Category Archives: Transports of Delight

Trijunct Station

Derby Midland Station (1978)
Derby Station (2016)

Derby railway station’s three-way junction forms a hinge in the national railway network, not as extensive or complex as Crewe or York, but pivotal on the north-east/south-west axis and the route from South Yorkshire to London.

The railway came to Derby because the town was chosen as the meeting point of three independent railways, the Midland Counties Railway between Derby, Nottingham, Leicester and Rugby (opened June 4th 1839), the Birmingham & Derby Junction Railway (opened August 12th 1839) and the North Midland Railway between Derby, Chesterfield, Rotherham and Normanton (opened May 11th 1840).

Passenger services for these three companies were provided at the Trijunct Station (1839-41), owned by the North Midland, at Litchurch, just outside the Derby boundary, because the only available nearer site for a single station, at the Holmes, was prone to flooding and would have required a more complicated track layout.

In 1844 the three companies amalgamated to form the Midland Railway, which grew to become an important main-line railway with services to London, Manchester and Carlisle.

The original joint station had a single platform, 1,050 feet long, with terminal bays for trains to Birmingham southwards and for the Midland Counties trains that departed northwards and headed east towards Spondon. 

The equally long Italianate station building was designed by the North Midland Railway architect, Francis Thompson (1808-1895), behind which was a cast-iron train shed by Robert Stephenson (1803-1859). 

Both of these structures are long gone.  An island platform was installed in 1858, along with further offices and a porte-cochère on the street frontage, designed by the Midland Railway architect, John Holloway Sanders (1825-1884).  A second island platform, with a footbridge, followed in 1881.  The front buildings were largely replaced by Sanders’ successor, Charles Trubshaw (1840-1917) c1892.

Following extensive bomb damage in January 1941 which destroyed the train shed and the buildings on Platform 6, all three sets of platform buildings, together with the footbridge and main signal box, were replaced in 1952-54.

The signal box was decommissioned in 1969 when a modern power box was constructed south of the station, and the Victorian front buildings were demolished, despite objections from conservationists, in 1985. 

All that remains of these buildings is the clock and the carved coat of arms of the borough of Derby from the porte-cochère, incongruously located in the station car park.

The replacement building in red brick is uninspiring.  Behind it, the 1950s concrete was found to be weakening.  The concrete footbridge was replaced in 2005, and new platform buildings followed in 2007-2009.  An additional platform was added during 2018 along with comprehensive remodelling of track and signalling to improve freight and passenger flows and to future-proof the station for decades to come.

Peter Stanton, describing the complex construction and engineering that took place over seventy-nine days of service disruption in Rail Engineer (November 15th 2018), remarked that there was “very little heritage to concern designers who could have a free reign to produce the most modern facilities”. 

The original Trijunct Station has been remodelled so frequently – 1858, 1881, 1892, 1952-54, 2005, 2007-09, apart from being bombed in 1941 – that it’s now a 21st-century passenger station. 

But the modern trains gliding in and out of Derby follow the same tracks and routes as the early steam locos that trundled into the Trijunct Station in 1839-40.

Tram tracks revealed

Tram tracks, Fargate and Leopold Street, Sheffield (2023) © John Binns

When Sheffield City Council abandoned its first-generation tram system in the 1950s, most of the redundant trackwork was simply covered with tarmac and forgotten.  At that time there was no value in uprooting the rails for scrap.

Ever since, workmen digging holes in main roads across the city have been repeatedly confronted by heavy steel girders blocking their way.

There was a recent flurry of media interest in Sheffield when most of the delta junction which connected the tracks along Fargate, Pinstone Street and Leopold Street came to light in the course of alterations to the pedestrianised area around the Town Hall.

People queued up to take photographs of the rusting rails, and BBC Look North and the Sheffield Star ran features on this 63-year-old piece of urban archaeology. 

Interviewees were sorry to see the tracks cut up, and wondered why they couldn’t be preserved for their heritage value:  Calls to preserve heritage as historic Sheffield tram tracks torn out for Fargate development (

Actually, that’s already happened.  Tram tracks found in the course of pedestrianising The Moor at the start of the 1980s were included in the landscaping, with immediately recognisable planters representing the lower-deck fronts of two standard Sheffield double deckers:  Searching Picture Sheffield.  These have now vanished.

In Firth Park, when a roundabout was constructed in the 1950s at the bottom of Bellhouse Road and Sicey Avenue, the trams continued to run directly through the road junction for the few years that remained before buses took over.  The tram tracks still slice through the roundabout after six decades’ disuse.

Firth Park, Sheffield: roundabout and tram tracks (2023)

This isn’t simply a Sheffield eccentricity.  Stretches of recovered track, and often the associated stone setts, are preserved in such cities as Birmingham, Bristol and Chester.

The Fargate discovery is old news.  A history forum stream dated 2008-2011 reported numerous excavated tracks across the city:  Tram Tracks on the Moor – Sheffield Buses, Trams and Trains – Sheffield History – Sheffield Memories.

Sheffield was one of the last British cities to eliminate tram services, yet though you have to be pushing seventy years of age even to remember these tracks being used, the nostalgia for the city’s cream and blue four-wheelers is powerful and, it seems, inheritable by younger generations.

It’s tempting to ask why there can’t be tram-tracks in use along Fargate, Pinstone Street and The Moor, heading to the south of the city, now that city-centre bus services are diverted several hundred yards from the city’s pedestrian thoroughfares.

Castlefield Viaduct

Castlefield Viaduct, Manchester (2023)

Castlefield, the site of Manchester’s first known settlement, the Roman Mamucium, is a cat’s cradle of canals and railways.

The Cheshire Lines Committee, a consortium of three separate railway companies, ran four tracks into the city centre, leading to its Manchester Central passenger station and the vast Great Northern Warehouse, both of which were reborn, respectively as a conference centre and a leisure complex.

The southern CLC viaduct was adapted to carry Metrolink trams in 1992, but the parallel viaduct has had no practical transport function since the track was lifted in the early 1970s. 

In 2021 the National Trust announced a scheme to use the viaduct to create a sky park – an elevated green space in an urban environment, by making use of abandoned transport infrastructure.

The original linear sky park was the Coulée verte [green belt] René-Dumont (alternatively called the Promenade plantée [planted walkway] René-Dumont) in Paris, opened in 1993.  René Dumont (1904-2001) was a professor of agricultural sciences who began his career advocating the use of chemical fertilizers and eventually became an ecologist and an inspiration to the French Green Party.

The most famous sky park is the New York City High Line, a stretch of the New York Central Railroad’s abandoned West Side Line that was rescued from demolition and redevelopment by the Friends of the High Line.  It was opened in sections between 2009 and 2014.

These and other examples have demonstrated that it’s often cheaper and more profitable to make redundant rail infrastructure an amenity than to scrap it.  It’s well known that developers and property owners are attracted to inland waterways for sound commercial reasons, and it’s apparent that the effort to rejuvenate rail structures can similarly invigorate the surrounding area.

The Castlefield Viaduct is very much a temporary pilot project which is well worth visiting, a thousand-foot stretch accessible from the Deansgate/Castlefield tram stop:  A fly-though of Castlefield Viaduct – YouTube.  Funding for future development seems uncertain at present, and it would be a pity if the project had to be abandoned:  Castlefield Viaduct | Manchester | National Trust.

Other British cities have derelict railway structures that could be potential sky parks. 

Leeds has two such projects, the Monk Bridge Viaduct, built in 1846, closed in 1967 and now adapted as an urban garden, and the 1½-mile Holbeck Viaduct, built in 1882 and abandoned since 1987, for which ambitious plans exist.

Birmingham has the Duddeston Viaduct which, because of a disagreement between competing railway companies, was built and left incomplete in the late 1840s and has never carried a train.  

It would be satisfying to see it eventually find a useful purpose.

Rats desert a burning signal box

Diesel multiple unit approaching Caernarvon railway station from Menai Bridge (1963)

I came across a colour slide that I took as a teenager on holiday with my dad of a diesel multiple unit approaching Caernarfon (then spelled ‘Caernarvon’ by the railway authorities) in the summer of 1963.  DMUs were still a novelty in those days.

We didn’t travel there by rail:  my dad was by then the proud owner of a Morris Minor convertible which he called Gladys.

In the 1980s I walked down the trackbed through the cutting that led from the site of Caernarfon station beneath the town centre and into a short tunnel leading to the Slate Quay.

Later still, when the tunnel became an underpass, I drove my car through it.

Remembering this prompted me to look up Caernarfon railway station on the compendious Subterranea Britannica website:  Disused Stations: Caernarvon Station (

There I found an entertaining anecdote about Caernarvon No 1 signal box which controlled movements east of the station towards Menai Bridge.

Apparently, this box had for decades proved difficult to man because crews were intimidated by a colony of rats who liked to dine on the grease that lubricated the machinery beneath the floor.

The rats didn’t seem to mind the humans at all, but the railwaymen tired of hordes of rodents climbing all over the place.

When services south of Caernarfon ceased in 1964 the station became a terminus.  The track layout and signalling was altered and the No 1 signal box was closed and its mechanism dismantled.

There followed an unrepeatable public entertainment.

The wooden structure was soaked in paraffin and surrounded by dogs.  When the building was set on fire, hundreds of rats raced for safety and the dogs captured only a few.

The survivors spread across town and were for some time an inconvenience.

Nowadays, it seems, rats are no more a problem in Caernarfon than anywhere else:  Are you never more than 6ft away from a rat? – BBC News.

It’s once more possible to catch a train from Caernarfon, southwards over the 2ft-gauge Welsh Highland Railway, opened in 1997:  Home Page – Ffestiniog & Welsh Highland Railways (

Great Big Trains of Wales

Llangollen Railway: Carrog Station, Denbighshire (2022)

The first time I visited Llangollen (by car), you could still catch a train there and head east to Chester or Shrewsbury.

Those days have long gone:  the Beeching Axe fell in these parts at the beginning of 1965.  Freight trains from Ruabon continued to serve Llangollen Goods Yard until 1968, after which the track was quickly lifted all the way to Barmouth on the west coast of Wales.

A group of enthusiasts leased Llangollen Station and three miles of trackbed westwards, and when the station reopened to the public in 1975 sixty feet of track had been reinstated.

Subsequent developments were not unlike saving up pocket money to buy more track for a train set:  Shell Oil offered a mile of redundant track, which enabled the Llangollen Railway Trust to lay three-quarters of mile to Pentrefelin and use the rest to construct sidings for the accumulating quantity of rolling stock.

Thereafter, once the Dee Bridge had been refurbished by the local council, the route steadily grew in length – firstly 1¾ miles to Berwyn (March 1986), then Deeside Halt (1990), Glyndyfrdwy (1993) and eventually Carrog, 7½ miles from Llangollen (1996).

Development has been slowed by a succession of misfortunes.  The Llangollen Railway PLC experienced financial difficulties, not helped by the pandemic lockdowns, and went into receivership in March 2021.  Services were taken over and resumed by the Llangollen Railway Trust from July 2021.

In recent years, the track has been reinstated to Corwen, ten miles from Llangollen, and a brand new Corwen Central station opened in June 2023 to replace the unusable original, so that services can resume to a commercially worthwhile destination: Llangollen Railway | Heritage Train Rides in the United Kingdom (

The ride up and down the beautiful Dee Valley is a restful experience, whether on a 1950s diesel railcar or on a loco-hauled train which may include an observation car.  There are refreshment rooms at Llangollen, Berwyn and Carrog.

While I savour the experience that a generation of enthusiasts has worked to recreate over decades between Llangollen and Corwen I can’t help regretting what was lost in the 1960s. 

The Ordnance Survey map shows mile after mile of “dismantled railway” stretching through beautiful Welsh countryside between Ruabon and Morfa Mawddach, the junction for Barmouth. 

Ten miles of trackbed is available to walkers on the Mawddach Trail between Dolgellau and Morfa Mawddach and the Bala Lake Railway runs narrow-gauge trains over a 4½-mile lakeside stretch but, because of the sacrifice of small sections to road improvements and building developments, the rest of the line is rendered useless and inaccessible.

It took only seven years to build this line as a commercial undertaking in the 1860s and even less time to dismantle it for scrap a century later.  Safeguarding its integrity as an amenity would have been a simple administrative matter. 

There was no way of computing social and environmental benefits in the 1960s, and we are the poorer for it.

Manx railways in the 21st century

Isle of Man Railway between Port St Mary and Port Erin: locomotive 15 ‘Caledonia’

Wheels turn slowly in the Isle of Man.  That’s why one-third of its steam railway continues to operate after 130 years, and why you can still ride on the first two cars delivered to what became the Manx Electric Railway in 1893:  Senior movers | Mike Higginbottom Interesting Times.

Inevitably, there have been losses.  There was a cable tramway in Douglas until 1929, when it was scrapped – superannuated, unloved and unbelievably noisy.  The Isle of Man Railway lines to Peel and Ramsey were closed in 1968 and lifted. 

But each of the surviving nineteen-century transport systems – the steam railway (1874), the Douglas horse tramway (1876), the Manx Electric Railway (1893-99) and the Snaefell Mountain Railway (1895) – has more than enough rolling stock to sustain a vigorous present-day tourist trade.

There have been misfortunes:  the Manx Electric lost part of its fleet in a depot fire in 1930.  Two of the six Snaefell Mountain Railway cars have in recent years run away from the summit:  no 3 smashed to pieces, fortunately without injuries or fatalities, in 2016.  A second runaway, no 2, with crew and passengers on board, was brought to a safe halt the following year.  There was a yard sale of surplus horse trams in 2016, all of which went to good homes for sums between £1,000 and £2,800 each.

This tight little island, 32 miles long and 14 miles wide at most, is the home of a unique collection of nineteenth-century rail transport lines still in full working order.

Tynwald, the Manx government, is considering how to develop these assets in future.  The steam and electric railways are already tuned to the entertainment value of heritage transport, like their colleagues across in Blackpool, but the horse tramway has become bogged down in the vexed redevelopment of Douglas promenade.  There is an excellent transport museum at Jurby in the north of the island, but the vehicles have not yet provided a mobile tourist attraction to supplement heritage rail.

The practicality of supplementing modern street transport with heritage services is proven across the world, evident in the success of San Francisco’s cable-cars and streetcars, the Melbourne City Circle and Hong Kong’s double-deckers (which look traditional but despite their appearance are in fact modernised).

Heritage rail has the double advantage of attracting enthusiasts who appreciate its historic appeal at the same time as ordinary tourists enjoy an uncommon holiday experience.

Visitors to the Isle of Man, as well as Manx residents, are invited to give their views on how the heritage transport should develop, in a survey that closes on August 13th 2023:  Isle of Man Heritage Railways Independent Review and Economic Impact Assessment – Cabinet Office of the Isle of Man Government – Citizen Space.

This is an invitation to think imaginatively about how to make the island’s transport even more interesting and financially secure.

But bearing in mind the current lamentable state of the horse trams, it would be wise not to expect rapid change.

The 72-page, A4 handbook for the 2014 Manx Heritage tour, with text, photographs, maps, a chronology and a reading list, is available for purchase, price £10.00 including postage and packing.  To order a copy, please click here or, if you prefer, send a cheque, payable to Mike Higginbottom, to 63 Vivian Road, Sheffield, S5 6WJ.

A long way from home

Red Decker Tours, Hobart, Tasmania

Walking down the street in the centre of Hobart, Tasmania in 2017 I noticed a red double-deck tourist bus approaching and instantly recognised its destination display, ‘CITY/CIRCULAR’.

The typeface was unmistakably from my home city of Sheffield.

When I checked the vehicle’s history I found that it was indeed from Sheffield, dating from 1973, the year before Sheffield Transport Department merged into South Yorkshire Passenger Transport and the livery changed from the smart azure blue and cream to a more insipid coffee and cream. Its original identity was no: 299 in the Sheffield fleet, with the UK registration UWA 299L: 298. UWA 298L: Sheffield Transport | Sheffield Transport 298… | Flickr. This had been obscured by its Australian identity as part of Red Decker Tours Hobart Explorer fleet.

Red double-deckers are ubiquitous in locations that lend themselves to hop-on-hop-off city tours, whereas for ordinary services Australian bus operators have traditionally stuck to single-deck vehicles.

I’ve encountered British-style double-deck tourist buses as far away as Brisbane, Philadelphia, Sydney and Tokyo, but it’s never occurred to me to notice their provenance.

Some of these operations take pride in using genuine traditional London red buses, as in Niagara Falls and Christchurch, New Zealand.

Clearly, Red Decker Tours found it practical to import British buses to the Antipodes for the sake of the better view they offer visitors, though their website shop window shows that they now use purpose-built vehicles with panoramic windows as well as open top decks.

Destination art

Sheffield tram blind

I was born in working-class post-war Sheffield to parents who were determined that I would have the educational opportunities that had been denied them between the wars.

They started early, teaching me to read at every opportunity, which included reading the destinations – and the fleet numbers – of the trams that went back and forth along Attercliffe Common outside our house.

The typeface of the blinds that Sheffield Corporation used for both tram and bus destinations is Curwen Sans, developed by the typographer Harold Curwen (1885-1949), and dating from 1912. 

Harold Curwen was taught at the Central School of Arts & Crafts by Edward Johnston (1872-1944) and Eric Gill (1882-1940), respectively the designers of the London Transport Johnston font (1916) and Gill Sans (1928).

Curwen’s lettering is distinctive and I recognised it immediately when some years ago I spotted and afterwards bought a half-size canvas print of a Sheffield tram blind in an antique shop on the Abbeydale Road.

Like Johnston, the Curwen ‘O’ is a circle, as for practical purposes are the ‘C’, ‘G’ and ‘Q’.  The ‘W’ is in fact two overlapping ‘Vs’.  The bar, or middle stroke, of ‘E’ and ‘F’ protrudes, instead of being the same length as or less than those above and below.  Perhaps this is to improve the legibility of a white-on-black sign on the front of an approaching vehicle.

The individual destinations are meticulously composed.  Abbreviations – ‘ST.’ for ‘STREET’ and ‘RD.’ for ‘ROAD’ – are followed by dots.  ‘HILLSBORO’’ has an apostrophe but ‘HUNTERS BAR’ oddly doesn’t.  ‘WOODHOUSE ROAD’, which would only appear in the lower aperture below ‘INTAKE’ above it, has brackets.

Destinations too long to appear as a single line – ‘INTAKE/(ELM TREE)’, ‘CITY/(FITZALAN SQUARE)’ and ‘FOOTBALL/GROUND’ are displayed as two lines which are not of equal height.  The top line is bigger than the bottom, following the typographical convention that the upper half of a line of letters is more noticeable than the bottom.

Even the sequence of destinations is carefully thought out, with displays grouped geographically, clockwise from north to west, to save unnecessary winding of the fiddly handle that turned the blind rollers.

In two well-produced films of the final year of Sheffield trams, tram crews mention the tedium of changing four sets of indicators at each end of a journey:  Sheffield Tram 1960 – Meadowhead to Sheffield Lane Top – YouTube and Sheffield The Last Trams – YouTube.

Nowadays it’s all done by key-taps on a digital display.

Roller blinds are still manufactured, in plastic, primarily for owners of preserved heritage buses and trams:  (2) Replica Blinds by PWC | Facebook.

Complete original rolls change hands for three-figure sums, though cut-up sections framed can cost as little as £10.

Like railway memorabilia – station signs and loco name and number plates – visual mementos of latter-day street-transport have become iconic.

Plant products

Danum Museum, Doncaster: GNR No 251 and LNER 4771 ‘Green Arrow’

Danum Museum provides a dramatic surprise when visitors walk through a small door to be confronted by two full-size steam locomotives, parked in an exhibition hall to mark Doncaster’s geographical importance at the centre of England’s transport arteries.

Doncaster was a bridging point on Ermine Street, the Roman road to the North, and a stage stop on the Great North Road that became the highway to Scotland from the Middle Ages onwards.

It was an obvious site for a railway junction when the Great Northern Railway forged its way north from King’s Cross, joining end-on with its partner the North Eastern Railway south of York in 1852 to form what is now called the East Coast Main Line.

The Great Northern acquired acres of flat land around the town for goods yards, locomotive stabling and its locomotive and carriage works, a huge complex that became known as “the Plant”.

From its opening in 1853 until 1867 the Plant undertook repairs and maintenance only, but after the arrival of the great locomotive engineer Patrick Stirling (1820-1895) Doncaster became the birthplace of some of the finest and most famous steam locomotives in Britain for the Great Northern Railway and its successor, the London & North Eastern Railway.

The Stirling Single, Great Northern No: 1, built in 1870, is an elegant express engine with single driving wheels 8ft 1in in diameter.  It broke records in the hair-raising Races to the North in 1888 and 1895.  The first of its type, it’s the only survivor.

Stirling’s next-but-one successor, Nigel Gresley (1876-1941;  knighted 1936) designed his A1 Pacific locomotives, of which the most famous example, Flying Scotsman, claimed the first authenticated 100mph speed record in 1934, and his streamlined A4 Pacific, Mallard, took the ultimate speed record for a steam locomotive, 126mph, in its construction year, 1938.

Danum Museum’s current exhibits from the National Collection are a matching pair of unique survivors, both the first of their class.  The C1 Large Atlantic, the unnamed no: 251, built in 1902, was the first of a long-lived and powerful class of express locomotive designed by Henry A Ivatt (1851-1923), who served as locomotive superintendent between Stirling and Gresley.

Its companion is LNER no: 4771 Green Arrow, built in 1936 as an express mixed-traffic loco, equally capable of handling fast passenger and freight trains.

To stand close to these beautiful giants side by side, resplendent in their apple-green livery, evokes the railway tradition that generations of Doncaster workers built and maintained at the Plant.

125 years of municipal transport

Nottingham City Transport 125th Anniversary double-decker 627 (YN14 MUV)

Photo: © Harriet Buckthorp

Nottingham City Transport has celebrated its 125th anniversary by decking out one of its double-deckers in a Nottinghamshire-themed livery, based on the county flag, with images of twenty Nottingham landmarks, five of which are visible on the offside in my friend Harriet’s image.

The Nottingham horse-tram services, dating from 1878, were taken over by the Corporation in 1898 and swiftly electrified from 1901 onwards. 

This modest, conventional first-generation tram operator gained a reputation for modernity and innovation.

Petrol buses were introduced in 1906, but when the tram system was life-expired in the late 1920s, Nottingham chose to retain the electricity-supply system and use trolleybuses.  The fleet continued to grow after the Second World War to a maximum size of 155 vehicles.

Thereafter, developments focused on using diesel vehicles, and the last trolleybuses ran in 1966.  The first one-man-operated bus appeared in 1951;  the neighbouring West Bridgford UDC transport service was absorbed in 1968.

NCT currently operates a bright yellow bio-gas double-decker named after Honorary Alderman Betty Higgins (1926-2019), the first female leader of Nottingham City Council, who among many inspired initiatives ensured that the city kept its municipal transport when the 1986 Transport Act forced bus services into the private sector, where they were quickly acquired by national operators such as Arriva, First and Stagecoach.

She served as chairman of the housing committee, where she cleared the city not only of unfit housing but also of the unsuitable 1960s and 1970s flats that had been hastily built to enable “slum clearance”. 

Her insight and forethought allowed the city to keep its transport system in an arm’s-length private operation that wasn’t vulnerable to absorption into a remote national network. 

In addition, she drove the initiatives to give Nottingham its second-generation tram system and the splendid Royal Concert Hall:  Remembering teacher Betty Higgins who became first woman to lead Nottingham City Council – Nottinghamshire Live (

Although Transdev has a 14% minority share in Nottingham City Transport – a consequence of the financing of the city’s light rapid-transit network – the undertaking is one of a very small remaining number of major municipal bus operators, along with Blackpool, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Ipswich and Reading.

Nottingham is an easy city to get about.  When I visit, if I don’t travel in by train, I park at the Phoenix Park park-and-ride, five minutes away from the M1 Junction 28, and take the tram.  You hardly need a car in Nottingham.