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7 February 2011
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Green Arrow c/o National  Railway Museum We take you on a journey through the heritage of railways on the east coast of Britain through rarely seen film footage in the Yorkshire Film Archive.

Meet the men and women who kept the railway running through 50 years of hard work, unexpected changes and slow decline.

Experience the working lives of the railway workers, and go inside the troubled story of half a century on the railways.

We take you on a train journey which starts with the romanticised, golden age of steam and ends on the diesel revolution and the gradual decline of the rail network.

The Golden Age of Steam

Since the birth of railways, trains have ferried thousands of passengers on the east coast mainline as well as on suburban and rural lines.

Steam Train
Steam trains were hot and dirty but exhilarating for drivers

Join the crowds on York Station in the 1920s at the peak of the railway boom in York Travelogue.

This period is often seen as a romantic, golden era when steam trains steamed their way across the countryside with plumes of smoke puffing high into the sky.

Eavesdrop on railway drivers as they debate the merits of steam against the new diesel trains in a Sheffield social club in the documentary Engines Must Not Enter the Potato Siding (1969).

Watch former rail man Allan Richardson talking about how his job could be filthy, with dirty oil and grease from the engines getting everywhere.

Listen to Allan describing the exhilaration of driving a steam engine - "a marvellous feeling", and "being roasted" by the extreme heat from the engine.

Steam kings

The Flying Scotsman was the king of steam, the first steam train to crash the 100 mph barrier. Built in Doncaster in 1924, the train is still regarded as the pinnacle of all that was best about steam.

Flying Scotsman
The Flying Scotsman was arguably the greatest steam engine of its age

Take a seat on board the classic train in the film Still in Steam which shows the engine's last trip from King's Cross to Doncaster in 1963.

The Scotsman had travelled 2 million miles by the end of its working life.

Watch the restoration of the Flying Scotsman by enthusiasts, and see remarkable footage of the train being taken by ship to the United States in USA Tour (1969).

Join the Flying Scotsman (19??) on a day out from London to Nottingham and Gloucester as it relives the glory days of steam trains in a film with entertaining narration by Johnny Morris.

A Dangerous Job

Working on the railways could be a dangerous profession particularly in the days before health and safety regulations.

Accidents were commonplace, and longer term diseases such as asbestosis were a longer term occupational hazard.

Rail workers in the 1840s
Railway workers in the 1840s contracted cholera

Engines Must Not Enter the Potato Siding (1969) shows how twenty eight railway workers died in a cholera epidemic in 1849 when working on the railway.

Stone Blasting (194?) shows men blasting limestone for ballast at a quarry in Barnard Castle in County Durham. There was always the threat of hearing damage as there were no noise mufflers, and being hit by fall-out from the blast could be fatal.

During the Second World War there were many more dangers. Mustard Gas (194?) shows rail workers in a secret training exercise against a gas attack, wearing protective clothing and gas masks.

Modern rail workers weren't immune from uncomfortable conditions. Watch drivers in the 1970s complaining about grime-filled, suffocating, airless railway tunnels in the film Engines Must Not Enter the Potato Siding (1969).

Stormy Weather

Workers often had to contend with severe weather conditions. Snow (1947) is an illuminating film shot by a cameraman for the old London and North East Railway Company.

Flooding damage and workers
Rail workers had to endure treacherous weather

It shows an army of rail workers trying to clear a mountain of snow high up on the Yorkshire Moors to free a train stuck in a drift.

The film illustrates how workers had only basic equipment to cope with atrocious weather conditions which included waist-high snow. Eventually snow blasters were brought in to shift the snow, a modern innovation for the time.

After the snow came the floods together with track damage which needed to be repaired if the trains were to run on time. Watch workers battling to repair the tracks in Repairing Damage (1947).

Behind the Scenes

York was one of the major hubs of the rail network, acting as an important passenger interchange and employing hundreds of men in railway workshops.

Railway Summer Services(1949) is a fly-on-the-wall look behind the scenes at York station which captures the various aspects of station life including the work of the locomotive workers, the signal men, timetable schedulers, the station announcers and the publicity department.

Go inside the Signal Workshops (19??) at York Station in a film looking at signal repair and the assembly of signal boxes. Watch the cleaning out of the slut and slag from xxxx , a messy but essential job.

Rail Towns

Relive over a century of steam in a film celebrating the 125th anniversary of Doncaster station featuring the Royal Scotsman, the Blue Peter and the Bahamas in 1978.

Passenger guard
Station life in Penistone

Watch the crowds admiring the classic trains which were built in the town. Doncaster employed 3,000 railway men, working 12 hours a day, six days a week at the turn of the century.

Take a trip to Market Weighton Station in 1965 with rare footage from the Marsden film collection, and see how the goods trains moved freight up and down the line, an important function of the railways in the mid 1960s.

Visit Normanton, a Yorkshire town built on railways and coal, but now in decline in the BBC film Railmen (1975). This was the station where Queen Victoria and Gladstone changed trains, and which once was the second largest rail junction in the country.

Watch wagon repairer Bernard McGreevy talking about how his status as a worker had declined with his take home pay packet of just £35 per week compared with £55 for a pit man.

The Modern Revolution

Engines Must Not Enter the Potato Siding (1969) shows the transition from steam to diesel on the Sheffield to Manchester line, the first to be electrified.

Passenger guard
All aboard!

The film also illustrates how stations were changing and being modernised. Stop off at Euston in London and see the gleaming new station architecture with its aluminium, steel, and glass designs.

Buy a cup of tea in the station café with its fashionable plastic fixtures and spend slightly more than a penny in the new-style 6d superloo.

Go inside the control room with its state of the art electric power box and hi-tech gadgetry.

Euston was seen as a new departure in station architecture and a flagship for cleaner, more efficient and faster railways.

End of the Line

After the Second World War the railway system was nationalised and a gradual decline started. This was accelerated by the Beeching Report in 1963 which resulted in the closure of many branch lines.

Watch former signal man Syd Walker talking about the demise of smaller stations like Market Weighton near York which closed in 1965.

Railmen (1975) shows how Yorkshire rail workers were becoming more disillusioned by the decline of the railways. Watch as they talk poignantly about threats to the future of railway communities.

Credits and Contacts

Photograph of the Green Arrow courtesy of the National Railway Museum, York.

Yorkshire Film Archive - 01904 716 550.

see also

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