1978 – UK – “British Rail at his Zenith”

Photographing trains

By 1978 the modern railway envisaged by the Beeching Plan in the 1960’s had finally come into being.

In 1965 British Railways had been successfully re-launched as “British Rail”.  Its corporate identity programme was one of the most comprehensive Britain had ever seen.

Every small detail of presentation was dictated by a corporate design manual. The manual, first issued in January 1965, controlled everything from the cut of the staff uniforms to the amount of ham that could be used in a buffet car sandwich.

Sandwich Making Manual /Chris Sampson/Creative Commons 2.0

Naturally the colours that could be used for the trains were specified in detail too.   Those chosen were supposed to represent the national flag.


The “double arrow” logo was to appear against a red background and the rolling stock itself was to be presented in a blue and white livery. In the end, though, it was blue that was the dominant colour. Everything seemed to be blue. “Rail blue” was relieved only by yellow at the front of trains for safety reasons.

Carlisle 1979

In 1976 British Rail introduced its most successful train. The “Inter City 125”  was the brainchild of BR’s  Chief Mechanical Engineer, Terry Miller. It was a simple concept; two streamlined diesel locomotives at either end of a train of modern air-conditioned coaches.

Yorkshire 1981

But it was also ingenious; it had a top speed of 125 mph yet could stop in the same distance as a conventional train. That meant it could run on conventional track without the need for expensive changes to the signals.   It was lighter than the slower trains it replaced too.

The down Flying Scotsman at Drem 1980

The train was an overnight success and it revolutionised British Rail’s fortunes. The public loved the modern styling and the substantial reductions in journey times. They flocked to ride it.   It is incredible to consider that it has lasted in front-line service for 40 years and is only now (2017) being phased out.


In 1978, inspired by one of my teachers, I joined the school photography society. I obtained a basic SLR camera. It was made by Russian manufacturer Zenit and, although it was officially called “Zenit-e”, I called it my “Zenith”.

I quickly learned to develop film and to create black and white prints in the school darkroom. The school were quite generous with the supply of Ilford FP64 black and white film and photographic paper so I actually found photography to be quite a cheap hobby.

Zenit E / Dave / Creative Commons 2.0

As far as the subject matter of my photographs was concerned, of course, there was obviously no contest.  I soon found myself back on Preston station this time taking photographs rather than numbers. Then, with a friend, I started to cycle to more remote locations.   The idea was to catch the trains at speed in the countryside.


Over the next two or three years we got more and more ambitious and began to travel greater distances to photograph in different locations. Train travel was cheap and, with a student rail card and offers from soap companies and the manufacturers of cornflakes, it was often ridiculously cheap.

Saltash, near Plymouth – 1979

The photography was just an excuse of course. Riding around on the train was a major part of the enjoyment. We travelled the length and breadth of the country. We went up to Oban in Scotland, down to Plymouth in the West Country and several times to London.

In those days it was easy and free to take cycles on trains so we often took our bikes with us.  We would catch the train to some obscure place and then cycle out of the station and into the countryside to take photographs.

Near Stafford – 1979
Liverpool  1979
Derby 1980
Peak District 1979
York 1980
Newcastle 1980
Stratford, London – 1980
Kings Cross, London – 1980
Oban, Scotland – 1980
Suburban Glasgow – 1980
Exeter -1979
Plymouth 1979
Plymouth 1979
London Paddington 1979
Carlisle 1981
Crewe 1979
London Waterloo – 1980
Near Lancaster 1979 (The first photograph I ever developed)
Wigan 1980
Near Stafford 1980
Preston 1979
South of Crewe 1980
Lancaster 1980