The Railway – new BBC series goes behind the scenes of Britain’s railways


Starting this Tuesday at 9pm on BBC 2 and BBC HD is The Railway: Keeping Britain on Track. It’s a six-part series that aims to go behind the scenes of the country’s stations, staff and trains. It will obviously heavily feature Network Rail, which owns and operates the railway infrastructure – the track, signals, bridges and tunnels, along with several of the country’s largest stations, like Manchester Piccadilly and King’s Cross.

I’ve been working for Network Rail for more than six months now, and although my lack of knowledge of ‘the railway’ is at times a handicap, I’ve also obviously learnt a hell of a lot about the people and processes that keep it running so smoothly (or not, in some cases). It’s also been an education in where the responsibilities lie in operating a railway. Some things fall under Network Rail’s jurisdiction, whilst others are purely the domain of the train operating companies (TOCs), like Virgin and First.

What I’m trying to say is, I’m hoping I’ll learn a lot from this series – and I hope it will educate a lot of its audience too. Oh, and I expect it will be very entertaining at the same time.

I was a big fan of The Tube, a recent BBC documentary series that went behind the scenes of the London Underground. In fact, I wrote a little post about it on this very blog. This new series is from a different production company, but I’m sure it will tickle me in the same sorts of places. I’m looking forward to it.


The Tube

I love The Tube.

blast! Films has put together a really fun, interesting series looking at the life both in front of and behind the scenes of London’s Underground railway. I’m coming at it as someone who’s rather fond of the Tube, and I can see that it might not appeal to everyone. But for the most part, like any good documentary, it’s just a story about people.

Episodes have focussed on ticket inspectors, drivers, station staff, track engineers and head office¬† and many more. It’s slickly edited to give a broad view of the system over the course of a day, night or weekend, with lots of interwoven ‘stories.’

You can catch The Tube on BBC iPlayer. All episodes to date are still online. Episode one is here.

As a series of vignettes, I can’t help but find that it reminds me of HV Morton‘s series of essays, brought together in little volumes with titles like Nights of London, The Spell of London, or The Heart of London.

Although Morton’s London was studied and written about in the 1920s, the London Underground features regularly in his writing – as it will in most London stories from the 20th century onwards.

Morton’s writing is detailed and vivid – but not without humour. His observations are often as amusing as they are serious. One of my favourite things is that he writes about scenarios and people that you can still find in London today – just as much as he writes about ways of life that have all but vanished.

I love Morton’s books on London – it’s a joy to flip through slices of life from all over the city, all walks of life, from almost a hundred years ago. He also wrote books about travels in England and beyond.

You can read his 1936 book¬†The Call of England online, and the chapter on Manchester is great. It opens with: “I came into Manchester over a road as hard as the heart of a rich relation,” and goes on to say: “I have been told that it always rains in Manchester. This is a lie; it had just stopped.”

Read the chapter (and the whole book) online, thanks to (Tip: if you click the ‘i’ button, top right of the ebook reader, you can download the entire book in other formats.)