Platform Four

train travel writing from Britain and beyond, one journey at a time

About Platform Four

A to B

I cannot drive. This is something which surprises many people, particularly those who I meet in my taxi.

Before you pass judgement on me, may I add that my dad cannot drive and his dad could not drive either, so this is not down to laziness, no, instead it is merely the dutiful continuation of a legacy. As a result, despite being in my early thirties, I have amassed more track miles than your average London Underground driver. Although admittedly I do strike less frequently. Either way, through circumstance and necessity, I have become a slave to the rails.

There are two myths about train travel in this country. The first is that the trains are rubbish. Not true. We are actually served by one of the most extensive rail networks in the world. But if you listen to your average Brit, or read a tabloid, then trains are always late and if not late then cancelled and when they do turn up they are always overcrowded. Again, not true. Brits just love a good moan, and love to have the biggest moan too. You once caught a train that had no buffet car and was half an hour late? That’s nothing my train was an hour late and it had no doors. Alot of the time passengers simply have unreasonable expectations; if your average customer’s instinctive reaction to the announcement of a fatality on the line is to sigh and look at their watch then let’s face it, this is a tough crowd.

These high demands have arguably been set up by the second myth; that train travel is romantic. The nature of train travel has changed dramatically, where once it was farewell embraces on smoke cloaked platforms now alas the nearest you’ll get to romance is a teenage couple necking against the luggage rack, while one of their mates films it on their mobile. Oscar Wilde once penned the line “One should always have something sensational to read in the train”, a ideal notably dispelled by the success of the Metro.

That sepia-tainted idea of romantic train travel has spawned documentaries and television programmes. But the problem with Great Railway Journeys and its ilk is that whilst the railway journeys it featured were certainly great, they were just far too obscure. From Ulan Bator to Pyongyang with Clive Anderson. Brian Blessed barks his way from Tbilsi to Tehran. Real train travel is too removed from this for those of us who rely on trains to relate. And so Platform Four is an attempt to bring you rail travel as it really is; no more La Paz to Montevideo with Cleo Rocos, for me and you this is very much more Loughborough to Mansfield Woodhouse.

Trains don’t irritate me, people do. This will probably become apparent as we move on. I’ve moved quickly to defend the rail network in this prologue, but I won’t move as quickly to defend people. Frankly there are a hell of a lot of oddballs out there and the oddest and ballsiest of the lot usually travel by train, and sit somewhere near me. If you’ve gone cold turkey on reality television, and still desperately need your fix of socially inept opposites and attention seeking annoyances crammed into a relentlessly small space then I suggest you take a train sometime soon. Who needs three months of tasks and phone-ins when it’s all there in front of you in a twenty-five minute journey from Newark Castle to Lincoln Central. No more Great Railway Journeys, welcome to Grating Railway Journeys. All aboard.

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2 thoughts on “About Platform Four

  1. I like it!

    You say that train travel is no longer romantic, but I’d argue that the romance has only changed, not died. The sight of any train pulling into any station still excites me. I think of the Lumiere brothers and, oddly, Johnny Depp riding through the American West in ‘Dead Man.’ Then again, I tend to ride the rail only when traveling, which might add to my sense of the romantic.

    One question, would you ever drive a train if given the chance?

  2. This is first class Glen. Ba-dum-tish!
    I’ve always loved train travel. My Grandad used to take me back and forth along the Leeds-Skipton line as a little un’, and ever since, train travel for me has been a relaxing experience, in spite of the network myths that you mention.

    The trick is to just keep looking out of the window – I find this diverts my attention from the nutcases who insist on sitting next to me when they have their pick of every seat in the carriage..

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