04 April 2007

The Slow Train 1825-2007

A steam train The Slow Train – the backbone of Britain’s “integrated transport system” for nearly two hundred years – has reached its terminus following the news that a French TGV (Train à Grand Vitesse – one of those French phrases which cannot be exactly translated into English but means something like "non-British train" or "untortoiselike means of locomotion that will not break down five miles out of Paddington") has broken the world speed record after travelling at 356mph between Paris and Strasbourg.

The Slow Train was born in 1825 – the offspring of Richard Trevithick’s steam locomotive (which was so slow it was practically stationary) and the desire to transport goods and passengers between points A and B faster than a team of sloths on Diazepam. George Stephenson’s optimistically-named Rocket travelled between Stockton and Darlington at speeds of up to 29mph, although when encumbered with passengers and goods it could only manage a measly 12mph… if moving downhill and with a following wind.

For nearly two centuries, the Slow Train became a feature of everyday British life, much-loved by comedians… and much-hated by anyone who had to make a connection at Crewe by midday, travel between Cardiff and Swansea in under three weeks or failed to appreciate the delights of having their nose pressed into a stranger’s armpit whilst the train stopped inexplicably between stations for longer than even Tantalus had to endure.

With the privatisation of British Rail in the mid-1990s, the Slow Train reached its finest hour (which occurred at least forty-five minutes later than the time printed on the timetable), as first the Conservatives and then Labour ensured that passengers would never again have to experience the horror of travelling faster than a nun on a bicycle or suffer the shock of arriving at their destination on time.

With the news that the French TGV had broken the world speed record for a train on rails1 – moving along the line faster than Keith Richards snorting his father’s ashes – the last Slow Train in Britain (last Tuesday’s 17:42 from Guildford to Woking, expected to arrive a week on Thursday) pulled into a siding and died of shame.

The Slow Train will be buried at the John Major Church of the Privatised Railway. This Service has been delayed and mourners are advised to use other forms of transport to reach their final destination.

The Slow Train is survived by The Stationary Train, The Train Withdrawn From Service and The Train Now Standing At Platform Nine Isn’t a Train – It’s a Virgin Express.

1Despite attempts to prevent the record by three men speaking only schoolboy French, and wearing stripey jumpers, berets, false moustaches and strings of onions, who were later arrested for impersonating French train drivers and named as Jeremy le Clarkfils, James Mais-Oui et Ricard Hammond-Legume.


John said...

Listen to the song "The slow Train" by the Kings Singers. It will bring a tear to your eyes.

james higham said...

The slow train - the safe way to ride. Listen soon for kaboom, screech, shriek, bingle, oh it was the anti-magnetic basalt under the line.

The As A Dodo Team said...

Dear John

I'm sorry but while you have been away at war ...

... oh sorry, wrong message (must be those 'nam flashbacks again); what we meant to say was: Dear John, may we at As A Dodo also commend Lemon Jelly's take on "The Slow Train" by the Kings Singers - rather marvellous