Interesting piece on the Pullman Train co (written by the Pullman Society’s Curator Antony Ford for Brighton Museums’ blog) and its impact on British seaside tourism, to Brighton and beyond.

Gallery  —  Posted: October 27, 2014 in Uncategorized

Stay on track!

Posted: October 31, 2010 in Uncategorized

Hello my rather fetching subscribers!

This is a message for you, and you alone, you lucky little sausages you!  You might’ve noticed things appearing to go a little quiet round here lately, but worry not. (You were worried weren’t you?)

All that’s happened is that I’ve strapped on my big boy’s boots and hopped over to a self hosted blog. Yes folks, I’ve taken the plunge and bought a domain of my own.

While this blog is set to refer automatically to the new one an unfortunate outcome of migrating (or fortunate, depending on how you look at it!) is that your email subscription does not. I know. Sad faces all round. Don’t think I didn’t notice.  😦

So if you’d like to stay on track all you have to do is head on over to now and sign up there, either by email or RSS feed. Just look for the Get Posts by Email box on the sidebar, which – just to keep you on your toes – is now on the opposite, right hand side.

Or if you’re one of those jolly clever chappies who has mastered the dark arts of blogg-o-vision you can subscribe to the RSS feed instead. The sign up form is just below it.

Here’s a few things you’ve missed recently:

  1. A tantalising report of the Night Train from Montreal to Gaspe from Geordie ex-pat Anne Kostalas.
  2. A story about the maddening transport connections in Tuscany’s Barga and the staggering kindness of one local cook there
  3. Round two of the Octavius Express, my fun-packed round up of right riveting rail news from around the world

You wouldn’t want to miss all that would you?  And there’s much more to come too.

If you’ll hop on over with me I’d be pleased as punch and will thank each one of you personally…which probably won’t take very long, but hey, it’s a gesture.

Either way I hope you’ll cling on for dear life with me on this exciting ride through the canyons of my train-addled brain!

Thanks  for keeping up. I knew I could count on you, you’re the best!



The night’s are drawing in here in Scotland, so what better time then to go off the rails on an adventure through Africa? Guest blogger Caz Makepeace from the wonderful Y Travel Blog takes us there.

View from Tazara train, Tanzania

View from Tazara train, Tanzania

Traveling around Africa is mostly done by bus or local mini vans. It is almost never a case of going straight from A to B, usually it entails passing through X, Y and Z first. Travel in Africa is tough. The buses break down frequently, your life flashes before your eyes every minute, wheels have a good chance of falling off mid motion, and you can be sure you’ll be nursing a rooster or small child somewhere.

Every now and then an opportunity will arise for you to leave all this behind and opt for a safer, roomier and more comfortable journey from one place to the next. And that is a journey by train.

Clickety Clack, don’t look back.

The TAZARA train runs from Dar Es Saalam in Tanzania to Mbeya, a convenient place to catch a mini van to Malawi, which was where we were going. We had been traveling in Africa already for 6 weeks and had 3 months to go and just knew it was time to travel the 27-hour journey in style. The buses and trains take about the same time, as the trains can sometime hit speeds of only 20km for several miles.

View from Tazara train, Tanzania

The TAZARA is the Tanzania and Zambia Railway Authority linking the South Africa and East Africa regional transport networks. TAZARA has been in operation since 1976 and I’m sure that each of the diesel electric powered locomotives are still the originals. Don’t expect too much style. Air conditioning comes by way of open window, buckets of water sit beside the toilets for flushing, and the train will lullaby you to sleep at night with its constant rattles and groans.

When we arrived at the station we found one end of the train was packed with African men, women and children huddled around the train door waiting to receive the okay to race on in and claim their spot on one of the cold, hard benches. Those unfortunate latecomers would be standing in the toilet or sitting on peoples’ heads. Wherever a spare spot could be for them to place a toe.

This was the third class ticket section, and whilst it is always great to get an understanding of how the locals live, for a journey this long I was quite happy to be entering the first class section. The exuberant $25 price ticket blew our African daily budget out the window but sometimes sanity splurges like these are in order.

Craig Makepeace in the men's sleeper cabin

Craig Makepeace in the men's sleeper cabin

Buying the sleeper class tickets meant Craig and I would be separated for the night, as there are no mixed sleeper cabins. We were both fine with this if it mean a little safety and luxury travel for a night. The cabins are four berth and comfortable enough, and even though the beds are firm, the rocking of the train is sure to send you into a quiet and restful sleep. Linen is provided and there are even shower rooms available for you to enjoy a “cold healthy shower.”

We were allowed to hang out in the lounge cabin together which is where we spent most of the journey eating, reading, and hanging out the windows watching the African plains go by. The lounge cabin was fairly comfortable and close to the dining cabin where simple and cheap meals such as stewed meat and rice can be bought.

Typical food on board, stewed meat and rice

Typical food on board, stewed meat and rice


We pulled into small villages along the way to pick up more passengers. Villagers flocked to the train windows holding up baskets of bread, bottles of water, potatoes, and bananas for the hungry passengers inside to buy. Hardworking African women stood patiently waiting, heads weighed down with goods to sell, their babies wrapped around their back with their sarongs. Money and food passed between passenger and vendors through the windows. Laughing children, dressed in school uniform ran alongside the train waving frantically and calling “Muzungu”(white man) as we departed.

Train safari!

A warthog spotted from the train

The biggest draw card to catching the TAZARA is the scenery you encounter on the journey. A train is built to go in the areas roads are not, so the passing outside world is often unspoilt in its natural beauty. Departing from Dar Es Salaam the environment is quite lush and hilly. The train passes over bridges, around mountains and through tunnels until it gives way to the drier, sparse and yellow terrain of the Savannah.

If you are lucky you will pass through the Sealous Game Reserve during the daylight hours. Of course everything in Africa is run on African time so there is the possibility that your train will be late and only make this area during the night. We hit it during the last remaining hours of daylight. From our window, in the distance, we saw giraffes loping across the plains toward the Acacia trees, warthogs racing beside our train, and the ubiquitous zebra and wildebeest trying to blend in with their surroundings.

African lady on train platform

Riding the TAZARA was the only train travel I did in Africa. I alighted feeling refreshed, comfortable, and with all the hairs left laying down on my body. Death’s breath did not keep me company and so I had time to appreciate the beauty and simplicity of the journey.

Caz Makepeace has been traveling the world for over 10 years along with her husband Craig and now 3 year old girl Kalyra. They believe life is all about the memories and so live a life that gives them many stories to tell. You can follow their adventures at their website y travel blog or connect with them at their fan page and twitter



Tazara Facts

Schedule: The train runs Tuesdays and Fridays 


Cannot be purchased online but can and should be purchased several days before the journey, either at the train station or through a booking agency.


vary depending on what class ticket you buy (USD)

First Class- 4 berth sleepers $22

Second Class- 6 berth sleepers $16

Second Class Seats- $14

Third Class Seats- $13


Come prepared with enough food for the journey. There is a restaurant on the train but you just never know what can go wrong in Africa. Have plenty of water, patience and books to read. Have your camera ready and make an effort to talk with the other passengers.

Welcome to the Octavius Express my new, weekly round up of rail news and views. Every week I’ll aim to share the best train stuff I find, via the all-consuming time vortex that is the ‘social web’, choosing one as my Rail Good Find, in other words my Pick of the Week.

Seeing as this is my maiden voyage, I’m going to take a minor liberty and backtrack for a few weeks’ worth of news. Future round ups are likely to be shorter, depending on just how much railly interesting stuff we  find along the way.

Rail Good Find! 


Train from Ivory Coast to Burkina Faso, by Felix Krohn

From Ivory Coast to Burkina Faso, by Felix Krohn


My debut pick of the week goes to American journalist and blogger Greg Gross of the excellent I’m Black and I Travel blog. His post on the many benefits of establishing a High Speed Rail network in West Africa was really imaginative and  thought provoking.

Greg argues that HS Rail would not only boost infrastructure and the economy of these developing countries, but would also bring health and aid benefits. It may sound like a tall order, but see what you think of his ideas and be sure to follow the series of posts on the theme. As Greg himself says, ‘Small dreams are a waste of sleep!’

Train of Thought Film

This beautifully animated short film, Train of Thought, by Bournemouth Arts Institute graduates Leo Bridle and Ben Thomas, came a very close second. It captures the old fashioned romance of rail travel marvelously.  This great find came via Sophie Collard and her spanking new blog for Quno, the new global rail ticketing brand which has recently gone live. Enjoy:

Scotsman’s Train v Plane Challenge

Scotsman Plane v Train

Great initiative here from one of my regular paymasters, the Scotsman newspaper. They’re challenging two of their journalists to race each other from the centre of Edinburgh to London, one by plane the other by train. Their progress will be tracked with blog posts written as they travel, and their exploits will be assessed not on time alone but comfort, food and productivity. I’m looking forward to following their journey and naturally I’ll be rooting for the trains!

Plane v Train ad

On a similar theme, I was really quite taken with this superb ad by Better Transport to encourage people to lobby the UK government to support funding for business rail travel in favour of air travel. Very engaging and refreshingly non-preachy.

New Eurostar Trains 

New Eurostar Trains

New Eurostar Train



It’s been a great few weeks for High Speed rail in general, as Eurostar unveiled its impressive new trains which are set to run at 200mph further cutting the journey time from London to Paris to a mere 2 hours. The new super-sleek looking Seimens 320 will accommodate an extra 150 passengers with free wifi, music and multimedia services available on-demand in 2011. See it in action here..

Climate Change: Food for Thought?A very interesting find from Ed Gillespie’s Low Carbon Travel blog here.  An ‘infographic’ from of all people, giving some surprising stats on carbon emissions.  It compares the carbon cost of flying with various airlines to the global consumption of burgers and milk, among other things.  I’m not entirely sure what message they’re aiming for here, but it’s certainly a subtle and clever way of deflecting climate blame away from the airlines.

Ed is Co-Founder of Futrerra Communications, a specialist sustainability marketing agency in London, and is fond of debunking transparent ‘green washing’ of many big corporates. He’s an entertaining public speaker too. Catch him at if you can at the Wilderness Forest Dinner event in East Sussex on Bonfire Night, November 5, where he’ll be talking about his flight-free round the world trip.

Look out for Train Diva

It’s not often a find another blog about train travel.  Of course the big train companies have theirs and the personal travelogues of inter railers and train travellers come and go, but recently I got word of a new rail blog along similar lines to my own.  I was excited to hear from Donnae Bell of Train Diva.  Her early posts so far cover journeys like South Africa’s ultra-luxe Rovos Rail and similarly exotic journeys through Morocco and Egypt.  One to watch.

High numbers and High Speed for Amtrak

America is not known for its rail transport success stories these days, so it was rather heartening to hear a bit of positive news from national operator Amtrak.  Last week they reported setting a new annual rider record close to 29 million with ticket takings also at a record breaking $1.74 Billion. Customer numbers have climbed by 37% in the past decade, so who says that American rail is dead?

In the same week President Barack Obama announced plans for the much needed High Speed Rail network, following up on his previous pledge to support transport infrastructure across the board. Let’s hope the trend continues and these commitments are seen through so that our rail riders across the Atlantic get the service they clearly value.

Russian rail tourism on track

That other super power from the Cold War days of old seem to be powering on too. Just a  few weeks ago an awe-inspiring new service from Moscow to Nice was launched. The 50 hour journey offers three deluxe carriages, six first class and one second. Prices for this amazing journey start at 300 Euros per person going up to 1200 for the deluxe berth.

Hot on the heels of that news came the announcement that St Petersburg is to get a souped up high speed service connecting it with Helsinki and the rest of Scandinavia. From 12 December the journey will take just 3 and a half hours, while improved ticketing arrangements between Russia and Western European countries is also on the way, making it easier to go west by rail or vice versa.

The Great Indian Railway Challenge is readying itself for final boarding soon. Any latecomers keen to jump aboard should log on to the trip page on Globetrooper now to get up to speed with the logistics and bagsy a space.  And if you need some inspiration to do so, how does this amazing picture of the Amaravathi Express plunging through Braganza Ghats in Southern India grab you?


Amaravathi Express by Jayasankar Madhavada

Amaravathi Express by Jayasankar Madhavada


That just about wraps things up for this week, but please do drop me a comment or send me  a tweet if you spy anything to include in the next voyage of the Octavius Express. Special thanks to Corinne of the  Gourmantic food and travel blog for the name inspiration and thanks to all of you who also made suggestions!


*from someone who’s never been.

Blimey O’Reilly I seem to have won! How did that happen then? Oh yes I remember now,  all you tipsters and commenters absolutely rocked la masion!  Merci Boucoup to all of you sweet chickadees. 🙂

Twitch Way to Montreal?

Tourists crossing, Montreal

OK, here’s the deal. I want to go to Montreal and you can help me twitch hike my way there. You know about twitchiker right? He’s the guy who’s blagged and couchsurfed his way around half the world relying solely on the kindness of stwangers on twitter.

Keeping it Montreal

My little project runs along similar lines.  I’ve asked the lovely tweeple of Canada to ply me with juicy sweetmeats on Montreal’s hidden gems. And boy did those little chickadees deliver the goods! If I win, they’ll have spirited me away from my Edinburgh sofa to the amazing cultural melting pot just across the Atlantic that is Montreal.

Blog Travels Competition

When I heard the weblog travels competition was offering a trip to Montreal I just couldn’t resist chancing my arm and writing about a city thousands of miles away in a continent I’ve never visited.  And they say I’m not a proper adventure armchair traveller! So, here’s my potted poutine guide to the city’s must-dos from your man absolutely nowhere near the scene. If I win, the ice-cold Labatts are on me.  Deal?  Deal.  Now on with the show!

1. Wrap up Warm!

OK, so my first tip may have been a little facetious: ‘It’s cold in winter’ Terence Carter told me. But what else to expect  from the two-man GranTourismo toboggan team?  They’ve been there, snapped that and written the guidebook – and then some.  So mark their words and pack those thermals folks.

2. Cheer on the Habs


The Habs and Hab nots

The Habs play the Hab nots


Ice hockey is Canada’s national sport.  According to Jerry Evans of Inspired Train ‘the Habs (AKA Les Montreal Canadiens) are a religion, they did really well last season.’ So get the puck down to a Habs game and see the sticks and blood fly at close quarters.

3. Practice your French

Montreal is Canada’s most European city with a strong heritage of French language and culture.  It can seem a little aloof if you can’t parlez Francais though, so brush up before you go and make an effort when you get there.  (But it’s not as rad as Quebec apparently.)

4. Dig a Museum

Montreal has more than its fair share of history and culture. Marsha of Single Occupancy Blog recommends the archaeological dig at Pointe a Calliere Museum. Just one of many great museums to shelter in on those chilly afternoons.

5. Bang a Drum with some Hippies


Spring Tamtam at Mont Royal

Hippy Hotty Tamtam at Mont Royal

Every summer Sunday you can do something genuinely offbeat and bang out a rhythm at the Mont Royal Drum Circle, or just laze around and hang with hundreds of hippies, picnicking and nodding along to the reggae sounds, as suggested by Ayngelina of Bacon is Magic.

6. Watch some Sparks fly

Montreal has the world’s largest fireworks competition. 8 teams compete with 30 minutes of spectacular pyrotechnics while the judges ooh and ahh from La Ronde. Join them or watch open-mouthed from the equally well-placed Jacques Cartier Bridge.

7.  Spot the Slebs at the Top Table

The laid-back and much loved Le Club Chasse restaurant is a popular hangout of many celebrities. Twilight stars Robert Pattison and Kristen Stewart were caught canoodling over the  guinea hen with pork compote recently.

8. Chew on a Beavertail

Look at this little beauty, nuff said!

9.  Get Cash back on your Shopping

Here’s a city that knows how to reward its visiting shoppers. You can get up to 20% tax rebate on your duty-free purchases when you leave the city, so spend, spend, spend!  A pair of jeans in Gap might set you back around $50 Canadian dollars before the rebate.

10. Explore the Underground City

Montreal’s underground shopping mall is quite a draw. Harsh winters mean that they’ve built a massive complex of shops, bars and restaurants in which you can comfortably empty your wallet without surfacing above ground. The city has the largest subterranean city area in the world, stretching for some 20 miles.

11. Venture into another type of Underground


No poutine for you!

No poutine for you!


For the more outre, there are fetish and vampire clubs. You can even take a Hells Angels tour of the city apparently.  But be careful, the underworld here is very much alive and well – or not as the case may be.

12. Stay out all Night in the name of Culture

The High Lights Festival thumbs its nose at winter each February with a smorgasbord of performing arts, fine wining and dining, the celebration of light and Le Nuit Blanches, all night festivities with free public transport laid on.

13. Bike about for Free


Bikes in Montreal

Getting Bike Curious?

It’s easy to get about in Montreal thanks to the pioneering Bixi scheme, which gives you up to half an hour of free biking or 24 hours for $5. Its trailblazing success has led to its adoption in Paris and London. And if you want your own set of custom spokes check out the folks at Bikurious, a gay-friendly bike shop.

14. Go Jogging for Jesus

Start the day with an invigorating ascent up to the stunning St Joseph’s Oratory for great views over the city, as recommended by ex-pat Geordie Anne Kostalas on her blog Dear England, Love Canada.

15. Jet about those Rapids


Jet Boat tours on Lachine Rapids

Jet Boat tours on Lachine Rapids


Splash yourself awake with a Jet Boat Tour along the St Lawrence river and Lachine Rapids. The hour-long trip – in the sweetest pea-green boat you’ve ever seen – will brush away the cobwebs as you spray your way past the city sights.

16.  Have some Laughs

I still harbour fond childhood memories of watching televised highlights of Just for Laughs, one of  the world’s biggest comedy festivals, held each July.  It even has its own museum now.

17. Prowl about for Poutine

Go hopping for Montreal’s most famous dish. From McDonald’s and homey little diners at one end to fancy joints serving up high-end lobster poutine at the other. Get the inside scoop on the best places at the Montreal Poutine blog.

18.  Eat some Canned Duck

Say bye-bye to arteries and sample some crazy, fat, traditional Quebecoise food at Le Pied du Couchon. Run by Martin Picard, it’s one of the city’s finest eateries and home of duck in a can. Try their cabane a sucre too.  Thanks to Here be Dragons for that heart-stopping tip.

19. Walk the Ports ‘n’ All


Old Vieux Port, Montreal

Old Vieux Port

Take a wander through the Old Port district with a self-guided walking tour stepping back through five generations of Montreal life. There’s skating, exhibitions and outdoor shows year round too.

20. Stop to smell the Flowers 

Lantern Festival, Montreal Botanics

Lantern Festival, Montreal Botanics



Take some time out to enjoy the Botanical Gardens with some 30 themed gardens, including a Japanese Garden and tea room. Go in September or October and enjoy the beautiful lantern festival there.

21. See the Light at Notre Dame


Notre Dame Interior, Montreal

Notre Dame Interior, Montreal


Who needs Paris when you’ve got Notre Dame here too?  It’s an amazing gothic confection of a building, inside and out. And as if that weren’t enough, an impressive multimedia, sound and light extravaganza brings the place to life several evenings a week.

22. Have some Serious Coffee and Bagels

Head to Cafe Olimpico for  amazing coffee and Fairmount bagels, a true Montreal tradition where you might even spot members of The Arcade Fire brooding over an Iced Latte while they contemplate their next mournful outpouring.

23. Savour a slice of Little Italy

Italians make up the city’s largest ethnic group and you can savour a taste of the old country yourself in this delicious district of churches, frescos, shops, food markets and restaurants that’ll make you say Mamma Mia. A favourite haunt of Charlotte from British Travel PR specialists ZFL.

24. Go Boho in Mile-End


Mile End Bagel shop

Walk a Mile End for bagels

Strut your funky hipster stuff down to Mile-End, a hip, young suburb packed with buzzy coffee and bagel shops, record shops, bookshops, furniture stores and boutiques. In recent years it’s acquired legendary status as the epicentre of the Canadian Indie Music ouevre. It sure looks way cooler than London’s Mile End! Get something tasty down yer gullet at La Montee de Lait and sample some of their fine wines.

25. Have a Bachelor Party

Montreal’s a big mecca for bachelor parties, popular with revellers popping up from the Big Apple, with clubs, casinos and strippers galore… if you like that sort of thing.

26. Take a Train ride to Gaspe about


Bay de Chaleur

Bay de Chaleur


Once you’re done with the city, why stop your adventure there? Montreal is nestled sweetly among some of the most beautiful rail routes in North America. Take the overnight train to the tip of the Gaspé Peninsula and shuttle past the St Lawrence River, through the Matapédia Valley and then around to Chaleur Bay, officially one of the most beautiful bays in the world.

27.  Stock up on local delicacies

Try the smoked meat at Schwartz’s, lobster rolls at the Lobster Shack, and the Marche des Saveurs shop, which stocks all the best local goodies for foodies.

And finally, before you visit don’t forget to…

28. Check out all of the above mentioned Blogs and People


Sweet Chickadee

Love those sweet tweeting Chickadees!

Without them this post would be nothing but a bunch of ill-conceived maple syrup puns.

Just follow my ‘Canadians Who Rock more than the Rockies list’ on twitter to scoop up the lovely lot in one fell swoop of a Canada Jay. You’d be a Common Loon not to.

Special thanks to: @Banff_Squirrel @lintably @Ayngelina @inspiredtrain @CharlottewZFL @nomadicchick @viewfromalake @nctaylor

Gotta a tip of your own? Share it below.

I received so many fantastic additional tips on Le Bonne Province in the comments below that I’ve decided to  cheekily revise the post a little, taking me up to a grand total of 45 tips. I’ve bolded the new entries below to make it easier to share them with you all.

Yet more fascinating rail history today courtesy of Candice O’Reilly from Trav Addict.  This time around we delve deep into the annals of Berlin’s subway stations, during the 28 years in which the city was divided by the Berlin Wall.

A Mini History of the Berlin Train System

Berlin U-Bahn

Berlin U-Bahn Train

Have you ever wondered what happened to the Berlin underground train system after the Berlin Wall went up? The Berlin local train system, the U-Bahn, began service in 1902, so the U-Bahn was very well established to travel to all parts of Berlin by 1961 when the Berlin wall went up. One would assume that this wall would wreak havoc on the train system, but in fact only one train line was even partly closed, the U2.

The U2 line traversed directly through the East-West boundaries of Berlin and each end of the line was on opposing sides of the wall. The line was closed down on the West side of Berlin, and two of the stations were converted into markets. Nollendorfplatz had old wooden U-Bahn carriages on the tracks that housed markets, and there was a shuttle train that traveled between Nollendorfplatz and Bülowstrasse station, which was converted into a Turkish Bazaar. On the East side of the wall, the U2 was still in use, but the end of the line became Thälmannplatz, the station closest to the Wall.

The more interesting fate however, what that of lines U6 and U9, which ran from the North to the South of West Berlin, but passed through East Berlin. Instead of closing down these lines, they closed the stations that ran through East Berlin, and allowed the trains to continue running. The stations that ran through East Berlin became ghost stations, with Soviet Guards manning these stations at all times.

Friedrichstrasse Station in Berlin

Friedrichstrasse Station in Berlin

Friedrichstraße was the only U-Bahn station in East Berlin which was on line U6 which remained active.  Friedrichstraße was a cross point of the U-Bahn and the S-Bahn (the Eastern Soviet train system). It was only active due to it being a border crossing into East Berlin. To ensure no one from East Berlin attempted to escape into West Berlin by clutching onto the outside of the train, there was a cement tunnel built around the train line when the train crossed the borders of the wall. The tunnel was just wide enough for the train to pass, with only inches to spare around the actual train. These trains were not allowed to just pass through East Berlin without a price however. West Berlin paid 20 million German Marks per year for the train lines to pass through East Berlin.

When the wall came down, the ‘ghost’ stations in the East became alive again, and people all over Berlin spent weeks joy-riding on the trains to stations that were once forbidden. Many stations in East Berlin eventually had their names changed so the Soviet influence would be forgotten.

The famous U2 line which once ended at Thälmannplatz in East Berlin is now called Mohrenstrasse, and is a must stop for any trip to Berlin. This station not only used to be the end of the line for U2 in East Berlin, but the entire station is covered with red marble pillaged from Hitler’s Chancellory after it was destroyed at the end of WWII. This is not mentioned or recorded anywhere in Berlin, but standing in the station will touch you with the feeling of experiencing the war like almost nothing else in Berlin.

So, when you visit Berlin, travel on the U-Bahn, and remember to stop at Mohrenstrasse to see the marble walls. Afterwards take the U6 and stop at Friedrichstraße to imagine what is must have been like as a border crossing into East Berlin. As you pass the stations that once were in East Berlin, imagine what is must have been like to travel on these lines during the Cold War.

It’s simple things like these which make Berlin so fascinating. Everywhere you go, and everything you do was once affected by war in one way or another, even a simple train ride.

Candice O’Reilly,  an Australian living in the USA, runs a travel website called TravAddict specializes in adventure travel on a budget. Check out the TravAddict blog to get budget travel tips and discover the history of many destinations.

Candice was a tour guide for many years and has worked in the travel industry and studied travel for her entire adult life.

I need your help. I’m looking for evidence of people’s experiences of finding (or not) heavily discounted train tickets using any of the numerous train ticketing sites in the UK: the trainline, red spotted hanky, raileasy, a new one called train sto and of course all the various line operators themselves.

In their ad campaigns and on their websites, train companies are constantly crowing about what amazing deals – up to 80% off – you can nab, but how many are out there and how easy is it to find them really?

The results so far suggest that the majority of people haven’ t had much joy, but I need a bigger sample to draw any conclusions.  So please tell me if you’ve ever had much luck finding these super-cheap train fares in the very quick poll below. I’ll publish a post reflecting on the results soon. Thanks!

Part two of a guest post from railway historian Dave Turner, who gives us the inside track on another two important figures from UK railway history.

Mark Huish's memorial, courtesy of Kevin Leighton

2. Captain Mark Huish (9 March 1808 – 18 January 1867)

In the 1840s and 50s professional railway managers didn’t exist. Promotional ladders, training programs and employment procedures were only just being developed. As such, the embryonic railway companies had to look outside the industry for managers. The military, one of the few large-scale organisations, was probably the best place to look and thus many early railway managers came from the forces. However, it wasn’t easy for them as they were stepping into a new industry where standard operating procedures did not exist and practice differed between railways. Thus, these new managers faced many large, unknown, challenges. Captain Mark Huish was a point on which both these two factors converged. He was born in Nottingham in 1808. He joined the East India Company at the age of 16, and while in India he transferred to the 67th regiment Bengal Native Infantry as an Ensign. In 1834 he returned to England on furlough where he became a Captain. However, rather than stay in the army, in 1837 he applied for, and got, the job as secretary on the new Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway.

In 1841 he became Secretary of the Grand Junction Railway, and in 1846 when that company merged with the London and Birmingham and Manchester and Birmingham Railways to become the London and North Western Railway, he was appointed its General Manager on the incredibly high salary of £2000 per annum. Mark Huish had a reputation for an abrasive character, being demanding and of arrogance. But, it is easy to see that in the emergent industry that Huish developed management techniques that were far ahead of their time. These included sophisticated statistical gathering methods, accountancy reforms, advancements in management structure and the development of complex inter-company agreements. He also encouraged the delegation of power from the directors to management.

Many of his managerial reforms were truly innovative as they were far beyond more basic techniques that had developed within the rest of the industry. However, after Huish’s forced resignation in 1858, his developments didn’t travel to other companies. He can be subsequently seen as a forward thinking railway manager, in an industry that wasn’t ready for him. The industry, which was still very much controlled by the boards of companies, couldn’t cope with a strong willed, innovative and influential General Manager. He died in 1867 on the Isle of Wight.  

FURTHER READING: Gourvish, Terry, Mark Huish and the London and North Western Railway, A Study of Management, (Leicester, 1972)

3. Herbert Ashcombe Walker (15 May 1868 – 29 September 1949)

In the late 1870s up to the 1900s, railway profitability declined. A prosperous industry that for decades had dominated the transportation market, started to find itself under increased government regulation, demanding customers and, in the later years, increased threats from new forms of transportation such as trams. Further, the internal operations of the companies didn’t help, and the industry’s management failed to innovate, was institutionalised and rather isolated in the corporate economy. As such, by the 1900s companies needed a new breed of managers that could turn their fortunes around. The London and South Western Railway was one such company that took the opportunity to appoint a ‘rising star’ as General Manager in 1912.

Herbert Ashcombe Walker is the only career railwayman in this post. He was born in 1868 near Paddington to Ellen and George Walker, a Medical Student. After being educated in London and Bruges he joined the London and North Western Railway in 1885, quickly rising through the ranks, becoming District Superintendent of the North Wales Division in 1893 and Southern District Goods Superintendent at Euston in 1902.

It was in this post that he visited America to study American railway practice, something that would stand him in good stead in years to come. In late 1911 the London and South Western Railway was looking to replace their General Manager, Sir Charles Owens. The company Chairman, Sir Hugh Drummond, decided to act, and went head-hunting for someone special. He appointed Walker to the post in late 1911 and he started on 1st January 1912. His trust wasn’t misplaced, and Walker started turning an average railway company into an exceptional one through application of both managerial and physical reform of company operations. He reorganised the structure of the company, giving more delegated control to the district superintendents, he rearranged the goods department, introduced a number of officers conferences and created one of the industry’s first publicity departments.

On a physical level he pushed through the rebuilding of Waterloo station, the construction of Britain’s most advanced marshalling yard at Feltham, and initiated the electrification of the company’s suburban lines. On top of all these innovations and achievements, on the outbreak of war he was put in charge of the Railway Executive Committee (REC) that controlled all of Britain’s Railways. He was, by 1922, Britain’s leading railway manager. As a postscript to this history, in 1923, when Britain’s 100+ railway companies were merged into four by the government, the London and South Western Railway became part of the Southern Railway and Walker became its General Manager. He held this post until 1937.

It was his innovations, management techniques and procedures that were largely adopted by the new company, a testament to his forward thinking while at the L&SWR. While on the Southern railway he never made so much of an impact as he did on the L&SWR, as the other major companies caught up with and implemented similar management procedures. Thus, it was his tenure at the L&SWR that marked him out as one most advanced railway managers in the country, if not the most advanced, at the time.  

FURTHER READING: Klapper, C.F., Sir Herbert Walker’s Southern Railway, (Shepperton, 1973)

I have only had space here to highlight three men that were at the heart of Britain’s railways at different points in its history. There were many other individuals that played important roles in the development of the industry that I have not had space to mention. What I have shown is that it isn’t the locomotive designers that should receive all the glory; rather, it is others, the people who developed and managed these vast systems, which deserve attention.

Read more about David’s work at, or check out his website at

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My latest guest appearance comes from railway historian Dave Turner who gives us the inside track on three important figures in UK railway history who you may not have heard of.

Richmond Bridge, built by Thomas Brassey

Richmond Railway Bridge, built by Thomas Brassey in 1848

When Jools asked me to write a guest blog, I racked my brains for a topic for some while. My PhD work is primarily on the management of the London and South Western Railway, so I thought I’d play to my strengths. Now, I know that the word ‘management’ possibly has the potential to send people to sleep, to put them into a train-related coma from which one can only be aroused from by the smell of sulphur.

This said, I do genuinely find the topic interesting. In essence the question I ask is not only what happened, but why did those things happen and who made them occur. As you can imagine there have been some big ‘movers and shakers’ in the railway industry over the years on the management side of things. Yet, these individuals tend to be overlooked and authors tend to focus on the flamboyant, innovative, and ultimately more famous, Locomotive designers.

Therefore, in this guest post I will give a brief history of three men who I believe were important in the history of Britain’s railways for one reason or another and who you probably have not heard of. One had a very tangible involvement in the establishment of the industry, another was a trailblazer that was overlooked, and the last rescued a railway company at a time when all the companies were struggling. Therefore, they represent three stages in the development of Britain’s railways, from initial building projects, to their early management, right through to the industry’s mature phase.

Thomas Brassey (7 November 1805 – 8 December 1870)

Thomas Brassey

Thomas Brassey

Brassey, who is probably the most famous individual in this list, wasn’t a railway manager in the truest sense of the word. He was, however, vitally important to the creation of Britain’s railways. In railway history it is always the engineers, such as Brunel, Locke and Stephenson, that tend to receive the limelight when it comes to railway construction. Yet, under these men were the contractors who actually carried out the work.

Amongst the contractors, Brassey was undoubtedly the king. He was born in 1805 in Buerton, Cheshire, to a farming family. By 16 he was an apprentice working for the surveyor, William Lawton and helped to survey the new Shrewsbury and Holyhead road. Once his apprenticeship had finished at 21, he went into partnership with Lawton, doing surveying work and also making bricks at Birkenhead, many of which were used in the developing port of Liverpool. When Lawton died, Brassey became the sole manager of the company and moved into contracting.

It is from this basis that Brassey started to prolifically build railways. After constructing the New Chester Road at Bromborough, he built the Sankey Viaduct on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway for George Stephenson and in 1837 the Penkridge Viaduct on the Grand Junction Railway for Joseph Locke. He also built most of the London and Southampton Railway, the Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway and the Sheffield and Manchester Railways with Joseph Locke and the Chester and Crewe Railway with Robert Stephenson. By 1847 he had built one third of Britain’s railways.

While throughout his career he continued to build lines in Britain, he took many contracts overseas, sometimes on his own and sometimes in partnership with other contractors. His company built lines firstly in France, but he also constructed lines in Spain, Italy, the Netherlands, Canada, South America, India, Austria and Nepal. He also built lines in the Crimean, during the war there. On his death in 1870, he had been responsible for the construction of one in every twenty miles of railway line in the world.

With such a large number of projects, it could be argued that without his presence the world of railways would not be the same. Indeed, it is curious that while the railways have been credited with being some of the world’s first ‘big business’, it was Brassey’s firm that could be considered one of the first multinationals.

FURTHER READING: Walker, Charles, Thomas Brassey, Railway Builder, (London, 1969)

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The Unexpected Traveller

Another guest post today, this time from the perennially bemused Unexpected Traveller. An Ex-Pat who, having been brought up on a trainless Mediterranean island, had his choo-choo cherry popped later in life than most and is now sowing his wild rail oats all over the tracks of Europe. Check out his beautifully written and brilliantly surreal blog yourself!

Leipzig Station, Germany

Leipzig Station, Germany from

There is a very vague memory that I turn to from time to time. I am about three feet tall and wearing a dark green top of sorts. Beside me, my father is excitedly pointing out of my bedroom window, encouraging me to look. I can see the house opposite where my friend Helen lives. I can see the trees on the horizon, standing proudly on the hill behind Helen’s house all trying to scratch the sky. Between them, I can see something dark moving sleekly along the horizon.

“Can you see the train?” Dad asks me, with a smile in his voice.

I was about four years old at the time. We used to live in England and trains were one of those things that I, like many boys, was into. I had a train set of sorts and used to spend hours playing with it. Soon after this memory was formed, we emigrated to Malta, in the Mediterranean, where I met many cousins, more family members than I knew what to do with and gradually grew up. There are no trains in Malta, so my train set and some scene in a film or television series was the only way I could continue enjoying trains.

I spent twenty-two odd years on the island. Armed with these ghostly reminders of trains, I moved to Brussels recently and smiled at the thought of being able to finally see and use trains on a regular basis. For me, as any small islander can tell you, being able to catch a train to get to a different country borders on the magical. I have used the Eurostar and the Eurotunnel to go to the UK; I have caught the Thalys to Paris, Aachen and Cologne and (so far) have ridden as far south as Luxembourg on the Belgian network too.

Consequently, I see the train network and its environs in a completely different light when compared to the average commuter. Sure, the malodour around every single Brussels train station is nauseous and emetic at the best of times and I cannot understand why it’s not seen to. On the other hand, if I start a timer when I step off my doorstep, I can be in London in just over two hours – what’s not to like?

Thalys train

Thalys train

For many commuters though, a trip to England is a weekend break or a summer holiday not something they’d do on a regular basis and I have to agree with them on that. Using the train network is a means to an end for them and not an end in itself. When, as in Belgium, you’re surrounded by obnoxious smells, graffiti, surly passengers and tinny PA systems, you tend to look upon the entire endeavour scornfully.

Brussells station, Decrepit but functional

Brussels Midi station, decrepit but functional

And so, I would like to write an open letter to the people who slave away behind the scenes to ensure that the trains are as punctual as possible:

Dear employees of the train company,

As you can see from the above, I love the fact that I can board a train and be whisked away along the tracks through the countryside, past the shadows of a country living its life as we hurtle past. I enjoy the familiar sound of carriages clanking past; groaning against the friction generated by the now-languid locomotive’s breaking system. I smile as I clamber into my selected carriage and seat myself by the window, eager to see the blur of a planet pass by as I reach my destination.

I wish everyone saw things this way. A little spit and polish, perhaps some elbow grease here and there, would go a long way to helping them regain that lost spirit of the railways.

Sincerely, The Unexpected Traveller

The Unexpected Traveller travels the world experiencing new sights and meeting odd people. he keeps track of both on his blog.

Do you remember the first time? And what are train services like in your neck of the woods?