The BBC is currently running a short series of programmes about British motor racing legends. The first, last night, was about Sir Stirling Moss and allowed Sir Patrick Stewart an escape from the responsibilities of commanding the Enterprise to share driving a Mercedes SL300 Gull-Wing around the Florence area with his boyhood idol. The history of Stirling Moss was uncovered by the programme in a steady flow through his career from his first drives until the crash at Goodwood in 1962 that ended his career. One thing that became clear is that Moss remains a driven man. He certainly doesn’t sit on his laurels. However, the other thing that became clear was his absolute commitment to racing. When asked by Stewart whether the accident in 1962 had effectively saved his life, he suggested that had his new Ferrari car arrived in time for the event he would not have crashed. Indeed, throughout the programme he made it clear on several occasions that none of the accidents that he was involved in were his fault – all of them were down to deficiencies in the vehicle. That may sound arrogant but I suspect he speaks the truth. Racing cars and drivers on the circuit are seeking perfection in both machine and man and those who have reached the pinnacle of that profession do so by not crashing due to driver error. However, it is difficult for an average driver like myself to equate with that level of supreme confidence that even today Moss conveys.

So I looked at the upcoming programme tonight – Sir Jackie Stewart (or so the BBC website tells me). But Radio Times tells a different story – Colin McRae. Now that is weird and the Radio Times suggests that this is a three programme series. Given that McRae is no longer with us and that both Moss and Stewart are still alive, one assumes that the third programme will also be about a living British racing driver. However, neither Radio Times or the BBC website are listing that third programme.. strange.

It gave me food for thought. During quite a bit of the Moss story it was made clear that Motor Racing is a dangerous sport and that in Sir Stirling’s era 3 – 4 drivers were being killed every season and sometimes spectators were also involved. Moss claimed that it was the danger that attracted him to the sport and as I listened to his responses to Patrick Stewart’s questions it became more clear that he had absolute faith in his own ability to drive his cars to their best. It is a fact that he is still held in the highest reverence within the motor racing community despite never winning the World Drivers Trophy. That tells me how good he was. But, that absolute belief in one’s infallability does raise a few hackles with me…

You see, one of Britain’s great racing drivers was Graham Hill. There is no doubt about his driving ability – He would have been the Crowned Prince of Monaco if it didn’t already have one! So I have to ask what he was doing trying to land a twin-engined light aircraft in thick freezing fog at Elstree in 1975 – an act which cost him and five other people their lives. Was it that belief in personal infallibility which made him carry on when other pilots would be running for an open airfield, any airfield, elsewhere? I learnt to fly some years later and whilst I had a reputation for being willing to fly in bad weather you’d never get me airborne when there was a risk of fog. So how bad was it on the night Hill crashed? I was at Peterborough that evening watching the trains, or at least those trains that I could see. Anything on the opposite side of the station was invisible and the high intensity signal lights were struggling to reach halfway along the platforms! Almost all the ttrains were running late as drivers applied due caution in the conditions.

Colin McRae? He killed himself and 3 others by crashing his helicpoter whilst carrying out ‘unnecessary low level manoeuvres’… Another case of belief in infallability?

You can read the official report into Graham Hill’s accident at http://www.aaib.dft.gov.uk/publications/formal_reports/14_1976__n6645y.cfm

A Foggy Morning at Andrewsfield - plenty of time to eat a Full English Breakfast while waiting for it to lift...
A Foggy Morning at Andrewsfield – plenty of time to eat a Full English Breakfast while waiting for it to lift…

To start this post I guess I should announce to my readers that after years in the wilderness watching / flying aeroplanes, having children (well one actually) and getting involved with my local footie team, I’m finally going back to my original hobby and the love of my life (not to be confused with Epi, the other love of my life). To that end I have rejoined the Railway Correspondence and Travel Society – they’ve very kindly restored my original membership number to me! With many railway locomotives having been named after famous British regiments, the RCTS is often referred to within the railfan community as the Royal Corps of Train Spotters 😉 So, I’m back to being a genuine Railway Enthusiast…

Last Friday I decided to pop over to Willesden Juction for a couple of hours of watching the trains. For London based rail enthusiasts Willesden Junction has always been a place to visit on a regular basis. With the North London Line that connects the Southern and Western Regions to the Eastern Region as well as the West Coast mainline, the quantity and variety of trains to be seen is amazing. It is a sort of Mecca, if you will 😉

I had 2 hours available and they were well filled by the passing traffic. As soon as I arrived I was gifted a Class 92 electric (only the second that I can recall seeing) on a empty steel train bound for Scunthorpe. I enjoyed watching the crew change as did a young lady with a child in a buggy on the platform – she even gave me a friendly smile as we passed each other – I guess she enjoyed her moment of train spotting!

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Crewe change for 92031 at Willesden Junction High Level

Catching the numbers of the fast trains on the Westcoast minline from Euston to Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Scotland is definitely a young man’s game. The class 390 units of Virgin have a small set number on the side of the cab and focussing on them as they pass requires good timing – I got around 40% – my old eyes are definitely not as quick to focus or track as they once were 😦 As for their Voyager diesel units – goodness knows where their numbers are… Work in progress for me 😉 The freight contined to pass – Freightliner operated class 90’s on the West coast mainline along with unique loco 86501. Direct Rail Services, a branch of the UK’s nuclear industry that has discovered that providing locos for other trains as well as those carrying spent fuel rods can be a lucrative business. And more Freightliner – more containers for the south coast.

The local services on the North london Line were provided by London Overground class 378’s whilst on the West Coast mainline London Midland trains provided services to Bletchley, Rugby and Nuneaton. In a 2 hour period I recorded 60 different locomotives / units.

350235
London Midland Unit 350235 passes on West Coast Mainline

However, that wasn’t the full story of the day’s enjoyment. I was standing on the footbridge that crosses the west coast mainline when I espied a man in trackside orange overalls and a construction helmet talking to a couple of other enthusiasts at the other end of the bridge. Then he walked along the bridge towards me…

Ok – at this point I will say… No Names, no Pack Drill…

Approaching me, this man who works for a company involved in maintaining our railways, asked if I knew the area well. Apparently the other two enthusiasts on the bridge hadn’t been able to assist him – perhaps they were suspicious or maybe they lacked the local area knowledge that he was looking for – not impossible as the names and track layout have changed a lot over the years and not all enthusiasts will have taken an interest in the various sidings and junctions anyway.

He flourished a bunch of aerial photos and admitted that he was struggling to get his bearings. No problem for me – I pointed out Scrubs Lane to him, the various lines and where they went to and how to get to Old Oak Common depot on foot. He was apparently tasked with doing a pre-liminary survey before bringing in a crew to upgrade the South West Sidings so they could be brought back into use…

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08511 shunts wagons beside the old South West Sidings signal box in 1982 – long since gone!

I’m just amazed that Contractors are not supplied with detailed information by Network Rail so they can do their job – I can only assume that it’s part of the process of letting that they have to find out the information by themselves as a demonstration of their competence! Not sure that’s a reasonable means of assessment? The contractor involved is based south of the river (no civilisation once you cross that bridge 😉 ) so I’m not surprised that the engineer with a south London accent didn’t know the area around Willesden. If he / I’d had more time I could have shown him a great sandwich bar on Old Oak Common Lane – Sue’s Cafe… 🙂

Sue's Cafe
Sue’s Cafe on Old Oak Common Lane – Recommended by John Lewis Partnership Drivers 🙂

I hope he was able to successfully organise his team after our meeting 🙂