Saturday, 7 February 2009


I changed trains at Bristol Parkway once. It was a depressing experience.

I usually like railway stations. Even the smallest and barest rural platform - Honeybourne, for instance, midway between the small village of Church Honeybourne and the tiny hamlet Cow Honeybourne - has a distinctive character. The bigger stations may have the same shops (or "outlets" as they are now called) but they also have history and personality. But all that was distinctive about Bristol Parkway was a determined characterlessness. I recall it only in terms of platforms, notices, stairs and subway that were interchangeable with a multitude of other railway stations. There may have been a cafe but, if so, it was a cafe whose customers and staff had been drained of geographical or regional identity and, like the food, existed only between places. Bristol Parkway didn't feel like a real station - more like an intersection on a motorway where people could pause for a few moments so long as they didn't mistake their existence there for real life.

There are stations I've visited only once or twice that I shall never forget: Grindleford, and Worcester Shrub Hill. I've even developed affection for that difficult multi-platformed interchange, Clapham Junction. But Bristol Parkway belongs in a bleak vision of the future - unless it's the present that has stolen up on us.

A new Parkway station has landed in the East Midlands. To be accurate, I think people may have put it there, since I saw lights once or twice
when the train rushed past the spot in the past few weeks. I haven't used it. It's another dull, anonymous halt, with train information spelt out in orange dots on electronic noticeboards. Sometimes one or two people get on or off the train there when it stops. Sometimes I see a uniformed member of station staff. But I'm growing fascinated by the large glass boxes labelled "Waiting Room." They are filled with identikit, hard-to-vandalise chairs which have the appearance of occupying an uncertain space between comfort and discomfort. The chairs are (have I got this right?) set out in rows in the glass waiting rooms. I have never seen a human being in the waiting rooms - perhaps the chairs are too terrifying.

East Midlands Parkway Station is for motorists. Apparently this makes it a green initiative. Travellers are encouraged to get in their cars, drive on the M1 and turn off towards the railway station. Or they can arrive by bus, if they first catch a plane to East Midlands Airport. I expect it's a quicker journey than the buses that already run to other East Midlands cities. The publicity is all in favour of the expensive new stations. Meanwhile the service has been cut at the small local stations in the area - the stations with character. Some little stations on the line have lasted 180 years, founded in the days of the Midland Counties Railway. There are histories, memories and railway buildings that have been in used since Queen Victoria was young.

And then there's East Midlands Parkway


Anonymous said...

This is wonderful - never seen a human being in the waiting rooms - no coal fire I suppose - heaven forbid the health and safety etc, never mind man-less operation.

I love the links, wiki clapham junction etc. many thanks indeed from a closet autist / train spotter. kllrchrd

Anonymous said...

Remember this song?

Kathz said...

Thanks so much for your comments - and the link. Not only have I been a Flanders & Swann fan since my teens - I was later a member of the same Quaker Meeting as Donald Swann and once heard him sing this in an informal concert he gave at a Quaker weekend away. (He also sang my personal favourite - The British Bedstead Men - at my request.)