This is your sapphire column, marking the completion of 45 years of regular monthly appearances. The first, in January 1976, originally entitled ‘Inter-City notebook’, reflected growing optimism at what seemed to be the beginnings of a rail revival following a depressing decade of closures and cutbacks. Sure, the then Ministry of Transport was still pushing for – and in some cases even funding – further closures, and continued to do so for another decade. But spanking new High Speed Trains were coming off the drawing board, soon to revolutionise travel on Western, Eastern and, later, Midland lines. Maximum linespeed was being raised from 100mph to 125mph. And these new trains, we were told, were only a stopgap until the Advanced Passenger Train, then under development, was ready in the next few years, expected to push speeds further to 140mph and beyond. In France, plans were afoot to build completely new lines for even higher speeds. There seemed no reason why Britain should not soon follow.
For the moment, the UK was still in the worldwide railway Premier League. Oh, and the railway was one, nationwide publicly owned network and nobody was suggesting otherwise. And the new Government-appointed Chairman of British Rail was Peter Parker, an enthusiast for rail from the private sector. In short, there were reasons to be cheerful.