You can’t see this by car

This is the scene that got me pondering about the view from a train. It was a snatched photo taken in the early 1990’s in from a District line train, between the River Thames & East Putney Station. The car is no longer there & the company that owned the building at the time have moved on. 


And this is a car that you can’t see by car, only by train…

What is it that draws people to the view from a train – as opposed to from a car or other road transport?

The routes that railways take differ from roads in various ways. Trains can only cope with shallow gradients, (usually up to 1 in 40, though some are steeper) so they tend to follow contours, rivers and valleys, in a more gentle relationship with the landscape. Like the canals, railways are more in tune with the landscape. You find railways following canals in many places, as the canal builders found the shallowest gradients to build their navigations, often along river valleys. The railway builders took this idea and followed the route. Roads often ignore this concept, especially modern highways, which charge through the landscape by comparison, taking steeper gradients, and when they can’t do that, ploughing through huge cuttings, such as the M40 at Christmas Common, or the M3 through Twyford Down. Wider, louder and more obtrusive than a pair of rails can ever be.

And you tend to be higher up in a railway carriage than a car, so the view from an embankment, bridge or viaduct will usually be better than if you were on a road (except when in a cutting!).

Because of the nature of railways as a transport mode, with limited access to the network at stations and over it at level crossings, it doesn’t get a view of the frontage of a premises the same way that a road does. Roads are accessible from dwellings and businesses at virtually any point on the ordinary network, so the facade of a business or the front of a house faces the road, never the railway.

This means that rail users get the raw, unabridged version of life. The untidy back yard, the blokes having a crafty fag outside the factory fire exit, overspill and detritus from gardens, the unkempt yet verdant allotments, all the farmyards, nooks and crannies and rural idylls that are never experienced if you travel by road.

Add to this the stunning scenery that presents itself at you wind your way through the Welsh mountains or the rolling Cotswolds and we begin to understand people’s affection for rail travel.

Here’s a short example of scenes from a carriage window, shot on the Severn Valley Railway this year. Like all rail journeys, these few images show you several interesting aspects of the area’s social and industrial history. Watch this space for more views you can’t see by car. Coming soon…

Thanks for reading. Check out my other posts on travel, heritage railways and more.
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