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Back to the future

In my time on the railway, I witnessed massive change - the demise of steam and telegraph wires, computerised signalling systems, butchery of the network, cut backs in staffing levels, nationalisation, privatisation, long welded rail, optical cabling. The list goes on. With new technical inventions being brought online every day, just what will today’s young railwaymen look back on in 50 years time? Let’s go back to the future.

It’s the year 2057. It’s heartening to find Network Rail is continuing to monitor those stinky spillages from Mallard stock. Train Operating Company Spinster Rail (can’t still be Virgin!) remains confident that they’ll have the problem sorted soon.

The 25th anniversary of Mallard’s muck spreading was marked by the release of a special £50 coin (which would buy a single ticket from one end of a platform to the other) and a set of commemorative stamps. Hornby’s best-selling model emits an orange mist as it goes round curves and has now become a favourite amongst collectors. One featured on the Antiques Roadshow and sprayed Huge Scullery in the face.

A new nationwide signalling centre has opened in a redundant lighthouse on the Island of Mull. This was seen as a good business move after the Scottish Parliament abolished taxes for start up firms on the Western Isles. The main console - which, due to approval difficulties, still runs on Windows ’95 - is about the size of a pinhead and kept in an old tablet machine. An emergency key is hidden under a plant pot by the back door.

Thought transmission is now use for all management-to-staff communications. Problems occur when anyone tries to work out what a manager is really thinking. As one senior director said, “sometimes I sit and think but mostly I just sit”. No change there then.

Maglev came and went - there was no support for it. Eurotunnel also closed following the demise of through trains. For just under 1,000 Tesco points - the new European currency - passengers could buy a return trip to any teleport this side of Vladivostok. The western tunnel has been converted into a wine cellar by Sir Freddie Flintoff. He’s extending the eastern tunnel into Denmark to pipe lager directly from Carlsberg.

In 2032, after a lengthy legal battle, Virgin finally admitted that a window seat at a bulk head is not really a window seat and was forced to move its luggage racks. They also changed the design of armrests from ½-inch convex to 2 inch flat, after a passenger won the notorious “coffee in the laptop case”. He successfully claimed that his hand had gone to sleep while leaning on the armrest.

A bill received Royal Ascent making it compulsory for all passengers to be issued with a dictionary so that there could be no misunderstanding of what the words “Quiet Coach” mean.

Local councils are concerned over the high cost of resurfacing the West Coast Extreme Sports Park. The railway was dismantled in the late 2040s to accommodate a new form of public transport - jet-propelled skateboards.

A decision is expected soon on the east-west London Crossrail scheme. Plans were first drawn up in 1998 but got lost in the post. 2028 saw the London congestion charge extended to include all train movements from Euston Road to the south bank of the Thames. Pedestrians pausing to admire the view from Waterloo Bridge are now being foot-clamped.
Pedestrians pausing to admire the view from Waterloo Bridge are now being foot-clamped.

Finally, the railway continues to take its health and safety obligations very seriously. Managers are only allowed to get out of bed if it’s absolutely necessary and the action is covered by a risk assessment. Since 2027, steels rails have been replaced by rubber ones to reduce slip, trip and fall injuries and Network Rail’s compulsory hardhat policy has been extended to cover passengers and any accompanying pets.

Don’t laugh. No matter how ridiculous it sounds, you just know it’s going to happen.

Story added 1st June 2007

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