London's First Railway The London & Greenwich - R.H.G. Thomas

London's First Railway The London & Greenwich - R.H.G. Thomas

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Wellington
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London's First Railways- The London & Greenwich - R.H.G. Thomas - B.T. Batsford - 1972, first edition - 270pp, index, 39 plates, line drawings - Hardcover: original red cloth with gilt lettering on spine shows some shelf wear but no sun damage - Internally: ex-library book, clean and tightly bound.

The line that, on completion, operated on a single 3.5 mile, 878 arch viaduct between London Bridge and Greenwich was, by a short head, the first in London to offer a steam-hauled passenger service. It opened initially on a route that fell short of its eventual destination at both ends, but even before fully reaching either London Bridge at the one end and Greenwich at the other it was an immediate success in terms of passengers carried. The huge capital cost of construction for the relatively short distance covered meant that financial success was considerably more elusive, but L&GR's monopoly of access to London Bridge Station, which in turn provided unrivalled access to The City from the southern side and immediately become one of London's major rail terminals, ensured its survival. Other railway companies driving into that part of London from Surrey and Kent were obliged to lease use of the London Bridge terminus and parts of L&GR's route (paying for extension of the terminus and track as necessary). The L&GR company survived until 1923, but it only ran trains until 1845, i.e. for about ten years. After that the entire railway was leased to the South Eastern Railway and L&GR merely collected the leasing fees.

Ronald Thomas deals with the period from 1845 until 1972 in a single chapter (and to 1986 in a postscript) and for the most part his book concentrates on the financing, construction and operation of the railway by its founding company. Being almost a pioneer in providing steam railway services, and in its long viaduct leading into the heart of London entirely a pioneer, mistakes were made, but credit has to be given for a great deal that was got right. Much else was close enough to right to need only marginal modification as time went by, and that there were no disastrously spectacular accidents is certainly to be credited to a great deal more than mere luck. For the modern reader, the construction story is, however, surprisingly familiar - grossly over-optimistic forecasts of cost, timescales and revenue; mind-boggling cost over-runs; but instant customer acceptance to the extent that problems of overcrowding, infrequency of service and delays through congestion or breakdown quickly generated irate letters to newspapers. The approach to construction - not initially reaching both ends, temporary access points and terminals - might also remind one variously of the Docklands Light Railway and Eurostar.

It's a fascinating story, and with Ronald Thomas's help it is possible to see how the original railway relates to the section of line as it is still operated today, also to identify architectural features still visible.


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