Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Train Time

Continuing my trawl through the archives of British Transport Films, last night I watched their 1952 film, 'Train Time'.

The film is a partially dramatized look at how British Rail scheduled and organized trains, especially freight trains, at the the time. It shows how different regions co-ordinated their rolling stock requirements and how new scheduled services were worked into the timetable.

There were two points of interest for me. Firstly, the film starts out with a farmer taking his broccoli crop to a Cornwall freight yard for transportation to London. The sequence serves as a jump-off point to show how BR was able to move rolling stock from different parts of the country to make up the special trains required to transport the annual crop. All very worthy I'm sure, but you have to wonder how many cinema-goers sat their saying "that's not broccoli, it's cauliflower" because there isn't a single floret of broccoli in the entire thing, despite the insistent voiceover.

Secondly, there's a sequence showing the freight yards at Toton in Derbyshire. The above still is the main control room at Toton, at the foot of Toton Hill. Back in the day, Toton was one of the largest, if not the largest, rail depots in the country. By the 1980s it was a pale shadow of its former self. Much of the sidings had been torn up and the main control room, together with other smaller control rooms (in a similar art deco style) had fallen derelict.

A friend and I used to regularly play there, including in the above building. We used to salvage railway memorabilia such as old timetables, some of which I sold at rail fairs in Derby, and bits of random equipment like control panels and so on, though we stopped doing that when I once tried to unscrew a light switch only for it to explode in sparks - we had been entirely oblivious to the fact that although derelict, the buildings were still wired to the mains...

There's a superb website featuring photos on Toton at Toton Rail. There's an aerial photo of the sidings here in which the main control room can be seen top-right. A more recent photo showing how the place has shrunk is here.

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