Sunday, 19 April 2009

Easter Saturday 2009 at Garsdale

Myself and Fiona are Christians of a liberal sort. Over Easter weekend family arrangements meant we did not enter a church.
However our Easter Saturday was surprisingly and graciously infused with the spirit of the Risen Christ. We needed to journey from Prudhoe to mother in law at Castle Douglas in Galloway. I came up with the idea of going via Garsdale. That is a hamlet 1000 feet up in the Yorkshire Dales with a station (an erstwhile junction) on the Settle to Carlisle railway line. On the map it would not appear to be the way to go. The week before an email had arrived in my in box appealing for people to get to Garsdale station between 11-1200 on Easter Saturday and promised free food for those so doing. What an offer. I looked into it and found that by driving 140 miles instead of 100, we could go via the scenic A686 route over Hartside and break our day by stopping at Langwathby station. An early start would put us on the 0953 southbound out of Langwathby and give us a day in Eden visiting Garsdale and later on Kirkby Stephen for the Easter Bus Rally. The latter is always a favourite of mine as all sorts of vintage machines and men enjoy their annual resurrection.
The sense of blessing started with the weather. This must have been one of the nicest Easter Saturdays in the Dales in years. Certainly not like last year. I was surprised when 20 people boarded the train at Langwathby. Throughout the day the S&C appeared busy. But this was not an ordinary day. It was 20 years to the day that the S&C had been reprieved from closure and that was what this day was about. An Easter celebration of the salvation of the Settle and Carlisle. It was rather more than that. At Garsdale there was a remarkable show and yes, plenty of free hospitality. Around 200 people, maybe more, had found their way to this isolated station. Once there, open-air spechifying took place. Hardly anywhere to sit, we stood on the platform. I am used to sermons and often they have a remarkable ability to send me to sleep. It might be thought that 30 minutes or so of spechifying at Garsdale would have the same effect. Instead an electrifyingly moving atmosphere grew in the crowd.
A story was being told, it was a tragic story but with a resurrection. We were actually assembled for three purposes: to mark the 20th anniversary of the reprieve, to see the completion of a £250,000 restoration of Garsdale station itself, and this included the unveiling of a bronze statue of a dog, conveniently and sensibly placed opposite the signalbox for the signalman to keep an eye on it (heading photos). This all seems a bit strange. What has a dog got to do with this. A dead dog at that, dead since about 1990. The dog's name was Ruswarp and he had become an officially recognised objector at the closure enquiry to the line. In turn this was because his master Graham Nuttall was one of the leading opponents.
Both man and dog saw the line reprieved although only months later Graham died walking alone in North Wales. Ruswarp was with him and would not leave his master and was himself found weeks later by another walker, emaciated and near to death. He was rescued and Graham was buried. The story of a man's best friend and faithful love in the face of death caught the press attention then. Now, 20 years later and at Easter, a true partnership of volunteers and professionals (none being amateurs) had come together and were marking this anniversary in an outstanding way and receiving the blessing of the weather God. In our header picture the tall man is Ron Cotton, the one time BR manager charged with closing the line though in fact he did much to demonstrate its appeal. The lady chaired the closure enquiry. They were brought together to unveil the statue. The throng included an MP giving up his Easter Saturday (Eric Martlew from Carlisle). Network Rail who have poured money into the regeneration were out in force with senior management. The Friends of the Settle to Carlisle Line likewise. It all brought back memories for me of fighting the closure in the early 1980s. I was one of the objectors and made my way to a rally Mike Harding fronted at Settle in 1984.
It became a splendid occasion. The final touches for us were courtesy of John Diggles. He was on the PA system and managed to unearth some rather special music. He had come along with an old vinyl single issued for the Stockton & Darlington Rail 150 celebrations at Shildon in 1975 . The "A" side of the disc, by a band called "Geordies Penkers" was called "The Iron Road" and was not played. On the"B" side was a tune called "Land of the Pennine God". This was written and performed by the late Mike Donald from Skipton. He was a folk singer/songwriter and S&C railway fan in the 1970s. I would love to get printed words and music for this song. It was an evocative ballard about the smash on December 24th 1910 just north of Garsdale after the signalman there incorrectly operated the signalling leading to a northbound sleeping car express crashing into light engines with the loss of nine lives. My wife thought rather plausibly as we listened to the ballard on the platform beside the box to which it referred that the title was "Land of the Pennine Fog". I preferred God and apparently this is the title.
For the Pennine God I owe much to the poet W. H. Auden. He effectively managed an entire revelation of a God in tune with geology and evolution through the Pennine fault that runs to the east side of the Eden Valley down which the S&C descends to Carlisle. Garsdale may not be one of Auden's names but Hawes five miles away certainly is and Garsdale was of course once known as Hawes Junction, as it was on the night of the smash. Auden's masterful itinerary England: "Six Unexpected Days" for American Vogue in 1954 went via Hawes. For my money this Easter Saturday this Pennine God was alive and kicking on the platforms of Garsdale station.
It would of course be very easy to pooh-pooh introducing God to this post. I will point out however that after uploading the post, the sculptress of Ruswarp read the post and introduced herself in an email. To quote from that email: "Why JOEL is answered by the fact that I was not aware of the gift of being able to sculpt until it was "announced" directly after I had become a Christian with a capital C". JOEL is the signature inscribed on the sculpture by Jo Walker. More information is at .
A note added 26th June 2009. I have now sourced both the songbook and LP record North by North East of Mike Donald's. These fully provide "Land of the Pennine God" and other delights and should anyone show interest a mini-revival may follow.

Ina Steiner's editorial: the future for online niche vendors I recommend as obligatory reading about where ebay is going (which is not where we are going), where on-line selling is going as a whole, about how to find your own audiences - the use of Twitter et al. It is all stuff we would recognise on this site but coming from Ina Steiner it should interest most of us small niche sellers.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Railway Postcards and Photographs

Listings in the railwayana and public transport sections of keep expanding and in the last little while a new vendor devabob has helped fill the
Collectables > Railwayana > Postcards category at . When I looked there were 810 listings. Other vendors include myself robertatforsythe, cargo365 and interestingtreasures .
Because you can list in two categories for nothing, items can also be found in
Collectables > Postcards > Railway.
Individual examples that I think are bit special include
the Glasgow Subway
Douglas Station Isle of Man in 1969
one of a number of Czech railway postcards
an example of a number of American cards.
If you like railway postcards, you are sure to find something and by the way if maritime imagery is your thing there's a large number of tug photos on the site as well like here's one of mine
which is the entry illustration of this post.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Vienna: a note

Anyone who writes knows that what is published is the tip of an iceberg of what is written. This is true for me. Huge screeds of unwritten material surround us at home. A highlight in 2008 was an invitation to speak at a conference in Vienna, Austria in September. It led to the creation of an essay which after the usual round of submissions and rejections was forgotten about. "Beautiful piece, pity no-one reads essays any more" about sums up the reaction I got. Just this day I was stimulated by a call for papers for the next conference in this series from the IIID. Whether I get there again or not will be another story but it made me think I should upload the essay to the blog and see if any reaction followed.

Vienna: A Sugar Icing Confection

Copyright Robert Forsythe

Vienna: a sugar icing confection?

I am sitting looking out of a train window on a sunny morning. It is about 08.30am and the landscape could pass for the Hampshire Downs. Some rolling hills; no mountains are in sight. Before me are arable fields, cereal, maize, several farm buildings. A village appears in the distance perhaps several hundred metres from the tracks. We roll through a wayside station and on a blue sign is the name Kirchstetten. A wave of emotion and recognition struck me.

Home for me is a hillside, the setting for a small town, once reliant on coal mining, in the Tyne Valley between Newcastle and Hexham. Often in conversation, no-one has heard of Prudhoe. We have our Norman castle. Depending on how high you get up the hillside, three miles to the north and well in sight is Hadrian’s Wall. Our immediate landscape is that of the end of Roman Empire, that of vicious border disputes (to be bereaved), and for a railway enthusiast as I am, my study window looks down on Britain’s first cross country railway from Newcastle to Carlisle opened in 1838. South of our town, the Pennine hills stretch over 150 miles, for the Tyne Valley marks their northern boundary. A sense of place and location has always been important to me. They are accents which help define the person.

All of which improbably explains my reaction to Kirchstetten. Sitting in the train, I am undertaking something of an unlikely excursion. It is achieving over five days around 21 personal firsts[1]. The train which I had joined in Cologne was in today’s parlance CNL313. CNL stands for Citynightline, a network of trans-Europe overnight services[2]. CNL313 is a named train called the Donau Kurier or Danube Courier[3] and at Kirchstetten I was approaching the end of over 12 hours in my sleeping cabin[4] and of a 26 hour all train journey from Prudhoe to Vienna. The direct purpose of the trip was that later on that day I would deliver a paper called Messages from the Western European Fringes to an international conference in a venue overlooked by the towering blocks of the UNO-City on the banks of the Danube[5]. What had brought me thus far was an unlikely combination of looking after around quarter of a million pieces of transport publicity and the very specific uplifting community tale of one of those pieces called the Isle of Mull timetable. Somehow I had persuaded the conference organisers that the Mull timetable was worth international attention and I certainly think that is the case.

What was it about Kirchstetten which had so moved me? I know Auden is buried there and it was a very emotional moment, alone in a first class sleeping cabin with the country rolling past and an exclusive window for one (actually four windows, a berth, a toilet and a shower, with table and two chairs for one - you should not travel Europe in halves).
And is there any connection between my feelings for Kirchstetten and the direct cause for my passing by, the invite to deliver a conference paper? The answer to the first question comes in that one word: Auden. It would be sad if the reader does not recognise Auden but I fear that might increasingly be the case. Auden (1907-1973) was in the 20th century one of the absolute pillars of writing in the English language. He was not either an easy man or an easy writer to follow. To appreciate Auden one has to work and there is a first point of connection to my visit to Vienna. I was come to engage in the debate about INFOCONNECTIVITY and public transport. It was organised by a very respected Viennese based design house called IIID International Institute for Information Design. The two principal individuals behind the conference are highly regarded designers[6].

My interest in Auden works at several levels. As the writer of Night Mail, he was soon in the consciousness of a young railway enthusiast. A different Auden was revealed to me at University whilst studying theology. What really made Auden click for me however, I only learnt about after I was 27, when I discovered the Pennine Auden. Now, after nearly two decades studying that, this side of Auden remains relatively little understood. Despite which, it is a fact that the immediate environs of my home landscape is Auden’s own self described “Mutterland”[7]. Auden was willing to eulogise old railway trains, lead mines and limestone wherever he found them. I have not been a terribly good European citizen but Auden was. He called himself a Citizen of the World. He resided at different times in Britain, America, Italy, Austria and made extended visits inter alia to Germany, Iceland and China. He only ever owned one house and that was in Kirchstetten. The house was owned from 1957 and was his summer retreat. Auden died suddenly one night having given a poetry reading in the Palais Palffy in Vienna. He was found dead in his hotel room in the Altenburgerhof, Walfischgasse the next morning 29th September 1973. He was buried in Kirchstetten on the 4th October[8].

I did not actually travel to Vienna with all this in mind, I needed to remind myself of the detail on my return home, but in my sub-conscious I had every reason to want to pass Kirchstetten and visit Vienna. Sometimes friends and readers have found it difficult to see how I hang together diverse interests but I have no doubt whatsoever that, consummate traveller and student of technical matters that he was, Auden would fully understand my desire to be at a conference on public transport interconnections and good design in Vienna and to get there the whole way from his Pennines by train. Perhaps his spirit helped prosecute the entire enterprise?

Before the journey is completed into Vienna, return back to Newcastle for this journey across Europe to a conference on INFOCONNECTIVITY was also a practical exercise in INFOCONNECTIVITY. Even planning the journey had required intellectual engagement. I should have started with The Man in Seat 61[9]. Even in the 1980s it would have all been so simple. I would have wandered into Newcastle railway station (not a train station as it is now, when did that linguistic change occur and why?) and picked up a leaflet. There was an international series published by BR and readily available in stations. These publications were issued until at least 1992, thereafter in the UK both privatisation and digitisation did for them. The timetable in 1992 showed two clear routes London to Vienna. The journey could then be done in just about 24 hours.

Some things change for the better and others for the worse. The journey time has, thanks to the Channel Tunnel and the European high speed trains, had about four hours shaved off the London time. From Prudhoe about 3 hours away in the North East, you are looking at around 24 hours train travel. The key thing is going in and out of Vienna on an overnight sleeper train which has come down the Rhine Valley from Amsterdam and the knack is how you hop onto that from St Pancras. The choice is via Paris and SNCF or Bruxelles and SNCB. In the old days, staff at Newcastle (there was a European booking office even in the 1990s) would have advised and sold tickets impartially. Today the customer must decide for himself from some quite confusing choices.

Austrian Railways ÖBB had a good web site which came up with times but could not sell tickets. Rail Europe (French Railways SNCF in the UK) had a range of times and fares, some looking very cheap if booked far enough in advance but would require a station change in Paris. A little company called Trains Europe at March Station could fix the lot and provide times but I wondered how robust a little company would be? I went round in quite a lot of circles with the internet because another major factor is choosing accommodation in the overnight train. I wanted to talk to a human being who would advise me and not endless screens which I quickly forgot. Eventually DB German Railways was alighted on, their office in Surbiton is staffed by English speaking Germans who were very helpful and finally I found myself booking a £563 London to Vienna return whose elements consisted of six legs, three of which I was advised to take as first class. One of those legs via Eurostar was a bargain ticket and the two first class sleeping car journeys (including one at bargain rate) ensured privacy and exclusive cabin occupancy. I am the world’s worst sleeper (as would be discovered later in Vienna) and the requirement to travel in the sleeper in some comfort was pretty much basic.

Already before putting a foot in a train, I had had to spend a lot of time planning the journey compared with the past when a simple visit to a real person in a real booking hall would have done the job. It is not really progress is it? Many readers would of course be telling me that I SHOULD have flown because it would have been both cheaper and quicker. It would have been about 7 hours in total door to door with one change of plane. I have never been a great flyer. My third return flight had been made in May this year when I organised a short hop Newcastle to Belfast. That ended up taking the award for my worst ever travel experience[10]. The general ethos of airport terminals, separation from baggage, loss of control, impossibility of escape from fellow drunken passengers, incarceration in a sardine can[11] never did it for me. The recent security situation finishes the matter with the real possibility of physical humiliation for the average harmless person. In the event, I had organised a flight tempted by the price, only for Easyjet to cancel the flight with me at the airport. Not only was their immediate behaviour (the washing of hands) gross but the subsequent work required to obtain a refund was out of all proportion to the money involved which no doubt is how Easyjet intend it. However after a complaint to the Information Commissioner and much general nastiness, I received both a refund of the original fare and of the replacement flight that I had had to organise. Apparently receiving a refund is something of a novelty so I was quite chuffed, even if the second payment only appeared in the bank account the Monday before this Viennese trip started on Wednesday 3rd September 2008, an anniversary of European dimensions.

At 6.15am that morning, I was packed and ready to start my environmentally friendly marathon of civil travel. There was no need to start the car, I walked within 10 minutes to the station. For a change this summer, it was not raining. The air was fresh on Prudhoe’s platform. On time (it is not always reliable, I am not so naïve) the first Newcastle train of the day arrived at 6.30am. For sure train travel can be improved and I am no fan of every aspect of modern information provision believing there are horses for courses. The conceptual hiccup about the 6.30am was why was I on it at all? The Eurostar left St Pancras at 12.57 more than six hours away. Why was I not on the 9am from Newcastle at Kings Cross 12.17 with 40 minutes for connection[12]? Later in the day I would be making an official 21 minute international connection at Cologne. Being on the 9am I would have left Prudhoe at 8.04 am.

The explanations of this are varied. When I had decided to buy a ticket from DB, they could not sell a ticket outside London. Trains Europe had actually quoted me £563 via Bruxelles and the sleeper from Prudhoe[13]. This meant I had to procure my tickets to London from my college friend one Alex Nelson. Nowadays he is the stationmaster of Chester-le-Track running Chester-le-Street station as a franchise. Their advice was that I needed a Euro Standard Single made out to London CIV. This is a free access to all trains ticket issued to European ticket holders, its merit being that it implies continuation of journey by alternative services if delayed, unlike a train specific advance purchase bargain which if things cocked up would leave me no redress if I missed the Eurostar. So another £100 had gone on getting me to and from London and additionally the official advice on the itinerary was to use the 6.30am to allow plenty of time for late running and check-in.

I played safe but this is not the railways at their best. In fact it gets worse. Despite inventing the railway system, Britain through the 20th century showed an astonishing aptitude for being left behind. Main line electrification was getting well under way through Europe in the first two decades of the 20th century. At first it looked as if North East England and the North East Railway could be up there with the leaders. The NER implemented two different electrification schemes and had a third for the real McCoy lined up. That third scheme was The Electric Railway That Never Was[14]. The NER main line north of York was to be electrified and NER no. 13 was built as the prototype for the job in 1919. It never did more than a few tests; steam and diesel ran the East Coast Main Line until the wires took over in 1991.

Even more frustrating is that soon after the electrics got to Newcastle, we received a commitment to join the European railway network. This was more than hope, this was reality. As the Channel Tunnel opened in 1994 Regional Eurostar sets to serve Newcastle were built so also Nightstar sleeping car stock for tunnel use. The prospect of perhaps a one change journey to Vienna or, perish the hope, even a through service from Edinburgh to Vienna via (Newcastle), London, Paris, Basel, a great European capitals express would have been mouthwatering. It was a pipedream despite all the expenditure and the Nightstar stock was sold to Canada.

Even with the tunnel open in 1994, passengers like myself focussed on the East Coast Main Line were in limbo. The Eurostars joined the antiquated third rail network and trundled though Kent to London Waterloo. That finally changed in the autumn of 2007 with the completion of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and the opening of St Pancras International and that in turn liberated the way to make the change by crossing the street at King’s Cross.

Which convolutions had got me aboard the 6.30am at Prudhoe. I sat down in the modestly populated train and after about five minutes wondered whether it was Prince Harry facing me about 10 feet away. I will perhaps never know the answer to that but if it was not him, it was someone able to do a darned good impersonation of him. Arrival in Newcastle was prompt and the 7am to London was in the station. “Prince Harry” hurried off to its first class section. He is known to have made visits to friends in the Tyne Valley.

Officially I was destined for the 7.40am to London. Arrivals into Newcastle from Prudhoe at 06.52am and 08.03am are hardly adequate for those bent on an early start. There was the 7am in the station and I had a ticket freely available on all departures. I got on it and made for the buffet car whose seats generally in my experience are unreserved. No problems there.

Almost a smooth journey followed, nearly but not quite. Somewhere just north of Werrington Junction, the train shuddered to a halt and the main lights went out. Power had evidently gone. Sure enough the Guard advised that a safety critical system had stopped the train and that the driver was walking the length of the train to investigate. Fortunately he was able to re-set the system and arrival in London was about 20 minutes down. I had something like 3 hours for the connection.

These were going to be my first steps inside St Pancras since it had re-opened. I had walked past the frontage on Saturday 7th June 2008. That was in the cause of attending an old friend’s 50th party over a lunch at Lords. Not my normal territory but very enjoyable nonetheless, save that on arrival at Kings Cross, the Underground (and I think the main station) were being evacuated owing to a security alert. The pavements outside the twin stations were nearly jammed solid with a slow moving mass of humanity. On that occasion, rather than even try to use public transport, I walked to Lords and I walked back. That return included am amble through Regent’s Park only slightly marred near the London Mosque when the policeman observed to be leisurely passing the time of day leaning over a little bridge parapet was carrying a sub-machine gun. The civilised city routine is not quite convincing when machine gun toting policemen are mixing with the children.

This time there were no security alerts. There was an AEC Routemaster bus and nowadays that is worth comment. The half cab red double decker was the acme of a purpose built London bus with thousands built 1954-1968. With much soul searching and owing nothing to anyone, ordinary commercial London service ceased on 9th December 2005. London buses remain predominantly red but the capital is a different place without the Routemaster and many people including the London Mayor Boris Johnson elected in 2008 are no fans of the Mercedes Benz articulated replacements. The Bendi Buses are thought through their length to create traffic impediments in a manner no Routemaster did and nor are they nearly as accessible lacking an open platform to board by. The sight of SMK 735F parked in the sun in Midland Road beside St Pancras was heartwarming and demanded a photo. Since the “final” withdrawal, two heritage routes in Central London have continued to use Routemasters mainly for the benefit of tourists. The Routemaster I found was a spare bus for one of these routes and this day it was on a private hire duty.

Inside I needed only a short time to be convinced that the new St Pancras does just what the tin says. It is an international travel icon marrying the best of old and new and leaving the user with a sense of the transcendent possibilities of travel. The station is spacious, even excessively so. There was perhaps not quite a generous enough provision of public seating with much of the seating visible “upstairs” at platform level associated with food and drink outlets. But the two powerful positives with me were the imaginative use of the old underground spaces to create the bulk of the new passenger facilities and the patronage of the arts. With its original trainshed roof and revived Gothic hotel frontage, the station is an art piece in itself. Two substantial sculptures add to this. John Betjeman is the smaller but as an incorrigible railway enthusiast and traveller, this is a poet laureate entirely deserving of a permanent place in the new station. He and Auden were good friends and their last meeting was in the Marylebone station buffet.

It is difficult to miss Paul Day’s The Meeting Place. This 9m high bronze shows a standing couple snogging. I stood by it for some time taking in the reactions of passers by. A few were disgusted, most were in awe, many took pictures, some couples even managed to argue over it. I am a fan of this art piece. Travel has so often had sexual and relational overtones. Travel is about new possibilities, departures, moving on, being part of a journey of life and the journey of life is always in some sense a sexual and sensual encounter. When we eventually reach Vienna some comments about the obvious openness of Viennese sexuality can be made. We in Britain are notoriously tight lipped about the subject and so to plonk a 9m high bronze in the centre of the concourse of our new European gateway is undeniably avant garde.

British security and immigration procedures ensure nothing happens very fast and so the business of getting on board the 12.57pm to Brussels took a while. I had a considerable sense of real excitement when having passed the various irksome hurdles, I was actually on an escalator and about to board a Eurostar, only 14 years after they entered service. The first trip on a Eurostar is bound to impress. I can assuredly say they are comfortable (even more so in First Class which I used on the return). However as a scenic advert for Britain one should be wary of overdoing it. Much of the journey in Britain is in tunnel (quite apart from the Channel itself). The first tunnel starts about half a mile from the St Pancras platform ends and runs for miles under East London. There’s a brief moment of excitement near the Thames Crossing. That is another tunnel but a good view of the M25 viaduct is provided first. The Medway viaduct is also impressive.

As a traveller to Europe the excitement is bound to increase when one shoots out of the Calais portal and an initial downland landscape similar to that back on the other side fairly soon gives way to the low lying farmland that will extend into Walloonia. There are glimpses of canals. Dunkerque is there in the background. Summer storm clouds were building and sweeping the country with a grey wall of rain down to the ground. Beyond Lille and the high speed line to Brussels Midi has been generated by SNCB[15]. Approaching Brussels Midi through Forest, although the line is a technical accomplishment, the sheer amount of graphiti and dereliction was depressing. Changing trains at Midi confirmed this. I could not call it a great European station. There were some very dark corners. True, there were lots of trains inside and trams outside. But as the photos confirmed too many of these were covered with graphiti. As the politics might confirm, the Belgians do not seem too proud of their country[16].

The connection seemed to go smoothly until having left on time we ground to a halt in the tunnel just north of Midi. My advance knowledge of where the THALYS went on leaving Brussels Midi was a bit sketchy. In fact a new high speed line is nearly complete (??) but we were still on classic tracks to Aachen and would suffer thereby. There had been catenary problems outside Brussels and we began to steadily lose time in the face of the tightest connection of the day: 21 minutes at Cologne. Schaerbeek station was a mass of traditional cast iron platform canopies. The Belgiums have an intense railway network and there was no shortage of trains to spot.

The climb over the Ardennes Plateau is deceptive although I knew that once the Meuse was reached, the landscape would change dramatically. Even so I was not prepared for the ski slope of an incline that the traditional railway has to slide down to reach Liège Guillemins. Liège and the accompanying valleys that the train then wound through Angleur, Trooz, Pepinster and Verviers to beyond the border crossing and arrival at Aachen surely knew some British hands in their industrialisation?[17] It was not difficult to think that one was in a Yorkshire mill valley and not in the Low Countries at all. Near Aachen is the Drielandenpunt where Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands all meet at a hill 323 metres high. Not far away is Plombières (lead mines[18]), whilst a freight only line running on the Belgium side under the Drielandenpunt is an important artery from Germany to the ports called the Iron Rhine[19].

Industrialisation was and is the message, although the valley of the Vesdre seems, like Yorkshire, to have a struggle. Towering brick chimneys, crazily inclined brick terraces, spurs of rock through which the railway passed, abundant evidence of the use of water power, derelict factories. It all seemed a bit familiar. The continent re-asserted itself at Aachen. The Hbf was full of DB traction. In the distance the Dom could be seen and Aachen’s own double history as a one time European capital of Charlemagne and known to the French as Aix le Chappelle reminded me of my medieval history schooling in which I got an A grade at A level.

Approaching Cologne, the guard re-assured passengers that connections would be made. There were two long distance trains to Southern Germany which the THALYS fed into. At 8.01pm platform 6 which should have hosted the Donau Kurier held a delayed ICE the 7.54pm to Munich. The sleeper was directly behind and we would leave just a few minutes late. In each direction our arrival at the destination would be delayed (25 minutes down into Vienna, 70 minutes down back into Cologne but fortunately not to adversely affect my itinerary).

Having never been on a sleeper train at all, having ensured I had a deluxe compartment to myself, knowing that the Rhine Gorge would be travelled end to end both ways and that I had never seen the gorge at all, one was anticipating some feast of travel[20]. As The Man in Seat 61 puts it: “switch off the lights and watch the Rhine pass by, mountains and castles lit by moonlight, while sipping your complimentary white wine, Wonderful”. There was no moon and I am no drinker of wine, but it was wonderful.

For someone who loves model railways, I can express the sleeper journey like this. From the moment I shut the compartment door, switched off all the lights and propped my face against the window with a pillow, it was as if I had been miniaturised and discovered myself part of a model railway set. You see all these model railway images with far too many trains and tracks to be believable, you grow up on a diet of Faller and Pola buildings and then in the gloom of a September evening you realise it is true. German model railways are not a fantasy. There really are locomotive sheds with dozens of engines on view. There really are trains of just a couple of wagons followed by huge long rakes of mineral hoppers, containers and tankers.

Going out, despite the lack of moon, the number of floodlit castles and well lit barges ensured there was plenty to see. Coming back, we were about an hour late which ensured an excellent lit transit of the whole gorge, Locations long familiar from travel agent’s brochures in our collection were momentarily recognised. Just some impressions of the busy river: the 2 cars 1 speedboat barge, the four barge pusher, the water over the decks tanker, the training walls with water cascading over. Those last emphasized what a wild river this is. For this artery of Europe up and down which commerce continually flowed is largely untamed through the gorges. The training walls point out into the river every few hundred yards to direct and deepen the flow. And the water is visibly pouring over them emphasizing the natural gradient. At night navigation lights, the luminescence of bow waves entranced the eye. By day, the sheer number of rocks poking out of the river rammed home the skill and power that is required to bring these vessels through the gorge. Beyond the gorges, I missed the Rhine crossing at Mainz but was fully aware of Frankfurt am Main. Like St Pancras or Cologne an impressive train shed roof is emphatic.

As the night wore on I cat-napped. I am sure the regular traveller would indeed sleep. It really should not be too difficult. The train journey was akin to some form of vibratory massage. It was impossible to know which sensation could come next (the hardened traveller would just submit and snooze). The bed was entirely comfortable but not only were there station stops, there were stands in dark forests presumably whilst something ahead cleared a section, there were freights to be overtaken in loops, there was the reversal at Frankfurt and the splitting of the train at Karlsruhe. To Frankfurt and from Karlsruhe, our carriage was the front vehicle. Going outward, there were two WLABm sleepers for Vienna largely because of a party from the UK organised by Great Railway Journeys in York. When at the front, one could sense the power of the electric engine just ahead and feel the weight of the train behind. The carriage rode at times very steadily. At times you were moving and barely aware of movement. At other times, one was thumping around, through reverse curves, over indifferent track, clambering into summit tunnels. I remember one just before a pretty steep descent into Stuttgart. Coming back, the Vienna first class sleeper was the rear coach and instead of seeing the engine headlights ahead, it felt like being the tail of the snake and one could look forward and see this gyrating pattern of window lights oscillating ahead on the trees. The occasional silences were breathtaking. There was one at Karlsruhe when having gone backwards and forwards into a bay, the engine must have been taken off entirely for a while and all the systems shut down including the air-conditioning. The carriage was utterly still and silent.

I have always found poetry in names and to see the reality even at the dead of night of places that hitherto had only been visualised by map or timetable was tremendous. In the wee small hours beyond Stuttgart there were Plochingen, Goppingen (where Märklin trains are made), Geislingen Steige (I can see stock being readied for the day’s work there), Ulm, Augsburg, the tiny station at Esting where a lone railwayman stared as the night express rolled through, Munich, Prien where the short branch to the Chiemsee had etched itself onto my mind in the 1960s with a picture of a Glaskasten, Traunstein and the border at Freilassing. Going out on a Wednesday night the railway was alive with freight, engineers and even local passenger trains in the small hours near the cities, where lonely women waited on platforms that were bright lit oasis of the night. Coming back on the Saturday night one was aware of less traffic and I am sure we were diverted to miss the main station at Munich. It is staggering how much there is to be seen during a night journey when the compartment lights are off.

As the dawn came, the train was rolling through Upper Austria and it was time to think about Vienna as a continental breakfast was served. At Purkersdorf Sanatorium[21], the capital started feeling close. In the last few miles to the Westbahnhof abundant evidence of the ÖBB capital expenditure was provided. A tunnel to divert main line trains off the existing route is one project and is associated with a wider plan (much discussed at the conference) to achieve a through main line station for Vienna. At present Vienna has once again (with the expansion of the EU east and the end of the Iron Curtain) become a true European hub, yet its main railway termini are just that[22]. Westbahnhof’s concourse reminded me of Amsterdam Amstel, very much 1950s in the best sense. The platforms hosted several incoming European expresses and their passengers created that hub of different clothing, faces and voices that speaks of new places.

I had to hurry away and discover the Viennese Metro. My instructions suggested buying a Vienna three day rover and that was duly done. Over the next few days I saw a lot of the Metro and it was hot. Vienna was enjoying a week of 27-30C and mostly blue skies. I should not complain although my own temperament is cooler. I would also discover for real something that the conference examined. Strangers when in a large Metropolitan city readily navigate by Metro map. This might mean the most illogical geographical journeys but the Metro map offers certainties. For my first journey, the instructions were simple and an on time arrival for the start of the conference saw me leave the platforms of Kaisermühlen Metro having had a brief first glimpse of the Danube in Vienna. The conference venue is a former island in the Danube channels on which the modern Vienna International Centre is built. Three enormous tower blocks house the UN and are independent of Austrian territory hosting a UN Post Office which I never reached.

Arriving in the conference hall, I said Hello to Alex Nelson. Alex I have known since college at Durham. He lives about 20 miles away from home and is a transport professional in every sense. He runs a freelance railway station franchise at Chester –le – Street and his website Chester le Track[23] had brought him an invite to speak at the conference. Alex had flown, yet he had only left a couple of hours behind me. His flight was much shorter but no flight will get you from Newcastle in time for a 09.30 conference start in Vienna. A night in a hotel is inescapable, so same difference travelling by train for time; my night was in a sleeping car.

Alex was not the only person I knew there who had been to our house. Barry Roseman from Atlanta had visited our timetable collection and was another of the speakers. Although I had made clear to the organisers that I was neither a design nor transport professional, I did not feel too intimidated. Myself and Alex had the after lunch graveyard spot but I felt we both kept the delegates awake. As it happened, for the first session I was feeling a bit train-lagged. Professor Knoflacher was speaking about certainty and uncertainty in transport interconnections. I yawned for a moment or two, but he woke me up. Behind a beguiling gentle demeanour was a radical message. His imagery showed himself in a traffic jam standing in a car sized wooden framework. He wanted to introduce us to the blatant absurdities of everyday transport situations. I nodded my head. I soon picked up that in fact quite an incisive three way debate was taking place between him, representatives of the Austrian government who were present and the ÖBB. This was rather more lively than first thoughts might have suggested. The plan for a central through station for Vienna was by no means regarded as a universal panacea. He seemed to be attacking the thought that enough technology – even green technology – will always solve the problem. Certainly my few days in Vienna did reveal a willingness to embrace new infrastructure at quite a breath-taking pace, at least by British standards.

The sense that the conference was challenging continued. I was very taken by Keiichi Koyama who revealed how mobile phone tags are being used in Japan to create personalised answers to travel questions. The extent of the practical take-up already achieved was impressive. Most of us in Europe seemed wowed. The presence of Josef Schneider from the European Passengers Federation was good. EPF is at the head of the pile that my participation in the Tyne Valley Line Rail Users Group feeds into and his role as a speaker acted as an interface to the actual passenger. Although in many ways we had all been actual passengers in getting to and from the conference. This was a theme explored by Martin Foessleitner as it is in this essay.

Nearer to home Tim Fendley in assessing Legible London spoke to a project I could personally comprehend. The London transport design legacy is emphatically one of the greatest the world has. Yet Tim had found a loophole. The pedestrian in London is not subject to one standard of signage but hundreds. Tim showcased this chaos and explained a proposal for addressing this. A very good idea but it did make me wonder. All the different existing standards, some wonderful, some terrible, will have behind them a person or a committee. The good ones will be the product of strong willed designers who have got noticed. Britain at present dislikes corporate images. London Transport AKA Transport for London has to fight to maintain its high standards. Outside the capital the legacy of people like Jim Cousins is ignored. There were two Danes at the conference (one was the Chair). They knew all about Jim Cousins. Jim’s book was published by the Danish Design Council[24]. Even in 2008 the work of Jim Cousins who designed the entirely successful British Rail corporate image with great names like Jock Kinneir from the mid 60s onwards can be found all over Europe. NS, DSB, ÖBB, SBB, NSB all directly took inspiration from what was done on British Rail in the mid 60s. We threw it mostly in the bin after privatisation – although the double arrow survives. Not only could a conference usefully examine this legacy but folk like Tim may need to reflect on the blood, sweat and tears that had to be expended to get a corporate image like this adopted for so large a concern. I have seen it said that the BR Corporate Image manual ended up filling 10 filing cabinets[25]. And I know of nowhere where that is archived.

I remain a great believer in simple concepts and in the worth of well designed printed material. Technological solutions can still value simplicity but I was concerned to learn at the conference how the printed master timetable offered to the public is being abandoned all over Europe. We tried to abandon it in Britain in 2007 only for two private publishers to print it in competition. The Germans aim to abandon it in 2008. I have written several times about this so move on[26].

A good example of simplicity is typeface. So many timetable publications use black and white. It is almost de facto intimidating. A deep blue or rich maroon will produce a much kinder and engaging product. The proof of this is in history. Look at old Eastern Counties or United Automobile timetables which were doing this in the 1950s and 1960s. And there are far more recent examples. The Mull timetable uses colour types, perhaps excessively so.

As the passenger and the historian, I was certainly thrilled by reaching Vienna and this conference but not everything in the information garden was rosy. The end of the printed Kursbuch has been mentioned. Another matter was that I expected to easily find the printed Reiseplan / Reisebegleiter which both DB and ÖBB used to issue. I found none. Even the train I used, the overnight sleeper, had no information on board for the passengers about the train's journey. Certainly whilst modern technology takes us forward with individual answers to individual questions, it is not nearly so good at producing attractive answers to context or even travel souvenirs. I am told that these Reiseplan / Reisebegleiter do very much remain in use and it was my bad luck that the CNL service did not employ them but they are not displayed at ÖBB stations. Train conductors hand them out.

As the conference ended on Thursday afternoon, I had an afternoon and a day for whistle-stop tourism in Vienna. I managed the Technology Museum although the hope of seeing their substantial steam locomotive collection was largely frustrated. Most of the engines were “on holiday” and would not return till November. To navigate the city exposed us to a range of maps. Wiener Linien did several. They were the transport provider and the city is a tram paradise. Smart un-vandalised wooden seated power cars and trailers are in abundance. The WL masterpiece was a Euro 2.50 64 panel 1:17,500 map of the city. For serious work this was indispensable. In fact it was a collection of maps. Yet like the Vienna Info maps from the tourist information, it was not easy to use. Largely this was because names were printed over other names. The clearest city centre map I found was in The Gay Guide to Vienna. The result as conference speakers suggested was that prospective passengers make journeys within their realm of knowledge and the most obvious thing to comprehend was the Metro system and its map.

After a map the next most challenging matter most users encounter is the ticket. It seemed pretty simple in Vienna. Buy the Vienna Card which was a rover ticket. However myself and Alex unknowingly abused this when travelling on the Wiener Lokalbahn. I had rather set my heart on travelling on this. I had found the Opera terminus by accident earlier in the day and Alex and I resolved to return on the Thursday evening.

We took a circuitous route from our hotel by tram and train which included a view of the Prater Riesenrad or Ferris Wheel[27]. The train drew into Vienna Meidling station, our planned interchange for a journey on the Wien Lokalbahn. Meidling station was daunting. It was new. A six platform through station very much both under construction and in use. There were some decidedly rough passages to negotiate in underpasses and entrance halls. Its overwhelming feature is the length of the platforms. Lineally they were numbered A-D so 6A-6D. To take some photos of Balfour Beatty (yes) maintenance vehicles in a depot at one platform end took a long time. It was whilst undertaking this walk, that it crossed our minds that one of four possibilities explained the station. That Austrian rail business was growing extra-ordinarily, that someone in Austria had been to Cambridge station and had decided to comprehensively outdo the Brits, that planning had decided to accommodate full length Eurostar or TGV sets and then some, or that a mischievous little game was being played by the engineers. In the English speaking legal world there is a game barristers and solicitors play. Bets are taken on what indecent or inappropriate words can be introduced into court without comment. A process of elision might be used as in the recent media example when the US General Pitraeus became General Betray-us. The ÖBB railway engineers’ version would be a competition to see who could build the longest railway platforms without attracting adverse comment.

Meidling is so enormous that its length encompasses two tram stops on the route in the parallel street. These are Meidling and Philadephiabrücke (?). One of these was where we got on the Lokalbahn. The Lokalbahn is very like the old American inter-urban. It runs for 30 kms from the town centre to the swish resort of Baden nestled under a hill. Freight is handled with its own diesel engines. A major model railway exhibition was being promoted by the Lokalbahn. Unfortunately it was for the next weekend. At times it is in the streets with other trams, then it is beside the ÖBB and gradually it becomes roadside reservation until it makes it into the vineyards and is independent of other hindrances before in Baden declining to a length of single track before the terminal. Deep in the heart of Vienna it dives down into a tramway subway which runs some considerable way and includes a three way underground junction and stations at Kliebergasse[28]. These underground worlds are enormous. There is virtually an underground city under the sweet greenspace and boulevards between Opera and Karlsplatz.

The thing about the ticket was that we took a short working to Wiener Neudorf. After some time we began to see Wien signs on the other side of the road facing streets leading away. It occurred to us that this might be the city boundary and then we thought the tickets were probably not valid outside the city. Correct. However in all the travelling Alex and I did during our time in Vienna, the tickets were never ever examined; a very different attitude to revenue control than in Britain. There were no ticket gates just a composter machine which anyone could ignore. Have the Viennese a happy outcome that no-one really minds what Wiener Linien takes in by revenue or are the Viennese both very well informed and scrupulously honest?

On the Saturday morning I resolved to go the whole way to Baden. I found a WL office in the underground world at Karlsplatz and paid 4 Euro for the correct extra tickets. The trip to Baden was thoroughly worthwhile and tea outside in the park by the casino was a magical half hour. I spent much of it hoping I would find my way back to Austria again, for longer, and with more leisure. Service was by an attractive Austrian girl wearing something towards traditional costume. Payment was made to her at the table into a sizeable leather money satchel. This seemed the norm for this sort of transaction. The same performance had come into play late at night when we twice enjoyed exquisite ice cream from a pavement café adjacent to our hotel.

A hot afternoon remained as I returned to town. When left to explore a city, I like to do things my own way. Of course I will visit the tourist office and preferably the municipal transport bureau. I will pick up all the different maps that I can, all the brochures advertising expensive city tours. I might even treat myself to one. In Vienna on the Saturday afternoon, it was the 13 Euro ride around the ring from Karlsplatz on a lady driven tram from the tramway museum. Beside our vintage vehicle, another pair constituted the wedding tram. A couple were doing the business with a minister beside Otto Wagner’s station now a museum. I will certainly applaud what Otto Wagner did for the city. During the journey, it was the incessant Viennese waltzes being played through a tannoy to all seven of us passengers as the four wheeled tram ground around curves that began to form the idea that Vienna could by contrast become a form of purgatory in sugar icing. The sweetness can possibly become nauseous and so many extraordinarily decorated clean buildings (was it a large scale use of faience?) with endless visions of gaily tripping humanity taken with lashings of ice cream and rich pastries can become counter-productive.

Fortunately I only went on the one tourist ride. There were many to choose from and if I returned there would have to be a boat trip on the Danube. Much of my exploring was more experimental. I might have a vague idea where I was aiming for. I had a rover ticket to get me out of any bother, but largely I enjoy walking. I enjoy the slightly secondary streets where you never know what the next shop will be. I had set out on the Saturday morning down Taborstrasse out of town from the hotel. Very soon I found myself in the Kirche Am Tabor, all empty, the caretaker arrived as I left. I walked through the Jewish quarter. Constantly in Vienna there are spectacular pieces of wall art on the “council houses”. Only a few of our council developments can rival these. Aberdeen has some and even Newcastle just manages this in Barrack Road (check). But Vienna’s council tenements built over many decades and in several styles are a treat.

As the day wore on and sustenance was required I treated myself to visits to two chains:
Nordsee[29] and the Anker baker chain. Two themes I should mention without chronology: churches and sex. The Austrians are by reputation conservative and Catholic. I can show sympathy to both. I went inside three Viennese churches. Stephansdom or St Stephen’s Cathedral, a church by the UNO City[30] and the one on Taborstrasse. The Cathedral I went in about 9.30pm. It was dark. Was there any electric light? It was full of people. What light there was came from thousands of votive candles at various stations. The people were all types. Plenty of youngish children were thronging the centre in family groups. Loud groups of teenagers were not in sight. Catholic churches in Austria are a visual feast such as the one found by sheer chance early on the Saturday morning in Taborstrasse. It was beautiful and I had it all to myself for my devotions leaving just as the caretaker arrived. The third church we had passed several times adjacent to the conference venue. I had observed a black cubic blob and had not thought more of it. On one passage I realized there was a stylized cross on it. Perhaps it was a church? It certainly was, very beautiful, quietly decorated, a symphony in wood inside, and again plenty of faithful simply praying. A good demeanour to have for a civilized city. Being inside each of these churches was ineffably sublime.

In what I found a strange but refreshing combination piety is combined with a frank expression of sexuality. It is impossible to travel for long around Vienna whether on foot, by tram or even on the Metro (its elevated sections) without seeing commercial sex. The examples whose threshold I crossed were smart, well designed and lit and comfortably full of normal people of both genders. The largest is at Mariahilfer Strasse 49[31] on one of Vienna’s major shopping streets. Yet I did not encounter sleaze or suggestions of criminality. Vienna seemed to be a very safe city. Confirmed perhaps when I returned to Westbahnhof on Saturday and found myself chatting to a couple of Dutch guys also waiting for the Amsterdam train. They had enjoyed Vienna but reckoned that compared to Amsterdam it was not edgy enough. That is fine by me. How Vienna balances these two themes: the Church and Sex in some sort of harmony could be a fascinating study.

What had brought me to strike up conversation with two Dutchmen? I have always liked the Netherlands. It is the European country that I know best and they all speak English. On this occasion the link was Rolls Royce. Were they bikers? Anyway, they were part of a crowd gazing at a very strange phenomenon that greeted me when the taxi driver left me outside the Westbahnhof about 7pm. There in the car park for the Motorail dock were about 30 assorted UK registered Rolls Royce and Bentley cars. Chatting to their drivers revealed that this was the Rolls Royce Enthusiast Club Central Southern Section[32] returning home from their annual rally. This had happened to take them to Vienna and they had contracted with the railways to use Motorail facilities out and back from Düsseldorf.

Imagine the sight: 30 of the most valuable cars in Western Europe about to be loaded onto a Motorail train. It was a spectator sight right up there with another interpretation of the action when on holiday last year at Mallaig and we had watched road making equipment for Knoydart being loaded very crudely over the hard at low tide in the harbour onto a modern day equivalent of the Puffer. After a lot of work the cars were loaded and the passengers got aboard. A crowd gathered to watch the departure. Someone from the railway had omitted a helpful instruction. The guard waved the flag, the engine hooted and the train began to leave. At which point many of the car alarm systems were activated by the jolt. To a chorus of squealing Rollers and flashing Bentleys, the express left the Westbahnhof. What a sight the train could have made through the night?

Perhaps the account of these days seems a bit surreal in parts. It was; not least when meeting a pack of feisty New York ladies who turned out to be members of the New York Philharmonic on their European tour. Coming back they were getting on the THALYS at Cologne when a group of muggers tried to steal one of the ladies' purses. Being who they were, the muggers got more than they bargained as a cellist punched the attacker on the nose, another member of the orchestra trapped the female aggressor in a train door, and the result was the mugger lost her own coat in the ensuing struggle and the members of the orchestra rescued their own possession (which I think had been put into the coat). The only thing stolen was the attacker's coat. My, these New York women are all they are cracked out to be. They came and sat beside me and I got the whole story.

Arrived in Brussels and perhaps the final three legs to Prudhoe would become a bit anti-climatic. Almost but not quite. The Eurostar leg was with a bargain first deal and passed comfortably and quietly. The complimentary light afternoon meal was a delight. A cheese board is something I find a struggle to pass by. Europe ends very suddenly when you leave St Pancras and its Eurostars and cross the road and instantly enter familiar Kings Cross and its 30 year old high speed diesel trains. Once again I went for the seating in the buffet car. This did not quite work. Sure, I found a window seat but the train at 4.30pm on a Sunday afternoon was busy with folk going home. Plenty of squaddies for Catterick and the individual who just had to discuss his love life loudly and in detail into his mobile home. Seated two or three rows away and every grisly detail was inescapable. Why do people not realise the folly of mobile phones? Too often this has happened to me or else it is business or professional details totally inappropriate for a public venue that are revealed.

Something else rather ominous began to develop on the express to Newcastle; something that would return me to the heart of the conference and Infoconnectivity. The weather in Vienna had been ideal. I had left Northern Europe with showers and a bad summer. As the train bordered the East Anglian Fens of my upbringing, the clouds began to tower. The ticket collector checked my ticket which was very significantly made out to Prudhoe CIV. Rain has closed the Tyne Valley line he told me, I would be on a bus from Newcastle. I was not unduly concerned. A little bit of inconvenience, this sort of thing had happened before. In fact the day before a moderately sizeable event had wreaked havoc in the North East. It seems it would have been impossible for the Tyne Valley line to have worked although local informants aver that the freight continued to pass through.

For whatever reason and although Sunday was a clearing up day and well known for the number of returning passengers seeking to get home, our train operator Northern had decided to abandon train operating in the Tyne Valley and would not in fact restore proper service until some time into Monday morning. This only became fully apparent to me when the train arrived 2 minutes early into Newcastle and 30 minutes before the Tyne Valley connection was due to leave.

I asked for the bus I had been promised to Prudhoe. A Natex station staff told me to go out to the front of the station and wait for the bus. There it was. We were told to board by a Trans-Pennine worker who should have had nothing to do with the job. "Where to Sir", "Prudhoe". And then it all went terribly wrong. I was told there was no service to Prudhoe, that the bus was only for Hexham, Haltwhistle and Carlisle. I said what about a taxi. This has been the normal performance before. I was told no provision for Prudhoe at all. Make your own way home. I was holding tickets worth £663 and I was being told to bog off. The CIV letters should have guaranteed my return home and they did not.

I went to see the station supervisor and he nicely told me the same and said blame Northern. I explained my own context a bit and he revealed to me that in his experience this decision to abandon Prudhoe and Wylam had not happened before. I can myself recollect one other occasion many years ago and I think after that there was a promise by whichever operator it was in those days never to do it again. But it had happened again. The station supervisor was not going to provide a taxi and he told me he had spent all day conveying this message to fed up customers for Tyne Valley Line stations. He was not happy, he did not think it was right. Infoconnectivity in practice was failing big time. As far as I could later tell, Prudhoe Station with its new interchange was fully accessible to taxis and buses throughout. Ovingham road bridge was not closed: a local indicator of how bad things are.

I needed explanations for why I was twice told there was bus provision to Prudhoe when there was not, why there was a refusal to provide a taxi or even a system which said, get a taxi yourself and send the bill into Northern. In the event I ran my wife to earth, just returned from driving home from Galloway and she came and collected me along with our eight year old daughter who could not be left home alone. None of us were happy. It was as if I had smoothly swanned around the public transport systems of Europe and come home to be told, you cannot escape British transport chaos. It was not the weather that is to blame but Northern’s management systems. It is entirely predictable that several times a year the line will be out of action and a prepared strategy for dealing with this ought to exist. The bus I saw even came from Prudhoe. A clear commitment not to abandon ticket holding passengers exists at several levels in the rules but that evening the rulebook had been thrown away. As I write, a meeting with senior Northern management has been sought and granted. I discovered that a good number of the regular users of the line had been similarly inconvenienced[33]. One couple had even also been returning long distance by Eurostar. In the end, anything is only as good as the people who make and operate it, whether the trains, the information and those whose job it is to link these to whatever actuality throws at them by way of impediment. That is INFOCONNECTIVITY.

Acknowledgements: Peter Simlinger of IIID and John Batts have done me the great courtesy of a detailed read-through offering helpful comment and correction.

word count 9,829
[1] The firsts:
Saw Prince Harry in the flesh? 06.30 ex Prudhoe, at Newcastle he went for the London train first class
Visit to St Pancras International
Travel on Eurostar and CTRL
Trip through the Channel Tunnel
Time in the centre of Brussels
Ever trip in a Sleeping Car – 2 of them
Journeys on the Donau Kurier and Orient Express trains
Ever journeys on SNCB, DB, ÖBB, WLB
Many new railway lines but very importantly : First travel through the Rhine Gorges – Saw Loreley rock, Bingen
Time away from Britain and Ireland since 1992
Time in Austria, Vienna, sight of the Danube
Time I saw a trainload of UK Rollers and Bentleys on a Motorail anywhere – Wien Westbahnhof
Time I ever met any members of the New York Philharmonic orchestra
Ever delivery of a paper or publicly spoke to a European audience
Four European Capitals within a week: Edinburgh, London, Brussels, Vienna

[2] In older times more romantically thought of as CIWL or Wagons-Lits, luxury sleeping car trains. Getting a bit more recent and into an era when the European railway administrations decided to fix international train services more directly there were the TEE and TEN trains: Trans-Europ-Express and Trans-Europ-Nacht networks.
[3] It is a complicated train which originating in Amsterdam has both Vienna and Milan as its destinations. It does this by splitting into two at Karlsruhe where it receives other coaches. At some point (Karlsruhe?) it is relabelled into the iconic name Orient Express. At least it left Vienna coming back as the Orient Express but had become the Donau Kurier again by Cologne. All of which opens up the fantastic complexity that the Infoconnectivity conference was considering. I should have been sitting in my cabin with Cook’s Continental Timetable to hand. In the event I ordered that after I got home because I was relying on being given a Reiseplan, a properly printed and attractive document which I assumed would be handed to me by the sleeping car attendant. All that has moved on. The digital age meant there was no information about the train journey on the train apart from the personalised itinerary details that DB had sent out with my tickets. I had the bare information about my journey but nothing about its context. It is a similar parallel argument with a paper map and a Tom-Tom satnav. The Amsterdam Vienna through train seems to have started in its current guise in 2004 by extending the already existing Donau Kurier to Amsterdam from Dortmund per Today’s Railways July 2004 p51.
[4] On the top deck of massive double deck sleeping carriage WLABm 61 85 06-90 301-1 coloured in the classic Wagon Lits blue. I think it is about 13 years old. Models at some price are made in HO Scale by Heris and LS Models and once you start deciding you want to buy a WLABm with the large Citynightline inscriptions quite a quest commences. For the afficionado we arrived in Vienna behind DB electric 101 048-7 and we had left Cologne behind a black MRCE Dispolok. The latter was possibly E 189 092 for that was portrayed on this working earlier in 2008 in Today’s Railways May 2008 p9.
[5] Per Peter Simlinger: “You were in a Vienna district informally named "Donau City" = "Danube City", part of which is the Vienna International Centre (home to one of the four duty stations of United Nations Headquarters - the other three are New York, Geneva and Nairobi)”.
[6] Peter Simlinger of IIID and Per Mollerup from Denmark
[7] “In Italy in May 1948, Auden wrote to Elizabeth Mayer: “I had’nt realised till I came how like Italy is to my “mutterland”, the Pennines””, this is from W. H Auden Pennine Poet by Alan Myers / Robert Forsythe p20.
[8] Of various Auden sources, the bibliography which best connects the various themes is Humphrey Carptenter’s W .H. Auden e.g p387.
[9] is the website and there is a book (ordered on my return!). It confirmed that my route choice was the preferred one and to anyone contemplating the UK Vienna journey by rail I strongly recommend consulting the website and the book before you make your arrangements. I consulted the website after I had booked but before I travelled.
[10] That travel is inherently an uncertain activity demanding a readiness to improvise was confirmed as I wrote up this essay. At 2.57pm on the 11th September, a fire broke out in a lorry shuttle train in the Channel Tunnel. For the second time (18th November 1996 was the first) a significant fire wreaked havoc with the structure and schedules of the tunnel. Had my travel occurred a week later, I would have reached Vienna and then been wondering how to get home. At around 1am on the 12th September the UK’s third largest tour operator called the XL group went bust leaving around 80,000 customers in limbo.
[11] Train designers who set out to ape an aeroplane cabin with their carriage are beyond the pale to me.
[12] Using the 8.04am from Prudhoe.
[13] The Bruxelles route may add some miles but it involves no change of stations unlike Paris.
[14] The Electric Railway That Never Was by R. A. S. Hennesey, Oriel Press, 1970 and several other books on the NER electrics.
[15] See feature in Today’s Railways 10 p32ff.
[16] The Belgiums lack of enthusiasm for being Belgium has often been discussed. More than 50 years ago Roger Pilkington examined this and the quite marked differences with The Netherlands in his Small Boat Through Belgium, MacMillan, 1957 p147ff.
[17] John Cockerill is probably the key link between our Northern Valleys and Liege see .
[18] We are back to Auden here. Our train passed close to Plombières and even nearer to Moresnet. For a hundred years 1816-1920 the Drielandenpunt had been a four land point because Moresnet was the centre of a microstate brought into being by issues of mineral extraction. The lead company was the Vielle Montagne Zinc Company. This Belgium concern came to own the North Pennine Nenthead mines just an hour from our home. In turn Nenthead was one of Auden’s key reference points and appears in his play The Enemies of a Bishop as Stunhead and the company renamed as the Old Mountain Lead Company. European history, my railway journey and a poet seem as interlinked as a DNA strand. See .
[19] See feature in Today’s Railways 10 p32ff for the railways of Aachen.
[20] See feature on the start of Citynightline “Hotels on wheels” in Today’s Railways 7 p26ff.
[21] The location of a classy piece of the Vienna Succession style from 1905. . Note how a name with its own rhythm takes us from a train to a building, a high piece of architecture. The URL takes us from the building immediately into the heart of Austrian 20th c. culture and one of its central charismatic figures. A lady who in the late 1940s and 50s is in New York. Would she have met W. H. Auden? The entwining links of people, culture, buildings and travel are everywhere in Vienna.
[22] A good portrayal of all Vienna’s railway systems is in Today’s Railways August 1996 p30ff: “Railways in Wien” by David Haydock.
[24] James Cousins: British Rail Design, Danish Design Council, Copenhagen, 1986.
[25] This little detail comes from a fantastic resource Railway, Identity, Design & Culture by Keith Lovegrove, Laurence King Publishing, 2004, p141
[26] Time and the Timetable at . Also see Today’s Railways November 2003 p15 and February 2004 p7 for important references about the end of European printed timetables and the Austrian experience in particular. UIC member railways were obliged to print a system timetable for the public until 2002 and since then the progress of abandonment has been steady. In 2008 it might surprise you that one place that still enthusiastically offers a printed system timetable is Ireland. ÖBB and SNCB for instance do not.
[27] Familiar to film lovers as a setting in the British 1949 film, a thriller called The Third Man.
[28] The Forsythe Collection includes a superb 16 side brochure on linson paper called Tunnel issued in 1968 in German by the municipality of Vienna which fully details this development.

[30] Per Peter Simlinger: “The church is referred to as "UNO- City-Kirche" (UNO City Church). Its official name is: "Christus, Hoffnung der Welt" (= "Christ, aspiration/hope of the world").
[31] To be convinced that Viennese sex shops are well presented, clean and employ a lighting consultant look at and the images of Sexworld Vienna and Spartacus Vienna. The website appears to be a design manual for the genre. The source for the Gay Guide to Vienna discussed in this paper was another major and respected chain: Beate Uhse in Wahringergurtel 164.
[33] 37 formal complaints on the Saturday and 8 for the Sunday. The meeting took place and the Northern managers assured myself and the Tyne Valley Line Rail Users Group that what happened should never have happened and that protocols will be developed to ensure it cannot happen again. In general I have found Northern an organisation willing to reflect on its processes and it has handled positively a considerable growth in its business.