Seventy years of the South Western tracked

WOKING and the railway are inseparable. The railway has influenced the development of the town and is the reason why many people choose to live here.

The railway provides a fast link to London for commuters, while many destinations to the south and south-west of England can be reached, not forgetting other local lines connecting places in Surrey and outer London.

An up steam train passes Worting Junction west of Basingstoke. These trains were once seen every day racing through Woking and other local stations on the main line

History books on railways are plentiful, but a most recent title, Seventy Years Of The South Western, puts all it covers into focus. Its author, Colin Boocock, loves railways and whose earliest memories of trains date back to the 1940s. He is a retired railway officer whose career, mainly in mechanical and electrical engineering, spanned 41 years with British Railways, Railtrack and part-time consultancy work.

His knowledge of this complex railway system we are talking about is extensive and his book is full of details that are clear to read and understand. Plus, it has lots of superb vintage and modern photos, many he has taken himself.

A taste of the author’s knowledge can found in his description of travelling the main line from London Waterloo down towards Southampton.

Coming towards Woking he writes: “Speed rises through Esher (for Sandown racecourse), Hersham and Walton-on Thames before we pass through the centre tracks at Weybridge where there is another flat junction to the right, though the trains that head off from the bay platform there do not conflict with the main line as they move off north-west to double back to Waterloo via Staines.

The cover of Colin Boocock’s book, Seventy Years of the South Western

There is a trailing burrowing junction from this branch before Byfleet & New Haw, which used to be called West Weybridge. Beyond West Byfleet we reach the busy junction station at Woking, after which there is quite a clatter as our train crosses the tracks heading off left towards Guildford and Portsmouth on the so-called ‘Direct’ route.”

In another chapter he recalls Weybridge station when he was a very young lad. “The deep cutting east of Weybridge is where I first saw steam trains at around the age of four. My parents used to park me by the fence overlooking the four tracks there, and I watched malachite green and war-time black Maunsell 4-6-0s passing through on expresses at or near the war-time railway speed limit of 60mph. I also noticed the sleepers under the main line tracks rose and fell significantly as the trains passed over them.”

Of course, as its title states, the book principally covers the South Western network over the past 70 years, from nationalisation in 1948 as British Railways until the privatisation of Britain’s railways, when Stagecoach and South West Trains came on the scene in 1996, being replaced by today’s South Western Railway in 2017.

A particular chapter that is fascinating is the one detailing the story of London Waterloo station, which the author brings right up to date with the latest electric multiple unit trains and is titled An Amazing Terminus, as is the story of privatisation in the 1990s.

The book also looks at the history of the railways on the Isle of Wight and the former branch line from Havant to Hayling Island. I bet people have memories of using those when going on holiday, on the Hayling Billy steam train!

Seventy Years Of The South Western is a hardback book of more than 230 pages, with black and white and colour photographs and maps and costs £35. Published by Pen & Sword Books. Website: www.pen-and-sword.co.uk

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