BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rails Across Britain: Thirty Years Of Change And Colour’

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Reviewer:  NZ Crown Mines

Title: Rails Across Britain: Thirty Years Of Change And Colour

Editor: David Cable

No. of Pages: 217

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): Photographs: 9, Text 5

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Between 1985 and 2015, the author of this volume attempted to photograph ‘…Virtually all the trains that… operated on the main lines of Great Britain…’  The result is a 217 page, A-4 sized, book of colour photographs that shows both the changing-face and use of railway rolling stock in Great Britain, and the evolving and multitudinous colour schemes carried by British trains during this time.

This book is of the ‘Railway picture book’ genre, with the photographs it contains being taken during the 1985- 2015 period. Although these images comprise the majority of this volume’s content, they are prefaced by a two-page Introduction which the author has written to provide background to what follows. It includes a short history of British railway operations and developments (described by the author as ‘…Some of the most dramatic changes to the British Railways system since its inception…). Within the photographic section, trains of many types and varieties appear. Of the 200 full-page photographs on display, 195 are of DMU’s and EMU’s and trains hauled by diesel-electric and electric locomotives. The final five images show trains hauled by steam locomotives, and were taken between 1991 and 2011. The images are presented in consecutive year-order with the number of pages allocated to each year varying from three (1985) to 15 (1986). Curiously, one image (on page 178) is un-dated, but presumably belongs to the year group (2010) within-which it has been placed. A detailed, several-sentence caption is placed beneath each image. The caption invariably provides details relating to the specific motive power appearing in the photograph, together with information concerning where the image was taken and the colour-scheme it carries. Where the author believes it to be necessary, additional facts are also given, although this does not occur in all the captions. No Index or Maps pages are provided. The photographs are not listed separately. No ‘Technical’ information is provided concerning the equipment or methods used when taking these images.

For this reviewer, this volume has three serious faults. Of these, two are ‘mechanical’ the third ‘political’. Of the two ‘mechanical’ faults, the most obvious is the lack of an Index or any means by which specific trains / locations / colour schemes (even years) can be found within its pages.  Without an Index to guide them, a reader is reduced to ‘flicking through pages’ in an at-times futile attempt to locate an image, a location, colour scheme or a locomotive. In addition, the lack of any Maps (even one of the national railway network), means that the reader has no idea as to where the images were photographed. This is particularly problematic for readers living outside Great Britain who cannot be expected to know the location of (for example) Llandevenny (Page 94). The ‘political’ fault previously-alluded to, occurs when the author, while writing his Introduction, sees fit to create a new political administration for Great Britain ‘…The Tory Government…’  As the Conservative and Unionist Party has not changed its name, the use of a derisive nickname for a formally-constituted political party lowered the tone of both the Introduction and the volume itself. This reviewer expected better.

This volume may appeal to several different groups of readers. Due to its very-specific time period, railway enthusiasts interested in British trains of the 1985-2015 era are likely to find it especially useful. For such individuals, it could become a standard reference work. Those railway enthusiasts with a more general interest in railways within Great Britain could also find it worth viewing, Artists and modellers portraying British railways rolling stock and stations during the 1985-2015 period may also find it useful for reference purposes.  As the book depicts the evolution of British railways over a very specific time-period, transport historians may also find it of interest. The images of steam locomotives could appeal to steam aficionados.

Although the photographs are beautiful, the lack of both Index and Maps, when combined with the unnecessary political jibe, affected the rating that this volume has received.

On a Rating Scale where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I have given the Photographs: 9;

the Text: 5.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rails Across Britain: Thirty Years Of Change And Colour’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘BRITAIN’S DECLINING SECONDARY RAILWAYS THROUGH THE 1960s’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Britain’s Declining Secondary Railways Through the 1960s

Authors: Kevin McCormack and Martin Jenkins

Total Number of Printed Pages: 168

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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According to the song Big Yellow Taxi, ‘…You don’t know what you’ve got, til its gone’ and in many ways this volume is reflective of those words. It records the demise of Britain’s branch line railways in all their faded glory, and while so-doing-so, also unintentionally records the attributes of a society that is now but a fond and increasingly-distant memory.

The volume is of the ‘Enthusiasts picture-book’ genre and was the result of a very deliberate campaign by one Blake Paterson to record scenes from the branch-line railways  being closed as Dr. Beeching attempted  to rationalise Britain’s  railways by the removal of   uneconomic lines. The result of Mr. Paterson’s efforts is a series of beautiful and evocative photographs. These depict trains of all sizes, shapes and varieties, in railway settings that range over the entire British Isles and include both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. That in itself is commendable and an admirable record has resulted. . However, at least for this reviewer, even more commendable is the unintentional recording that occurred; the ‘background things’ that portrayed 1950’s and ‘60’s Great Britain.   The image of Blower’s Green on page 101 is a case in point. Unintentionally, the volume has become a document of social history and on that basis it is possible that the images may have greater value beyond being merely ‘pictures of trains’.

The book consists of a two-page Preface written by Blake Paterson (the photographer and source of the images that appear within this work). This provides details of Mr Paterson s quest, with an Author’s Note from Messers McCormack and Jenkins adding some additional information. This is followed by the photographs which form the main body of the work. A single-page Index appearing on the book’s last page provides page numbers for the stations appearing within it. The volume contains no maps.

Although the authors’ of this volume (actually ‘Compilers’ in this reviewer’s opinion), state that: ‘An attempt has been made to arrange the images … on a rough geographical basis’,  they have not provided any maps to assist in locating where the images were taken. Although to an ‘enthusiast’, this is likely to be of little consequence, many readers of this volume will not be familiar with the British railway network.  In addition, and despite the excellent captions accompanying the photographs, readers will also be unlikely to know exactly where the photographs were taken. This could well reduce the volume’s usefulness and desirability.

Regrettably, and despite the fact that he is the sole source of the images it contains, the book contains no biographical details about Blake Paterson,  The previously-referred-to Preface and Author’s Note provides details of the ‘How’ and ‘Why’, for the volume’s photographs, with full biographical details of the Authors / Compilers appearing on the dust jacket. Mr. Paterson is not however, given the same courtesy. Although useful as the source of the photographs, he remains anonymous. To know more about him, his methods and the equipment he used, would have been of value – especially to those interested in railway photography.

This work is likely to appeal to a variety of readers. These could include railway enthusiasts, especially those with a specific interest in Branch Railways within the British Isles. Railway modellers with an interest in transition–era railways of the British Isles are also likely to find this volume of interest, while transport, social and political historians could find the images (especially what appears in the backgrounds) useful in their  researches.

As previously noted, the absence of both maps and biographical information about the photographer lessens this volume’s value, and for this reviewer, it is ultimately just a collection of very pretty pictures. Were that that was not so.

On that basis, and using a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give it a 7.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘BRITAIN’S DECLINING SECONDARY RAILWAYS THROUGH THE 1960s’

Book Review: ‘Armoured Trains: An Illustrated Encyclopaedia 1825-2016’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Armoured Trains: An Illustrated Encyclopaedia 1825-2016

Author: Paul Malmassari

Total Number of Printed Pages: 528

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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To the general public, the idea that trains could be weapons of war is preposterous. Trains carry freight, they do not carry and use guns, and they definitely do not engage in hostile actions against an enemy, especially not in the Twenty-first Century.  This volume proves otherwise.

It is very evident that the author of this volume knows and loves his subject.  Originally published in France in 1989, this revised and upgraded English-language version is well researched and, due to the depth of information, is likely to become the authoritative work on armoured trains.  The book covers the development and use of the armoured train as a military device.  In most of the instances described within this volume, the armoured train was essentially a very mobile ‘fortress on railway tracks’. As such it could carry the battle to the enemy and cause havoc as a result.  It was not as mobile as aircraft (which were invented later), but was a definite improvement over its horse-based contemporaries. The major European and Asian powers were inevitably the largest users of armoured trains and as such their trains form the largest section of the volume. It does not however ignore smaller conflicts and combatants, and includes and describes all and any situations where vehicles running on railway tracks were involved in aggressive military activities.

The volume describes itself as an “encyclopaedia’ and as a result is  more suited to ‘dipping into’ rather than a straight ‘cover-to-cover’ read.  An Introduction provides general background details, and precedes the largest section of the work. This consists of 72 sections (aka ‘Chapters’) arranged by country and appearing in alphabetical order. Within each section information is given concerning the armoured railway vehicles that operated in or were owned by, that specific state. To this reviewer however, some of the inclusions are at best tenuous, and he considers the inclusion of New Zealand as the owner of an ‘armoured train’ while part of British Forces in the Middle East during World War II to be drawing  a very long bow.  At least one image (frequently more) appears within each section, while numerous line drawings are included.  Drawn to HO scale (1:87) these are of both rolling stock and locomotives.  Two Appendices are included; one containing numerous art-works of armoured trains, the other ‘… Original Factory Drawings of Armoured Trains and Trolleys’.  An Index and an Acknowledgements section are also provided. Sequentially-numbered Footnotes are used within each section while a Sources sub-section replaces a designated Bibliography. No maps of any sort are provided.

Unfortunately, this reviewer has two major concerns with this volume. One is with the complete lack of maps within the work, a situation which means that, unless they are geo-politically aware, a reader will have absolutely no idea as to where the trains actually operated. As several of the nations within the volume have also changed their names, this puts the reader at a major disadvantage. The other concern relates to the Index. Although the names of specific countries (for example, France, Russia, United States of America, South Korea, Georgia) are listed as Section (Chapter) Headings on the work’s Contents page, a random search within the Index found no evidence of  either these or any other ‘country’ names within that section. While it could be argued that a Contents-page listing is sufficient for the purpose, and that most readers will turn to the Contents before the Index, observation indicates that although purchasers of such a volume will initially only peruse the Contents page, they will eventually seek additional information within the Index section.  The absence of specific ‘country’ names makes such searching at best very difficult.  To this reviewer, this is a major failing as in his opinion, the seeker of specific information  needs to be able to quickly and positively identify that train X belongs to country Y (or vice versa). For this reviewer, being unable to do so, considerably-reduced the value of both the Index, and the volume.

The limitations outlined above notwithstanding. this volume is likely to appeal to several different groups.  Railway historians and enthusiasts will probably find it of interest, especially if they are interested in military railways, while both general and military historians could also find it informative.  Irrespective of the scale they work in, model-railway enthusiasts could also find it useful, especially if their interest is in military railways.

Due to its specialisation, this volume is likely to become the authoritative one on its subject. The lack of both maps and an incomplete Index do however reduce its value considerably.  On that basis, and on a Rating Scale, where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I would give this volume a 7. It should have been higher.

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Book Review: ‘Armoured Trains: An Illustrated Encyclopaedia 1825-2016’

BOOK REVIEW: ‘RAILS ACROSS EUROPE: EASTERN AND SOUTHERN EUROPE’; ‘RAILS ACROSS EUROPE: NORTHERN AND WESTERN EUROPE’.

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Reviewer: N Z Crown Mines 

Title: Rails Across Europe: Eastern And Southern Europe

Rails Across Europe: Northern And Western Europe

Author: David Cable

Total No. of Pages: (Rails Across Europe: Eastern And Southern Europe): 258

(Rails Across Europe: Northern And Western Europe): 245

Colour Pages: (Rails Across Europe: Eastern and Southern Europe):248

(Rails Across Europe: Northern And Western Europe): 236

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): Photographs: 8; The overall volumes: 4.

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Although these are separate titles, the author notes that they are in fact ‘sister’ volumes; it is on that basis that this reviewer has chosen to deal with them as a single entity.

These works are hard-covered examples  of the ‘Enthusiasts’ picture books’ genre and contain colour images of locomotives (both with and without attached trains), in a wide variety of locations across the European continent.   The author very-evidently loves both his subject and photography, and has travelled widely in pursuit of his subject material. |It should be noted however that although the majority of the images are his own, contributions from other photographers also appear, a fact acknowledged by the author. The quality of the images is such, that if a reader is seeking a pair of books showing only contemporary ‘European’ trains, there would be few to rival what these works contain. It should however be noted that the section on the United Kingdom is not large, the author stating that this railway system will be the subject of a separate volume in its own right.

However, although the images are of excellent quality, this reviewer believes that these works are seriously let down in other areas. Because the volumes are arranged by country, this reviewer expected to find, at minimum, a map of Europe indicating international boundaries, borders ad railway networks.  He found none. Regional maps (to assist the reader in locating the sites where the images were photographed\) were also absent. There are no maps within these volumes, and unless the reader is familiar with the continent/region/ district, the locations and captions are virtually meaningless. Each volume contains an Introduction, Notes on railways of each country [sic], and nothing else.  There is no Index, Table of Contents, or Glossary. There is no way of identifying or locating the various locomotives (or even the sections for individual countries) within the volumes. No key is provided for the numerous abbreviations that appear within these volumes, making them of little value.

In precis, the images within this work are beautiful, the photography superb, and if that is what the purchaser is seeking, they will be well-satisfied. If however, a buyer is seeking some sort of ‘authoritative’ work (if only for random ‘dipping-type’ searching) then this work may not be what they require.

The inclusion of the absent additional items (Maps, Abbreviation Key etc.) could have made this work so much more; its potential may have been compromised by their absence.

On a rating scale of 1-10 where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I would give the photographs an 8, the overall volumes, 4.


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BOOK REVIEW: ‘RAILS ACROSS EUROPE: EASTERN AND SOUTHERN EUROPE’; ‘RAILS ACROSS EUROPE: NORTHERN AND WESTERN EUROPE’.

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rails Across Australia: A Journey Through the Continent’.

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Reviewer: N Z Crown Mines

Title: Rails Across Australia: A Journey Through the Continent

Author: David Cable

Total No. of Pages: 258

Colour Pages: 248

Rating Scale (1: very poor, 10: excellent): Photographs: 8; The overall volume: 4.

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The volume Rails Across Australia: A Journey Through the Continent by David Cable, is of the genre known as ‘Enthusiasts’ picture books’ and contains 248 colour images of Australian trains and locomotives; some in preservation, but most in operating situations in a wide variety of locations across the continent.   The author travelled widely while resident in Australia, taking numerous photographs when doing so. He is a very competent photographer and some of the images can only be described as ‘stunning’. My personal favourite within the book is the ‘outback picture of ‘BHP CW60AC 6071 Chichester …pass Goldsworthy Junction …etc.’ (it’s a long caption) on page 142. This image is quintessentially ‘Australian’ in its content of blue sky, red dirt and a very, very long train. As an example of Mr. Cable’s photographic abilities it is excellent.

On this basis alone, some will find it worth purchasing.

However, the volume does have drawbacks, some major, some minor, with the most obvious a complete lack of maps of any sort. As a result, unless the reader is familiar with Australia and its railways, the locations and captions are largely meaningless.  As if this was not enough, no key is provided for the numerous abbreviations that appear within the work; again rendering them of little value. The reader should not have to guess what is meant.

The order of the photographs is also perplexing as it seems to follow no rhyme or reason. Locomotives and trains from different states are frequently placed opposite each other, rather than within sections applicable to their home railway systems and states. There is no apparent order for the locations. To this reviewer, it would have been logical to start with Queensland (in the north east of the country) and follow the population centres around until finally reaching Western Australia. This has not been done, reducing the volume’s usefulness.

The work has no Index, with the result being that should a specific location, train or locomotive be sought, a search through the entire volume becomes necessary; a very time-consuming and frustrating exercise.  There is no Table of Contents.

In precis, the images within this work are beautiful, the photography superb, and if that is what the purchaser is seeking, they will be well-satisfied. If however, a buyer is seeking some sort of ‘authoritative’ work (if only for random ‘dipping-type’ searching), then this work may not be what they require.

The inclusion of the additional items (Maps, Abbreviation Key etc.) could have made this work so much more; its potential may have been compromised by their absence.

On a rating scale of 1-10 where 1: very poor, 10: excellent, I would give the photographs an 8, the overall volume, 4.

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nzcrownmines is also available for book reviewing: Contact nzcrownmines@gmail.com

BOOK REVIEW: ‘Rails Across Australia: A Journey Through the Continent’.