Departures and arrivals
My very first journey begins in 1964.
We start with a story about two sad departures and two happy arrivals that year.
The first tragic departure occurred early in the year when my maternal grandfather, Bill, died suddenly of a heart attack. He was just 68 and only a few years into retirement.
Bill was born in 1896 and had joined the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (the “Lanky”) in 1911 aged 14. He had worked first as an engine cleaner at Fleetwood depot and had then followed the traditional career path through fireman to engine driver.
The “Lanky” was absorbed into the London Midland Scottish (LMS) Railway in 1923 and then in turn nationalised to form part of British Railways in 1948. Bill stayed long enough to be presented with his 50-years-of-service certificate in 1961. He received it almost at the same time as he got his retirement watch.
Bill was deeply mourned by his widow May and by his pregnant daughter. I never met him but his passing seemed to influence my whole childhood. When I later became fascinated by railways my interest was encouraged by both my grandmother and my mother. It was, they thought, a sign from Bill himself and that railways were obviously in my blood.
The second departure happened later in the year and it would have broken my grandfather’s heart had he lived to see it. Blackpool Central station, a terminus that sat almost at the foot of the famous tower and had once been the busiest in Europe, was closed to all traffic.
The station building was quickly turned into a bingo hall and all the platforms were filled in and turned into a car park. In 1964 Central was the largest station (14 platforms) ever to have been completely closed in the UK. More Information on Blackpool’s Railways
In 1964 the future for the railways in the UK generally was looking pretty grim. The first domestic jetliners were taking to the skies and the motorway network was growing. Trains were seen as a dirty and old fashioned way of getting around. Some even expected them to soon disappear altogether.
The first happy arrival of 1964 was me.
I was born in Blackpool Victoria Hospital in late July. My father worked as an aircraft electrician at the nearby Warton factory and my mother was a typist in the civil service.
I was born on a Thursday and my parents, thinking of the rhyme “Thursday’s child has far to go”, named me after the patron saint of travel.
Then later in the year, halfway across the world, came another important arrival.
It happened in Japan, a country that would go on to influence my whole life in many positive ways.
At exactly 6am on October 1st the very first Hikari No 1 train left Tokyo Station bound for Shin-Osaka, 320 miles to the west. The train reached speeds of up to 130 miles per hour. The railway that it travelled on was a totally brand new construction, electrified throughout and controlled by computers.
The Japanese called it a Shinkansen, literally a new trunk line, but the watching world was captivated and called it a “Bullet Train”.
At least someone, somewhere in the world believed that the railway was not quite dead.
Perhaps trains did have a future after all.