Magazine article The Spectator

Get out Your Paint Pots

Magazine article The Spectator

Get out Your Paint Pots

Article excerpt

Perhaps I am beginning to change my mind. It seemed to me wrong at first to privatise the actual railways, that is, to set up Railtrack to make a profit out of the ownership of tracks, equipment and railway buildings and land. (Would we sell off motorways? Well, perhaps we should...) And when the company works on plans to put office blocks on top of Paddington station, for instance, and announces huge profits while speed restrictions on inadequately maintained track slow down my train, I feel aggrieved. But when, a week or so back, Railtrack unveiled a comprehensive scheme costing tens of millions of pounds to repair and to reinstate the huge metal, glass and masonry structure which is Glasgow Central station I was very impressed.

Under British Railways, this splendid station - the real heart of Glasgow - like most others was poorly maintained, so that when it rains (which it does rather) water poured in in dozens of places, making the idiotic smooth terrazzo floor fatal to the hurrying. Perhaps Railtrack's excellent and responsible plan to repair and, in places, reconstruct the train shed is merely the first stage in a devious plan to make the concourse into a shopping mall - I shall be watching - but what seemed most to exercise the members of the committee of local amenity societies on which I sit were the colours proposed for the wood and metalwork: grey for the roof and green and copper for the columns.

They did not like the green: too old fashioned. Besides, this colour scheme was reminiscent of the old LNER when Glasgow Central had been the terminus for the LMS . . . But the Railtrack man pointed out that the company was not in the heritage business. This was Railtrack's livery - and I rather liked it. Deep green is a good, practical, proper railway colour, after all, even if - for me - it is the livery of the Southern Railway. A Kentish man as I am, I associate England and summer with green electric trains rattling through the hot landscape of rolling green countryside peppered with the red of brick and tile on cottages and houses. . . but I digress, sentimentally.

New, smart liveries are one of the unexpected boons of privatisation. Instead of the rather tired white and two shades of grey with a red stripe used by Inter-City, admirable Great North Eastern Railways have adopted a deep blue, with one long red stripe along the middle of the carriages. Such soberly and elegantly painted trains, rushing down the East Coast route to London, look extraordinarily fine. So, these days, Glasgow Central is looking rather smarter, especially as the Strathclyde Passenger Transport Executive is now at last phasing out its simply disgusting and offensive bright orange and replacing it with a deep claret red, with cream trim. …

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