As I was talking to some people from Amtrak, the American railway company, a week or so ago, I was left thinking about the names of rail journeys. They still have the Coast Starlight which runs from Seattle to Los Angeles conjuring up a rather romantic moonlight journey and services like the Texas Eagle, Pacific Surfliner, and The Silver Meteor. The 20th Century Ltd doesn’t run anymore apart from in re-runs of Hitchcock’s North by Northwest and the Orient Express ended just running from Strasbourg to Vienna till that ended last December. In Australia, the Indian-Pacific does exactly what its name suggests, linking two oceans and the Trans-Siberian also does just what it says..
What do we have?
The Flying Scotsman is both an engine and the regular service that leaves at 10 am from Kings Cross to Edinburgh as it has done for 148 years. We still have the Night Riviera down to Cornwall and the newer Caledonian Sleeper linking London to Scotland. But the Brighton Belle is gone (although there are hopes to revive it in time for the Olympics) and the 7.32 fast train from Dorking to Waterloo doesn’t quite have the same ring about it.
Why not re-introduce names for particular timed trains and make them something special, something that visitors would want to travel on. I’m not suggesting that we lay a red carpet along the platform like the 20th Century Ltd had or pipe every passenger aboard but why not celebrate some of our fantastic scenery or our towns with some effort.
Take the Carlisle to Newcastle Line that goes over the Pennines and mirrors Hadrian’s Wall for some of the way. Northern Rail, who operate the service already has a train painted to reflect the wall. Let’s take that further. Why not introduce one train, say on a Saturday in Summer, as the Roof of England service or the Roman Legionnaire. Have a rack of tourist brochures on a trolley and wheel it through offering advice on local attractions and B&B’s. Dress the person as a legionnaire, provide a commentary over the tannoy system so it becomes like a tour excursion. Charge a little more for the service and throw in a “Roman” souvenir for the child passengers.
You could use the same concept for the Heart of Wales Line. Running from Shrewsbury to Swansea, it still has the feel from an older time with request stops, spa towns, and small villages. Name one train service after the famed Archdeacon of Brecon, Giraldus Cambrensus or Gerald of Wales and just as he explored Wales, so does this line. Again, use some of the ideas mentioned earlier. A brochure rack, a guided tour, and a Welsh tea, with a premium paid for the journey. Just as The Jacobite is a steam pulled the train in Summer on the Mallaig line in Scotland, maybe the Gerald could be one as well.
Too many sites are lost to the visitor unless you travel by train. The journey from Llanelli to Carmarthen is just one of those spots you can’t appreciate unless you’re on a train. So let"s make the most of the trains and the journey and expand the tourism offers we make to visitors.