American railways – Amtrak’s first 40 years – Ludovic Kennedy & Bill Withers

Amtrak has a video – accessible via the link above – about it’s first 40 years of operation

I first started to take an interest in US railways as a consequence of seeing Ludovic Kennedy’s Great Railway Journey program ‘Coast to Coast'(New York City to Los Angeles). It was a part of the original and classic series of BBC railway journeys that launched a whole new career for Micheal Palin.

Railways have always been in my blood because I was brought up in a Nottinghamshire mining town where railways were everywhere around you. The writing of Ludovic Kennedy, who penned many books in his long and fascinating life, has also been another great interest of mine, so bringing railways and Kennedy together in the classic first series of Great Railway Journeys of the World was a treat not to be missed. The series was first aired in 1980 and this particular episode opened my eyes to the American Railroad.

Most folks who remember this BBC series will probably recall the journey of Michael Palin from London to Kyle of Lochalsh by train but for me Kennedy’s journey across America on the recently formed Amtrak was a delight (not least because Bill Withers great song – Lovely Day – was a part of the soundtrack and Kennedy was a great Liberal thinker, writer and activist) and I became hooked on the railways of the USA. Here’s a part of the program on You Tube – sadly its rather poor quality both in sound and picture. And even more sadly the episode has never been released on video/dvd.

Oddly, and I’m not sure why, I have yet to ride on Amtrak or indeed any American train. The nearest I have got is riding on Via Rail in Canada.

Bizarrely, I actually encountered Ludovic Kennedy at a Liberal Democrat conference on one occasion when he was a very old man confined to a wheelchair. I say encounter as I literally fell over his wheelchair in a crush of people in the foyer of the conference venue. If memory serves this happened in Southport’s Floral Hall.

Maghull – Hornby – Portillo – Watch the Maghull/Hornby edition on You Tube

Getting off the train from Liverpool

In case you missed the January screening of the BBC TV programme Great British Railway Journeys with Michael Portillo, which visited Maghull because it was the home of world famous toy manufacturer Frank Hornby, here’s a link to it on You Tube:- apologies as the link to the video has been removed due to a copyright issue it seems.

In the Hornby Room at Meadows Leisure Centre

Following the programme being broadcast the Frank Hornby Trust held an open day at Meadows Leisure Centre and Library in Maghull on 21st January and it was a great success with around 500 visitors on the day. The visiting Hornby tinplate ‘O’ Gauge railway layout (the same one as seen in the TV programme) was very popular with young and old.


Since then the Trust, on which Les French (as seen in the TV programme) and I are 2 of the trustees, has been getting enquiries about when our display cases are available for viewing. Presently there’s no easy answer because the Frank Hornby Room at the Leisure Centre is multi-use so it has a wide range of bookings for activities. On that basis we recommend that anyone wanting to see the display of Hornby related artifacts (Meccano, Hornby Trains, Dinky Toys etc.) contacts the Leisure Centre first to find out when viewing will be possible.

However, this situation should soon change as our display cases are to be moved within the Leisure Centre and following this they should be accessible whenever Maghull Library is open. The move is likely to take place within the next 2 to 3 months and we will ensure that when all is in place again that the opening hours/days are made well known.


By the way The Atkinson in Southport has a decent display of Hornby items too if you are out that way. Sadly The Museum of Liverpool is far more limited in its displays of Hornby products.

Pacers are thankfully on their last legs or is that wheels

The BBC has the story on its web site – see link above

An alternative title for this posting could ‘Well John Pugh are you happy now?’ because during his time as MP for Southport John fought to get the appalling Pacer Trains replaced. To be fair many, many other people were on a similar track (sorry about the pun) but John made it onto a BBC North West TV programme about his fight to rid the rails of Pacers.

John has now returned to his political roots as a Sefton Councillor and leads the opposition on Sefton Council.

My previous relevant posting (amongst many!) about Pacers, because it links to the BBC TV programme that John Pugh appeared in, is accessible via the link below:-

John’s contribution to the programme is at about the 12 minute mark.

And here’s a video of the new trains being built in Spain:-

BBC – John Humphrys dealt with by Hogan-Howe

I stopped listening to the Today programme on BBC Radio 4 in the mornings quite a while back as I got sick to hearing the hectoring confrontational interviews that some of the presenters seemed to revel in.

I got the impression that the BBC was just out to create a row rather to get to the bottom of the subject at hand and before breakfast particularly it was just too much.

But recently I have drifted back and generally it has been a bit better, that is until I came across John Humphrys interviewing Bernard Hogan-Howe the Met Police Commissioner a few days ago.

There was no doubt that they were debating a very serious issue but in my view the interviewer seemingly had just one objective i.e. not to let Hogan-Howe get a word in edgeways! But Hogan-Howe was having none of it and gave back as good if not better than he got.

I met Hogan-Howe a few times when his time as Chief Constable of Merseyside and even to me as a Liberal who takes the view that you should never trust anyone in power he came across as impressive. I know other people who were members of the former Merseyside Police Authority who were impressed by him too.

I have also met numerous other policemen and women during my 30 plus years in public life. In some cases I wondered what on earth they were doing working for the police as they seemed most unsuited to the role, controlling authoritarian types if you get my drift. But many others have been great people doing a tough job in difficult circumstances and Hogan-Howe is I think one of those.

The Met must be almost impossible to manage. It is huge and I would be surprised if some of the people working for it are ones that the Commissioner despairs of. Hogan-Howe was very good at rooting our poor and bad coppers when he ran the Merseyside Force and I can’t but think he took those attitudes to his new job.

So I was pleased that he stood for no journalistic nonsense on the Today programme and did not allow what seemed to me to be an overly aggressive interviewer to grind him down.

BBC, Farage and Berlin – Dark days indeed as the UK turns its back on those who have nothing

I was utterly disgusted to hear the comments of Farage, the new darling of the BBC, today. To try to make political capital on the back of the appalling Berlin terrorist attack is bad enough but to attempt to pin the blame for the attack on Merkel was utterly shameful.

I may not share Merkel’s general political views but she was brave enough and had enough human compassion to take the lead in helping refugees from the middle east. Compare that with the UK government all but turning its back on fellow human beings.

Goodness me what is happening in the UK these days when our political leaders help create and sustain wars in the middle east whilst sitting back and doing so little to assist with the human suffering that is a direct consequence?

And what on earth is going on within the BBC when they give huge profile day in day out to a man like Farage? He’s not even an MP yet his every utterance is treated as though he speaks for the UK. I have long been a supporter of the BBC but after its appalling coverage of the EU Referendum and now its love in with man who in my view stands firmly against traditional British values of tolerance, helping our fellow man and woman in distress and common decency I have to say I have had it with the BBC.

These are dark days indeed. Days when our elected leaders are weak and driven by the opinions of an out of control right wing press. Days when we as an country care little for those with nothing and when we allow our government to run the NHS into the ground. Days when our government deliberately under-funds care for the elderly whilst throwing huge amounts of money on weapons of war.

And you know this dangerous malaise is not just festering within our fascist leaning government and its UKIPian wing. It’s got a home within other political parties as well all be it often couched in less obviously strident language, but sadly it is there.

I really do fear where the path that we are daily treading is taking us.

Poles the 2nd World War & Uncle Albert

This evening Sheila and I took 95 year old Charles (Uncle Albert) Walker out for a meal at the Stanley Arms in Aughton.

Charles looking back on Gibraltar (in the distance) from the cruise ship Victoria a couple of years ago. Charles was based in Gib' (RAF) during part of the WW2.

Charles looking back on Gibraltar (in the distance) from the cruise ship Victoria a couple of years ago. Charles was based in Gib’ (RAF) during part of the WW2.

Charles was an RAF electrician from 1942 during WW2 and prior to that he was a youngster in the Home Guard in Wallasey on The Wirral. His own family home was damaged by bombing and the family slept in the theatre of New Brighton Tower whilst having meals at his grandmother’s house. This went on for a number of weeks until they found a new property to move into. He worked at George Henry Lees in Liverpool in the early part of the war and was fire watching on the roof of GHL during the Blitz of Liverpool. He actually saw the incendiary bomb hit Liverpool’s famous St Lukes Church at the top of Bold Street whilst fire watching.

Unsurprisingly our conversation touched on the WW2 tonight and Charles made comment about the fact that some people are giving Poles living here a hard time when during WW2 they were fighting with us and for us. He clearly could not understand why memories are so short and was dismayed.

Sadly, today of all days, the BBC’s Andrew Marr show chose to interview French far right Leader Marine Le Pen! Would I not be right in saying that during WW2 it was the far right in France that was betraying the French resistance fighters? Have we forgotten that too?

What is going on in this Country of ours when the far right, which we fought a war against in Charles Walker’s lifetime, is treated to a TV interview on Remembrance Day? And why are we not celebrating our partnership with the French resistance and the Free Poles whom we fought alongside to beat fascism?

I am proud to know Charles Walker as he helped save this Country from fascism but I am not at all proud of how we are forgetting recent history.