Olympics, and the Gloucester/Warwickshire for their diesel gala. Sally Goddard, with baby Beatrice attending her first meeting, told us, among other things, about SWT’s Desiro simulator at Basingstoke, and the wonderful 7 ¼” steam locos of the Great Cockcrow Railway in Surrey.

Finally, Jim Tucker’s group included visits starting from Windsor & Eton Riverside via Clapham Junction, to the Bluebell Railway and Amberley Museum. This unusual meeting seemed to be well received, and the common feature of all the external visits was how much members had enjoyed them, and how welcome the branch had been made. Here’s to the next 10 years!

Monday 24th April 2017
Railways to Airports - A Worldwide Overview
Andrew Sharp

Most of us are familiar with the likes of the Heathrow Express, Gatwick Express and so on. It might come as a surprise, however, to hear that, worldwide, there are more than 200 airports with rail connections, with almost as many again being considered. Who better to tell us about this intriguing aspect of intermodal cooperation than Andrew Sharp, founder of the International Air Rail Organisation (IARO).

Rail connections to airports take a number of different forms. Express routes take the passenger direct to the city centre, with Oslo for example having check-in there. In some cases the airport features on a High Speed network, as with Paris Charles de Gaulle, where precious aircraft slots can be saved by bringing people from Brussels.

There are instances aplenty of regional and suburban lines serving airports, Chicago, Milwaukee and Southampton to name but three. These days light rail and metro systems are used as well. This group has the potential for service conflict with commuter trains, and all the different sorts raise the interesting question of who stands to gain the most from these links – passengers, airports, airlines, or local residents.

The sector is very much a dynamic one, and IARO is being consulted over a number of developments, with Montreal a case in point. Andrew’s excellent presentation ended with an extensive Q and A session.

Monday 27th March 2017
American Wanderings - Heading East
Steve Ollive, Branch Chairman

We were all sorry that ill health prevented Society chairman Gordon Davies from speaking at our March meeting, and sent him best wishes for a speedy recovery. Readers will, perhaps, not be surprised to hear that our own branch chairman, Steve Ollive, once again stepped into the breach.

“American Wanderings Heading East” had been the intended topic, and so it remained. Steve’s plentiful illustrations, dating from the late 1990s onwards, started in Canada, with views of trains around Winnipeg, Montreal and Ottawa, taking in a trip on the “Canadian” and several heritage lines. We also visited the tram museum in Toronto.

Over the border into the USA, we entered Pennsylvania and the splendid Strasburg Railroad Museum, with its wide variety of exhibits. On the day of Steve was there, the running lines were packed with sideshows and visitors, thanks to the presence of who else but Thomas the Tank Engine. Next it was on to Philadelphia, with more trams, and then the single-car emu known on the “Princeton Jet”. The short line to Princeton Junction is one of the few genuine branch lines left in the States.

We finished by moving up the Jersey Shore, through Hoboken to New York City. There was the subway to see, of course, and the magnificent Grand Central and Pennsylvania stations. A most enjoyable evening, with some great pictures.

Monday 27th February 2017
The Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway
Roger Fagg

At our February meeting we welcomed Roger Fagg, to speak to us about the Chinnor and Princes Risborough Railway. No-one could be better qualified than Roger to talk on this subject, having worked on the line for a long time, and served as its Chairman for 10 years. In that time, Roger was heavily involved with negotiations for access to Princes Risborough station.

The branch to Watlington was independently sponsored by local businessmen, obtained parliamentary approval in 1867, and opened in 1872. As was often the case, the line lost money from the start; the GWR was initially resistant, but eventually took the company over in 1883. For the entire rolling stock – locos, coaches, wagons – the valuation was £1,714!

Passenger numbers were always low, the provision of halts, some in bizarre locations, with low-level platforms for rail-motors, made no difference, and closure to passengers came in 1957. From 1961 only coal traffic to the cement works at Chinnor remained. The Society was formed in 1989, and the first train ran five years later.

The cement works has gone, with housing springing up around the rebuilt station at Chinnor. Roger illustrated the high standard of the Society’s restoration of buildings and coaches, and explained that steam engines have to be hired in, due to the lack of servicing facilities. This enterprising and attractive railway deserves the success it has achieved, and we all hope trains will soon run into Princes Risborough.

Monday 23rd January 2017
Loco Hauled Passenger Trains in the Privatisation Era
Geoff Brockett

Geoff Brockett made a welcome return visit from South Essex branch to talk to our first meeting of 2017, taking as his subject loco-hauled passenger trains in the privatisation era. He didn’t claim to cover every one, but few in the audience could have compiled a list as comprehensive as Geoff’s, all brilliantly illustrated by his considerable photographic skills.

The first franchise we looked at was our local one, the Great Western lines in all their various guises. Class 47s were to be found on services to the West Country when HSTs were in short supply, and of course Penzance sleepers are hauled by class 57s to this day. Scotland also saw some 47s in action, while the North Berwick line was for a while operated by class 90 electrics, and classes 67 and 68 have been used on the Fife Circle. The Scotrail, now Caledonian guises sleeper trains to Scotland have enjoyed electric haulage at the Southern end – 90s and 92s – and diesels to the far North, including 37s, 47s, 67s, and now 73/9s.

Virgin Cross Country, Grand Central, Hull Trains, Wessex Trains, Arriva Trains Wales, Chiltern Railways and the successive franchisees in East Anglia all featured, with diesel and electric power. Such a long list, and all on regular service trains; specials and charters would require another evening! Thanks Geoff, and congratulations on a great evening.

Monday 19th December 2016
Branch AGM followed by Member's Presentations

Following the decision to change our branch’s year-end to coincide with the Society, our December gathering at Cox Green was the first re-timed AGM, this time covering little more than six months. Under the continued leadership of chairman Steve Ollive, things had continued in the same successful vein as before, with enjoyable and well-attended meetings, and a successful visit to Amberley Museum in West Sussex.

The committee were thanked for their efforts, and were re-elected unopposed. The good wishes of all were expressed to David and Sally Goddard for the continued progress of baby Beatrice.

The formal proceedings were followed by coffee, mince pies, and members’ presentations, starting with Mike Walker, who told in pictures the story of Western Region diesel-hydraulics. Mike Gamble’s annual quiz covered a range of topics, and was as difficult as ever, then Peter Meyer showed some very interesting images of motive power across Britain and Europe; being our branch’s oldest attender does not appear to restrict his travelling with a camera!

We closed with Steve Ollive’s presentation of one afternoon at Hamburg Harberg station, with a seemingly unending steam of freight trains, hauled by a truly international collection of motive power. A most enjoyable evening, leaving everyone looking forward to another good year in 2017.

last updated: 07/12/17